Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Life On A Plate

[This is an update to a series I ran last year going through all the license plates I’ve owned since I got my first car.]

(Click to embiggen.)

No, I haven’t moved to Canada. It’s a nice country with good theatre and a working healthcare plan, but they still have winter.

One of the cool things you can do with an antique car is find a license plate that matches the year of manufacture. It lends a sense of authenticity and it helps people identify the year of the car. The antique plate hobby is a great resource for memorabilia, and their interest in the history of license plates is great companion for the antique car hobby, and I wanted to find a good match for my 1988 Pontiac.

I had a bit of a dilemma. I bought the car in Michigan, first registered it in Colorado, then moved around the country until I settled here in Florida. If the car is old enough, you can register the car with a plate from the year it was built as a vanity plate. But the Florida plate from 1988 is, to be polite, just plain ugly, and while I like living here, the car really doesn’t have much of a connection with the state.

Then, when I was on vacation in Ontario in early August, it occurred to me that since my car was built by GM Canada in Oshawa, Ontario, it made sense to have a plate from its home province. So I did a little research with my friend David Nichols and found the perfect match through a collector in Vancouver: a 1988 Ontario plate with a SEP expiration sticker and 052 in the number. September is my birth month, and I was born in 1952. According to Dave, the letter series of C, D, and E were issued in 1988, and the colors are a good match for the rest of the car.

I can’t legally drive on public highways with the Ontario plate, so I still have my Florida tag, but when I go to a car show or parade, it will be on the car. Nice touch, eh?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Life On A Plate

Well, here we are. This style, with one small difference, is the current plate I have on my 2007 Mustang. The difference is that the numbering format is three numbers followed by three letters: i.e. 111 ABC.

I had thought about getting a personalized plate with something like my initials or something to do with the blog, like B2-W2, but the plate that I received from the DMV was double palindrome, so to speak: 313 TST (that’s not the actual number, but you get the idea). So I saved the $25 and kept the plate as it is.

And that’s it for the plates I’ve had. I’ve got some other ones in my collection, so stay tuned for those, including some that never actually got to ride on the back of a car on a public highway. Until then, drive safely, and in the words of the classic Florida safety slogan from the 1970’s, ARRIVE ALIVE.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Life On A Plate

Florida used to swap out their plates every five years; the Pontiac is on its second “State of the Arts” plate, but this is the style of the one and only license plate that I had on the 1995 Mustang. It was due to be replaced by the new style, but in March 2008 I had a run-in — literally — with an elderly gentleman in downtown Coral Gables. The car was totaled, and the next day the Pontiac came out of retirement.

As I noted previously, Florida has over 100 specialty license plates. The joke is that the reason there are so many is because the standard plate is so unattractive. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, and compared to the history of Florida’s plates, putting a picture of an orange and the state outline is an improvement.

My one gripe about this plate, and most of the previous Florida plates, is the slogan “Sunshine State.” I get the Chamber of Commerce connection; it’s a snappy phrase that reminds us that we depend on tourism for our livelihood. But when it comes to sunshine, I’ve lived in states where they get a lot more sunshine on average — New Mexico, for example — and the skin cancer rate here in Florida is not exactly something you want to tout.

Be that as it may, license plate slogans nowadays run the table from song lyrics (Alabama) to patriotism (Massachusetts) to political protest (Washington, D.C.). The one thing that they rely on, though, is getting people from other places to see the plate; after all, if you live in a state, you’re probably aware of its assets or history. I think it would probably be better if the state would come up with a slogan that was actually useful to other drivers. Ohio had the right idea back in 1973 with their “SEAT BELTS FASTENED?” Today it might be more along the lines of “HANG UP AND DRIVE” or “YOU PAID FOR THE TURN SIGNAL – USE IT.” The problem is that a lot of drivers cover over the slogan with a plate frame with their own message promoting everything from the dealer who sold the car, the supernatural being that is the driver’s co-pilot, the sports team they love, their other car, or a well-known blog (ahem), so a lot of drivers never see the slogan.

Florida, like most states, has vanity plates. Maybe they could also add vanity slogans, too, under the same guidelines — no obscenity, etc. It could raise a lot of money for the state, and it would be more interesting to see something other than SUNSHINE STATE when you’re stuck on US 1 in a tropical downpour.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Life On A Plate

The story goes that in the spring of 1998 my Mom and Dad were up in Michigan visiting friends and they stopped by to visit an old friend who owned a used car lot. Ernie had sold them a lot of cars for my dad’s company’s sales fleet when he ran the Hertz Sales operation in Traverse City; in fact, that’s who sold me the Pontiac in 1989. On the lot was a beautiful 1995 Mustang GT convertible in Laser Red and my mom instantly fell in love with it. She traded in her 1979 Volvo and took it back to Ohio. The anecdote is that the Mustang was once used as the parade car for the Queen of the National Cherry Festival.

