For new bay-theme tags, he's racing off to the MVA

April 26, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

A COUPLE OF years ago in this space, I jumped on the Motor Vehicle Administration when it came out with that hideous farm-theme license plate.

Basically, I had two major problems with the farm plates.

No. 1, the color scheme didn't make me think of Maryland at all.

It was this Southwestern-y blending of burnt red, burnt orange and burnt yellow, and if it made you think of anything at all, it was of having a chalupa at Taco Bell.

And No. 2, that whole business with the barn and the cow and the fence - not to mention the slogan "Our Farms, Our Future" - didn't evoke the Free State, either.

My feeling was: Since when is Maryland known for farming? Did we suddenly turn into Iowa or something?

When the rest of the country summons an image of Maryland, is it really of grain silos and Holsteins and acres of crops shimmering in the hot sun?

Oh, I guess you could argue the farm plate was a step up from our standard-issue license plate, with its snappy black lettering on a white background, which continues to be the most boring license plate in the country.

Still, the farm plate didn't work for me. And judging by the flat response it received initially from motorists, it didn't work for a lot of Marylanders.

Anyway, now the MVA has come out with another new license plate, an updated version of its popular "Treasure the Chesapeake" plate.

And the saddest thing is, I can't even rip it.

That's because the new plate is a knockout: vibrant, distinctive and classy-looking.

In fact, as soon as I can, I'm going to visit my local full-service MVA office, wave the 20 bucks clutched in my fat, little hands, and buy a set of those babies.

If you haven't seen the new plate yet, here's a description:

Picture a deep-blue sky bleeding into pale-blue bay waters.

On the left side of the plate, a blue heron nestled in tall green marsh grass. On the right side, a blue crab on a sandy spit of shoreline.

(Minor quibble: The heron's beak and leg, as well as the shoreline, are a tad too orangey for my taste. Was the artist trying to evoke a recent chemical spill? Again, a minor quibble.)

Still, my point is: Does that whole scene scream Maryland, or what?

To me, it sure does.

And to me, it's way better than having Farmer Brown's place on your license plate.

In any event, the new plate, which came out at the end of January, costs $20, with proceeds going to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which funds projects that help maintain and restore the bay and its ecosystem.

And so far, the plate is a huge hit.

In fact, it's even a bigger hit with motorists than the original Treasure the Chesapeake plates, which were issued amid much fanfare back in 1990.

David O'Neill, the Chesapeake Bay Trust's executive director, told me that 5,753 of the new bay plates were sold in February, and 7,719 in March.

"We haven't sold 7,000 bay plates in a month since 1992 or 1993," O'Neill said.

O'Neill said the original Chesapeake plates were, per capita, the best-selling plates in the country. But, he added: "There was a general sense from talking to folks that the plates had gotten a little old."

So the Bay Trust began looking into something new, even going so far as to research what the most popular car color would be over the next five years (blue) and convening focus groups to see what Marylanders wanted in a bay plate.

One thing they definitely wanted: color.

Another thing: a blue crab.

"The crab was a huge addition," said O'Neill.

Absolutely.

Let's face it: Even though it was missing from the original Treasure the Chesapeake plate, the blue crab is the superstar of the bay.

Oh, the heron is big, the rockfish is big.

But adding the blue crab to your bay scene, that's like bringing in Barry Bonds to bat cleanup.

It's like bringing in De Niro to star in your next picture.

You can't go wrong.

That's why I look for this new plate to be big, really big.

Enough with the farm thing.

It's time to come home.

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