Sunday, October 23, 2011

My License Plate Project

After more than 4 years of working on a personal project I can proudly say that as of this past Monday I’m 98% finished and that’s probably as far as I’ll get. Let me explain.

On Wednesday August 15, 2007 while driving to work on Interstate 65 I noticed license plates from several different states on the cars driving along with me. Of course there were plates from Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as other nearby states; Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia. I also saw Michigan and Massachusetts.

Seeing this many different state license plates brought back a memory of my Dad. He always seemed to be preoccupied with noticing different license plates any time we drove somewhere as a family. While I don’t ever specifically remember him saying it I believe that he always wanted to be able to say he had seen plates from all 50 states.

Having seen 16% of them that day, I decided to see how long it would take for me to reach my father’s goal. I went home and made a list of the 50 states and made a column next to them so I could mark down the dates I would see them.

At the time James was at boot camp for the Kentucky National Guard down in Columbus, Georgia. Later in August we drove south to Fort Benning for family visitation weekend. On that trip I saw quite a few more state license plates, most of them in the parking lots on the base.

By the time we got back from the 2nd trip to Georgia where James graduated from his training, I had seen 43 different state license plates and it was only the first week of October. I was accomplishing my project goal a lot quicker than I ever thought I would.

I didn’t keep a specific record of where I saw the license plates, just the dates. After October 4, 2007 when I saw the Vermont plate my 43rd state in 7 weeks there would be a long gap in my plate spotting events.

Eighteen months later, March 2009, I saw New Mexico; the only new plate I would see that year. In 2010 between February and July I passed cars with South Dakota, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Wyoming displayed on their rear bumpers.

My project count was at 48. At that time I thought I had come to an end of my effort because the remaining 2 states were: North Dakota and Hawaii. Without actually traveling to both of those states I couldn’t imagine ever seeing either of these plates.

I knew that someday seeing state #49 on my list, North Dakota was not out of the realm of possibility, especially when I spotted Wyoming (a state much farther away) on my trip to Milwaukee in July of last year. Ironically the 50th state of the union, Hawaii, represented the 50th and final state in my project.

Recently, when Paula and I took our 2-day getaway to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee I got a pleasant and totally unexpected surprise. While taking pictures of the surrounding mountains from a parking lot as we stood atop the hills above Gatlinburg (we were enjoying the elevated tourist attraction called “Ober Gatlinburg” ) I happened to look down and see the back of a sedan with a North Dakota license plate.

It had been so long since I’d even looked at my list of states I wasn’t even totally sure that I should be excited about the find. Did I need North or South Dakota? My list was in the visor of my Saturn Vue, which was at home in my driveway in Kentucky. I’d have to check when I got back. Sure enough I had seen the 49th plate.

While the beginning of my US license plate project came from a memory of my dad. The place I was on my list after seeing Wyoming in July 2010, the 48th state crossed off my project list, brought back a memory of my mom.

For as long as I can remember mom’s dream vacation destination was Hawaii. She often talked about going there. But there was only one problem. Mom was always scared of the idea of flying and vowed that you would have to knock her out to ever get her on a plane. So when someone would talk to her about the possibility of ever going to Hawaii she would say, “I’ll go just as soon as they finish building the bridge”.

In the context of my plate project, once again, the completion of a bridge to the Aloha State comes into play. It would be about the only way I would ever get to see a Hawaiian license plate here in on the continental US. 

I feel pretty good about getting to the place I am in my “see all the states’ license plates” project. As I mentioned earlier, up until it became the last one on my list I hadn’t ever considered the possibilities of ever seeing a Hawaii plate.

However something that has happened in the “world of Disney” has helped me to realize that it just might be possible to complete my list.

In September the Aulani Disney Vacation Club resort opened in Ko Olina, Hawaii. There was a lot of discussion and information presented in Disney related podcasts I listen to (For those of you who don’t know that’s about 6-10, depending on the week). Among the aspects of this new Disney vacation frontier that were discussed was this.

For people on the west coast, specifically California, vacationing in Hawaii is the equivalent of someone from the east coast going to the Caribbean or Puerto Rico. It’s not that common a destination. It’s relatively close.

Knowing that leads me to believe that perhaps there’s a possibility that it might be rather common for people to move from Hawaii to California since its closest location in the continental U.S.

Of course seeing a Hawaiian license plate on a car in California would require me to go to there. So perhaps a trip to Los Angeles to take in a Dodger game or Anaheim to see the Angels play, or (of course the mother of all reasons to go to the left coast) a visit to Disneyland is in my future.

Before I make my travel plans it might be a good idea to find out if my friend, Mary, who lives in California, has ever seen a Hawaiian license plate on a California highway. At least then I’ll know it’s possible.

So now, for the 2nd or 3rd time I am putting my License Plate Project list away with one last possibility of getting it out again someday.
But before I do I’ll take one last look at the alphabetical list of the states and see “seen” dates next to all but one of them Then I can say “Hey Dad, 49 out of 50…not bad.”

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