June 1998 also marked my parents’ 50th anniversary, so when I came to Perrysburg for the celebration, I got to drive the Mustang, and to quote Will Smith in Independence Day, “I gotta get me one of these!” But I lived in New Mexico, I still had the Pontiac, and a new Mustang was out of my reach financially, so I told Mom that whenever she got tired of the it, I wanted to be the first she’d offer it to.

Five years later and after I’d moved to Florida, Mom saw the new MINI. Even though there wasn’t a dealer in Toledo, she found the perfect one at a dealership in Columbus, and that August we made the deal. I flew up for our annual trip to Stratford and drove back to Miami in my second Mustang. (Planning ahead, I bought two CD’s: The Sounds of Summer by the Beach Boys and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. The first was the perfect collection for the car, and the second was a tradition.) When I arrived in Miami, I parked the Mustang next to the Pontiac in the parking lot of my apartment complex.

Because of the draconian registration rules in Florida, I kept the title in my mom’s name until I could scrape together the $500 to pay for the taxes and the plates, so I kept the specialty plate that Mom had. I also did it out of my love for birdwatching, a hobby I had cultivated as kid with my parents; I still have my well-worn and dog-chewed 1962 edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds. When my parents first came to visit me after I had moved to Miami at Christmas in 2001, we spent a happy couple of days exploring the ornithology of the Everglades from our base in Flamingo.

By March 2004 I found a new place to live. It was a nice little bungalow in Coral Gables and it had a one-car garage for the Pontiac. It was retired… or so I thought.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Life On A Plate

As much as I love New Mexico, I still had tropical fever. Starting in 1993 when we still lived in Michigan, Allen and I went to the Caribbean island of Montserrat for vacation, and after we moved to Albuquerque, we came to Florida, making our first trip to Key West in 1997 and then to the Caribbean island of Tobago in 1998. After we separated in 1999, I came back to Florida on vacation, spending Thanksgiving with my friend Brian in Boynton Beach and a few days in the Keys. In 2000, while spending a couple of days in Key West, I saw a want-ad on TV from the local school district for an English and drama teacher. It was one of those moments where you suddenly see the light, and I did. I had never let go of the idea of being an educator, and when I got back to Albuquerque I contacted my teacher placement agencies.

By February 2001 I was back in Miami being interviewed by a private school. In April I was offered a job. I put the house on the market, and on July 31, in the middle of a driving thunderstorm, Sam and I left Albuquerque, bound for Miami. The moving van with most of my furniture and belongings had left an hour ahead of me. Forty-eight hours later we arrived in Miami, again in a driving rainstorm, and my new life as a teacher was about to begin.

Florida has over 100 specialty license plates, but the “State of the Arts” plate seemed like the right one for a theatre teacher, so when I finally got around to registering the Pontiac, that’s the one I got. It looks good on the Pontiac and it supports the arts here in Florida.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Life On A Plate

By the summer of 1995, I was beginning to dread going through another Michigan winter. My father had sold his business to someone who turned out to have the business ethics of an alligator, and I no longer wanted to work there. Through a happy coincidence, though, I was in contact with another window and door company in Albuquerque — they had handled the delivery of windows to my uncle’s new house in Santa Fe — and after a quick trip back out to New Mexico, I was offered a job as purchasing manager. Allen and Sam and I packed up again, leaving Petoskey in the middle of a mid-October sleet storm. After a brief stop-off to visit Allen’s family in Colorado, we arrived in Albuquerque on a sunny Friday afternoon. We spent a day with a realtor, found a perfect place to rent — which we later bought — and Allen landed a job as the head of the housekeeping department at a four-star hotel in Santa Fe. Our lives and future looked as sunny as the New Mexico license plates.

Speaking of which, I still had my old New Mexico plate in my collection, and I thought it would be fun to see if I could still use it, even though it had expired seventeen years before. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles said the only way I could get the old number back was to request a vanity plate for an extra $10 a year. So that’s what I did, and in a few weeks I had a fresh new plate with my old number on it.

