The blue blazer.

Ah, to be a child in Ohio in the ’60s and ’70s. The simple pleasures — the misadventures of Woody Hayes, a swimming pool in flat landscape on a hot summer day, waiting for the new license plates. Yes, that’s what I said; the plates changed every year, and you always waited to see what the new colors would be. The introduction of the “Seat Belts Fastened?” plate in the early ’70s was, simply, well… it was the introduction of a license plate, but it was something you noticed.

Well. Time passes, state budgets shrink and you no longer get a license plate every year. It’s silly, really, when you can go to a five-year plan on plate replacement and show current registration with a sticker in the corner. But some states don’t even do that, and one of them in Michigan.

When I registered my car here, I was offered the usual silly array of alternatives — plates for a Michigan alma mater, lighthouse preservation, or just flag-waving patriotism. For only $5 more, I could get a plate showing the Mackinac Bridge, totem of much of my early U.P. partying years.

But I spurned them all. I wanted the navy blue blazer of license plate-hood, the venerable white-on-blue plate known only as standard.

And I do mean venerable. The plate has been in use since 1982 with only minor tinkering. This leads to a curious sight in this wintry, car-crazy state — like-new cars bearing salt-corroded license plates. (This is an illustration, but it’s a pretty good facsimile.)

Before we had the white-on-blue plate, Michigan had a white-on-black one. During the economic upheavals of the early 1980s, when thousands of out-of-work Michiganders headed for the Sunbelt in search of a better life, some welcoming Texans referred to them, sneeringly, as “the black-tag people.” You can see why, when the price of oil collapsed a few years later and Texans were being foreclosed upon, my eyes stayed dry.

Anyway, after a mere 25 years, we’re getting a new license plate. No design yet, but they’re saying most likely we’re going with the same ol’ same ol, only blue-on-white, this time. The state says it’s time to make plates using newer “reflector technology” and anyway, 25 years is a long time to be rockin’ the same plate, even if it is a classic.

Having lived through Indiana’s misbegotten Wander plate, the much nicer blue-and-white and, finally, the “back home again/” fiasco, I’m just hoping whatever discussion the state needs to have about this will blow over quickly.

OK, then. It has been raining for most of the past two weeks, but not today. In fact, the sun is shining. I’m going to exercise one of the perogatives freelancing gives you and go outside. It’s not supposed to last long, so carpe diem.

Posted at 9:35 am in Same ol' same ol' |

15 responses to “The blue blazer.”

  1. Dorothy said on May 17, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Send some of that rain south, would you? We are nearly in drought stage here so it’s difficult to complain about one sunny day after another.

    License plate discussion: When we knew we were moving to South Carolina I looked at every car around me (in Cincinnati) trying to see what a license plate from South Carolina looked like. I rarely saw any. I came to the conclusion that residents of SC like living here so much, they don’t travel. At least not to Ohio, anyway.

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  2. Jim said on May 17, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Indiana used to have some very attractive license plates … not anymore. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

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  3. Jim said on May 17, 2006 at 10:15 am

    I found this site after thinking about some of Indiana’s plates of the past. Some I liked, some I hated. But at least it was interesting to see what they came out with next.


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  4. brian stouder said on May 17, 2006 at 11:36 am

    Given the ugly Indiana plates, we decided to splurge a little a few years back, and bought the Riley Children’s Hospital plate (wherein some of the money goes to that institution) for the minivan. (I get the original recipe ugly plate on my car)

    Illinois has cool plates, though

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  5. Connie said on May 17, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Michigan had the best Bicentennial plate. I still have mine somewhere.

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  6. Jim said on May 17, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Wasn’t 1976 a fun year? It seemed everyone went all out for the bicentennial.

    On a completely different subject … here’s a nice piece of journalism from today’s NYT, copied for those who don’t have access to TimesSelect:

    May 17, 2006
    About New York
    Hope, Saved on a Laptop
    For a long time, Ann Nelson’s laptop computer remained dark.

    It had been returned to her family in North Dakota, along with the other belongings she left behind in that great city 1,750 miles to the east. She was 30, lively, working near the very top of the World Trade Center, and — you already know.

    In the small town of Stanley, halfway between Minot and Williston, a fog thick enough to blur time’s passing enveloped the Nelson home. Amid the many tributes to Ann, amid the grieving and the absence, it became hard to remember just when and how the laptop wound up in the basement of the one-story bank that the family owned.

