The following was originally posted on MyMediaDiary.com.
I've always chuckled at people who order vanity plates, but secretly wanted one since I watched an episode of Dallas and saw JR pull up in in his Mercedes proclaiming to the world that "EWING 3" had arrived.
But like the cell phone and personalized M&Ms, vanity plates no longer require great wealth or vast oil-connections in the Texas legislature. States realized the extra windfall and for $10 more, even without a genie, you too can be Larry Hagman.
But I was always too cheap, too lazy to think far enough ahead or, I suspect to be the main reason, too self-conscious. I didn't have the nerve of one Dr. Kosmo Kramer...
But the DMV gods have a sense of humor and decided to take their vengeance upon one silly mortal foolish enough to post a picture to Facebook while making a joke about Limbo.
Saturday mornings aren't the best time to go grocery shopping. New Year's Eve isn't the best time to take your kid out for a driving lesson. And Mondays aren't the best days to see a doctor or "pop by" the department of motor vehicles -- or the "SOS" as we accurately call it in Michigan, the Secretary of State.
Everyone is in a bad mood. They're mad at the lines. They're mad at the grouchy ladies. They're mad at themselves for putting off license-renewals by mail. But the object of most dislike is simply the red-bulbed electronic sign. Unlike the bakery or deli, when they call your number, you're not getting a pound of ham or a cannoli. You're getting out your checkbook, if you're lucky enough to have brought all the forms you need.
Through the fog of tension and frustration I saw that nearly every one of the 60 uncomfortable folding chairs was taken. But first I had to get in line to get a ticket to get in line to get a chair to then get in line.
So when I pulled the tab and looked down I smiled -- seven. Not too bad. Then I looked up at the cold counter I frowned; it said 42. I was going to have to wait for the odometer to turn over. It was 3:30. They closed at 5:00. No problem.
So I snapped a picture quickly, not sure if it was illegal to take a picture in a state building and went to work on my phone.
The Facebook post that shouldn't have happened.
(I suspect most overbooked doctor's offices and "express" checkout lines are significantly subdued since the smartphone's arrival. I do know that the chauffeur's seat of a car carrying five teenagers is less head-splitting.)
My smug little joke on Facebook got some immediate "Likes" which always feels good, particularly when you're sitting so close to loud phone-talkers, squirmy kids and whiny, huffing people that make useless "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" utterances to the ceiling. I know better than to invoke the DMV gods so blatantly; it's like permitting a copy machine to hear you tell a co-worker who's placing his clearly unimportant document on the glass, "Mind if I run this off? I've got to get to a meeting in two minutes!" As sure as the nearby coffee pot has 1/4" left, that Xerox will jam.
I wasn't aware that the gods had Facebook auditing technology.
I sat and sat and sat. Finally, as 4:40 rolled around one of the battle-scarred women behind the counter hollered out, "If you're here for plate renewal, license renewal or any other kind of renewal, please form in a line over here in numerical order."
So I rose, shuffled myself into position behind #4 and #6, apparently #5 wasn't renewing -- or had died in his uncomfortable chair.
In a scene that would have made Louis Gossett, Jr. proud, the SOS sergeant strolled down our lane, giving us a glare that made us all feel like Richard Gere's "Mayo-naise," demanding that our paperwork be ready and checks already written except for the total. One poor soul ahead of me decided to make a joke. She stared him down until he apologized, mumbling that he was only trying to lighten things up. "Not right now you don't," she slowly shook her head and moved on to me. My documents were out in my shaky hands.
"Umm...I'm renewing my plates. A policeman pulled us over and said that the other plates were too faded..."
"No. What's that?" pointing to my other trembling hand.
"Oh. I'm getting a moped sticker for my son's moped that we just..." I stopped at the Louis Gossett glare.
"Go sit down. You can't do that in this line."
I shuffled back and could feel the pitying glances hit me from all directions, like the time I took the girls bathroom pass instead of the boys bathroom pass in third grade. By the time I returned and hung the little wooden fish back on the hook every kid in class was giggling at me -- along with my teacher, as if I had some instant sex-change in my four minutes' absence.
Finally, they had passed #99 and I did give the drop-ceiling a prayer of thanks when they didn't start at three digits and instead re-booted to 01. At 4:58 I was called to the counter and mercifully processed through the moped sticker and the plate renewal. I had one last decision to make--what style of plate would I like?
I had no idea, so I did what I always do. "Just give me the first one."
The gods were cracking up as the nice woman left her post to go pick up the top plate from the Mackinac Bridge stack. When she returned, she put it down in its plastic wrapper facing her and began entering the data on the keyboard. I couldn't see the whole plate because my paperwork covered half of it, but was grateful that my terrible memory had at least a prefix that was easy to remember. I mentioned it and she looked down at the plate and told her neighbor, "Just 17 to go. Do you think I might get it?"
She explained to me that the combination of letters and numbers in 17 plates' time would be her initials and her birth year. She turned the plate around to show me.
And there it sat on my car-seat for a day or two -- creating much laughter on my wife's Facebook page when she relayed my photo to the universe. For I was too embarrassed to ask for another one for the fear that the Ms. A.H.H., born in 1986, would either ask me for more information or smile at my blushing face.
So now I've decided to conduct another experiment that will most likely be chronicled in this blog on the reactions that come with this unintentional vanity of mine -- perhaps it will be similar to someone yelling, "Hey Assman!" And I hope I've got Kramer's confidence in waving back.
And I swear to the gods that I shall never again post a snide Facebook photo from my Secretary of State's office.
Follow Kevin Walsh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kwteacher