Connecticut is bidding adieu to its own variety of the blue plate special. In its stead will be just another plate, not really blue and not so special.
In the scheme of the world, automobile license plates arenít all that important, but perhaps itís worth a pause to ponder the loss of another of those things we wonít really miss until itís gone.
Everybodyís favorite state agency, the Department of Motor Vehicles, is replacing the old blue and white license plates with a new multi-hued, gradient blue design. The letters in "Constitution State" have been made smaller. For those needing a refresher in Nutmeg history, the designation derives from being the first state to have its own constitution.
I suppose people donít consider that distinction all that important, since so many of them choose to obscure their plates with frames bearing the name of "Billís Chrysler Dodge" or other advertisements.
Itís not just the new design that has pushed aside the traditional plate. Over the past several years, the state has come out with all sorts of options for license plates. The vanity plates have been around forever, but now there are several choices for regular number/letter markers Ė no less than 38 to choose from.
There are 7 different kinds of "specialty plates." These are licenses authorized by the Legislature to raise money for one cause or another. They include the Long Island Sound plate, Greenways, Keep Kids Safe and the Amistad. The Sound plate has brought in a few million dollars to aid in the effort to make the water cleaner. The take from the others ranges from $7000 for the Amistad to $165,000 for Keep Kids Safe.
Then there are 31 "special interest plates" Any state non-profit organization that can guarantee a purchase of 200, can request the DMV to issue a marker with its logo or motto. One can buy (for an extra $65) a plate showing themselves to be an Elk or a Lion, a Marine or a Paratrooper, a proud alumnus of the University of Hartford or Penn State, or a member of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut.
Other states do the same thing. Our highways are traveled by folks who tell their fellow motorists about their concern for dolphins, whales, manatees or owls. They remind of us the Challenger space shuttle accident. Or any of the other scores of worthy causes.
Perhaps the most useful function of the standardized plates has passed by, anyway. Parents are opting for movies and video games to keep traveling kids occupied, replacing the time-honored practice of looking out the window and observing the details of the world around them.
Not long ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a child who hadnít played the car game in which one tallied up all the different states represented on the road. It was always a thrill to see an unfamiliar color and get up close to identify it as being from South Dakota or Wyoming. Now there are so many variants of plates, you have to get up close to make sure itís not from Connecticut.
Families invented lots of car games. "Twenty Questions" has at least 20 different ways of playing it. We had one contest which involved spotting the most station wagons (okay, it wasnít rocket science, but it did pass the time). Another involved running through the alphabet with letters from billboards ("Q" and "Z" were always challenging finds).
A mother of five who just bought a mini-van with a television which folds down from the ceiling told me her kids used to fight over the front seat and then the window seats. Now they quarrel over who gets the rear middle seat because it has the best view of the TV.
Not everything that can be done should be done. You canít watch a football game on TV without being distracted by dozens of animated graphics Ė just so the network can show you how much cool technology it has.
A few years back, Pratt & Whitney re-designed its eagle logo in favor of a drawing that represented an eagle. They eventually brought their stately old bird back from retirement.
Iíll miss my regular blue and white license plate. It may be nice that Connecticut offers so many options for making a statement, but there comes a point where the expression of individuality merely makes you look like everyone else who is trying to do the same.
October 4, 2000