    There the laptop sat, for years, tucked away from sight in a black case. It was a Dell Inspiron 8000, bought shortly before Ann called home that day in early 2001 to say she had gotten a job as a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald — in New York! Soon she was living near the corner of Thompson and Spring, and working in an office 104 stories in the air.

    Ann’s parents, Jenette and Gary Nelson, say the laptop remained unopened because they are not computer savvy. But it was more than that, Mrs. Nelson admits. “To tell you the truth, it was just too painful.”

    Three summers ago, during an art class Mrs. Nelson was teaching in that basement, a couple of students showed her how to use the computer. After the class, she says, “I just left it there.”

    Who knows why never becomes someday, and someday becomes today. One day last fall — “when I got to feeling stronger,” she says — Mrs. Nelson finally opened her daughter’s computer. She pushed its power button and started by looking at the photographs stored in its memory.

    Soon Mrs. Nelson was learning how to play the computer’s games, including solitaire and hearts. These distractions both relaxed her and reminded her of the games she used to play with Ann. Somehow, this little black machine made Ann seem present, there beside her.

    Getting lost in the computer became part of Mrs. Nelson’s after-work ritual, though she never bothered to open a file that said “Top 100”; probably some music, she figured. Then, two months ago and who knows why, click.

    What she found was a catalog of goals, humanly incomplete: a list that reflected a young woman’s commitment to the serious, to the frivolous, to all of life. That night, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson sat down with the list, and were with their daughter again.

    1. Be healthy/ healthful. 2. Be a good friend. 3. Keep secrets. 4. Keep in touch with people I love and that love me. 5. Make a quilt.

    Mrs. Nelson used to sew all the time, until it simply became too hard to guide a needle properly with a joyous little girl frolicking in her lap. Then, when Ann grew older, mother and daughter decided to sew a tablecloth.

    “I don’t think we ever finished,” Mrs. Nelson says, laughing. “She had to be doing 100 things at a time, and consequently some of them didn’t get finished.”

    As for this goal of making a quilt, she adds, “I’m sure that I would probably have been deeply involved in this process.”

    6. Nepal. 7. Buy a home in North Dakota. 8. Get a graduate degree. 9. Learn a foreign language. 10. Kilimanjaro. 11. Never be ashamed of who I am.

    “Ann was in many environments where being a girl from North Dakota may not have been the most sophisticated label to wear,” Mrs. Nelson says, recalling that her daughter had traveled to China and to Peru, and had worked in the high-powered environments of Chicago and New York.

    Even so, Ann always conveyed pride in who she was, who her parents were and where they came from — though never in a boastful way. “It’s an important point about her personality,” her mother says.

    12. Be a person to be proud of. 13. Always keep improving. 14. Read every day. 15. Be informed. 16. Knit a sweater. 17. Scuba-dive in the Barrier Reef. 18. Volunteer for a charity. 19. Learn to cook.

    By her late 20’s, Ann had actually become a fairly decent cook. Still, her mother laughs in recalling late-night calls, like the one that began: “Mom, what’s drawn butter?”

    20. Learn about art. 21. Get my C.F.A. 22. Grand Canyon. 23. Helicopter-ski with my dad.

    Then Ann Nelson’s list repeats a number.

    23. Spend more time with my family. 24. Remember birthdays!!!!

    Birthdays loomed large in Ann’s life. She would celebrate her birthday not for a day, but for a week — in part because her father’s birthday came the very next day, in part because she was proud to have been born on Norwegian Independence Day — which is May 17, today.

    “Ann would have been 35,” says Mr. Nelson, who turns 65 tomorrow.

    25. Appreciate money, but don’t worship it. 26. Learn how to use a computer. 27. Visit the New York Public Library. 28. Maine. 29. Learn to write. 30. Walk — exercise but also see the world firsthand. 31. Learn about other cultures. 32. Be a good listener. 33. Take time for friends. 34. Kayak. 35. Drink water. 36. Learn about wine.

    Ann was supposed to attend a wine class the evening of Sept. 11, in keeping with Nos. 13, 19, 31, 36 — the whole list, really.

    After 36, there is a 37, but it is blank.

    Mr. Nelson reads the list as an inventory of his daughter’s values. “You don’t see any Corvettes in the garage or any of those material things you might expect from someone that age,” he says. “She recognized that you appreciate a few things and kind of live your life wisely.”

