Long time ago in a building that no longer exists, Don Lyons got me hooked on the license plate game. The building, a long low ramshackle structure back behind Woodland Market, then housed the Martha’s Vineyard Times, where Don and I both worked. We and a bunch of our colleagues were sitting around a table eating lunch on a rush-to-deadline Wednesday when Don, apropos of nothing, wondered if we collectively could identify the five hardest-to-find state license plates on Martha’s Vineyard.
Turned out he was a longtime license plate spotter. In that moment I became one too. For at least 22 years now, I’ve been spotting license plates and logging them month by month on a map of the U.S. The ground rules are simple: The vehicle bearing the plate has to be either on Vineyard soil or on the ferry coming to or from. The plate has to be current. As I recall, Don didn’t count D.C. but I lived in D.C. for 11 years so I do.
I don’t remember which five hard-to-find plates we came up with, or which ones Don had in mind. I’m pretty sure that Nebraska and Mississippi were two of them, and I’m certain that North Dakota was at the top of Don’s list. You’d think Hawaii would be rarer than North Dakota, but it isn’t. North Dakota is the perennial spoiler. I’ve only seen two North Dakota plates in all my years playing the game. Without North Dakota, you can’t finish the year with a fully colored-in map.
Since 2005, I’ve been issuing monthly license plate reports in the Bloggery at susannajsturgis.com. With the advent of 2012 I’m moving it over here. Make of it what you will.