The license plate game

I hate to drive long distances. It’s just not fun. But with family vacations, unless you want to break the bank on airfare, packing up the Blazer is the option of choice.

She’s been with me for many a trip, my Blazer, most recently when I took the kids and headed to Ocean City, Md. (with my brother and his family)- a short trip when considering last year it was a jaunt to Sunset Beach, N.C.

One of the things the kids and I always do on these trips is look at license plates. It’s our goal to see just how many different states we can track while on the summer roadtrip.

Confession here folks. It’s me that mostly plays the game. Through the years I’m the one shouting to my son or daughter to jot down a newly-discovered plate. I’m the one who gets the enjoyment. It’s my form of entertainment away what seems to be a miles upon miles of never-ending highway.

This trip, though, my daughter, Jessica, took control of the notebook. What a trooper. As I shouted out the states, she scribbled them down.

And Christopher, my son, riding shotgun, helped out a lot when old dad decided to pass up a slow-moving vehicle, which isn’t all the often to be honest.

The first plates we always get are Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That’s a given. Daily. In these parts.

We easily had those before crossing the JRB.

The drive to OCMD was going to be a two-parter. We’d stop somewhere on the outskirts of Baltimore, get a hotel room, then coast to our destination the following morning.

At first, there wasn’t that much change. Pa. plates dominated the highway scene.

Then we hit a nice stretch.

Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, California.

Things were going good. The kids were into it. We added plates at what seemed to be a record pace.

Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut

In all, we managed to total 30-plus plates, including the District of Columbia and Quebec, Canada. And this was before we found a hotel for the night.

We added a few more the following day. I believe a Nevada was in the parking lot. But the trip into Ocean City didn’t bring any additions. We were distracted by the anticipation of hitting the beach, I suppose.

The game, though, doesn’t end once you’ve reached the destination.

Ocean City had more vehicles than any other beach town along the east coast where I’ve vacationed. I believed we had a chance to push the plate number into the 40s. Could all 50 states be possible? Dare to dream.

What it turned into, though, was a hatred for Maryland plates.

They were everywhere. It seems the only people who vacation in Ocean City, at least where we called home for a week, were from other parts of the state. Marylanders vacation in Maryland, it seems.

What gives?

Adding plates that were in our parking lot or the adjacent parking garage didn’t work. All week.

And on the way home, it was all Maryland all the time.

To make matters worse, it seems the state that’s home to the hated Ravens has an infinite number of designs available to registered drivers. And I saw them all.

The Maryland experience made the return trip home drag. The plate list that seemed to grow by the minute when it started had ground to a complete halt.

The Maryland melody of plates was irritating me to no end. It was beginning to rival the endless TV coverage of Ray Lewis leading up to the last Super Bowl.

And then it became a Pennsylvania dominance, minus the irritation. It seems all those different plates with us on the trip east, didn’t return the same way on the trip west. Ugh.

The game basically ended somewhere in the middle of the Commonwealth. Sure an Ohio plate dotted the landscape. Even a Michigan plate was seen from time to time. But for the most part, there was no change. I blamed the Maryland plate.

Passing through Pittsburgh and its tunnels and venturing into West Virginia via Route 30, my concentration turned to home, although I did notice a North Carolina plate as we crossed into Ohio – the first different plate one for miles.

Finally, on Parkway, mere minutes from the official end of our vacation, I spot it – a Maryland plate on a vehicle turning into the East Liverpool Country Club.


I couldn’t even escape that dreaded plate in my own backyard.

(Jim Mackey is managing editor of The Review. Reach him at