One of the quirks of living in New Mexico is that not everyone knows that it’s a state. There are a lot of stories, as chronicled in New Mexico magazine’s regular column “One of Our 50 is Missing,” about how people who live in other places think New Mexico is a foreign country. Perhaps that’s why the state put “USA” on the license plates. It may be a droll commentary on the lack of geography education in our schools, but in some ways I can see why. There is something enchanting and different about New Mexico. Maybe it’s the dry air and the nearly-perpetual sunshine, or the combination of mountains and desert, or the amazing food, or the blending of cultures that give it a sense of timelessness. When we found the time, Allen and Sam and I would explore, going up into the hills between Santa Fe and Albuquerque or the hot springs up near Jemez, or learning about native cultures at places like Bandelier and Pecos under the gentle guidance of my uncle, a retired anthropologist. We went skiing at Taos and Santa Fe (bringing back memories of sitting in a chairlift shack on top of Santa Fe Baldy in 1978), or finding the best place to get a really magnificent chile relleno. Yes, I love Florida, but there is something in me that still seeks the mountains and pines, and I have already decided, upon my retirement, to spend at least my summers among the junipers and pinons with a pot of posole simmering on the stove.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Life On A Plate

When I moved to Boulder in 1982, I could pretty much fit all of my worldly possessions into the back of my 1974 Jeep Wagoneer. But in the span of eight years I acquired a partner — Allen — along with a lot of furniture and a dog — Sam. I had also lived in five different places ranging from an apartment on the Hill in Boulder to a two-bedroom house in Longmont, and had three different cars, not to mention my first antique: a coral-pink 1959 Buick LeSabre. I’d also worked a slew of jobs ranging from administrative assistant to the swing shift at a magazine subscription service and waiting tables at a small-town cafe in Lyons.

I also found that the job market for a newly-minted Ph.D. in theatre was about as promising as the job market for shepherds. By the summer of 1990, both Allen and I were working three jobs each and still struggling. My parents had moved from Ohio to northern Michigan and Dad started a window and door business, and he offered me a job working out of the company’s branch office in Petoskey. We jumped at the chance, and in September, we moved — lock, stock, and Buick — to the northwoods. We found a nice little rental house in town and Allen landed a job with a hotel in town that coincidentally had been a ski trip destination for my family for many years. And we braced ourselves for Winter.

I’d grown up in temperate climates, where winter was a fact of life; after all, my first adventure in year-round living in northern Michigan had taught me well. But Petoskey is really in the Snow Belt. That first winter we got over 14 feet of snow, along with temperatures that got down to -17 F. Sam, who was not much larger than Toto, learned how to tunnel his way out into the backyard to do his business.

But the long winter made us really appreciate the spring and summer up there. There’s a reason northern Michigan is a travel destination in the summer: the days are warm without being too hot, and the long winter nights become long summer days. There is the lake for boating and sailing, the woods for hiking, and the natural beauty that rivals Colorado and the West. In many ways I miss living there…except I don’t think I’ll ever get used to cold weather again.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Life On A Plate

When I arrived at camp in June 1981, my Indiana plate was about to expire, so the only choice I had was to register the Jeep in Colorado. I didn’t mind at all; I’ve always admired the Colorado plates with their mountains and simple layout. I was also moving to California after camp and I knew that registration in California meant that the car had to live up to the emissions standards out there. The previous owner of the Jeep had basically stripped the pollution controls from it, and I had spent some money getting them back to normal, but I knew it would never make it, and when I got there in August, a mechanic took one look under the hood, laughed, and said to hang on to the Colorado plates.

As it turned out, my stay in California was brief. The school was on its last legs when I got there and by February I was accepted at the University of Colorado’s grad school to begin my doctoral studies in August. And the Colorado plates stayed on the Jeep. In fact, the plates served three cars. After pouring tons of money into keeping the Jeep running, I traded it for a 1984 Subaru wagon — a woefully underpowered car that developed a major engine problem at 64,000 miles — and then on the 1988 Pontiac station wagon that I bought in January 1989 and is still in my garage today. So far, the Colorado plate was the longest-tenured, from 1981 to 1990.

There is deep, ancient, and primeval magic in the mountains. Gazing down into the forested canyons of the Front Range from the heights of Trailridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, it is not hard to believe there are places there where no human has yet set foot. Standing on top of Longs Peak after a six-hour hike beginning in the pre-dawn darkness among the ponderosa pines and rising above tree-line as the sun climbed over the distant prairie was the journey of a lifetime and the memories are still there thirty years later. I loved the years I lived in Colorado; the summers I spent in the mountains were some of the best times of my life, and I met someone with whom I fell deeply in love and shared my life with for fifteen years. Were it not for my growing intolerance for cold weather, I would probably still be there, and I hope that when I am retired, I will be able to go back and spend the summers in the peaks and pines.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Life On A Plate

This is one of the more colorful plates in my collection, and I remember thinking that it looked good on the Jeep.

