Sometimes I have to wonder about these folks who get the personalized license plates.  On the freeway this morning I noticed a SUV with the license plate EMBLMR, and I thought, “Emblemer.  What exactly is an emblemer?  Someone who makes emblems?  Does this person have his or her own embleming service?”  And then I realized that it probably wasn’t “emblemer” at all but EMBALMER!  Embalmer, well, I know what an embalmer is.  And then I thought, “Why does this person want to advertise the fact of being an embalmer, and why would he advertise it on his SUV?  I assume he is a professional embalmer.  I don’t think he’d be advertising his amateur embalming, as I’m pretty sure amateur embalming is frowned upon in the legal world.  I don’t have proof of this, of course.  He could be an amateur embalmer, but let’s say he’s a professional embalmer.  Why should the rest of us care?  Are we really supposed to be driving down the freeway wondering who we’re going to have embalm Aunt Sally when out of nowhere this SUV-driving embalmer cruises into our lane and all our problems are solved?  Where is his 800 number?  Or is this supposed to be some kind of threat–‘Tailgate me and I’ll embalm you!’  But isn’t that illegal, too?  Oh, look, there’s my exit.”

It seems that a lot of people who have vanity plates put their professions on them.  There are many dentists with vanity plates in this area.  Registered nurses, too.  I don’t have any specific data to back this up, but I suspect people with professional degrees are more susceptible to the temptation to put those degrees on their license plates.  That’s because it’s hard for your fellow drivers to read the fine print on your diploma if you post it in your rear windshield.  When I was a young teen I saw a psychologist whose license plate read INTJ PHD, which alluded to both her advanced degree and her Myers-Briggs personality type.  Perhaps it was her way of asserting herself in the world.  (The “I” is for introvert, you know.)  Anyway, with all due respect to my former psychologist, who was a wonderful human being for whom I retain much affection, I think it’s a little obnoxious to put your PHD on your license plate.  If my husband is ever of a mind to get a vanity plate, I will have to put the kibosh on any design that contains the letters PHD (at least in that order).  Unless he wanted one that said ELMRPHD because that might be kind of funny.  But that’s not really his style.  And plus, it’s probably taken.

It must be very disappointing to come up with what you think is a brilliant and unique combination of letters for your vanity plate only to find out that some other jerk had your idea first.  That’s why I feel sorry for people with vanity plates containing misspelled words when there was obviously space enough to spell the words correctly.  Because you just know they had their hearts set on saying whatever they were saying only to have their dreams crushed by the DMV official who informed them they needed to be a bit more original next time.  It’s especially sad when the license plate says something like 2KOOL4U.  Because what are they, twelve?  And if so, do their parents know they’re spending their money on vanity license plates?

My mother went back to work when I was in high school, and she told us that her new boss had just written a book, which he was very excited to have published.  When it finally came out, she brought home a copy of it.  Her boss was a scientist, so I’d expected it to be a science book, but actually it was a book about vanity license plates.  I believe it was called VN8TPL8.  It didn’t sell very well.  My mom’s boss blamed the booksellers, who tended to stock it in the Automotive section, when it really should have been in Humor/Novelty.  (Or better yet, by the cash register, as an impulse item.  You have to admit he had a point.  Would you buy such a book on anything but an impulse?)  Anyway, I read it.  As far as books about license plates go, it was pretty good. 

My mom’s boss was a very talented scientist, but he did not have a Ph.D.  He had a Master’s degree.  Which was not why he was reduced to writing books about vanity plates.  That was just a special interest of his.  No, what I was going to say was that I’ve not noticed many people with Master’s degrees putting their educational credentials on their license plates.  This is probably because they would be too easily misunderstood.  People might assume you had multiple sclerosis, or alternatively, if you’d studied the humanities, that you had children.  Of course, if you had a Master’s degree and multiple sclerosis, you could put MS SQRD on your license plate and there would be no confusion.  Theoretically.

In Oregon there are many vanity plates referencing the Ducks.  I bet the first person to grab GO DUCKS as a license plate feels pretty pleased with himself.  By the same token, the poor sap who’s stuck with GO DUKS probably feels like a chump every time he gets in his car.  He certainly looks like one.  No offense to him.

My mom’s boss dedicated a whole chapter in his book on people who try to get naughty license plates, but the DMV has censors to prevent state-sanctioned obscenity on the roadways.  Quote from a lady who was in charge of weeding out the pervy plates:  “You’d be surprised at what people try to get away with.”  No, dear lady, I bet you’d be surprised at what people do get away with.  Which makes me wonder how often in Oregon do OSU fans have their license plates rejected out of hand?

Full disclosure:  When I was a senior in high school, my parents bought a used Datsun 260Z, and they got a vanity plate for it.  Because if you’re going to get a nifty sports car, you should get a nifty license plate to go with it, eh?  They considered several options, including one that said NOIZMYN.  I thought that was too esoteric.  Eventually they decided to go with a play on words involving our last name and the letter Z.  It was only moderately clever.  People who didn’t know what our last name was thought that it was trying to say “sleazy” (or rather, “zleazy”), but that wasn’t it at all.  Eventually my parents gave this car to me.  I loved that little car.  I named it Fred.  If I’d been in charge of buying it a vanity license plate, that’s what I would have put on it, FRED.  No one would have misunderstood that.

As newlyweds, my older sister and her husband got a vanity plate for their pickup that said LDS CPL.  I didn’t really understand why they would want to do that.  I don’t believe in advertising your religion or your political affiliation on your car.  Because we all make mistakes sometimes, and do you really want to be responsible for giving your whole group a reputation for bad driving?  Let’s face it, no one remembers the license plate of the courteous and competent driver.  But I can easily envision our poor (bike-riding) missionaries showing up on someone’s doorstep and that person saying, “One of your people cut me off this morning, so you can go to hell!”  Because we all know what keeps most people from becoming Mormons is that handful of crackpots driving too slow in the fast lane and forgetting to shut off their turn signal whilst spreading the glorious gospel through their license plates.  Oh, wait. 

The thing is, I’m pretty sure I don’t want anything on my car drawing attention to me.  I certainly don’t want anything on my car distracting other drivers from the important business of safely transporting themselves from point A to point B.  Which is why I think it’s foolish and in some cases dangerous to own a vanity license plate that says something totally indecipherable on it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in traffice looking at something like SFJDKEO or WERCIRU and wondering what the heck I’m supposed to make of that.  I know it’s probably not for me to understand at all, which is why it’s called a vanity plate and not an amuse-the-world-at-large plate.  I just don’t like being confused.  I’m a word person.  I must make order out of alphabetic chaos.  I just know that one of these days I’m going to miss my exit.  Stupid vanity license plates.

I just found my mom’s boss’s book on Amazon.com–nine used and new from $.95.  I’ll have to ask my dad if he knows where our copy went, but I’m sure he doesn’t.  I hope they didn’t throw it out–it was autographed!

You are now at liberty to contribute to the discussion with personal anecdotes, rumor and innuendo.  Proceed.

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