Who’s So Vain?
“Oh no, this just won’t do. Is there any way I can get a five-digit number?” I was looking at the blue and buff license plate that the guy behind the counter at the DMV in Georgetown, Delaware, had just handed me after I registered my new car.
“Nope. All we have are six-digit plates.”
“But surely you’ve got a few fives tucked away? Last time I was in here a guy found one in a box somewhere.”
The State employee gave me a skeptical look. “Every once in a while we make some five-digits available when they re-enter the system. Check the newspapers. That’s where we advertise. It’s first come, first serve. We had some last November. People lined up hours in advance.”
Delawareans, in case you don’t know, are obsessed with low-digit license plate numbers. The lower the number the more valuable the plate. In Delaware, once you buy the number you can keep it for life as long as you keep it registered with the DMV. Families pass them down. It’s a matter of state pride and status to some. For others it’s a recession-proof investment that holds its value. After all, there are only so many low numbers.
The uniquely Delaware license plate frenzy made the national news back in 2008 when license plate number 6 went to auction and fetched a record $675,000. I’m not kidding. Google it. Two years ago, a couple paid $325,000 for tag number 14. A friend of mine, who will not be named, was in a pinch for cash so he sold his three-digit plate for around $40,000. And it was covered in mildew! But so was his entire car. He left the windows down for months at a time. Rain be damned! Pine tree saplings were growing in the crotch of his cloth back seats. But I digress….
Back at the DMV, things were looking bleak for yours truly. “You don’t understand,” I pleaded my case. “I’m not a six-digit kind of guy.” I must have been getting loud in my disapproval of the license plate foisted upon me by the State of Delaware because a supervisor who looked like Barney Fife approached us.
“Sir, do you have a problem with our buff and blue license plates?” Before I could say a thing, he continued, “Sir, this particular plate has been in use since 1958, making it the longest continuous state license plate design in the country.”
Interesting, but still I protested. “It’s not the design per se, it’s the six-digit thing. It’s just so ordinary. Nobody brags about being a six. If you’re gonna go big then show me at least eight digits. You know what I mean?”
The two men nodded their heads and conferred and then Barney went off somewhere. Five minutes later he returned with a new plate.
“Here’s the best I can do. It’s still a six-digit plate, but it’s a low six. It begins with a number one. If your number is under 200,000 you’re eligible to apply for a black and white enamel plate.”
Okay, that was some consolation. Options exhausted, I slunk out of the DMV holding my limp six-digit plate, certain the other folks waiting behind me were secretly enjoying my comeuppance.
Later that night, I was lamenting my situation in a local cocktail lounge when a friend suggested I go vanity. The solution was brilliant in its simplicity. There’s just one problem, I explained. “I’m not vain.” Well, you couldn’t believe the guffaws that erupted from my circle of friends.
Ignoring the laughter, I pressed on. “The bigger issue with a vanity plate is what it should say in no more than seven letters.”
HAUGHTY said someone immediately. This was followed by UPPITY. They were great ideas, I thought, but not for the bumper of a Ford SUV.
WRITER, AUTHOR, STORIES, and COLUMNS I dismissed easily as too boring. A young man visiting from out of town overheard the discussion and suggested DE DADDY, which mortified me.
SLIPPER was a more GENTEEL suggestion. I was, after all, wearing navy velvet espadrilles. But weren’t they just a tad precious? The suggestions, I mean.…
BITTER I liked a lot, as a nod to both to my wit and my favored CAMPARI and soda summer cocktail of choice. SAZERAC was another inspired cocktail suggestion. BOURBON felt cliché.
DR BOMBAY! Yelled out another friend. True, I liked my gin, and I’d been a “Bewitched” fan in my youth, but I felt it too esoteric and it also had one too many letters.
Clearly the creation of a vanity plate wasn’t going to be simple. And it was important to get it just right. Still, I had my reservations because I’d never thought of myself as one of those types. But, if I couldn’t have a low digit, why shouldn’t I go NO DIGIT?▼
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town, and Fun with Dick and James. More from Rich Barnett.