I like vanity license plates in the same way as I like weddings and children. They’re lots of fun as long as they’re not my own.

I would never have a vanity license plate on my car. It’s not just that I’m too cheap, although that’s part of it. And it’s not because of an undersupply of vanity, although I’ve never yet come close to wearing out a mirror.

The main reason I wouldn’t have a vanity plate is the same reason that their owners want them: they attract attention. The last place that I want to attract attention is when I’m in my car. Once people associate you with your license plate, any hope of blending in is lost.

Other than close friends and family, most people can’t keep track of who drives what vehicle. If a co-worker walks past your car in the mall parking lot, chances are they won’t even notice it unless it has a vanity tag that blares “HERE I AM.”

So while I wouldn’t put such a plate on my car, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the folly of those who do seem to crave this kind of attention. In fact, I collect vanity license plates for my own amusement. No, I don’t steal them. That would require work and tools, both of which I prefer to leave in the hands of others.

Instead, I photograph them. It’s easier, and much less risky than stealing a vanity plate that reads, for example, “AXEWMN.” That particular plate was in a frame that said “Nurses call the shots.” As disturbing as it is to think that someone would want to be known as “Axe Woman,” the fact that she might also be a nurse was more than I really wanted to know.

But even AXEWMN pales next to one New Hampshire plate I came across. New Hampshire has some of the best vanity plates because the state allows up to seven characters. That was plenty for the charming mother who chose the plate “EVILMOM.” Evidently, “SOCCERMOM” wouldn’t fit.

One of my favorite out-of-state plates was one from Maine that read, “MY CAH.”

Other plates are just plain silly, like Massachusetts tags “GOOFE,” “PHROGS” and “PHISHN.”

Sometimes the plate is actually descriptive, accurate and clever, like the one on a pickup owned by a New Hampshire blasting company that said simply, “DETON8.”KABOOM!

People who like vanity plates apparently also like to eat, as evidenced by “FEAST” and “OREO.” And of course nothing beats a plate of “BREAD.”

Some vanity plate owners betray a casual attitude about things, like “NOBIGY.”

In my experience, women seem particularly fond of vanity plates. In addition to the aforementioned “EVILMOM” and “AXEWMN,” I’ve seen “WITCH8,” “BIKRGL,” “HPYGRL,” and “SOXGAL.” (I guarantee that “SOXGAL” wears a pink hat with a “B” on it.)

Some of the best plates are, of course, the ones that got away – the cars that whizzed by before I could get my camera out or that I wasn’t able to photograph for some other reason. The other night, I saw one that said “ETHICS.” I also missed the chance to grab a New York plate that evidently belonged to an existentialist, “YRUHERE.”
But my all-time favorite elusive plate is one from New Hampshire that I’ve seen several times but have yet to get a photo. The plate proclaims, “IMADORK.”

On that point, sir, you’ll get no argument from me.

To see my entire collection of over 100 vanity plate photos, go to my Flickr page.

[This column originally appeared in the December 20, 2007 Wakefield Daily Item.]

5 Responses to “YOU’RE SO VAIN”

  1. 1 Clare

    loved the article…and my favorite vanity plate that I saw on an old huge Lincoln in Falmouth Maine….”Das Boot”…The Boat! Clare

  2. I have a collection that I’ve been adding to for about a year at

  3. Hi,
    I like the way you write ..Its really different and interesting … keep the momentum going ..I hope tis will really going to help me in future..
    brilliant. .

  4. I like the vanity plates that poke fun at the driver or similar. I don’t like the ones that are an ego trip for the owner.

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