Jill Ottman

Jill Ottman

My mother came for a non-holiday related visit last month. She doesn’t make it up here often, and I am always glad to see her. This time was even more enjoyable, as the two of us spent a good deal of it car shopping. This pleasant tire-kicking resulted in my first solo acquisition of an automobile, along with the accompanying responsibility of actually having to pay for it.

I know it’s stereotypical of car salesmen to assume that the only thing that matters to a particular demographic of many car buyers is the vehicle’s color. However, having driven something blue for 26 of my 36 driving years, I thought deliberately avoiding blue reasonable. It’s just too much to ask to spend ten more years with yet another sky-hued car. Instead, I got with what the company calls “Silver Ice” but persists in my mind as “Middle-Aged Gray.” Mother assured me it would show less dirt, but it’s still, well, the color of much of my hair when severely neglected. I am somewhat mollified by the six-speed transmission, heated seats and prison-orange decorative stitching (the latter makes me smile every time I notice it). It’s also nice to be stomping on a clutch pedal again, even if my knees are older and creakier. It’s always useful to have a skill that translates overseas—although I admit that shifting with your left hand and arm still takes some getting used to.

The job of paying the various fees to drive legally in Wyoming is done. Now comes the fun part—waiting until the first of next month to get a lower number license plate. I realize that I deserve no pity for this, but I have a terrible time remembering more than four numbers in a row. I need something short and sweet. A very helpful clerk at the County Treasurer’s office assured me that since I had a valid dealer plate through mid-February, I could be virtually assured of scoring a low number on Feb. 1. Of course everyone else in the state will be in line with the same goal that morning, but there ought to be enough to go around.

We have awesome license plates in Wyoming. The steamboat icon, low numbers and county identifiers are the things I like best about them. Steamboat foils out-of-state meter maids and automatic cameras, who unsuccessfully notate it as the letter “P.” The low numbers are just nostalgic—and easy to remember—and it’s always handy to know at a glance from where other drivers originate. It is useful to have that extra filter in place before expressing, ah, displeasure at others’ behind-the-wheel behavior. You just don’t always know whether that’s the guy coming over tomorrow to fix your broken water line. Another thing that makes me smile about Wyoming’s license plates is Absaroka County #24. Thank you, Walt Longmire.

About the only thing I don’t enjoy about our plates is that my favorite part of the state is now featured prominently on them. Squaretop and the Green River Lakes are not for everybody, and I would prefer they be left mostly to the trout, the bears and the Kendall dace. I’m thinking the often profoundly muddy and lengthy drive is prohibitive for most people, and that the source of much of southern California’s water will remain unmolested by the unwashed recreating masses.

Let us also be thankful we don’t have a motto on our license plates, although I admit I’ve always been partial to New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” and our neighbor’s “Famous Potatoes.” Pennsylvania, not content with years of “the Keystone State,” recently went through a disgraceful time with “You’ve got a friend in” plastered on the top of its license plates. Quaker heritage notwithstanding, most Pennsylvanians are not F/friends, and, in fact, the only people of my acquaintance there are certain of my ex-husband’s relatives, whom I fondly hope will not leave. It might be even worse for us: we could have a URL. I am deeply sorry for the hapless citizens of about six states, stuck with URLs on them. My aforementioned mother now lives in the state of “myFLORIDA.com.” That just makes me wince. I’m perfectly happy to live with license plates that identify my vehicle and indicate whether I have or have not paid my registration in a timely fashion that year. Just let me also have my bucking horse and the ability to determine at a glance whether or not I should call out another person’s bad driving.

Jill Ottman lives in Laramie, has no friends in Pennsylvania, and prefers to live free and not die while eating potatoes.

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