Dear Ace: Is it just me, or are there way too many vanity plates in this town? Are people in Charlottesville just more vain than everybody else, or what?—JST 1DRNG

Dear JST: Ah, the vanity plate. Nothing makes a bolder statement about a person’s individuality and relationship with his or her car—except, perhaps, the fake bullet hole decal—than the vanity plate.
    Ace is referring, of course, to what Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles calls the “special plate.” And no, despite their preferred nomenclature, it is not a $4.99 heaping helping of fried foods. These plates, which cost their owners an extra $25 when they register their vehicles, feature decorative pictures around their edges, symbols of various institutes of higher learning, and bold statements like “HORSE ENTHUSIAST.” Seekers of individuality can also get unique LTTRZ ADD3D to their desired plate.
    Ace found out, interestingly enough, that these babies bring in a heaping helping of scratch for their associated organizations and causes, as well. In the past year, that number came to over $2.2 million! (Even more impressive when you realize that only $15 of the $25 fee is actually diverted for this revenue sharing program—and that’s only after the first 1,000 plates of each batch are sold.)
    And while Ace is still on the subject, he has a message for the Wahoos out there: Step it up! Virginia Tech fans bought 15,277 plates for their cow town school last year, but UVA supporters only purchased 7,268 in the same period. Honestly, didn’t Thomas Jefferson write about the need for a bitchin’ orange V on one’s horse and buggy? (Don’t answer that.)
As for exactly how many custom plates are in Charlottesville, Ace couldn’t tell you. There were 188,296 special plates ordered in the Commonwealth in the last year, but the DMV doesn’t track their numbers by city.
    But Ace, his curiosity aroused by your question, has been keeping an eye peeled for vanity plates around town. They range from the obvious, like one UVA School of Architecture student’s “A-SCHOOL” to the crafty, like the one sports car which has something inscrutable like “II1I11I.” (Ace actually ordered his own plate for the Acemobile, but—due to a transcription error—it came out “ASS MOBL” and was promptly recalled.)
    Are these plates, then, mere symbols of vanity? Charlottesville does have, Ace admits, a bit of a rep for self-importance. On that point, dear JST, Ace can only close with the words of author Elizabeth Smart. “Vanity is a vital aid to nature: completely and absolutely necessary to life. It is one of nature’s ways to bind you to the earth.”

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