In this town of vanity license plates — WINBIGG lives right up the street and we've spent hours trying to figure out what he does; SLPYDOC who you'd think might work at Disney, but actually is an anesthesiologist who was famous for making house-calls; and my fave, A GUCCI on the back of an ancient mint-green Cadillac Eldorado the color of a pack of menthol cigarettes; BKINIS; CBRISKET; PERFECT; I♥BOTOX, and the somewhat interesting MOD3RN — my car doesn't have a license plate at all.
I got a new car a year and a half ago. My neighbor, who'd moved here from Atlanta a year ago, asked me yesterday in her adorable drawl, how I'd gotten a-way with driving a car for a year that doesn't have a license plate...
I didn't want a new car. My lease was up and it cost too much to buy it in some banking formula I don't understand (as I'm sure the second I turned it in, they resold it to someone else for half the price.)
I realize this is LA-centric but it's not my fault I live in a city where it's not possible to walk from one place to another; public transportation is limited and sluggish; I'm too scared to ride a bicycle on a city street, let alone navigate a high-speed canyon; and constructing a subway, in my opinion, under a city that's actually on an earthquake fault (or three) and has a working oil-well dead-center (on the high-school campus of Beverly Hills) is one of the worst ideas ever, and if I was FEMA I would be fighting it.
But back to my car. I got the same exact car I had before just a newer model. I don't like it as much. It's not quite as zippy. It's probably a little safer: I can't quite drive it with one finger, I have to keep both hands on the wheel.
A few weeks later, a yellow envelope arrived from the DMV which due to its inflexibility and size was obviously my new license plate. I knew the moment I saw it. I had some sixth sense. I put it on the mail table like an unwanted court summons. I didn't open it.
A friend came for dinner. I brought the envelope into the dining room. "I can't open this," I said. "I know it's terrible. I know I can't put this on my car."
My husband rolled his eyes. My friend said, "You're being ridiculous. Just open it."
I opened up the envelope and looked at the license plate. It was worse than I could've even imagined -- it was a perfect abbreviation in text-speak.
My license plate said in big capital letters: 6SXL208.
I instantly translated the "SXL" to Sexual and when you add the "6" in, it became Sick Sexual. (No idea what the 208 meant, but I wasn't taking any chances.)
The "SXL" was bad enough but when you put the "6" in front of it. The text-speak instantly transformed to a sext.
What if somebody thought it was a vanity license plate?!
"Not happening," I said to both of them.
They looked completely perplexed. My husband said sheepishly, "It's just a license plate."
"No, it's not," I insisted. "It's asking for trouble. Worst case scenario, someone could think it was an invitation to follow you home."
The next day, I called the DMV. I got a very nice person named Anthony. I told him my story. "OMG," he said, without missing a beat, "you can't drive around with that on the back of your car. I get it completely. What if you were driving home alone late at night and someone decided to follow you?!" He told me to make an appointment at the DMV and for an $18.00 administration fee, they would give me a new license and registration.
I asked him if he'd ever had a call like this before. "Oh, yeah," he answered. "We've been having a lot of trouble with the 6 series. A lot of people are getting 666 and they don't like it, at all. But I have to tell you this is the worst one I've ever heard."
I can't explain why it took me a year and a half to get to the DMV. Well, I sort of can. Our local DMV was shuttered for renovation, life got in the way, I sort of liked being anonymous, if I got caught by a red-light camera, they wouldn't be able to find me. For the record, I have a clean driving record.
But last week, I finally went to the DMV. My husband came with me, partly because he's supportive and partly because he was certain they weren't going to take it back.
I told my story to the woman behind the counter. In some version of the "cheese-lady," she rolled her eyes at my husband sympathetically. (Everyone has a "cheese-lady." The cheese-lady is the woman behind the counter at Whole Foods who whenever I'm being particularly fussy about cheese, rolls her eyes sympathetically at my husband and then bats them three times. And I maintain that in every marriage, there's someone like the cheese-lady. For the record, we have a cheese-man, too.) But since I figured we never had to interact with the woman at the DMV again, I didn't give her the kind of dirty look I usually give the "cheese-lady." Also, I was a little worried about my replacement license plate.
"You can return it," she said. "But I only have one," and added with some attitude, "I hope you like it."
"I'm sure I will," I said with extreme confidence. I did. It was better than I could've even imagined.
My new license plate is 6WQW213.
My husband looked at me somewhat baffled as did the "cheese lady" at the DMV.
But in some text-speak version of K$sha with a dollar sign instead of an "e", I instantly interpreted the "Q" as a fancy variation of an "O" and "213" being L.A.'s primary area code translated it to 6WOWLA. Yep. Text-speak.
So, I have an appointment this week at the car dealership to get holes drilled into my car (why they aren't there in the first place, is also something that baffles me) so I can put the darn thing on the car. And if a police officer stops me in the meantime (for driving around without a plate), I'll just have to try to "sxplain."
She writes a monthly column "L.A. POV" for the New York Times' T on-line on fashion, entertainment, food, and occasionally court. She recently directed a short film, "Chloe@3 AM," which was featured by the American Cinematheque at the female director's festival in January 2011.
Amy Ephron is also the author of five novels, including the international bestseller "A Cup of Tea;" "Biodegradable Soap;" the L.A. angst ridden "Bruised Fruit," and the cult classic "Cool Shades." She is publisher and editor of One For the Table, a website devoted to food, politics and love. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alan Rader, and any of their five children who drop in.
Photo: Maia Harari