License to Expand

co lic plates 0720
I believe these are plates no longer with us, but don’t you fret: there are still 50 specialties to choose from, plus alumni plates from universities.

I used to eat a lot of Honeycomb cereal as a kid. It wasn’t my favorite cereal — it was awfully big, each piece, and it just didn’t hold the appeal of, say, Lucky Charms — but it had the best prize in the world: license plates.

Yes, for a long time in each box of Honeycomb you got a little metal license plate modeled after one of the 50 states. The goal, of course, was to collect all 50, which was never going to happen, not even if I ate 1,000 boxes of cereal. Which wasn’t going to happen anyway. Did I mention it wasn’t my favorite cereal?

My collection fizzled, badly. I may have put one or two of the plates on my bike, like the cereal recommended, but I think eventually whatever I had — probably five of this state, three of that, a couple of individuals — defaulted to one of the toy boxes in the garage, and they are all long gone now, even if they might be genuine collector’s items now.

I do still have the little cards that told me what county each Colorado license plate belonged to, for both two- and three-letter combinations. The original three-letter combinations, let me hasten to add, in the times before Colorado went completely wild in the World o’ License Plates.

In the olden days, the days that I am olden enough to remember, every county was given letter codes for their license plates. I’m not sure I ever figured out a rhyme or reason for who got what letters, but then again, no one ever asked me. Gunnison County was YD, followed by four numbers that differed by plate. As our population expanded, we expanded into YE territory. Neighboring Hinsdale County was ZN.

As Colorado grew more populous, we ran out of license plates before we ran out of cars, so we moved to a three-letter, three-digit system. Because there are 26 letters, you can go a lot farther than you can with just 10 digits.

The state sorta kinda incorporated our two letters when assigning our new three letters. Sort of. We started with EYC, which led to EYD and the plate I always wanted but never got: EYE. Trucks, though, even pick-ups, stuck with the two-letter system. My truck plate was YD-1701, which took me, an avowed Star Trek enthusiast and trivia fan, much, much longer than it should have to realize the significance: The Starship Enterprise’s license plate (okay, it was splashed across the top of the hull, not on a hunk of a metal at the back) was NCC-1701.

Sadly, I have lost those plates as well. I rather think they went with the sale of my cars to a nice young couple who are completely lacking in follow-through. I’m guessing they said they would bring me the plates and never did.

Now my truck has some nondescript plate, part of the state’s last three-letter system. It’s been in place for several years, but the saddest part was that it replaced the county identifiers. Some counties were running completely out of letters while others had some to spare, so the state just started issuing plates willy-nilly.

If you were your county’s clerk and your stash of plates was running low, you called the state and ordered however many you felt you might need — and they sent whatever was on the top of the pile, no regards to geography.

In this initial run of plates, the state left a few letters out, like Q — perhaps because it looked a lot like O. But as our numbers, and our cars, surged upward, the state had to go back and put all the missing letters in. Then it must have rotated back to whatever plates had been abandoned as drivers got new cars and new tags, because my truck, purchased last year, is BXI, which is not nearly as fun as the CYA (See ya! or Cover Yours) that belonged to the seller.

But somehow, in all my years of study of license plates, I missed Colorado’s latest development, which I realized only this morning as I got behind a car that started ADH-S: we have now moved to four letters and two numbers.

What is this world coming to? Or more important, how many cars are we going to put in Colorado?

I’m not THAT old, am I? That two little letters took care of us for most of my childhood and now we’re blowing through  four letters on every single plate? Soon there won’t be any numbers on license plates. Kind of like my Leaf, where the plate is all letters.

But that’s a vanity plate, not a normal plate. Pretty soon we’ll all be sporting vanity plates, intentional or not: CO2FUL.

We haven’t even reached the discussion where if Honeycomb were still around (which I don’t think it is, but I could be wrong) and still offering little license plates, I would never be able to complete the Colorado collection of about 200 different specialty plates (although I’m very disappointed to report that I read “raptor” and thought “velociraptor,” not eagle), let alone other states.

I might wax about this longer, but two vet check-ups (short report: everyone is overweight, Oz has arthritic hips and Marrakesh a cracked tooth) have put me behind schedule on a day where I feel like I have enough energy to get at least some work done.

But I figured you, like me, needed to know about this very important development that the state had hidden from me until my investigative driving this morning. You’re welcome.

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