They used to be rare, those license plates that bore abbreviated communications telling the world something about the attached car's driver. But today, vanity license plates - or personalized plates or prestige plates - account for about 3 percent of all the tags carried on eligible vehicles. In fact, according to state DMVs, the sales of vanity plates often account for a significant source of revenue.
Our family could never see an advantage in paying extra to have the plate on my van announce to the world "I WRITE." And George, the lifelong hardware guru, couldn't justify giving the state extra dollars to carry a tag reading "HDWR MAN" on his Ford Taurus.
But apparently, there are growing numbers of drivers who consider those little metal plates on their cars the ultimate means of telling the world something about their interests.
During the decade we were part of the twice-a-year snowbird migration, we made a hobby of "collecting" the interesting, funny or unusual vanity plates we encountered on our travels. And many of our pals told us of the winning licenses they saw on the road.
One of my favorites from the list we've assembled was the beat-up plate on the well-worn pickup of a handyman in Virginia. His tag read "I DO ALL."
A carefree Florida retiree summed up his lifestyle with his plate that read, "PSA CAKE."
A shiny just-off-the-showroom-floor sport vehicle bore a plate proclaiming "NYCEJEEP."
Near Charleston, W.V., the owner of a big white Chrysler opted to tell the world of his pride in ownership with a tag that read "DEBT FREE."
One of our neighborhood sailing enthusiasts happily displays his favorite pastime with his license reading "SEAGUY."
While traveling through the deep south one day, we came across a friendly southern gent with a tag that said simply "HOW-D."
A friend from Michigan told us of a racing enthusiast buddy of his who had his plate made to underscore his need for speed. The tag read "I BRN RBR."
A beat up Chevy from Georgia reflected the tight economy with a tag that read "I HVNO JOB."
We shared the roadway with an interesting customized sport car whose owner had added a unique air foil to the trunk. He had opted to emphasize his unusual vehicle with a plate that read "1 OFKIND."
In addition to the many private cars that carry vanity plates with messages ranging from "BARBIE" and "SMITTY" to "IMA MOM" and "LUV LCY" we've seen many interesting business vehicles with license tags that cleverly communicate their owner's line of work. For instance, we noticed on the back of a large van carrying a collection of musical instruments, a tag that read "TRUBADOR."
A local computer guru identified his vehicle with a plate that reads "INTERNT."
A friend reported her attorney drives a fancy BMW wearing a tag that proclaims he's on the right side of the law with "LEGIT."
And a plumbing contractor whose truck is seen throughout the area tells the world about his line of work with his plate that reads "GENOVA."
But, of all the message plates I've seen recently, I like best the one that tells a simple story for anyone interested in putting together the clues. The gleaming new silver Honda convertible was stopped at the traffic light. In the passenger seat, the husband beamed at his wife behind the wheel. Her smile rivaled the glow of the new car. And the vehicle's license plate told the story. It read "25TH."