See? See see see see? That oblong green block just above dead center, labeled “25”?
Or “North Da-fucking-kota,” as I keep saying to people, most of whom know of my license plate obsession and indulge it (or are at least discreet about their reservations).
North Dakota is the unicorn, the holy grail, the impossible dream of the license plate game, at least on Martha’s Vineyard. Other places too, I’m told by friends around the country, though it’s probably not all that rare in Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota, the first two of which are rare birds on the Vineyard, though not as rare as North Dakota.
I last spotted North Dakota about 25 years ago. It was on a tour bus queued up at the Vineyard Haven ferry dock waiting to leave the island. My cohort Don Lyons (whom I blame for getting me started in this game) asked the driver if they really were from North Dakota. New Jersey, said the driver. No matter: the bus and the license plate were from North Dakota.
Mid-February had rolled around and the license plate map looked just like it had at the end of January. Driving from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs I decided to detour through the M.V. Hospital parking lot(s), a reliable source of hard-to-find and even exotic plates. This trip turned up Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky: a good haul indeed. I continued on toward my destination, Reliable Market on Circuit Ave.
A plate caught my eye as I drove past DeBettencourt’s gas station. Could it possibly be . . . ? The dark sedan bearing the plate was parked off to the side, facing the road. In the license plate game, front-end plates don’t count: in states that only require one plate (as used to be the case in Massachusetts) drivers sometimes use the front end for a souvenir plate from times past. A distinctive orange plate from Panama is sometimes seen in my town, but its rear plate is from good ol’ Massachusetts so I don’t get excited.
I was pretty excited — well, no: “incredulous” is a better word — by the prospect of North Dakota. I pulled a U-turn in the middle of New York Ave., rolled to a stop on the shoulder just past the gas station, got out, and went over to do an inspection — briefly wondering if I’d have to explain to the gas jockey what I was up to. (I didn’t: no one even glanced in my direction.)
Sure enough, the plate on the rear end was from North Dakota. Wow.
When I passed that way a few days later, North Dakota was in exactly the same place. I wondered what the story might be. Could North Dakota work at the gas station? Maybe North Dakota was off-island for a while and got permission to leave his/her car there? If the car was for sale, there’d be a FOR SALE BY OWNER or some such sign on the windshield, but there wasn’t. It’s a mystery.
I capped the month off with Delaware, which is almost always the last East Coast state to show up.
Best February on record.
It’s also nerve-racking: spotting North Dakota in February raises the possibility that 2019 might be the year I spot all 50 states plus D.C. This raises the stakes considerably. North Dakota might be the unicorn, but Mississippi, Hawaii, Montana, and South Dakota aren’t exactly there for the spotting. We’ll see.