My second year in Evansville was my last. I got an offer to teach at a school in California, so when the school year ended, I packed up my stuff, sent the larger pieces on ahead via United Van Lines, and drove out to Colorado for another summer at camp.

One of the things I love about this country is driving across it. Most of the trips I’ve taken, be it from Ohio to Colorado or to New England or down to Florida, have been on the interstates. By design most of them avoid the cities and towns, cutting across great parts of the rural parts of the country, never stopping to take a look at the surroundings. There’s a danger, as John Steinbeck noted in 1960 in Travels With Charley, that you can drive from coast to coast without seeing a thing. Steinbeck, in his cross-country journey “in search of America” in his GMC camper named Rocinante, made a point of staying off the new highways and followed the backroads from Maine to California and back again.

I try to take the time to look around when I’m traveling. Sometimes I’m determined to get where I’m going, but most of the time I’m aware of the landscape, noticing the gradual change from the farms of the Midwest to the Badlands of western Nebraska; the gentle rise and fall of the ancient Appalachians as compared to the sharp and rock-strewn sides of the Rockies, and the wide moonscape of southern Utah heading down to the deserts of Nevada and southern California. Stopping along the way at the little gas stations and attractions is fun, and since the Jeep got about 14 mpg, I did it a lot. I especially loved following the faint path of the old roads like Route 66 that run parallel to the newer interstate in New Mexico and Arizona. Some of the old abandoned gas stations and motels are still there, overgrown with tumbleweeds and serving as reminders of a slower time when you bought gas from Esso and Humble and got a pecan log at Stuckey’s.

Some of the places have been restored and now serve a new purpose; a Howard Johnson’s restaurant is now the roadside Church of Christ. Some of the old motels are still in business, catering to the nostalgic and offering a night in the 1950’s-style rooms with turquoise decor, diner food, and the HBO converter box hidden in the space-age TV console.

I’ve spent the night in some of these places on my cross-country travels. And when I get up early to hit the road, crossing the gravel parking lot to get a cup of coffee and pancakes at the diner, I sometimes think I see Rocinante just passing by, its tail-lights fading into the morning light.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Life On A Plate

Of all the places I thought I would live and start a career, southern Indiana never showed up on the radar until I was suddenly offered a job to teach middle school English at a private day school in Evansville. Honestly, until I got the call from the headmaster who had tracked me down while I was being interviewed at a school in the Chicago area, I barely knew Evansville existed. But the school needed a teacher, I needed a job, and after I concluded my interview, I drove the Jeep out to O’Hare and flew down there.

Twenty-four hours later I was back at O’Hare with the job in hand, and two weeks later, the Jeep crammed to the roof with books, clothes, records, my stereo, and no idea where I would live, I rolled into town on a hot and humid afternoon in late August 1979. I vaguely remember staying at a motel near the airport that night — the room had an air conditioner that rivaled the jet noise — and the next day I found a furnished one-bedroom apartment in a nice area (Washington & Vann for you E’ville denizens) for $175 a month. That was pretty good, but seeing that my salary was $10,000 — I got an extra grand because I had a masters degree — it was about all I could afford.

I’m not sure why some people think that because I have degrees in theatre and playwriting, I can teach English. I must have thought it, too. But I soon learned that there is more to English than just interpretation of fiction, writing, or the mechanics and rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I’ll be the first to admit my shortcomings in a discipline that is in some ways very connected to my chosen field of study, but also very distant. And I also learned that teaching in a classroom is vastly different than being a camp counselor. To be brutally honest, I was not a good teacher that first year; I had a lot to learn and the stubbornness to refuse to learn. But the one blessing was that I had a good friend as a mentor, and he and his wife became life-long friends.

The one thing I did learn to love about that part of the country was taking the Jeep (with the color-coordinated Indiana license plate) and exploring along the Ohio River as it meandered along the state’s southern border. I spent time in some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen on both the Indiana and Kentucky sides, going east to Owensboro and Louisville and west to New Harmony and the Land Between the Lakes, the recreation area created by the TVA dams.

