Something About License Plates

When was the last time you or your family played the license plate game?  I probably last played it just before I got my driving permit because the license plate game is rather distracting.

There are several variations of how it is played, so the game doesn’t have any set rules.  When our family first played the game, we only watched for plates from various states and Canadian provinces. The first person to spot a different state’s plate called it aloud then jotted the name on a page in a paper tablet. The person who first saw the most different states’ or provinces’ plates, at the end of the trip was the winner.

During shorter trips, we usually only saw Nebraska plates, the game was usually short because Iowa and South Dakota plates were often the only other plates to see. On slightly longer trips, we might see plates from Kansas, Colorado, or Wyoming.  A real thrill was to see a license plate from Alaska or Ontario.  I’m not sure why so many drivers from that province were in Nebraska at that time, but they far outnumbered cars from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I don’t think we ever spotted plates from any other province.

Most of the time we just kept track of the different types of Nebraska plates. When I was young, the numbering system was categorized by county numbers. For instance, vehicles from Madison County have the prefix “7”. A Madison County plate might show “7-A123”. A vehicle from Wayne County might be stamped “27-A123”.

A bonus point was awarded if we could name the county that issued the plate. Another point was given if we could identify the county seat of that county.  Our childhood Nebraska license plate game would be more difficult to play today because the numbering system has been altered for the higher population counties. They now use three letters, three numbers such as “ABC 123”. Lower population counties still use the old prefixes. Another complicating factor are vanity plates. There are also higher priced specialty plates.

Sometimes we tried to figure out how other states assigned plate numbers. Some, like Iowa, were straightforward. The county name, itself, appeared at the bottom of the plate. Then some combination of letters and numbers identified the vehicle.

South Dakota had a variation on the county numbering system, similar to Nebraska’s, but we couldn’t figure out which number belonged with any particular county. South Dakota eventually adopted a confusing system that mixed up numbers and letters. One aspect of South Dakota plates, is that the passenger car plates usually had a depiction of Mount Rushmore somewhere on each plate.

California plates added a different dimension to our license plate game. Older cars had black plates with yellow numbers and letters, while newer cars sported blue plates with yellow numbers, so we counted California as two states. The new California plates aren’t as distinctive and the numbering lettering system appears to be random and arbitrary. I suppose with so many motor vehicles registered in California, the numbering of cars is much more complicated.

As far as attractiveness of license plates goes, in my opinion, New Mexico’s older plates win hands down. The ancient Zia Sun symbol is an elegant and simple adornment also found on their state flag. I think it might be worth moving to Albuquerque just to have “Land of Enchantment” plates on the ol’ Camry.

It’s funny how such common things as license plates can stimulate so much curiosity and enjoyment.

The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that the very first license plate in the world was registered to Daniel and Hermann Beissbarth of Munich, Germany in 1899. It was simply the number “1” on an orange plate.

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Sky Awareness

The sky is everpresent.  The sky is the part of our world that can be breathtakingly beautiful and at times, very frightening.  We would not exist without the sky.  Most of us only usually take notice of the sky when something extraordinary happens “up there”.

Perhaps we notice a particularly stunning sunrise or sunset.  There might be the terrible majesty of a severe thunderstorm. Many of us feel sad when the sky is just a dome of cumulus grey. We feel happiness on days when the sky is partly cloudy or fully clear.

I’m guessing that National Sky Awareness Week was instigated because this is the time of year, in North America, when severe atmospheric conditions reassert themselves in their most destructive forms.

While we’re searching the sky for signs of danger, we can also take deep breaths and contemplate the ever changing beauty of what exists above us.

Have you ever wondered why the same aspect of our world is properly known in its singular and plural forms?  Sky and skies mean the same thing. Irving Berlin was spot on when he penned his tribute to the sky “Blue Skies”. It’s fitting that this beautiful song has been recorded by so many famous singers.

Anyway, this week is the time we can reacquaint ourselves with the Earth’s sky. You don’t need to be an astronomer or a meteorologist to just look up, observe, learn, contemplate, enjoy, or photograph the skies above that sustain us all.

By the way, I photographed all the images for this post in rural Wayne County, Nebraska on various mornings.

The Blue Jay of Happiness contemplates this thought from the Persian poet, Hafez: “Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me.”  Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”

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World Book Day Meanderings

The public library is one of the best places to spend an hour or so each weekend.  I’m glad many parents feel the same way. More often, entire families are queued in the check-out line with their hands carrying books. As I notice the eagerness most of the kids show for the reading materials, I feel more confident about the future of the world.

It’s good to see how parents encourage their children to read and to visit the public library.  They’re carving out time from their busy weekends to dedicate an hour or so in favor of the intellectual development of the children. Apparently, most of the parents are also avid readers, because I notice they have selected a few titles to bring home from the library trip.

