It’s funny, the things you keep around in your photo albums. See the last picture in the gallery below for the story about the photo above.
A couple of years ago, I spent the better part of four months examining every truck, tractor, piece of heavy equipment, and work site I passed, looking for warning labels. The end result was the Travails of Mr. Stickman. It was fun, but boy howdy, was I ever ready to stop looking for warning signs after I was done. Soon after I finished that project, I embarked on another: taking pictures of vanity licence plates. Two years and a few fits and starts later, here’s the result.
Compulsively looking at, taking pictures of, and remembering licence plates has an interesting side effect: it can somewhat de-anonymize people in cars. Other than the familiar ones I see on my street or parked along my regular commuting route, I don’t really think that I encounter any individual car more than once in my life. For the most part, people in cars are anonymous to everyone else, and you don’t really attach any significance to one Honda Civic versus another. Is it the same car and driver that I passed last week? Different? Does it matter?
Several times, I’ve seen the same plate twice in two completely different places. In North Toronto and on the Danforth; Deer Park and the Home Depot on Laird. Somewhat more startling, I’ve occasionally seen the same plate on two different cars, with the sightings separated by weeks or years. I may not know anything about the owner of the car, but I do know that the complete stranger whose licence plate made me laugh on Merton Street in the spring traded in her Land Rover for a convertible that she was driving up Pape Avenue last week. Last week, I completed my first triple sighting of a single plate: first on Summerhill Avenue, then on the 401, and finally in Liberty Village. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the car in any of those encounters. Fourth time lucky, maybe.
And then there was the driver who blasted his horn at me as he passed me way too aggressively on a wide-open street two weeks ago. As he cut inches in front of me on a quiet residential street (and signed bike route, no less), he almost certainly didn’t realize that I not only recognized his peronalized plate, but that I knew exactly which driveway it was parked in three minutes earlier, where I see it virtually every morning. The wronged cyclist’s dilemma: let him know, or let it go. I’m still undecided.
Through all of this, there was only one complaint about a guy on a bike (usually) with a camera stopping to take a picture. The vast majority of drivers that I spoke with were not only amused to be part of my project, but also told me the story behind their personalized plate. The owner of IM URS, for example, told me that he’d inherited it from his mother and it was one of the things he remembered her by. Most of the time though, the cars were empty and no one was around to tell me the personal significance of a plate.
Of course there were almost too many to count that got away, passing too fast for a picture, in weather I refused to subject my camera to, or just at the wrong time of day while I was too busy scurrying along my way. Many them were better than the ones that I did catch. Oh well. For the next post.
Check out the full gallery below the fold. Those of you reading through the RSS feed should visit the original page for the full gallery effect with commentary.
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