When the school year ended, I decided I needed to explore other options. I needed to learn more about teaching — and myself. I had signed the contract for another year but told them it would be my last, and in June, when I loaded up the Jeep to head to Colorado and camp again, I thought I’d spend some time in Boulder. Hey, if it was good enough for Mork and Mindy, it was good enough for me.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Life On A Plate

Winters in northwestern lower Michigan are not for the faint of heart; they get a lot of snow there thanks to the lake effect. By December my 4×4 Jeep Wagoneer was coming in very handy, and we recorded measurable snowfall every day between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Getting to the radio station first thing every morning to do the morning news often meant being the first person to drive on a snow-covered road. But the roads were well-marked — beanpoles every hundred yards or so marked the edge of the road, so I was not inadvertently taking off-road trips on the way to work.

By spring, however, it was pretty clear that the station was losing money. Aside from a small-town base to find advertisers, the economy of 1979 was still lagging. And there wasn’t that much local news to cover; not that much happens in a small rural county. (My one big story was that in April I was invited to Washington to participate in an out-of-town news editors conference at the White House. I sat in the Cabinet Room, asked President Carter a question about ethanol, and got to interview Alfred Kahn, the White House inflation czar.) I made some friends and through one of them was asked to help with a high school production of The Music Man, and I was also included in the local Episcopal church even though the priest knew that I was a Quaker. But by June the fire had gone out of my interest in covering the news — not helped by having to cover a traffic accident that killed two acquaintances — and I started looking for a teaching job. The radio station laid me off when they couldn’t pay me any more, and once again I moved back to my parents’ place in Ohio.

I spent that July looking at schools in New England, staying with friends and relatives in Boston (and was there for the Arthur Fiedler memorial concert on the Esplanade) and New York. I came up dry, and by August was down to my last couple of school interviews. I happened to be in Chicago when a call came through from a private school in southern Indiana. An overnight trip and an interview was arranged, and out of the blue I had the job teaching middle-school English. By Labor Day I was settled into a little furnished apartment, finally doing what I thought was my life’s work.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Life On A Plate

When I got back from New Mexico in August 1978, once again I was looking for a job and maybe a career. I still kept pounding the pavement, so to speak, to find a teaching job, but by August most of the vacancies had been filled, so I went up to our place in Northport, Michigan to visit friends and family.

I’d always had an interest in radio broadcasting, so just for the heck of it I dropped off my resume at a station in Traverse City. The news manager was a nice guy but he didn’t have any openings, and I figured that was it and I would go back to Perrysburg and maybe see about getting a job working for the corporation my dad was with. But the next morning I got a call from a guy named Michael Bradford. He was the general manager of a new radio station in Frankfort, a town about sixty miles away, and he was looking for a news director. We set up a meeting at a restaurant in Frankfort. I told him that while had a lot of experience as a writer, I had no background in reporting or journalism. But he said he liked my voice and after going out to the station — located in a modular home on the top of a hill amongst apple orchards — and showing me around, he had me do an air check into a tape recorder. Without much ceremony, he offered me the job. The station wasn’t even on the air yet and the salary was ridiculously low — I had made more running a chairlift in Santa Fe — but my ego won out and I took it. A few weeks later I found a little house to rent on the shores of Crystal Lake and in the middle of October, the station — WBNZ — went on the air. (I remember that my first news broadcast covered the election of Pope John Paul II.)

My job was to rip, run, and read the hourly news from the AP, gather local news, and produce a weekly public affairs interview program called “Close Encounters.” The music format of the station was what they called “Easy Adult Contemporary,” which meant it was a lot of B-sides of hits by the Eagles and some of the lesser-known groups from the mid-’70’s (anyone remember Gino Vannelli?). We also covered local high school sports, doing live broadcasts of the Frankfort and Benzie Central football and basketball games with a retired sports broadcaster from Traverse City.

I decided that living in northern Michigan with its legendary winters and my need to get out and cover news in all kinds of weather, it was time to get rid of the Granada and go with something that could handle it. My brother found a 1974 Jeep Wagoneer for sale at Hawthorne AMC/Jeep in Toledo. It was brown, it had 50,000 miles on it, and I could get it for about $5,000. It had a huge gas-sucking V-8, cruise control, and for the first time I had a vehicle with air conditioning. I got a decent trade on the Granada, and drove back to Frankfort ready to cover the news.

(PS: It was Michael Bradford who used the term “bark bark woof woof” instead of “et cetera, et cetera.” Now you know the rest of the story.)

