SCITRVL2_crop2It’s seems I’ve developed a little obsession. Not one of those dangerous or creepy ones; a rather silly one, if I must admit it. Every since I got my own automobile vanity license plate signifying my writing business (Science Traveler), I’ve been seeing vanity plates everywhere. So I began collecting them.

Most plates (or tags, as some folks call them) follow standard patterns of letters and/or numbers. They are randomly assigned by the state DMV when you register your car. Boring. Most states also offer the option of picking your own plate designation, presumably to draw attention to your particular passion, hence the term vanity plates.

Giving in to my newfound obsession, I’ve noticed some common themes. Many plates highlight the driver’s career. For example, my SCITRVL is joined by the likes of UROLADY (a female urologist). Others their favorite sports teams. [Interestingly, my area not only celebrates the local sports teams but also the New York and Boston teams.] God and/or religious themes seem to be popular forms of license plate proselytizing (I particularly liked PIUS XII; look it up if you don’t get the connection).

Speaking of proselytizing, drivers of the all-electric Tesla cars love to rub oil on the faces of fossil fuel cars drivers with plates like GAS GONE, NO GAS, WUTS GAS. One Tesla driver paid homage to the man whom provided the name: NIKOLA. The electric Chevy Volt joined the fun with GA5 FREE.

The “5” in place of an “S” in that last one highlights the games drivers have to play to force fit their preferred idea when there isn’t room. “5”s become “S”s. “3”s become “E”s. “4”s don’t replace letters, they go for whole words (IAM4ARTS). “8”s are particularly useful to form words such as GR8 SHOT (Great Shot) and DEVI8 (Deviate).

It’s clear that many of the ideas are not original. Imagine showing up at Starbucks to buy your egregiously expensive soy latte, only to park your STRBCK next to a STRBUK. Of course, STARBUK and other variations were already taken. You know Bohemian Rhapsody fans who picked QU33N and QWEEN are envious of the guy who got the purer idolatry tag QUEEN.

I wonder if the driver of XMAS GUY ever parked next to 1GRINCH. And what does the guy with DOUBT, doubt? Is FRAUDI someone flaunting their fraudulent practices, or are they a German married lady named Diana?

One of my favorites is YNOT TRI.

In any case, I’ve “collected” photographs of hundreds of vanity license plates from several states. I’ve been thinking of starting a Facebook page to encourage the use of vanity plates as writing prompts. Something to do when I can find the time.

Until then, feel free to send photos of your favorite vanity plates. I would love to add them to my collection.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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