Friday, January 1, 2016

The Annual Chase for License Plates - 2016 Version

Every year since junior high school I have kept a list of the state and provincial license plates I have seen in a calendar year.  It’s all Warren Leary Jr.'s fault because of that column he used to run in the Rice Lake Chronotype telling about the new state license plates he had seen during his lunch-time walks down Main Street each week in summer. 

I used to try to get all 50 states in random order which was pretty easy and usually done before Memorial Day. Then I moved to Washington DC where it was ridiculously easy - in 1997 I saw all 50 states in 4 hours and 13 minutes on New Year's Day.  Attending a meeting in Yellowstone National Park in 1982 I saw all 50 states and every Canadian province in four days driving around the park! 

Finding a Northwest Territories and a Yukon Territory license plate in the same year is a cause for celebration - even in Canada!

In the early 1990s I started doing the states randomly and then also in alphabetical order (Alabama before Alaska before Arizona before Arkansas.....).  That became a bit more of a challenge but there have been only 2 years since 1991 that I have not seen all 50 states alphabetically.  Most recently it was 2013 when out of desperation I spent most of the afternoon of December 31 sitting by the bridge at the Proctor Road overpass watching northbound cars on Interstate 75 through my binoculars hoping for a Wyoming plate.  I sat there until dark - one never showed.

In the past I would start out at 12:01 a.m. cruising hotel parking lots looking for plates.  One year I was pulled over in the parking lot of the Interstate Holiday Inn by the Grand Island Nebraska Police Department. The police had received a report that someone was sizing up cars to break and enter. Luckily I had a data sheet with me showing check marks by each state I had seen so far.  The cop just shook his head and told me to drive safely.

Now that I’m older and hopefully a little wiser I no longer go out at midnight because of a healthy fear of drunk drivers and of sobriety checkpoints.  Instead I sleep until I wake up and then hit the pavement as I did this morning. 

By simply checking parking lots at the Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and Courtyard by Mormonott near my home, I picked up 35 states, Ontario, and the prize of the year – Guanajuato, Mexico.  That’s a rare one to find even in Mexico so I consider myself extremely fortunate.

Finding this state of Guanajuato, Mexico, license plate in the Hampton Inn parking lot this morning was even more exciting than the Alaska license plate parked next to it!

Since moving to Florida with its 67 county plates and 140 or so “vanity” plates I have also kept track of them although I don’t worry about whether they are alphabetical or not.  I’ve never seen all of the vanity plates (some of the University plates are damned difficult to find – one has only 350 plates issued in the entire state).  About the only way to see all the county plates is to visit each county and most years I do so just to get the plates.

One of the 140 or so specialty or "vanity" plates in Florida is this one that supports sea turtle conservation and it just happens to reside on my car.  Serious Parrotheads should be able to figure out the meaning of what's on my plate.

This morning’s haul was quite good for only a few minutes effort.  Best of all was that I not only saw Alabama through Georgia but with some backtracking was able to see them all alphabetically.  That means that I’m now looking for Hawaii and it’s still early morning on January 1.  After posting this I’m going to throw my dog in the car and she and I are going license plate hunting.

In Sarasota the hot spots are the hotel parking lots by the freeway, those by the airport, then St. Armand’s Circle, Lido Key, and the parking lots on Siesta Key.  There is a gigantic Mormon Church on Beneva Road where Utah (and usually Idaho) are a piece of cake on worship days so unless I score one or both on Lido Key I’ll have to cruise the church parking lot until one shows up.

I keep all of my license plate sightings in an Excel spreadsheet and also keep track of the date on which I see each unique plate.  Many people think I’m pretty weird for doing this and every one of them is correct.  However there aren’t many things that someone in their 60s can do that they did as a child that still brings them a sense of adventure.