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Life On A Plate

August 1977. Once again I was done with college and didn’t have any real plan for my future. I had spent the nine months or so looking for a teaching job in private schools, but after a couple of interviews and visits to schools everywhere from New Jersey to Texas, I had nothing. So after another summer at camp in Colorado, I came back to Ohio and dumped my stuff in the attic.

But that summer the seed of an idea had been planted. My uncle and his family were moving to Santa Fe for a year; he was on sabbatical from his teaching job at an Ivy League college, and the house they were renting had a little guest house. In October I loaded up my car, strapped my skis on the back (I heard there was a ski hill in Santa Fe), and headed back west, this time taking I-70 across Missouri and Kansas, arriving first in Colorado Springs where I stayed with a camp friend for a couple of days, then headed south on I-25.

I have never forgotten the first time I came down Raton Pass crossing from Colorado to New Mexico. It was like going from one world — the heavily-timbered mountainsides that I was so used to in the Rockies — to another — the rich browns and wide expanse of the desert Southwest. As I drove across the wide plains and past the small towns, I knew I was in a place that was not just different from what I’d grown up in, but a land that was not much different than what it looked like for thousands of years. Other than the ribbon of highway and the occasional sign, the hand of man seemed insignificant indeed.

I arrived in Santa Fe at dusk. The evening was cool, the scent of pinon and juniper everywhere, and the sunset was spectacular. The house was in the foothills south of town, out on Old Santa Fe Trail, and the next morning, I knew I was in a place that could be my home.

After a couple of weeks I made it official: I registered my car in New Mexico, getting a plate that declared I was in the LAND OF ENCHANTMENT. I found a house to share with a couple of other guys who were working at Ski Santa Fe, and a couple of weeks later I landed a job as a volunteer teacher at a little private school started and run by an energetic bear of a man who had been a teacher in one of Santa Fe’s better private schools. After Christmas and my cash situation became severe, I got a job working as a chairlift operator at the ski hill. It meant getting up at five a.m. to be up the mountain in time to open at nine, but one of the perks was free skiing, and I did a lot of it.

One day my younger brother arrived, towing his Kawaski KZ 1000, and after a couple of days sleeping on the couch, he and I rented a little place on a month-to-month basis in a nice little neighborhood. He got a job with me at the ski basin (in the rental shop), and when he wasn’t working he was riding his bike all over the hills of Santa Fe.

When the ski season ended, so did my job. My brother went back to Ohio and I got a job doing custodial work for a car repair shop. In June I stashed my stuff in a friend’s garage and headed back to Colorado. At that time I didn’t plan on coming back to New Mexico — jobs were tough to find and I couldn’t live on what I had saved up until the ski season arrived — so after picking up my stuff in Santa Fe, I headed back east across the desert, watching the land turn slowly from brown to red to green. But I had a feeling that someday I would come back.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Life On A Plate

Unlike a lot of other states — Michigan, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania to name just a few — Ohio did not do a Bicentennial license plate in 1976. In fact, it was as plain as you could get without going to black and white. But there were a couple of things about this one that were special. First, the color of the numbers matched my car, and it was also my first personalized plate. For an extra few bucks, I had QUAKER on my plates. Of course, later on I realized that it was a rather un-Quaker thing to advertise my faith — not to mention the oatmeal jokes — so when I moved to New Mexico for a while in 1977, I was not sorry to give them up.

The other memory I carry with this plate was that 1976 was my first summer working at the summer camp in Colorado that to this day still resonates in my life. I came back from Minneapolis in late May to participate in my sister’s wedding in Perrysburg, then a few days later I drove across country to Estes Park, Colorado, returning to the camp where I had been a camper in 1964 at the age of 11. Back then, my brother and I had taken the train — the Burlington Zephyr — overnight from Chicago to Denver. Then we rode on a bus up into the mountains, through the canyons and up to the sky, it seemed. I was frightened — I’d never been away from home before — and my brother was older and in a different camp than I. At first I was homesick, but a counselor took me aside and taught me how to pitch horseshoes, and my homesickness vanished.

So there I was, twelve years later, all grown up and ready to be a counselor. It was an eventful summer to say the least, ending with the Big Thompson Canyon flood. Despite the chaos and tragedy, we all made it through, and that summer was the first of ten that I would spend in the Rockies, making friends that I still have and keep in touch with today.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Life On A Plate

No, I didn’t move back to Ohio right after moving to Minnesota. But since I was still covered by my parents’ car insurance, it was preferred that I have the Granada registered in Ohio. So I got the title changed and got Ohio plates. Since I wasn’t living in Ohio at the time, they sent me a set of plates that were nothing but numbers with no county code, unlike the example above.

