You can’t spell Vir­ginia with­out V-A-I-N

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By Dena Pot­ter

RICH­MOND — URSOVAIN, Vir­ginia.

You too, New Hamp­shire, Illi­nois, Ne­vada and Mon­tana.

The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ad­min­is­tra­tors has sur­veyed states to de­ter­mine which have the high­est per­cent­age of per­son­al­ized, or van­ity, li­cense plates.

Its find­ing: Vir­ginia is the vainest of them all.

About one in 10 of the 9.3 mil­lion per­son­al­ized plates na­tion­wide are in Vir­ginia, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. That’s 16 per­cent of the plates in the state.

New Hamp­shire came in sec­ond with nearly 14 per­cent. Illi­nois had about 13.4 per­cent, but it had more to­tal van­ity plates than any other state, with nearly 1.3 mil­lion.

Texas had the fewest, with only about a half per­cent of driv­ers opt­ing to per­son­al­ize their plates.

“If you’ve got 9.3 mil­lion peo­ple across the U.S. sport­ing van­ity plates, you’ve got a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non,” group spokesman Ja­son King said.

Kathy Carmichael, 58 and a real es­tate agent from Me­chan­icsville, Va., has the plate COFENUT. The self-pro­claimed cof­fee con­nois­seur drinks three cups a day but has had as many as eight to 10 cups daily.

Miss Carmichael said she of­ten gets a thumbs up or a cof­fee toast from other driv­ers.

“It’s a per­son­al­ity thing,” she said. “You get to know some­thing about the per­son in front of you or who passes you.”

Ste­fan Lonce calls it “min­i­mal­ist po­etry in mo­tion” — telling a story in eight or fewer char­ac­ters.

Mr. Lonce, au­thor of the up­com­ing book “LCNS2ROM — Li­cense to Roam: Van­ity Plates and the Sto­ries they Tell” worked with the group to sur­vey the agen­cies that is­sue li­censes in each state. The New York­based au­thor ac­knowl­edges that he orig­i­nally thought mo­torist were silly to spend ex­tra money to per­son­al­ize their li­cense plates.

“I [now] think a lot of peo­ple have sto­ries to tell, and they re­ally want pieces of those sto­ries out there,” he said.

The find­ing also are based on Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion sta­tis­tics for 2005, the latest avail­able.

Ion Bog­dan Vasi, an as­sis­tant so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Columbia Univer­sity, calls those who per­son­al­ize their plates “the nar­cis­sis­tic/ma­te­ri­al­ist po­ets of the IGen­er­a­tion.”

“Most peo­ple buy per­son­al­ized plates sim­ply be­cause they want to tell the world they are spe­cial,” he said. “They wrote an ode to them­selves, and they want to share it with ev­ery­body on the high­way.”

Some plates are fairly cryp­tic, such as Brit­tany Diaz’s EN PWANT.

It goes back to when the dancer, 17, of Mid­loth­ian, was study­ing bal­let in New York for the sum­mer as a young girl and her French teacher pro­nounced her fa­vorite style of dance, en pointe, as “pwant.”

“Most bal­leri­nas get it, and those who don’t dance I fig­ured would be en­ter­tained be­cause ‘pwant’ is just a funny thing to say,” she said.

Oth­ers are more per­sonal, such as those of Ally and Rudy Masry of Bri­ar­cliff Manor, N.Y. Mrs. Masry do­nated a kid­ney to her hus­band in 2003. Her car has the tag DONOR. His reads DONEE.

Their mes­sages are on spe­cialty plates in which some of the pro­ceeds go to a fund for or­gan do­na­tion and trans­plant re­search.

“I frankly thought it was the cra­zi­est idea to have per­son­al­ized plates un­til this came along,” Mr. Masry said.

Ini­tials and names are pop­u­lar, as are sports teams and quirky takes on pro­fes­sions, such as EYEMAN or 2THDR.

Cherrie Hamil­ton of Dana Point, Calif., has the li­cense plate BARRYFN to go along with her blog ded­i­cated to Barry Manilow.

Dan Faulkner of Dublin, Ohio, has SHIBBYY, his fa­vorite say­ing from the movie “Dude, Where’s my Car?”

Then there’s Vonn Camp­bell of Greenville, S.C., whose plate is BYTE1, show­ing off not only his com­puter science de­gree but “my de­sire to pro­vide a some­what abra- sive mes­sage to those in­di­vid­u­als who fol­low too closely.”

But why does Vir­ginia have so many per­son­al­ized plates?

Per­haps, it’s the low cost of $10 a year. But it’s as cheap in some other states, and Illi­nois charges $78 a year and has more to­tal per­son­al­ized tags. Vir­ginia and sev­eral other states also al­low driv­ers to plug in end­less let­ter-num­ber com­bi­na­tions on­line un­til they find the per­fect one, but so do a lot of other states.

“It’s only $10. You can do it on­line with lit­tle ef­fort. You can get a new one ev­ery month if you wanted to,” said Ben­jamin Mace, a Vir­ginia Beach Web de­signer who started CoolPl8z.com, where peo­ple post pic­tures of van­ity plates and vis­i­tors can vote on the their fa­vorite.

One thing is for sure, per­son­al­ized plates are big busi­ness. The tags gen­er­ated more than $9.4 mil­lion in Vir­ginia last fis­cal year, said Me­lanie Stokes, a Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles spokes­woman. Most of the money stays within the de­part­ment.

David Hol­lis has seen just about ev­ery kind of per­son­al­ized plate, as man­ager of the tag plant at Powhatan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, where all of Vir­ginia’s li­cense plates are made. In­mates there pro­duce an av­er­age of 5,000 per­son­al­ized plates each week.

One re­cent day, stacks of plates show­cased a taste of Vir­ginia’s in­ter­ests — DBYA on a “Fight Ter­ror­ism” spe­cialty plate, GOTFNS on a Jimmy Buf­fett-in­spired plate, DAWGS2 on an an­i­mal plate.

“It’s some­thing that they want to tell the world about, that they’re per­sonal about,” he said while look­ing across the shop. “That’s why they call it per­son­al­ized plates.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Brit­tany Diaz does a point as she holds her per­son­al­ized li­cense plate, “EN PWANT” in front of her car in Rich­mond, Va.

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