April 29, 2009
When I’m on a long road trip I love checking out license plates from other states. My wife and I will usually bring along a list of all the states and check them off as we see them because, hey, what else are you going to do while driving? You can only listen to the radio for so long before you get way out into the wilds where all you can pick up is either static or else some crazy guy who alternates between reading from the Apocrypha and the Anarchist’s Cookbook before going into a lengthy explanation of how fax machines are tools of Satan. And Satan, according to this guy, is Mikhail Gorbachev, and that’ll get him started on an even longer explanation of how that birthmark on Gorbachev’s head is actually "666", but that’s another story.
After several road trips I’ve noticed some distinct trends in license plate spotting. For one thing, since we almost always start by setting out from Tennessee, I’ve noticed that the first state I can check off the list is almost always Tennessee. And that’s not even one of the weirder things. The weirder things include the fact that I rarely see any of the New England states. Sure, I might see the occasional New York or even Maine plate, but what about Maryland? I thought most New England states were so small, so densely populated, and, in the winter, so bloody cold most people would want to get out of them, and yet I think I’ve only ever seen one Rhode Island plate. Maybe it’s because New England is so densely populated with states too. You can stand in the middle of Vermont and throw bricks and hit somebody in New Hampshire. In fact I’m pretty sure Vermont has an annual Throw Bricks At New Hampshire festival in August. And have you ever tried to look at these states on a map? There’s not enough room to fit the names of each state in, so there are long lines that have the names of the states out in Cape Cod, and when you try to follow those lines back to their respective states they get so tangled up your finger ends up in Quebec. Maybe that’s why nobody from New England ever goes anywhere: the maps are so confusing they’re afraid they’ll never find their way back. Or they’re all in Quebec. And even though I might occasionally see a license plate from somewhere in New England, I know I’ve never seen a North Dakota license plate. Sure, I’ve seen South Dakota license plates, and they’re very nice. They have South Dakota’s motto, "Mount Rushmore–it’s all we’ve got!" But no one who goes to North Dakota ever comes back. In high school I knew a girl from North Dakota and she told me people moved to North Dakota to get away from other people. If you move to a place within twenty miles of another North Dakotan, they’ll complain that the neighborhood’s getting way too crowded. I’ve seen license plates from Alaska. I’ve even seen license plates from Hawaii, which makes me think that must have been one really interesting drive. But I’m pretty sure the only place I’ll ever see a North Dakota license plate will be in the North Dakota DMV, which will be twenty miles away from everything else. And then there’s California. California is the exact opposite of North Dakota. For some reason people in California can’t wait to get out of there, and I can’t figure out why. California seems like a nice place, but setting out on any long road trip the second license plate I see is usually one from California. And it doesn’t matter where we go–there are people from California headed there too. Or maybe we’re just passing them and they’re really all on their way to Quebec.