Because Ohio was still on the cycle of renewing plates in the March-April window, these plates had a renewal sticker on it that said “75” three months into 1976. Apparently the word didn’t get around to the local constabulary in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, because one afternoon while driving home in rush hour traffic, I got pulled over by a patrol car. The officer asked for my license, registration, and insurance and wanted to know why I was driving around with expired plates. I showed him the registration that stated the plates expired in April 1976… and this was February. He was skeptical, but with a check on the registration, he let me go. He told me to get the plates renewed, but since the new plates wouldn’t even go on sale for another month, there was nothing I could do. But rather than argue with him, I nodded, smiled, and went home. Slowly.

This week’s trip to Stratford reminds me that for most of the time that I was in Minneapolis, I lived about three blocks from the original Guthrie Theatre. Built in 1963, it is, in many respects, a U.S. version of Stratford. Many of the people who were instrumental in starting the festival in Canada were present at the creation of the Guthrie, including the man the theatre is named for, Sir Tyrone Guthrie. Designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch, who helped craft the stage in Stratford, designed the stage in Minneapolis, and for years the companies shared cast and artistic companies. In 2006 the new Guthrie was built after the Walker Art Center, the leaseholder of the property, refused to extend the contract, and the original Guthrie was demolished.

In 1976 my parents bought me season tickets to the Guthrie and I saw all the shows, including some that included some of my fellow University of Minnesota theatre students. And since it was a close walk, I never had to worry about finding a parking space.

Photo by David Nicholson.

The rest of the series is here.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Life On A Plate

When I moved to Minneapolis to start grad school in September 1975, I decided to replace my 1973 Ford F-100 pickup with something else. I wasn’t crazy about driving it in Minnesota’s famous winters; being a rear-wheel drive vehicle, it didn’t handle snow all that well unless it was fully loaded, and the four bags of cement in the back didn’t help. Also, it had developed a shimmy in the front end from time to time that was so bad it once jerked the wheel out of my hands. The Ford dealer diagnosed it as warped rotors on the disc brakes and tried to fix them — under warranty — but to no avail. So a couple of weeks after arriving in Minneapolis, I stopped by Ridgedale Ford and saw a used two-door 1975 Ford Granada on their lot. It was red with a three-speed manual transmission and no A/C, but with the trade-in the price was right and it handled pretty well on ice and snow. Yes, I did look at a Mustang, but a Mustang II (which was based on the Pinto) was out of my price range.

In those days in Minnesota the license plates stayed with the car, so for the first time I had a different state’s plates on my car.

There’s a little history with me and Minneapolis in that my father was born and raised there. My grandfather died when I was seven, so my memories of him are fleeting, but our family went to Minneapolis in December 1964 to celebrate my grandmother’s eightieth birthday. I met uncles and relatives for the first time and I have vivid memories of the house on Fremont Avenue South close to Lake Harriet. My grandmother died in 1967 and the house was sold, but one of the first things I did in my new car was to drive by the house. I knocked on the door, introduced myself, and was treated to a tour by the nice people who owned it. Even with a new family living there, I could still recall the memories of my childhood visits, right down to the special scent of the attic and the backyard where my grandfather had kept his bird-feeders. It was a nice way to make a connection with my new town.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Life On A Plate

Once again Ohio continued to ask the question about seat belts in 1974. This plate marked a first — the plate was reflectorized — and a last; it was the last time Ohio issued new plates every year, joining the growing trend of renewing with stickers in 1975.

I had the TRUCK version on my F-100. I graduated from college in May 1974 and drove back to Ohio, dumped my belongings in my parents’ attic, and drove to Newport, Rhode Island to pick up my brother who was graduating from boarding school. We packed up his stuff, drove back to Ohio, dumped his stuff in the attic, and then I was off to Lander, Wyoming, to embark on my graduation present: a wilderness course with the National Outdoor Leadership School. I spent six weeks in the Uintah Mountains of Utah learning all about how to survive in the wild, climb mountains, and discovering a lot about myself. The experience also became the germ of The Hunter, the play that was my Masters thesis at the University of Minnesota in 1977.

When I returned home in mid-July, I was starving for news. This, after all, was the summer of the climax of Watergate, and for someone who was hooked on the minutiae of the scandal and who could name the members of the Senate Watergate panel as easily as the starting line-up of the Detroit Tigers, quitting cold turkey and going six weeks without a newspaper, magazine, or the hourly news on CBS Radio was excruciating. Fortunately my timing was perfect: I arrived home just in time for the House Judiciary Committee to release their evidence against President Nixon. The impeachment hearings were in full swing, and on the night of August 8 the nation gathered, much like they had five years before to watch Apollo 11, to witness another moment of history as President Nixon announced he was resigning.

