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Rick Lubbers column: Making a play for the plates

Anyone seen a New Mexico license plate while traveling this Labor Day weekend? Spotted a Vermont somewhere in the Twin Ports? Bonus points for a Rhode Island. It's Labor Day, and that marks the end of the summer traveling season -- but there's un...

Rick Lubbers
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317.

Anyone seen a New Mexico license plate while traveling this Labor Day weekend?

Spotted a Vermont somewhere in the Twin Ports?

Bonus points for a Rhode Island.

It's Labor Day, and that marks the end of the summer traveling season -- but there's unfinished business in my household.

We need to find 10 more license plates to complete a quest we started on Memorial Day weekend -- The Great License Plate Game of 2011. And we need to finish this before the 2012 traveling season begins ... for sanity's sake.

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What started out as a fun way to keep the kids distracted for about 650 miles or so has become an obsession.

We decided as a family to play the license plate game, but early on chose to make it a team sport rather than individual. I was deemed to have an unfair advantage because I would be driving the entire distance, my wife sleeps quite a bit and the kids have attention spans shorter than a Tsuyoshi Nishioka hitting streak.

My 8-year-old daughter became the record-keeper, a map of the United States on her lap and a box of crayons by her side. Her job was to color in each state we spotted.

They were more than a little excited to get started.

"Hey, Dad, there's a Wisconsin plate!"

"Yeah, but we haven't even left the driveway yet, kids."

Our trip through the Upper Peninsula yielded a bounty of states (I was proud to have shagged Alabama while driving through Ashland), and we nailed down more than 20 plates before driving over the Mackinac Bridge (No. 26 was courtesy of a road-rager from Montana who cut me off in Mackinac City).

I scanned plates with the intensity of a state trooper on a dangerous manhunt. Checking them off one by one.

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We thought we'd have the game wrapped up before the day was done. 50 states.

Wrong.

We limped to just more than 30 after our return trip.

Another lengthy trip through the Midwest added only a token few to our list. The good news is we have enough electoral votes to be elected president, but we're still 10 states shy of a full map. ...

Still at large: Delaware, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Mississippi, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont.

And we don't have vacations planned to any of those states in the near future -- although trips to Oregon, Nevada or Vermont would be nice.

Could have sworn I saw Oregon somewhere near Escanaba, Mich., but my daughter, the official scorer, hasn't colored in the state, so it's not authorized.

I figured Hawaii would be the last license plate to find -- it's an island, right? And last time I checked there wasn't a bridge to the continental states. But my wife spied a car bearing a Hawaii plate in Superior of all places.

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Thank goodness, too; now I won't have to save up for a family vacation to Hawaii just to snare that plate.

But what was once a fun vacation game has now become a daily fixation. Now, every time I come home from even a short errand, I am questioned by family members.

"See any of our missing license plates, Dad?"

"Not today, honey. I'll try harder tomorrow."

I find myself scanning every plate within sight. The Ontario ones just make me mad.

I text my wife: "Saw Utah today ... do we have that one?"

And the reply is almost always disappointing: "Sorry ... saw that one in a Burger King parking lot in Kalamazoo, Mich. Remember, the car with the Elvis impersonator?"

Still, those states can't evade me forever. I'm going to hunt them all down at some point -- that includes you, Idaho!

So, please, be on the lookout for those rogue states. Maybe New Hampshire is rolling through Canal Park right now, or South Carolina is cruising along Skyline Drive. I bet a Mississippi is limping through the Interstate 35 construction mess at this moment.

If spotted, please report them directly to me. It's time to end the quest, color in the rest of the states and move on with the rest of my life.

It's time for a new challenge.

Next summer we're going to tackle license plates from Canada's 10 provinces and three territories.

Hmm ... I bet a plate from Prince Edward Island is going to be tough to find.

Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317 -- especially if you've seen a Rhode Island license plate.

Opinion by Rick Lubbers
Rick Lubbers has been in his role since 2014 and at the News Tribune since 2005. Previous stops include the Superior Telegram (1999-2005) and Budgeteer News (1997-1999). Prior to that, he worked at the St. Cloud Times and Annandale Advocate in Minnesota, and the Greenville Daily News and Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He received his journalism degree at Central Michigan University.
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