Even though we have many Internet sources for books, ebooks, and other information, I prefer brick and mortar places to browse and purchase books. Unfortunately, the last of the general interest book stores in my town went out of business a couple of years ago. The only place left is the public library.

Thankfully, the town’s powers that be understand the value of having an excellent public library. A major reconceptualization and expansion of our library is currently underway.  The present shelves and media centers have been temporarily concentrated into a smaller area to allow for construction crews to begin their work.

I’m probably not the only person who is excited about the renovation activity.  Parents and children are undoubtedly curious about the nuts and bolts of building construction, too. The construction will be a real-time, real-life audio-visual learning tool that all the library patrons can witness for themselves over the next year and a half. So our library will be a major hub of activity during this time.

All the added excitement will help motivate more people to browse the shelves for books.  In turn, this will encourage more folks to develop reading habits. At least, more books will get into the hands of more people.

Perhaps many of the people will visit the library today to find reading material for today’s World Book Day. World Book Day is a celebration of books and reading that takes place around the globe each April 23rd. The annual event is sponsored by UNESCO to inspire people to become enthusiastic readers. So far, more than 100 countries officially celebrate the event.

There is also a World Book Night coordinated by “The Reading Agency” a UK based charity that helps encourage reading by helping organizations distribute books to special audiences. The British organization focuses on adults and children with low literacy levels who do not read for pleasure; isolated elderly people; men and women in UK’s prisons; the LGBTQ community; and other vulnerable population groups. Books from publishers have been donated with the needs and interests of the people in mind.

Although a similar program in the United States has disbanded, due to lack of funding, World Book Night is still promoted by schools, libraries and civic groups across the country.

Today’s the day. Celebrate World Book Day and Night in your own special way. Buy a book at a store, check out a book at the public library, or select one from your own personal collection. Then sit back and enjoy it.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

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Born A Crime (Review)

If you’re searching for a merely funny, escapist book, Born A Crime isn’t it. However, if you’re looking for a great book, Trevor Noah’s tome is exactly what you should read.

The first time I spotted Born A Crime I overlooked the subtitle Stories from a South African Childhood. I figured the book was just a ghost-written autobiography or a collection of topical gags from a popular celebrity.  The following week, I saw the book still sitting on the shelf so I picked it up on a whim.

I like Trevor Noah and “The Daily Show”. He has really turned out to be a great replacement for Jon Stewart.  Like Stewart, Noah is more of a humorist than a stand-up comedian. Noah is an intelligent, superb storyteller, and his book bears this out, beautifully.

Even though I read the print version of the book, my internal, mental “reading voice” sounded like that of Trevor Noah.  I didn’t need the audiobook version for this effect.  His writing style is that personal and intimate.

The book’s title and its premise are best explained by Noah, himself. “I was born in South Africa during apartheid, a system of laws that made it illegal for people to mix in South Africa. And this was obviously awkward because I grew up in a mixed family. My mother’s a black woman, South African Xhosa woman… and my father’s Swiss, from Switzerland.”  There were very strong penalties for racial mixing at that time.

If you had no idea who Trevor Noah is nor anything about “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, Born A Crime should still move you. It’s basically a series of autobiographical essays about growing up as the mixed race (colored) child of a deeply religious single mom in the context of dire poverty within a very sexist, racist Union of South Africa. At one point in Noah’s childhood, the family had to eat weeds and caterpillars as a protein source.

Parts of this book read like a tribute to his mother.  In fact, the final chapter is entirely devoted to her. Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah is a survivor of many harsh struggles. She was fined and jailed by the white minority South African regime for extraracial sexual relations and marriage under the infamous “morality laws” at the time. She continued through her life with many more harrowing experiences.

The underlying theme of Born A Crime, is that the author was an extraordinarily naughty little boy but was not mean nor hateful.  Although he was a challenge for his mother to raise, he managed to turn out more than OK. Noah had to be a little bit bad in order to make it through the hoops and barriers that the Apartheid system, poverty, and society had placed in front of him.

As I finished the last page of the book, it seemed like Born A Crime is only the first of a series of future books.  I don’t know if that is Noah’s plan, but I hope it is.

{ Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah; 304 pages, published November 2016 by Spiegel & Grau; ISBN: 978-0-399-58817-4 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Trevor Noah. “What I’ve always said about comedy is if you do it in the right way, you can say anything to anybody because they know where you’re coming from. They know it’s not malicious.”

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Encore Plus d’Animaux …Floral Friday

While dusting and reconfiguring some shelves yesterday, I stumbled across some vintage animal themed planters.  Right away, I decided to freshen up the arrangements in them.

One of my favorites is the mustard yellow McCoy tiger.  A simple array of yellow flowers is all that is needed to create an innovative look.

A horizontal placement of blooms gives a “Relpo” fancy horse vase the illusion of movement.