So now that I was a college graduate with a degree in theatre, it was time to get a job. But what did all those years of studying acting, directing, playwriting, and scene design prepare me for? House painting, of course. I got a job working with the man who had painted our house over the years, and I made a pretty decent income until winter set in and the jobs dried up. I then got a part-time job working at the local public TV station as an office assistant. Neither jobs were what you would call careers, and grad school beckoned… at least it meant putting off finding a real job for a couple of years. In June 1975 I was accepted at the University of Minnesota, and in September — after another summer of house painting — I collected my stuff out of the attic and headed off to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Photo by David Nicholson.

The rest of the series is here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Life On A Plate

I’ll never forget the look on my roommate’s face when I opened the package with my new license plates in the spring of 1973. But he was from New Jersey and their plates were beige and said “Garden State” on them, so his surprise was genuine.

Ohio plates hadn’t had a slogan since the 1930’s, and according to at least one expert, it’s the one and only time a slogan ended with a question mark. It was the brainchild of the administration of Gov. John J. Gilligan, a Democrat elected in 1970. (Full disclosure: I worked on his campaign and hung out with his kids at their summer place in Michigan. Also, he’s the father of former Kansas governor and now Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius.) I suppose Mr. Gilligan’s Irish heritage had something to do with the choice of colors; it could be described as Emerald Isle green.

The Mustang had this style of plate for a short time. In August of 1973, in a fit of idiocy that I’ve regretted ever since, I sold it for $300 to buy a new Ford F-100 pick-up. I paid $2,778 for it off the lot at Donaldson Ford in Maumee, Ohio. It was blue over white, had a three-on-the-tree manual transmission, and a radio. Pick-ups didn’t get plates with slogans; they said TRUCK across the top, and you paid for the plate based on the weight, which was determined by taking the truck to a local grain elevator and paying a couple of bucks to have it sit on the truck scale and get the certificate of tare weight for the deputy registrar.

Since Gov. Gilligan was a Democrat and the deputy registrar was a patronage job, the license plate shop was now wedged into the tiny showroom of Lober TV on Louisiana Avenue in the business district of Perrysburg. Mr. Lober may have been a Democrat, but I remember him as a remarkably dour and humorless man who saw the license plate franchise as an intrusion into not just his business but his solitude. I’m pretty sure that Mr. Lober was not entirely disappointed when Gov. Gilligan lost his bid for re-election in 1974 to former Gov. James Rhodes, a Republican, and the license plates moved back across the street to Norm’s Appliance.

Photo by David Nicholson.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Life On A Plate

The University of Toledo celebrated its centennial in 1972, so the state honored it by using the school colors on the license plate that year.

TU, as it was known when I lived there, didn’t get a lot of respect from my friends when I was growing up; it was known derisively as “Bancroft High” for the name of the street where it’s located. But it really is a quality institution of higher learning with a widely-respected law school and courses in technology, and my mom is a proud alum, finishing her bachelor’s degree after a brief interruption to get married, raise four kids, and become a major contributor to her community before going back to school.

I also took a class at TU when I was in high school. When I went off to SG in 1967, I switched from French to Spanish. When I returned to my old school a year later, they did not offer Spanish as a foreign language. The school made arrangements for me to spend three hours a week being tutored in Spanish II with a kindly professor whose name is lost in the mists of time.

The Mustang wore this plate in the spring of my freshman year at Miami, so it wore it around the streets of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove.

I agree with David Nicholson; this is a very nice combination of colors.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Life On A Plate

I don’t know if the bright yellow and black colors were meant to honor any college or university in 1971, but I can say that the combination was very popular in my home town where the high school sports teams were the Yellow Jackets and those were the school colors.

I graduated from high school in 1971. I also got full use of the Mustang; my older sister and brother had each acquired their own cars. The lowest series of plates with five numbers in a row were 13xx N, so that’s what we got, and although we kids took off and moved to other states, my parents kept their numbers until they moved to Michigan in 1982.

In October of 1971, after getting a student parking permit at the University of Miami, I drove the Mustang to Miami. Since the car was in my father’s name, I didn’t get a Florida plate for the car, but at UM it wasn’t unusual to see cars with plates from all over the country.

Photo by David Nicholson.