The license plate game (and the meaning of life)


Iím guessing that most of you are at least somewhat familiar with that great travel time passer, the license plate game. For the two or three of you that may not know of itÖ

A very rough description would be to spot as many license plates from different states as possible. Simple. A more complex description might cover additional plates (such as U.S. Government or Washington, D.C.) or alternate versions of plates from the same state. Basics the sameÖ variations existÖ not too much different than playing Monopoly. (Know the rules before rolling the diceÖ at least avoid half the fights that way.)

Terry and I set a personal best during a 2016 road trip. We drove along the east coast twice, and crossed the borders of twelve different states. Not counting those bonus possibilities, we saw forty-nine of fifty license plates. As I recall, the only missing state was Nevada.

Thatís right.


I think about that amazing trip from time to time. Usually whenever we kick off a new round of the game. And, for a number of reasons, I find it remarkable how well the game itself lines up as an example of the realities of life.

The basics are true enough and hardly surprising.

For instance, location matters. Something as general as the weather forecast for your day is determined by location. Snow in Buffalo does not equal snow in San Diego. If youíre standing at an intersection in Honolulu, the odds of spotting a license plate from Hawaii improve. Location matters.

Fifty-fifty is fairly average as numbers go for anything in life. And itís not that hard to clear twenty states. The game begins to get interesting and challenging when you cross off eighty to ninety percent of the possibilities.

More often than not, excitement arrives with the unexpected curveballs. Such as Nevada.

The real fun is where some observations will take you.

Would you believe that organization matters? A lot? Well, it does. Often times we bring along a list of the fifty states and cross them off as we spot them. Iíve seen maps for sale with magnetic markers to use. Play the old-fashioned way though, with a notepad for making a list, and things get interesting. You place Ohio to high on fairly blank sheet, have no room for all of the states beginning with M and N as a result, and never space things out properly. You need just one line for any D (that would be Delaware) and eight for M. No lines for B. A bit of planning and thought can make a difference.

Random tangents come around often enough. So many trucks with plates from Maine and Tennessee. Oklahoma shows up as well. Itís not the states with the highest populations that find their plates on the majority of trailers.

Foggy-brain-syndrome can strike any of us at any time. Thereís that state, usually Wisconsin, that you repeatedly forgot you already have. Thereís a certain obscurity to it, a lack of familiarity, that makes it seem so unique every time itís sighted. And yet, there it is, already marked on your list.

We could go on. Likely donít need to.

Certain things are easy, while others may never be accomplished. We have responsibilities and obligations, with occasional moments of recreation. And all of the rules and regulations and personal preferences and choices swirl around and create unique stretches.

And, as is the case with life itself, itís very easy to take things just a bit too seriously.

Iíd like to tell you that I have some incredible realization as a result of all of this. I donít. And I think thatís part of it as well. Your approaches and answers about the meaning of life are going to be different than mine. Neither of us is wrong. Just depends on how we play the game.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at