(Not Exactly) Poetic License

I recently got new license plates for my two cars.I can hear it now – how can he possibly get a blog post out of new license plates? Like this.

This one is not bad, as modern license plates go. It is a little countryside scene with a covered bridge at the bottom. I guess covered bridges are kind of an Indiana thing, though living in a large city in the twenty-first century covered bridges have nothing to do with my daily life. I would think that a stretch of interstate highway would be more representative, but then there is really nothing “Indiana” about a stretch of interstate highway. But I digress.

I remember when we got new license plates every year. As a kid I was always excited to see what color the new one would be. We had a pretty good run where the 1961 plate was the same maroon and white as our 1961 Oldsmobile and the 1965 plate was the same dark green as our 1964 Oldsmobile.I liked the combination of a solid color plate with contrasting numbers. Some places, like California, issue a plate when a car is first sold and it stays with that car as long as it rolls. We did the opposite – the plate attaches to the owner and must be transferred with each car purchase.

Somewhere along the line someone got the idea that license plates should be artwork. I don’t really understand this view, because why do I want to see the same piece of art on every car on the road? But that’s where we have come, along with plates now lasting maybe 3 to 5 years before replacement (with current stickers to affix for intervening years).

Choosing the design of a new license plate has become an event, with lots of people of (apparently) questionable taste being involved. Sometimes it is the professionals, such as when “Wander Indiana” was used as a slogan on our license plates. We got an Indy 500 race car one year, which makes a certain sense, though it has as much to do with most of the state as the covered bride does.

One year lightning struck and we had a particularly dignified plate which included a representation of the torch and stars that are found on our State Flag. It was a good three years with those plates on our cars.But some time ago the Plate Profusion got started, and there are now something like six million designs that you can choose from, depending on which causes you wish to hawk. You can display plates from one of thirty two Indiana colleges and universities. Yes, I counted them. I wonder why Purdue University gets separate plates for three of its campuses while Indiana University gets only a single version.

License Plate Veteran

There are nineteen plates with military designs. I don’t mean to sound unkind, but should Pearl Harbor Survivors really be behind the wheel in 2020?  Then we really get rolling with the organizations that are recognized in our plates. I guess it is good that supporters of the Indiana Recycling Coalition and the Indiana Coal Mining Institute can peacefully coexist on the same government gravy train. But I don’t want to get between Ducks Unlimited and the National Rifle Association. That could be dangerous.

Sometimes I think that an ugly standard plate is a strategy for juicing the sales of all of those that cost extra. I have known plenty of people who said something like “I only got this one because the regular plate is so ugly.” Personally, I don’t see the benefit in paying more than the minimum to register my car, so I suppose as long as the standard plate doesn’t pay homage to Devil-worship or some such, I will just try to look at other parts of my car. Although the Studebaker Museum plate could make me change my tune.

It just now occurs to me – are these actually made by prison inmates?

Some day I might enter one of those plate-design contests. My entry will be a design that consists of a solid dark background with large off-white characters. Maybe the dark green is ready for an encore. I remember 1965 as a pretty good year.

19 thoughts on “(Not Exactly) Poetic License

  1. Do parents on a long road trip still encourage kids to spot plates from as many different states or provinces as possible? If so, having so many different plates for one state must make that game a challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder the same thing. The challenge in my state has always been that we never used plates on the front of a car, only the back. So we could only identify those plates from cars we were passing (or that were passing us).

      And now we have so many that it is hard to ID a plate by design. I can only imagine that other states have experienced a similar explosion.


  2. License plates must be a lucrative racket (or viewed as free, mobile advertising) for the select programs. Like Indiana, Missouri has umpteen kinds of license plates that stay with the owner. But we have two plates – for now, as we are supposedly transitioning to one in the future.

    It would be an interesting contest to see which state has the highest number of special interest plates. Having to look it up, in addition to universities, Missouri has “fight terrorism”, organ donor, and breast cancer survivor plates. Nothing about prostate cancer. New plates are slowly being distributed for Missouri’s bicentennial so it is now possible to celebrate both being an organ donor and the state’s 200th birthday. I guess a plate number is in there somewhere.

    Of the bunch, I’d still pick the Studebaker Museum plates despite it being two states away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The mobile advertising thing hit a nerve with a few people here a few years ago. A prior plate design had the state’s website address at the bottom of the plate. There was some howling by a few who argued that they should not have to pay to promote the state’s website, and someone (I think it was private) came up with a sticker that you could cover it with. The issue did not reach that level of concern for me.

      We don’t have one for prostate cancer either, though we do have one promoting spay-neuter (not the same thing, of course).

      It now occurs to me that we may soon see plates for the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. Can the James Whitcomb Riley Museum or the Johnny Appleseed Memorial be far behind? I wonder what would be involved in getting a JP’s Blog license plate?


