For more than 15 years, I have been addicted to those vanity license plates that are so popular in Quincy.
And, as it turns out, the entire state of Illinois.
Within a few hours of my first trip to Quincy in the late 1990s, one of the first things that struck me as interesting -- while hitting a series of red lights on Broadway -- was all of the vanity plates I was seeing to the left of me, to the right of me, straight ahead of me and in parking lots along the way.
I thought I had died and gone to bad pun heaven.
"They're pretty cool, aren't they?" said my new wife, Kathy, who has lived in Quincy since the early 1970s. "But you'll get used to them because so many people have them."
She was wrong.
To this day, I have never "gotten used to them." Every trip I make to the Quincy Mall, Prairie Crossing, County Market or Hy-Vee parking lots I find myself driving up and down the aisles just hoping to find a gem of a license plate. Like I said, it's kind of an addiction, and after all of these years, I still laugh when I see a good one.
What I have discovered through the years is that Illinois has more vanity plates -- more than 1.3 million -- than any other state. About 13.4 percent of Illinoisans have the personalized plates.
Illinois also some strict rules about vanity plates. As you might expect, there are dozens combinations of letters that are not permitted. Among them are "BARFLY," "BYOB," "DAMFINE," "GASSY," "HMROYD," "FBI," "MANURE" and "XXRATED."
My favorite "game" to play with the vanity plates is to take an hour or so some evening or on a Saturday morning, pick out a couple of well-stocked parking lots, make sure I have a notebook and pen on the front seat beside me and see what the most interesting plates are that I can find.
The following were my favorites from one such excursion a few days ago. It's also fun to try and imagine what the thought process was behind the owner picking such a plate:
º PRRR 7: Was this a car aficionado describing the sound of his engine? Or simply a cat lover?
º GEM CITY: Predictable, but always cool.
º DREW BRI: As a sports fan, I assume this a tribute to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
º BDUBS 6: I'm guessing it was not a coincidence that I spotted this one in the parking lot at Buffalo Wild Wings. My guess is it belonged to the store manager -- or an extremely dedicated connoisseur of the chicken wing.
º SPKE IT 4: Obviously, volleyball is huge in the Quincy area.
º Q-COBRA: A fan of health insurance, or possibly the character Kurt Russell played in the film "Escape from New York" -- Snake Pliskin.
º TIL 68: A car owner counting down the days until retirement?
º POOKEY 1: Newlyweds? This sounds like a nickname a husband or wife gives the other in the early days of marriage. If so, I'd like to see one that is representative of a couple who has been married for 20 or so years. I imagine that license plate would read something like "DID U TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE."
º LVN RED: This one kind of baffled me. Assuming this was short for "Lovin' Red," why was the driver in a white vehicle?
After my latest vanity plate safari, I was seriously considering taking the plunge myself. I called the local DMV office and asked how much the personalized plates would be and was told the cost would be about $225.
On second thought, I think I'll just keep driving around and making my lists.