Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

License Plates.

Always had a thing for license plates.  I spent a lot of time in the back seat of the '59 Catalina, '62 Laurentian, and '65 Montclair on family road trips through Quebec and New England and there wasn't a lot to do but note tags from faraway places. In college, license plates became an obsession. The further away the plates were from, the better: they were a symbol of the open road--an imaginary construct, which to me meant: freedom. You could only believe in this as deeply as I did, if you were growing up in a very bourgeois and rather European-style family living in an apartment in the city of Montreal, which had its moments of seeming like central Europe, or provincial France, but was really a Canadian trading outpost on the edge of a trackless wilderness. Like many a Quebecois and coureur de bois before me, I yearned (especially in midwinter) to follow the pointed arrow of the St Lawrence and the Great Lakes system south and west, toward Texas, New Mexico, sunlight.
     Quebec always had the best, weirdest, most colorful license plates. They were made of aluminum and changed every year. It was another way the province scratched the backs of the multinationals in charge of the aluminum industry, which was Hydro-Quebec's biggest customer. Hydro-Quebec was the nationalized flagship of Quebec industrial sovereignty in that era. That concept was soon dead in the water. By 1976 we stopped getting fresh new license plates every year. But I still love them. And am bored by the sort of plates everyone issues now: always white, reflective, usually with some very lame & meaningless slogan and banal design, approved by the state or provincial tourism office, and  silkscreened on. When it comes to plates, bold colors are best. Slogans  should be simple and not designed by any shop hired by the tourism bureau. Silkscreened graphics must be banished. I admire  the recent NY State plates which boldly use the Empire State's classic orange and blue.  

As Michael S Moore pointed out, there's a renaissance in LP culture out west---this New Mexico plate is the best in years. In principle I would always say NO! to more turquoise in the southwest but it looks good on the l-p.

I still miss California's wonderful black plate and hope it comes back after, yikes, 43 years. It's time.
But the NWT is pretty good and has been around a while.

Also like the little low-number Delaware plate, though this is not the number I would choose.

Nunavut which split off from the NWT, used the polar bear plate for a while but it looks like they are now going for exactly the sort of banal silkscreened thing that has about as much character as a Dutch Ikea store. The only good thing about it is the Inuktitut script. 

Otherwise, it's embarrassing. They should keep the Inuktitut, but otherwise go bold, simple, and if necessary, bearish. Or use other wildlife, which the place has plenty of. Walrus? Caribou? Keep it very simple and bold. Silkscreened graphics just don't work in this medium: vehicles move, even in snow, so you want plates to be simple bold and deliver a message that is decipherable at speed. It's not the graphics or even the slogan that speaks: it's really the colors and the typeface that carry the message.
           I still like the Quebec plate which has been around for a while and has a certain crisp style though I always forget  what it is exactly that we are being instructed to remember.


  1. Peter, what I remember is my craving for a Québec plate. It certified my identity in a way nothing else could. I got mine on my second day in Montréal, instead of waiting for my old Iowa plates to run out gracefully.

  2. I really like your take on the issue. I now have a clear idea on what this matter is all