Thursday, July 14, 2005

Keeping it on the Down Low

This is why I love Rhode Island. (Registration required.) A story about license plates is the second headline on ProJo's website.
If you've ever read a Don Bosquet comic strip (his wife was my high school librarian and she ROCKED, so hi, Mrs. Bosquet!) then you know the inexplicable love Rhode Islanders have with their license plates, especially the low-numbered ones. Unlike the "milk and bread" instinct, I'm at a loss to describe why people love the low-number plates. I can see getting bent out of shape over a vanity plate, although a vanity plate is a big neon sign to cops to remember your car. Just ask my high school principal (hi, Mrs. Christian!) about that. A ProJo piece about speed traps was published, and the car that got pulled over twice in one day was her Mitsubishi sports car with the dorky science-themed vanity plate. Endless laughter behind her back about that one.
I'm guilty of this attachment myself. From the time I was four until my Tempo bit it in 2000, we had FR. (There were numbers after it, but I don't want my mother to freak and barricade herself in her house figuring all the dregs of the internet will come mess up her new bathroom.) I begged my mother to keep the plates, but she turned them in in favor of using her initials on her new car's plates and forsaking my old friend FR. A little part of me broke along with the rusty lugnut that held the beloved plate to my bumper was removed.
But this is a bit extreme:

Plate 7
In 1986, car dealer Carmine Carcieri paid a Cranston man $25,000 to transfer the plate to him. After authorities found out about the sale, the state police confiscated the plate, which was canceled. It remained unissued until 1994, when outgoing Gov. Bruce Sundlun issued it to his then-wife, Marjorie.

I don't think there's a better example of the way things work in my home state than this story. Crimes, an attempt to set things right, then the government at work using the great system of nepotism, then divorcing the beneficiary. God bless my little state. All that's missing is Buddy Cianci threatening someone with a log, getting arrested, convicted, and then becoming mayor again.
Plate 234
In 1996, two men at a Pawtucket car dealership were charged with falsifying paper work to transfer the plate from Nancy Burdick, a South Kingstown woman whose family had held the number for more than half a century.

Perhaps this is why people love the low-number plates; the sense of history attached to them. What is just a way to identify cars in other states is a tin badge of pride in 'lil Rhody. That's why FR held such appeal to me. It was on my Mom's first "new" car, a nice black 1985 Escort station wagon to replace the brown one that never started and made me miss preschool more than once. The fact that she held onto it when she bought our first Taurus, which became my Taurus, which became my Tempo after I crashed the Taurus. The fact that it was with us through three houses, two deaths, a divorce and my becoming an adult can't easily dismissed. If I'd stayed in Rhode Island, I'd probably have kept the plate on my cars and would still have it now. I don't understand the appeal of getting the low plates now when you haven't always had it. Maybe to keep up the illusion of history for the newbies. But to my Rhode Island peeps, send in your name and hopefully you know somebody who knows somebody at the DMV and can put your name in the raffle twice and you'll get number 61 and be the envy of everyone.

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