Politics & Other Mistakes: Plate tectonics

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Maine has a long history of ugly license plates. Who can forget the ill-considered potato plate (is that a turd?), the supposedly humorous black fly plate (not bloody funny) or the plagiarized “Dancin’ LePage” plate (Florida had the original version called “Boogie Paul”).

Even though I may have made up one or more of those disastrous choices, they should still serve as fair warning that trying to translate the essence of this state onto a rectangular piece of metal is far more difficult than state officials seem to think. But after almost a quarter century, the current chickadee plate, commemorating Maine’s official intelligence test for legislators (you must be able to beat the bird at Wordle), is overdue for retirement. It’s time for something else to get sprayed with all that road salt.

Al DiamonSecretary of State Shenna Bellows has proposed a new plate featuring the state flag that was used briefly starting in 1901, back when nobody was all that concerned with license plates. It features a pine tree, a star and not much else. Simple. Elegant. Easy to identify as quintessentially Maine. Much better than the current Maine flag with its antiquated images of an idealized, male-centric past.

Frankly, Bellows might better devote herself to doing something about that flag. At a minimum, the sailor should be holding a craft beer instead of an old anchor. The farmer should be a woman and should be cradling a pot plant instead of a scythe. The moose resting under the pine tree should be replaced by a homeless person wrapped in a ratty sleeping bag. A small sign in the background should warn against PFAS contamination.

Or we could just return to the 1901 version, which is, oddly enough, far less dated and far more aesthetically pleasing.

But it occurs to me we were discussing something else. Oh yeah, license plates.

Maine currently offers about a dozen different versions, ranging from an assortment of plates honoring veterans to the loon plate honoring crazy governors to a lighthouse plate to remind us of all our shipwrecks (like the Department of Health and Human Services). So, it wouldn’t be as if the state flag plate were the only option for drivers wishing to make a statement.

Not, however, just any statement. A couple of years ago, Bellows launched a campaign to rid our roads of a small number of profane plates. Legislators, recognizing that they couldn’t do anything about housing costs, health care costs or grocery costs, realized dirty words were an issue upon which they could actually have some impact. So, they went along with Bellows and now just about any combination of letters that begins with an “F” is considered an abbreviation for some form of deviant behavior and has been declared illegal.

This means the public has been spared the sort of vulgar phrases now reserved for huge roadside banners, bumper stickers and Bre Kidman’s columns.

Anyway, back to plate design. It seems like an oversight that we don’t have plates honoring famous Mainers, such as Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, former Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and earmuff inventor Chester Greenwood. The wild blueberry gets no plate respect, although given the potato mistake, that may be just as well (blue turds?).

A Stephen King plate covered in bats and dripping gore would be a big seller. Likewise, country singer Dick Curless deserves a “Tombstone Every Mile” plate with wrecked semi-trucks. Maybe a Tony Shalhoub version, with the actor who portrayed TV detective Monk displaying a dismayed face (have you seen the price of lobster rolls?).

The point is Maine needs to develop license plates that reflect a state that has changed significantly since everybody was either a lumberjack, a fisherman or a farmer. We need to acknowledge the underpaid day-care worker, the greasy fast-food employee, the asylum seeker working under the table, the pajama-clad remote executive and the opioid addict.

Maybe everybody should get to design their own plates, reflecting their personal vision of what they contribute to Maine, using graphics pirated from some video game.

Well, not everybody. One “Dancin’ LePage” plate was enough.

I want a plate on my plate, piled high with Yankee pot roast. Suggestions for side dishes can be emailed to [email protected].

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