This beautifully detailed “Lane” fawn is at home in a forest themed arrangement. A sprig of evergreen paired with reddish orange flowers pulls this off convincingly.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes David Attenborough. “There are some four million different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Four million different solutions to the problems of staying alive.”

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Some Magazine Ads From 1959

I’ve been carefully culling the mildewed, and spoiled contents of the black steamer trunk that was stored in the basement of an old house dad owned. Some of the vintage newspapers and magazines are so contaminated that I’ve had to wear a filtering face mask.  I don’t know if the paper can be successfully and economically salvaged or not, so I’ve been photographing the pages of some of the periodicals.

Mom used to subscribe to The Saturday Evening Post of which there was only a couple of issues remaining.  The best copy is dated November 21, 1959.  While someday I might read some of the articles, the advertising is most immediately interesting.  Old ads fascinate us because we’ve all been subjected to advertising our entire lives.

With that in mind, I decided to share a sampler of the most interesting print ads that appeared in that issue of the Post. I shot these images in high definition so you can expand them for more enjoyment.

It’s hard to believe that a company would spend big bucks on a double-page spread to plug some clocks. General Electric did just that for their line of Telechron clocks. Nowadays, Telechrons are highly collectable artifacts.

Speaking of collectables, the mid-century versions of prestige wristwatch brands are quite popular with many serious hobbyists.

Among the various trends in home audio was the short-lived concept, three-channel stereo.  The Motorola company made a big push for the format in this double-page spread.

If you were skeptical about three-channel, you might opt for conventional stereo gear from Magnavox.  The top of the line was a family entertainment center that included a teevee set.

The motor vehicle industry has long been a mainstay for publishing. The November 1959 issue featured the introduction of the 1960 models of the “big-three” manufacturers.

Chrysler Corporation showed off their flagship luxury car of the day, the Imperial.

General Motors featured two Chevrolet models. The huge Impala was the last of the series to feature tailfins. In the background is the introductory model of the then brand-new Corvair.

Ford made a half-hearted effort to push their very unpopular Edsel.  November 1959 was the end of the production line for the brand. Ford built fewer than 3,000 of the 1960 Edsels which were basically 1960 full-size Fords decorated with poorly styled trim.  Ironically, these days, Edsels are highly prized collectables.

I’ll continue to weed out more vintage magazines and newspapers from the old trunk.  There are bound to be some more interesting finds.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Canadian political scientist and humorist, Stephen Leacock. “Advertising: the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”

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This Is International Twit Award Month

Someone on Facebook asked, “What is a pregnant goldfish called?”  It’s one of those questions that puts you off guard for a moment.  I scrolled down to read the comments. One of them said, “A pregnant goldfish is called a ‘twit’.” The next one stated that goldfish lay eggs so there is no such thing as a pregnant goldfish. The comment thread contained a dozen or so additional opinions. One person trolled the others by saying everyone in the comment thread should be nominated for the Twit Award.

I had to chuckle at the word “twit” because I haven’t heard it used as an insult in ages. Impulsively, I decided to look up the word and discovered that April is International Twit Award Month.  Apparently April Twits continue where April Fools leave off.  The field of nominees for the Twit Award is quite vast.

When I Googled “twit”, the social media site “Twitter” appeared in the first several entries. A person who tweets is apparently a twit. One article suggested some famous political twits as award nominees, including Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, and, of course, Donald Trump.

I clicked a few more links and discovered a wealth of alarming discussions that had quickly devolved into threads of insults–the reproaches being much more rude than twit.  The “G Rated” synonyms for twit include: idiot, fool, moron, twerp, cretin, and Neanderthal.

Neanderthal?  Recent evidence unearthed by archaeologists suggest that Neanderthals should not be on the list. They were not the stereotypical “cavemen”, club-carrying brutes as depicted in numerous, popular histories and tales.  Neanderthals were just as sophisticated as the contemporary homo sapiens sapiens of the day. There have been no data to support any supposed inferiority of Neanderthals, so they shouldn’t be equated with twits.

My dictionary also defines “twit” as a verb. In this sense, twit is also unpleasant and demeaning. We find out that to twit is to deride, mock, or criticize. It is an unfriendly behavior that induces anger or resentment. To twit is to harass with persistent criticism or carping. Its synonyms include: bait, cod, razz, ride, tantalize, and tease.

Taken together, we can properly say, “A twit twits.”  We can also say that the name for the social media site “Twitter” is very appropriate. I don’t have a Twitter account, so I guess I’m not a twit.

So, we come back to International Twit Award Month.  All of us have a list of nominees. I have my own batch of famous and infamous people.  In the interest of social harmony, I’ll keep my selections private.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Embryos and idiots, eremites and friars, white black and grey, with all their trumpery.”

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