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Plate City

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So I went to get new license plates, since my old ones were still on the poor , pitiful “Revolution Orange Metallic” car that got totaled, and this meant a sojourn in the local(Ravenna) office of the State of Ohio   Bureau of Motor Vehicles…turned out to be quite instructive, in a decidedly eccentric sort of way.

First off, one is required(Well, that is if you actually want to achieve your objective of getting license plates or  renewed driver’s license or stuff of that ilk) to take a number—just like at a busy deli or bakery– from a gizmo mounted on a pole right at the entrance doors.  It’s always a shock to look at the number you’ve got and at the crowd of people sitting there already waiting.  My number was 26; the first number called after I got there was 7.  O.K., this is going to call for settling in.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring any reading material—I usually do bring something on expeditions like this—so I whipped out my trusty pen and paper and took notes; people looked at me funny.

First of all, the set-up is better than it used to be; whatever it is that you want, when your number is called, you step up to the counter and the clerk who called will deal with your request.  Once upon a time, specific clerks dealt with specific operations and the issuer of license plates might be snowed under with people waiting  and waiting, while the driver’s license clerk was able to sit at her leisure to examine the new nail color that she had chosen and  tempers tended to shorten as the wait time lengthened.  Well, that’s done with…and none too soon.

The décor is quite enlightening, consisting of old Ohio license plates—predominantly in red, green or  blue, with  some yellow or black thrown in( For awhile there, the idea was to use the colors of the principal state universities—OSU, Miami, Ohio U, BG, Kent, etc.—as they were celebrating their centennials or sesquicentennials or whatever, but then the field expanded and budgets faded and who knows what the  Bureau of Motor Vehicles is thinking now?); 1933 was orange. The earliest date that I saw on the wall was from 1916; there was a1920 next to a 1921 and from then on it was consecutive to the present day. Most were for your standard passenger car but historical vehicles, trailers, farm conveyances, dealers, vanity plates, government vehicles and school buses were also represented.  Then there were plates from all of the states, from Alabama to Wyoming on the lintel above the service desk.  I must say, the design that the BMV has come up with for our Ohio plates is certainly lame, compared to some of the others on display.  I remember  several years ago we( or the BMV, anyway) got all in a snit when North Carolina beat us to the license plate slogan “First in Flight”  commemorating the Wright Brothers exploits at Kitty Hawk.  Somebody was asleep at the switch down in Columbus, probably.  “Birthplace of Aviation” doesn’t have the same ring to it.  “Ohio, the Heart of It All” was pretty good but somebody dropped that one  and currently it’s just sort of nondescript, a barn and an airplane or shadowy words about accomplishments or something behind the numbers; definitely forgettable.  Their whole design concept is less than arresting, that’s for sure. The chairs are black and lined up in rows of four across and there are what look like army surplus church pews running along one side(So you can pray for a lower number?).  The walls also have framed vintage automobile ads(I think that I remember some of them from the LIFE Magazine; that tells you just how vintage they are).  I spotted Dodge Plymouth, Ford, Mercury, Chevrolet, Jeep and Nash(How’s that for a blast from the past?);there was an Atlas Tires  blurb too.  There is also an  antique Ohio Driver’s Manual, some temporary tags, a reminder about  being an organ donor—don’t forget that one—and a display of the old paper driver’s licenses; I remember those too.   Somebody’s bad typing and my own ineptitude caused me to be driving for a whole year on an  expired license.  The last number was typed right on the line on the right side of the little box and I thought—having looked at it carelessly—that I had another year before needing to renew.  WRONG!  It was a nerve-wracking time between when I turned myself in and when I could  get an appointment to retake the driver’s test—written and driving.  Good thing I was still walking to work then and didn’t get into any high-speed car chases.

And speaking of displays….  Everybody’s got a tattoo.  The variety is stunning.  Everything from names inside of hearts—Mom, Emmy-Jo, USMC—to skulls and dragons and Disney characters to Maori designs, spider webs and faeries.  I knew a guy once who had a fly tattooed on his big toe; at the time, this was pretty far out; he’d be a wuss now.  Lots of the displays were on phone screens, everybody seemed to have someone to contact by text, the talking was not a factor.  The big TV screen was being mostly ignored.  The game show that was on was not real inspiring and nobody seemed to be paying much attention…including the contestants.

I must say that the clerks seemed very helpful.  One poor gentleman showed up with no I.D., no passport, nothing attesting to his place of residence; I think he was connected to the University and didn’t have the drill down yet.  The young lady helping him sent him to another office across the hall to figure all of that out; he came back and got through it, chop-chop.  Good thing, since another sign announced that  the whole place was appearing on closed circuit TV and there was an audio monitor in use.

So eventually my number came up , I had all of the necessary papers—including my checkbook—and I now have a new set of plates that I have to remember to put on the car before my 30-day tags run out.  This means that I will have to learn a new set of numbers and letters…oy!…and update my insurance…the fun never stops!