The Secret Messages of License Plates

Colorado License Plate 000-XXX

There was a time when I thought personalized license plates were pretty awesome things. I liked puzzling out the message, and feeling like I was clever and being inducted into the elite crowd of people who had solved the passing riddle.  I imagined there was a secret handshake and meetings, and we’d all get together and pat ourselves on the back for our amazing skills, and share knowing glances at each other in the super market.

I was disappointed when they turned our secret club initiation into a game show, and then everyone fancied themselves good at figuring out the arcane messages flashed on car rear-ends.

Worse, that show ushered out the golden age of license plate puzzling. What had once been fun was now downright annoying.

Owners of personalize plates failed to make their personal statements clever or entertaining. They started to be nothing more than, well, “vanity” plates.

I feel certain that they owe us the courtesy of making their plates interesting and accessible. Frankly, if you’re going to pay the extra bucks to announce something to the car driving public, you should take some responsibility for that message, and make it worth our time. It should be a message that is first and foremost, comprehensible. Second, it should bring pleasure or inspiration to those that see it. Is this truly asking too much?

I would love to put an end to plates which have absolutely no meaning to anyone but the car owner.  What the heck does H1OK4ME mean? Are they fans of hydrogen? Sure, ok, I can come down on the side of hydrogen. Everyone loves hydrogen. I just want to know who spends good money to give hydrogen a half-hearted recommendation on the back of their car? If they truly loved hydrogen, why not IHEARTH1? Okay, so, maybe that just looks like IH EARTH1, or I HEARTH 1 which, let’s face it, is not any clearer.  The iHearth sounds like some new iProduct.

I suppose the owners of H1OK4ME could be virologists, and H1N1 is their favorite flu critter. Or, maybe they are from Oklahoma, and their town is called H-1. No, I don’t have any idea what town founder would name a town “H-1.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that all of these meanings are far superior to the real thing. Frankly, I don’t really want to know the true meaning because I’ll just be disappointed. I’ll also be grouchy that I thought about it as long as I did.

That smug plate owner is doing nothing more than mocking me with his or her private joke, causing me to burn a few brain cells sucking in car exhaust while trying to force their cryptic car code to make one iota of sense.

There was that one drive, when I was trying to stay awake late, when I could’ve sworn all the plates had hidden meanings.  948-VPO? Clearly, this a coded message to C3PO’s silver cousin, VPO, indicating they should meet at docking bay 94 at 8:00 AM.  Yeah. I’m onto them. I could join the Rebel Alliance, and find my very own scruffy-looking Nerf Herder.

Or maybe it’s just better for everyone if I stop looking at license plates.

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  1. Another great, thought provoking edition. My favorite (recent) license plate spotting said, “GU10TAG” I thought it was pretty clever … and was excited when I spotted it. What are some of your favorite hidden messages that you have seen?

  2. “GU10Tag” is awesome. Very clever. I think it’s been 10 years, at least, since I saw a good plate, and I admit, I can’t remember an *actual* one that was any good for some reason.

    I have used as my screen name on websites “k8cre8” for nearly 20 years, which I never thought of as a license plate-like code until a TV writer pointed it out. I picked it, in part because it’s a blend of numbers and letters, and I have degrees in both math and English.