    Mrs. Nelson interprets the list as another way in which Ann seems to communicate with her when she is most in need. So, just about every day in a small North Dakota town, halfway between Minot and Williston, the screen of a laptop computer goes from darkness to light.


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  7. J. Rae said on May 17, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    I tend to go for the classics myself, but, if you’re looking for variety in license plates, move to Virginia.

    From the state web site: Virginia offers approximately 180 special plates for our citizens to put on their vehicles. These plates represent colleges and universities, branches of the military and special interest organizations such as conservationists, professional organizations and hobbyists.

    You have to see it to believe it.

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  8. brian stouder said on May 17, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Great article, Jim; thanks for sharing it

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  9. Jason said on May 17, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Nance, I’m with you on the “blue blazer” look, and all of the college-mascot-cause-hobby-lobby-etc. license plates make my eyes glaze over as well. I don’t need my license plate to make a statement:

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  10. Dave said on May 17, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Nancy, remember the ugly mustard (sort of) plates with blue letters and numerals? At that time, I thought those were the ugliest license plates ever. Remember Traffic Court on Channel 10? Had a case on there one night where someone painted their plate a color more to their liking because they hated those plates so much. They were local actors but the cases were supposed to be real.

    I hate the current Indiana plates so we have school plates on all of our vehicles representing both of my now-graduated children, two of each school, Anderson and the University of Indianapolis.

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  11. joodyb said on May 17, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    i wish Minnesota would just give us one of these as the state’s standard issue:

    but we have to pay extra for them, too. i like the loon one a lot.

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  12. alex said on May 17, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    See what you’ve started, Nance???? Here’s the penultimate:

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  13. MarkH said on May 18, 2006 at 3:46 am

    When I lived in Ohio, I always felt the “Seat Belt Fastened?” plates started the trend toward the “message” plates. Like Nance, my dad and I looked forward to the new ones each year.

    Of course I’m biased, as my cars have been wearing them for 25 years, but I’ve always been partial to the Wyoming plate. It features the longest running logo, the bucking horse and rider, since 1936, which makes it prized among collectors. Up until the 1978 plate, the color combination changed each year. Then the artistic backgrounds started and ran five years with stickers. Now they’ve stretched plate life to eight years. But that’s ok; they usually put some great scenery behind Old Steamboat (the horse). Currently we have Devil’s Tower till 2009. Old Faithful is supposedly next.

    One thing I lament is how cost cutbacks have cheapened license plates. Heavy stamped plates have given way to cheap metal flat ones. When ours went flat, the state said it was only temporary, that the next issue would feature embossed numbers. Since then, we have found out the machinery at the state prison is so old and broken down and the only place to get it repaired is in Germany (!). So they decided to get rid of it and, like Montana and Nebraska, Wyoming now has painted flat plates.

    While not as many as Virginia, Colorado offered a lot of choices in plate design. But at the request of the state police, they have cut back the offerings; too hard to quickly identify the state of origin and the couldn’t keep up

    Dave, you must be talking about WBNS channel 10 in Columbus. What a hoot Traffic Court was. I forget the judge’s name, but he was a
    communications professor at Ohio State. And since everyone was an actor, he would recruit his students and friends as defendants. One time one of his friends forgot what he ws supposed to do and called the “judge” by his first name. The judge then launched int such an ad-libed rage that the defendant turned white and I thought he s going to cry.

    And, Jason, it’s great to see an entry here from a fellow Tube City native! I’ll email you at your site.

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  14. Kirk said on May 18, 2006 at 8:17 am

    Traffic Court on channel 10 — a fine example of poorly produced local TV from the ’60s. we watched it every week. the one i remember involved an old lady who got some kind of a parking ticket. she explained to the judge that her cadillac just wouldn’t fit inside those small parking spaces. he sentenced her to measure a parking space, measure her cadillac and get back to him.

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  15. Paul said on May 23, 2006 at 1:23 am

    All this talk about license plates…I`m always happy to read it..I am a collector of sample license plates, so I am always contacting DMV`s to get what ever they are willing to sell me, as well as other plate collectors..if anyone here would like see thousands of different license plates, from just about everywhere, yo can view my sample plate website at:

    Indiana current issue: I hate it…i coould have made one better at home
    Michigan blues: definitely needs to be changed..i`m working on a design myself
    Iowa tags…hate that ALL FLAT look, like Indiana and South Dakota

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