Plate It!

Originally published in the Lititz Record Express, May 20, 2021. Reproduced here because someone just contacted me about buying my car and I have to tell any potential buyers that the license plate stays. Read on and see why I have such an emotional attachment.

In 60 years of auto owner­ship, I’ve only ever had two American vehicles. Started with a ’57 Morris Minor con­vertible, then a Hillman and progressed through a number of Volvos, an Austin, a Maz­da, and Toyotas. Yes I had a Chevy pick-up and a Ford Escape in the mix, but those were the exceptions.

So given my preference for off-shore iron, it’s only natural, although admittedly pretentious, that I like to take advantage of PA’s rear-plate-only protocol to sport front license plates from the for­eign countries where we’ve motored. At this point, both my car and my wife’s have Japanese plates and my vin­tage Volvo has an old, pre-EU Spanish plate. There are a couple of Irish and UK plates in reserve. But I won’t likely get around to collecting plates from the several other countries that we could add, because, as I’ll further relate, this can be a risky quest.

It all started on my first bicy­cling trip to western Ireland, back in the mid-80s when I wandered down a side street in Clifden and came upon a garage. There was a stocky, red-cheeked man in a bowler hat who seemed to be run­ning the place and I impul­sively asked if he had any Irish license plates he’d be willing to sell. He readily obliged and I brought my proud trophy back and put it on the front of one of my daily drivers.

Fast forward 10 years and I had signed my high school-age son and I up for an orga­nized bike tour of that same Emerald Isle region. As it happened, we again stopped in Clifden for lunch one misty day and I told my son I want­ed to go see if that garage was still there and, if so, get anoth­er plate.

Well it was still there, and so was the same ruddy-faced guy in the same bowler hat; and he remembered our first encounter. Inside the ga­rage there was a bunch of leprechaun-looking fellows standing around in greasy coveralls. The man in the hat instructed one to hop up on a workbench and retrieve some license plates wedged be­tween a big pipe and the wall.

He began showing them to me, one-by-one and, as my tastes in foreign plates had become refined by that point, I rejected them one-by-one, based on their condition. Af­ter about five such rejections the little man jumped down off the bench and bounced right up into my face saying, “Yer awful fookin’ foosy!” I looked around. Neither the man in the bowler nor any of his crew was smiling. I turned to my son and noted that we’d probably better leave these gentleman to their work, and we backed slowly out of the place to beat a hasty, plate-less retreat back to the town square. There would be other trips to Ireland and other, saf­er opportunities.

Then there was the time out­side Sevilla. We were driving past what was obviously a huge junk yard, so I pulled off the road and told my wife to wait in the car, that I’d be out in a minute. I entered the office and attempted to com­municate my desire to the manager. After a lengthy try at that difficult task, he sum­moned a mechanic named José and instructed him to take me back in the yard. We went through seemingly hun­dreds of meters of wrecks, turning right and then left until I was completely dis­oriented and far distant from the relative safety of the front office and highway, and from my wife.

It really didn’t seem like José was too happy about the task he’d been given and it didn’t seem he liked me very much. Finally we arrived at a bunch of wrecks that still had plates on them. I’d decided I’d like to have a matching front and rear, so, again, I became a little fussy. José became more and more agitated, starting to slowly slap the handle of the huge screwdriver he was carrying into the palm of his hand, and, timing each word to a slap, to growl in a most menacing way, “Americano, Americano, Americano…”

Remembering Ireland, and realizing that extricating my­self from this one was not going to be so convenient, I quickly ended the search and told him that what was in front of me at that moment would do.

When I finally emerged, af­ter more than a half hour or so of uncertainty, abandoned outside a Spanish junkyard, my wife’s reaction was almost more menacing than José’s had been. But I still have that plate.

©2022, David B Bucher

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