Since California is the center of the universe when it comes to vanity, there are a whole lot of folks with so called “vanity plates” on their cars. Here you are allowed a combination of seven letters or numbers and apart from obscenities, pretty much anything goes. Back in Massachusetts, I had a vanity plate on my old Audi—the plate said simply CURE CA. Most doctors know that CA is an abbreviation for cancer, but when I moved to California with my Massachusetts plates in 1993, I notice that a lot of drivers were less than pleased with my “statement” that something in California needed curing. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the upturned middle finger from the driver in the next car had less to do with my driving than my license plate. Or so I would like to believe. I exchanged the MA plate for a CA plate with discrete letters and numbers, hoping to dispel the sound and fury by signifying nothing. It helped that the new plates went on a half-ton Chevy Suburban driven by a very determined mother with three screaming kids and three hundred pounds of Scottish deerhound in the car. People no longer gave me the finger—they just stayed out of my way.
I didn’t give the whole vanity plate thing another thought until ten years later, when I bought the red Corvette. Corvette and I were born the same year—1953—and it seemed only fitting that I should have that red car that I had coveted my entire life for the fiftieth anniversary of our mutual birthday. Armed with a lead foot and a 36 month no interest loan that Chevy offered for my convenience and temptation, I bought myself a fiftieth anniversary Z06, after making sure that that particular model came only with a six speed manual transmission which my two eldest and newly minted drivers would not have a clue how to drive. And then I set about trying to figure out the perfect vanity plate for the object of my affection. I wanted something that would scream, in seven characters or less, that sometimes it’s not just okay, but IMPORTANT to live with abandon, to have some real fun, to put the pedal to the metal. Here in California you can check out your choice of vanity lettering on line—if your first choice is taken, you simply move on to your second, or third. I spent one sleepless evening submitting every abbreviated derivation of that sentiment I could find, to no avail. RUHVNFN, ULIV1C, 1XAROND, ULIV1X–they were all taken. Eventually I found one that wasn’t taken, but by then it was late and I couldn’t decide between the palm tree and Yosemite, so I went to bed. As I have said before, I have a fairly short attention span so I forgot about the vanity plate.
Ten years, three speeding tickets and one rolling through a stop sign later, I am a veteran of the “Corvette wave,” of traffic school, and of the exhilaration of rapid acceleration. I was thinking about this tonight, after seeing cancer patients all day and on the eve of my father’s open heart surgery—about how Prince was right. Sometimes you just have to say, “Move over Baby, and gimme the keys.” After all, as we say in Texas—you only get one go.