  3. New Jersey issues plates with 3 letters in a row, and there is an official list of banned 3 letter combinations that are skipped over for obvious reasons–(if you need help figuring out what they are, I can help you with this). However, I have seen unlucky people driving around with FLU, FWB, WTF, EAR, CUD, and some other unflattering combinations that I wouldn’t want assigned to me. Luckily, I was given a rather innocuous and hard-to-remember combination; and I can hold onto it forever because plates are not renewed and you can transfer them to your next car.

    Our present N.J. design closely resembles the original 1959 format of straw (light yellow) with black letters, and no “frills” or artistic ornamentation. The plates are no longer embossed, however, which makes them look cheap. My father is currently driving his Subaru wagon with the plates he first got for his new Austin-Healy Sprite in 1960.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I finally got my 2020 license plate sticker for my renewal of my license because they closed the Secretary of State down the day after I mailed in my check. It took almost two months to get the sticker and I knew it was finally arriving as the check cleared the day before. I was surprised that not a single soul was at the SOS monitoring the mail, but yes it was so. The State Police had a list of all the April and May (maybe now June) drivers who would get waived for not having a current sticker. I like the covered bridge license plate but I like covered bridges. I just have the Plain Jane plate as I don’t drive that much (7,400 miles now on my 2009 Buick LaCross). We had to get new plates a few years ago because now they have a hologram on the plate that makes it easier for the police to tell if they are real or not and they glow in the dark better. People are fond of stealing license plates off your vehicle in and around the Motor City. A former neighbor saved every one of his license plates and hung them on the wall in his garage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I still have some of my early ones in my garage, but I have tended to use them as a source for a piece of metal when I am fixing something.

      Wow, at 7400 miles that car should last you the rest of your life!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My neighbor is long gone now, but he would open the garage door and you’d see them all lined up – colorful and interesting. I had the Bicentennial flag-design plate but I don’t know what happened to it. I am hoping the car will last the rest of my life. I’m just a notch above the Little Old Lady from Pasadena. 🙂 I’ve not bought gas since March 16th and still have almost a half-tank left. Governor and the State Police encouraged us not to “joy ride” and stay put.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder what’s wrong with joy riding. I have a hard time imagining an activity that is more compatible with social distancing than going for a drive by yourself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know, and I agree but the State Police First Lt. said this: “if you are out joy riding and you are involved in an accident, you have endangered yourself, the first responders who attend to you, the police who must write up an accident report, the tow truck driver who tows your damaged car, the mechanic/bump shop owner and the hospital staff that already has their hands full with Coronavirus cases. If you die, the medical examiner is also involved. So do you really want to take the car out for a joy ride?”

        I kind of resented it because it made you feel like you were intruding on everyone by simply taking the car a few miles longer than you’d take it to go on a simple errand. We were told to go out in the car to the pharmacy or grocery store … anything else is verboten. A fellow blogger in the UK is retired and he and his wife are hobby photographers and like to go to a nature preserve that is on the water and also they go to the sea for photos. This is a daily jaunt for them. The government said “you may walk for your exercise all you want, just don’t drive to your destination.” Andy and I had discussed it was similar to our situation in Michigan. They lifted the ban in the UK Wednesday and Andy/wife went out in their camper van as they’ve been doing for years to take pictures of shore birds.


  5. My dad’s garage on the farm used to have every license plate from every year, dating way back to 1930, all hanging on the walls, most of them rusty. My brother kept some of them for nostalgia’s sake, currently in a box in my mother’s basement. Here now we keep the same plate, and just change the sticker on it annually. Ontario has had the same design since the 1970’s, but they decided to change it recently, and realized after they’d produced 100,000 or so of them, that they weren’t very visible at night – or during the day due to glare- the police complained about them first when trying to arrest speeders. Do they test these things first? The embarrassing thing about this fiasco is the premier’s family business was in printing and design….after insisting for weeks that they could be fixed, he finally had to admit they were faulty and went back to the old 70’s design – Ontario – A Place to Grow. I guess if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have always wondered about the places that keep the same design for decades. Steel plates would get terribly rusty here and would never have lasted the life of a normal car. Even after 3 years the plate on one of my car got terribly bent up at the sides by car washes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Good to see the “Wander” plate – nostalgic because I spent four years at that big university in South Bend in the mid-80’s. Not sure how Indiana natives were supposed to interpret “wander” at the time, but the color scheme worked for me. All these years later I’m wondering why I even registered my car in the state. I was only visiting, after all.


    • We natives were all kind of scratching our heads. I guess we kind of figured that we are the kind of people who drive to get somewhere, not people who just kind of bumble around aimlessly with dazed looks on our faces. 🙂


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