New farm tags don't exactly say `Maryland'

March 07, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

LIFE IN THE Free State is always filled with challenges, but never before have we faced the emotional Mount Everest that lies before us now.

I speak here, of course, about Maryland's new license plate, this ... this farm thing.

Is it me, or is this the weirdest license plate you ever saw in your life?

In fact, this new "ag-tag" is weird on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin.

First, there's the color, this red-ish, orange-ish, yellow-ish mix which immediately evokes ... well, not Maryland, that's for sure.

To me, this is your basic sundown-in-the-high-desert color scheme. Something you'd associate with, oh, the great Southwest.

In fact, the first time I saw the new plate some months ago, we were driving on the Beltway, and I said to my 10-year-old: "Look, that must be the new Arizona license plate."

"It's a Maryland plate," the boy said.

"Son," I said, "this is no time for games. Your dad has had a long day dealing with wave after wave of bitter, disgruntled editors who ... "

"It's a Maryland plate," he said again.

At first, I made a mental note to have the boy's eyes checked right away.

Then I thought: Gee, what if it's not his eyes?

What if this is another damning indictment of the public education system in this country? In other words, what if the boy simply can't read?

But when we pulled closer to the other car, I saw he was right.

My God, I thought, that isn't something banged out by minimum-security prisoners in Tempe or Phoenix.

That's something banged out by our cons!

Probably right down there in Jessup, too.

Anyway, if the colors on the new tag are weird, so is the farm scene that's depicted - is that a barn and a cow and a little white fence? - and the slogan "Our Farms - Our Future."

Tell me something: Are we suddenly living in Iowa?

I mean, is Maryland really a state known for its agriculture?

Look, before we go any further here, please don't start calling and e-mailing to tell me Maryland has lots of farms, OK?

I know Maryland has lots of farms. What, you don't think I get out of the house every once in a while?

But, I'm sorry. When people think of Maryland, farming is not the first thing that pops into their minds.

I have lived here 22 years and never, ever heard a tourist at Harborplace say: "Now that we're finally here, I can't wait to check out the farms!"

And you don't hear visitors to Ocean City saying: "Sure, sure, the waves are nice, the sand's great. But where can a gal see some grain silos and Holsteins around here?"

No, I think Maryland's identity is pretty much tied up in blue crabs and the Chesapeake Bay and the Orioles, don't you? (Although with the way the Orioles are going, this is like being identified with an untreatable disease.)

Anyway, to me, the big question is: How have these ugly new plates been selling since they were first issued last summer?

I tried to envision a long line of wild-eyed motorists at MVA offices waving $20 bills at harried clerks and screaming: "Please ... the new farm tags! I gotta have one!"

But it was an image that was hard to summon, to be honest.

Nevertheless, when I talked to Anna Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the MVA, she indicated the new farm plates, while not exactly selling like hotcakes, are doing better than anticipated.

As of two weeks ago, 28,132 had been sold to Maryland motorists, which is about 28,000 more than I would have figured.

But at MVA headquarters, they're practically breaking out the party hats and confetti, since they originally estimated only 10,000 plates would be sold by this summer.

Those figures, though, pale in comparison to the numbers put up by the classy looking Chesapeake Bay plates - my own personal favorite, by the way. (Love the heron!)

Hoffman said 104,977 bay plates were sold in the first four months after they were issued, compared to 13,971 for the farm plates.

Me, I still can't get over the fact that 28,000 people actually looked at these farm plates and thought: "Say, that's pretty sharp-looking!"

Although I have a theory about this, if you'll indulge me.

Maybe the people who bought the farm plates figure anything's a step up from the regular Maryland license plates, with that snooze-fest black lettering against a white background.

You talk about a boring license plate - five seconds after seeing it, most people are struck by the urge to take a nap.

Then again, after seeing the farm tag, they may never sleep again.

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