Sunday, November 8, 2009


An unfortunate by-product of living in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles is that often the places you need to get to are not just down the way. Giving those of us who inhabit the city of angels ample time behind the wheels of our cars, amidst the commuter crush. And no, this isn't an essay about traffic. It's about the fact that as I drive around this fair city, I'm constantly reminded that some people have an inexplicable need to convey some sort of message that is of great importance to them via their automobile. That is, if you can actually decipher said message. I'm talking about the aptly named vanity plate.

Now, I'm the first to admit that as a burgeoning teenager, I deeply coveted the personalized licensed plate bolted to the front and back of my best friend's older sister's car, proudly proclaiming the phrase "88 GRAD." I now suspect that a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was a senior in high school and had her own car, but regardless, I was only thirteen at the time, so I think that buys me a free pass. And I'll certainly concede that it sometimes passes the time when I'm doing zero miles per hour on the 405 if I have a car in front of me with some illegible but clearly vitally important cipher I am expected to decode. Though it begs the question, if I can't understand what you are trying to say, what exactly was the point of the hours you spent coming up with your secret spy message? Not to mention the time and energy it takes to apply for one of those suckers.

And what about the ones that are easy to read, if usually poorly mispelled, bastardized versions of your favorite catch phrase? If you've tacked one of those on the back of your car for the sole purpose of making people laugh, then bravo. You win, and I'll happily tip my hat to you. But I'm guessing most of you take those little messages seriously. Too bad for you, I don't. Like the one I saw the other day as I was headed down the 101. "KEPUSHN." Okay, I got it. Keep pushing. If I go with the theory that the name "vanity plate" has any bearing, then this statement is about you. Are you an obstetrician? Do you really need to advertise if you are? Or is this your big motivational self mantra? And if so, why the hell is it on the outside of your car, where you usually aren't looking? And if we forget the whole vanity theory, maybe you're just offering me some friendly advice, in case I'm a little constipated. Seriously.

Then there was the black Mustang, again on the 101, I spend a lot of time on the 101, with a plate that read "O BEHAVE." Props for actually using some correct spelling, but what are you trying to say? Because you are clearly not Austin Powers. I know, because I drove up next to you and looked in the window to check. Finally, because things are always good in threes, I recently saw a plate that read "MMMMGRL." I don't even know how to say that without the image of someone in a dress and a jock strap and size eleven high heels snapping her fingers at me coming to mind. So my assumption is that you're a drag queen. Which does not bode well for your dating career if you're the straight-looking guy who was actually driving the car and you are, in fact, heterosexual. And for the love of pete, all of my gay friends have more class that that, so as far as I'm concerned, unless you are RuPaul, there's just no excuse.

Vanity plates are entertaining, and deciphering them is a hell of a lot more fun than playing the alphabet game when you're stuck in some serious traffic or on a long road trip. But if you have one, you need to understand that most of us, other vanity plate owners aside, are either laughing at you or just shaking our heads in confusion and wonderment at the phenomenon. So if you want to take the piss out of your fellow highway goers, by all means, pull out all the stops, give us a plate to laugh at and laugh along with us. But if it's true vanity your after, just buy yourself a mirror and stay home.

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