Green and Mean

21Jul11

CAH plateI’m all in favor of being green – if only when it comes to the lettering of my car’s license plate. In a sea of white plates with red lettering, the old “greenies” have become something of a treasure among the dwindling number of car owners who still have them. The green lettered Massachusetts tags were issued before 1987. Whether that makes them antique or merely unique, many of their owners are loathe to give them up.

Rumors started circulating in 2008 that the green plates were being recalled by the state and owners would have to turn in the green-lettered plate on their rear bumpers for two new red plates. A flier was even circulated in the automotive world stating that the green plates would be deemed a safety failure by inspection stations, and owners would be forced to trade them in for red, at the cost of considerable green. Believing the rumor, many did trade them in, much to their regret when they learned that the rumor was false.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles said at the time that they had no idea who started dishing the rumor, but they speculated that it may have originated from someone at a North Shore inspection station misreading information on the RMV web site.

I suspect an old-fashioned case of green plate envy.

GoogleIn fact, the Registry isn’t forcing anyone to give up their green-lettered plates – as long as they are legible. But the RMV encourages vehicle owners to swap illegible plates for a set of red plates at no fee.

Inspection stations can fail a vehicle if its license plate is not legible from 60 feet. After a few decades, the letters tend to fade and don’t stand out against the background paint, which becomes dull and cracked with age. This has prompted some owners of green plates to try and spruce up their tags. It’s easier said than done.

Unless you’ve spent some time in Cedar Junction, Walpole as a guest of the Commonwealth, you probably don’t know the first thing about making license plates, much less restoring them. So eager are people to keep their old greenies, that at least one web site offers tips on “How to repaint a green Massachusetts license plate.” It involves using paint stripper to remove the old paint, then spraying on automotive etching primer. Then you have to match the paint colors of the plate background and numbers/letters.

There are limits to my nostalgia.

Even if you spend the green to purchase one of the new Boston Celtics plates the lettering is not green but red, which works well on the Red Sox plates but doesn’t seem like a very good way to support the Green.

Even the “Environmental Trust” plates, introduced in 1995, don’t have green lettering.

Compared to some of the greenies I’ve seen gracing vehicles, mine is still in relatively good shape. It passed inspection last May, so I’ll get to keep it for at least another 10 months. Barring accelerated deterioration, I expect it to sneak through a few more inspections.

There’s nothing especially significant about my old green plate. Those green numbers and letters don’t represent anything meaningful. But we do go back a way, my green plate and me, sharing at least six vehicles and traveling many thousands of miles together over the last several decades.

If they ever want me to give up my green plate, they’ll have to pry it from my cold, dented bumper.

[This column originally appeared in the July 21, Wakefield Daily Item.]

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