Platespotting

I don’t own a fishing rod or a pair of binoculars, and I’ve never aimed a firearm at a living thing.

But I’m just as serious about stalking my chosen quarry as other outdoorsmen are about pursuing theirs. And those who share my passion know that given the hordes of visitors currently motoring through Maine, it’s prime hunting season around here.

My fascination with automobile license plates began as a small boy in Connecticut. Our family rarely crossed the state’s border; that’s why I assumed the Nutmeg State was approximately the same size as Asia. Then one day my father’s uncle and aunt came all the way from Brooklyn, New York for a visit, arriving in a car adorned with an orange license plate! Who knew such items came in any color but blue? Once I learned each of the 50 states had its own special marker I was bound and determined to see every last one of them before my Earthly days were done.

Our family traveled infrequently when we were kids, but when I was 11 years old we took a vacation to Montreal. En route we saw countless Massachusetts plates, plenty of green Vermont tags, and a few New Hampshire “Live Free or Dies,” too. Once across the international border, we learned about exotic places called Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick, each of which had its own special marker as well.

Some years later I visited the license plate-spotting capital of the USA, Washington, DC. A ten-minute walk through the capital area on a weekend is all but guaranteed to yield sightings of tags from at least half of the U.S. states, and certainly all of the east coast ones. Take the same stroll on a weekday and you’ll probably see close to all 50 state plates, though you might have to get lucky to spy an Alaska or a Hawaii.

As a young adult I zig-zagged 2800 road miles to a summer job in Butte, Montana. Along the way I couldn’t help but notice that the further west I got, the more unusual my own tags seemed to become. After Indiana I never saw another Connecticut plate, and perhaps as a result I got lots of curious stares from people as I passed them (or they passed me) on the highway. It’s unnerving having everyone look at you as though you were from outer space just because your car is registered far from wherever you happen to be traveling. I always resist the temptation to check out drivers with yellow New Mexico plates when I see them on I-295, because I’ve felt their pain.

Shortly after college my friend Jeff and I began a circuitous driving vacation that took us through Niagara Falls, Toronto, Chicago and Washington DC, among other places. On the way back he claimed to have seen every possible domestic license plate. I politely reminded him that we hadn’t yet seen one from Puerto Rico. He insisted such a marker didn’t count. Determined to finish the job right, I spent the rest of our trek searching for the elusive Puerto Rican tag, but never did spot one.

The very afternoon our ten-day odyssey concluded my mother welcomed me home, then almost immediately asked me to run an errand for her at the local drugstore, a ten-minute drive away. Parking next to an empty space, it took no time at all to pick up the prescription she had asked for.

When I returned to my car a vehicle was parked next to mine.

It was a white Pontiac with a Puerto Rico license plate!

Andy Young
July 16, 2023

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