A scofflaw no longer
Every once in a while, I get stopped by the police.
Sometimes I’m speeding. Sometimes I’m not.
My car has enough weird little things wrong with it that there are always legitimate grounds for stopping me, even when I’m not speeding. For instance: I once got stopped because my license plate light was broken. (Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever fixed this problem.) And in the past year I’ve been stopped three times because my front license plate was missing.
I’ve actually never had a front license plate.
We didn’t have front license plates in Alabama, which is where I lived before I moved to Albany, and I’m pretty sure the Department of Motor Vehicles only gave me one when I switched over to New York plates. After driving around for a few months with only one plate, I started to notice that most vehicles had two plates. “Hmmm,” I thought. But did I fix the problem? No, of course not. It just didn’t seem like a very big deal. Also, I’m lazy.
The first time I was stopped because of my missing plate, in southern Saratoga County, I couldn’t believe it. “How long has your front plate been missing?” the cop asked. I did a quick mental calculation. “Eight years,” I said. “Eight years!” he exclaimed. Then he said that although he could give me a ticket, he didn’t really want to, and that I should go to the DMV as soon as possible and get a front license plate. Did I do this? No, of course not. I mean, what were the chances that I’d ever run into that guy again?
A few months later, I was stopped again, this time across from my apartment. “How long has your front plate been missing?” the cop asked. “About eight years,” I said. He expressed shock and horror, and said that he wasn’t going to ticket me, but that I must go to the DMV and get on the right side of the law.
“OK,” I said. And I actually meant it. But the very next morning I flipped off my bicycle and broke my wrist and was unable to drive for a month, and the missing front license plate seemed like the least of my worries. And it’s not like these cops ever do any follow-up.
Then a couple months ago, I was stopped at a registration checkpoint in Hadley. The first police officer waved me through, but the second one held up his hand to stop me. “You’re missing your front plate,” he observed. “It’s true,” I said. “I am.” This cop didn’t want to give me a ticket, either. He just wanted me to go to the DMV.
Although perhaps that was the problem. I mean, who wants to go to the DMV? I live less than a mile away from the DMV, and the thought of going there filled me with dread.
Meanwhile, the guy who sits next to me at work has been hounding me to get a license plate for years. He doesn’t like a scofflaw, you see. That’s what he calls me — a scofflaw. I thought scofflaw was a word that, much like prober and venue, is only used by newspapers, not real people in actual conversations. But the guy who sits next to me at work uses it. He’s very into law and order, and to him I am a scofflaw.
Anyway, a few weeks ago I had to go to the DMV to renew my registration. I don’t know what got into me, but I decided to fix my license plate problem. “As long as I’m going down there,” I said. When I told the guy who sits next to me about my plan, there was much rejoicing. “It’s about time,” he said. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a scofflaw.”
In what was without a doubt the best DMV experience of my life — my wait was approximately zero seconds — I received two new plates. I screwed the rear plate on in the DMV parking lot, then turned my attention to the front plate. “Hmmmm,” I said. The front plate was different. To put it on, I needed a wrench, which I didn’t have. I tossed the plate onto the passenger seat, and drove to the Gazette. When the guy who sits next to me at work arrived, he was disappointed. “You’re still missing your front plate,” he said. “I’ve got the plate,” I explained. “I just need to put it on.”
I asked my dad to help me with the plate on my next trip to Maine. He got out his toolbox, and spent about 15 minutes prying apart the license plate frame. When he finally got it apart, he informed me that it was missing a small part called a spreader, and that I wouldn’t be able to put it back on until I got the spreader. Suddenly my mom interjected herself into this conversation. “Promise me that you will get this taken care of,” she said, wagging her finger at me. “Promise me that you will not bury your license plate beneath a pile of food wrappers.”
“I’ve been missing a front license plate for nine years,” I said. “What’s the rush?”
“Promise me!” my mom yelled.
When I returned to work on Monday, the guy who sits next to me at work was really angry. “You’re still missing your front plate,” he said. “What gives? Aren’t you tired of being a scofflaw?”
“I’ve been trying to fix the problem,” I said. “It’s more complicated than I initially thought.”
By now, I’d realized that my missing plate bothered other people far more than me. And I was getting sick of hearing about it. When I brought my car in for an oil change earlier this week, I told my mechanic that I had a new plate, but I didn’t have the proper wrench, and even if I had, it didn’t matter, because of the missing spreader. I talked and talked — this quest to fix my missing plate problem had become such an ordeal — and when I was done my mechanic said, “You want me to put your license plate on your car.”
“Please,” I said.
And he did.
When the guy who sits next to me at work arrived, he smiled. “I see you have two plates!” he said.
“I am no longer a scofflaw,” I said.
Technically, though, this isn’t true.
You see, I’m missing my passenger side mirror. It’s been gone for a while. The glass was smashed a couple of years ago, and then about a month ago I knocked the entire mirror off the car while backing out of my parents’ garage. But so far the police haven’t noticed, and I’m in no rush to fix it.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at email@example.com.