The Astral Log

4 March 2016

License Plate Displays... Peotone Style

Filed under: License Plates, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 08:00

While I debate whether or not I'll muster the patience to attend a local license plate meet again, here are some glimpses into the meat and matter of last weekend's event: The displays!

1956 license plates

One of the largest things on display was this 53-piece U.S. passenger run from 1956; the twilight era of inconsistent shapes and sizes. But there were 48 states in 1956: Where did the five extras come from? Alaska and Hawaii were both included in the run in spite of their territorial status, as was the District of Columbia (which ought to be a state, but which may never be). And West Virginia and Wisconsin were represented by two plates apiece because each design saw an equal amount of use during 1956. (Nevada could have been represented by two plates as well, but you can't win 'em all.)

California exempt plates

California exempt plates of the last 60 years, in both state (diamond-E) and local government (octagon-E) varieties. The numeric progression of these is rather haphazard, with serials in the 1980s and 1990s jumping between high and low serial blocks at random.

Tennessee license plates

A Tennessee run spanning years from 1926 to 1965; including a good sampling of the 21-year span of state-shaped plates: Good luck finding one of those that hasn't been priced in solid gold by now.

The most interesting portion of the display was the rightmost panel, which was a series of symmetrical plates belonging to a motorist from Overton County (#77) who evidently had connections! Tennessee used both county and weight class coding in this era and changed systems frequently; witnessed in the fact that the guy's number morphed from 77-77 in 1953-56 to 77-0077 in 1957 to 77-A0-77 in 1958, back to 77-0077 in 1959-61, and full circle to 77-77 again for 1962-65.

IL electric vehicle plates

What people collect demonstrates the type of people that they are, and I'd theoretically like to collect these...but Electric Vehicle plates are more difficult than hen's teeth to get; even if you live in Illinois and own an electric car.

Illinois in the year 1985

Last but not least, here's my display! The two panels were split thematically, with the left side expounding upon the idiosyncrasies of the passenger plates of 1985, and the right side cutting a swath across the non-passenger color schemes of the year. It didn't win an award, but I was happy about the way it came together.

In the future, I'd like to assemble a larger display. But I'm limited by the materials I'm easily able to find, and the length of what can fit in the back of my car. Are there any suggestions or good construction ideas out there?

29 February 2016

Back to License Plates Once More

Filed under: License Plates, The World In Which We Live, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 08:00

My license plate collecting interest waxes, wanes, and shifts. I find it impossible to be enthusiastic about the license plates of a state unless I'm enthusiastic about the state...and any last vestige of enthusiasm for Wisconsin was torched and burned when my adversaries spent three times handing the state to Governor Voldemort for the kill.

It had been a very long time since I had last attended a regional plate meet...since September 2014, to be precise. But when an invitation appeared on the license plate collectors' listserv to attend "the largest MAPA meet ever" in the northern Illinois map-speck of Peotone, I figured...why not? After all, it would be a chance to get out of town, showcase a display, be around people with similar interests, and find a few things for the themed runs I've been trying to put together. Right?

This is what a plate meet looks like.

I pulled myself out of bed at a ridiculous hour (4:20 in the morning) and pointed the car in a direction somewhere between Chicago and Kankakee. The temperature hovered around the zero mark (in the sensible Celsius system), with no snow visible until I was south of the Windy City. After three and a half hours, I was there...just in time to find people rushing into the building and snapping up all the closest tables before the "official" 8 a.m. opening time had even begun.

I lugged my two-panel display out of the back of the car and set it upright so that I could free my hands and fetch something else. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and...CRASH! The display landed face-down on the pavement. Fortunately the license plates on it were little-damaged, suggesting that my decision to overbuild the display with thick rubber washers and protruding sheet-metal screws wasn't in vain.

Andrew in Illinois

To make myself easier to spot, I had dressed in a bright green T-shirt and bright green shoelaces. I wound up back-to-back with Roy Michalik, a collector from Michigan who outdid me in both wardrobe (his was a bright pink T-shirt) and travel distance. A third collector admitted to actually driving overnight to get to Illinois from Virginia; a sleepless shot from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It wasn’t fun getting up at 4:20 in the morning, but the tenacity that other collectors have in getting to their destinations continually surprises me.

What else went on? I was able to plug the most embarrassing hole in my Marriage Equality Run (Illinois) and found a few ancillary things to work into the birthyear collection. I was tormented by an equal number of near misses; including Nebraska and Ohio plates with expirations one month off from the DOMA strike-down of June 2015 and an Iowa that was three off from containing my ALPCA number. Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes. It only took an hour for me to comb through all the tables and traders ("largest meet" pronouncements notwithstanding), and by lunchtime, it was over.

The silver lining of the day? I actually sold license plates at this meet; enough of them to more than offset my admission fee and travel expenses. I don't know if I'll come back to Peotone, but maybe I should dress in bright green more often.

Wallace should stay dead

While I was there, one attendee went on a minute-long rant about her contempt for the poor and how much she hated the homeless and jobless people who beg for food on the streets of her city in Wisconsin: It's people like her who vote for Walker, applaud his sadistic food-stamp cuts, and measure the worth of politicians by the amount of cruelty they can inflict on "undesirable" demographics. A second collector made the point of sticking a "NOBAMA" bumper sticker prominently to the side of his trade box...a personal affront, considering that the target of his vitriol has done more to support my health and civil rights as a queer guy than any president in history. A third person was selling memorabilia from the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace...the opportunistic Alabama asshole responsible for the quote "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Multiple cars in the parking lot were bearing obnoxious license plates emblazoned with the exclusionary "In God We Trust" slogan; whether from Indiana, Missouri, or my unwilling home state of Wisconsin. There were no Confederate flags this time, but just about all the other squares on my "angry white Christian bigot" bingo card were filled in by the end of the event.

With an atmosphere like this, I question why I bother being involved in the license plate collecting community at all.

31 December 2015

Why am I writing about Skepticon 8 now, more than a month after it happened?

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Illinois — Andrew T. @ 21:54

Time flies when you’re not having fun.

The weekend of November 13th to 15th was the weekend of Skepticon…the signature conference of the atheist/skeptic movement; held every year in the Bible Belt city of Springfield, Missouri.

I drove straight home the evening of the 15th, collapsed into bed, and plunged straight into a hectic work week. If there was time for any respite, it didn't last long: Days after that I was in the hospital, having a cyst on my finger removed. The surgery went well, but my hand was wrapped in bandages and I could barely type for the next two weeks.

December was yet another month of preoccupations. Once going through the year-end household chores and Christmas routines, however, it was time to go right back and finish what I had set out to do more than a month ago: A write-up about my experiences at Skepticon.

Skepticon was a new experience for me, but Springfield wasn't: I passed through the city on my way to the year's ALPCA Convention in Arkansas last summer. Not surprisingly, my journey through Illinois and Missouri closely paralleled my path from five months earlier; though I bore southwest from Rockford and drove on different highways to provide a bit of variety.

As for artifacts and roadside architecture sights along the way? There was plenty of that to go around. I'm not sure which of these may have been the better find: This early 1960s Texaco station in Milan, Illinois with perfectly-preserved green and white porcelain enamel, or this 1930s-40s Standard building in Macomb with art deco lettering.

Eventually I ended up on U.S. 54...a highway that would take me out of Illinois and far into Missouri. Alas, the Clark 54 Drive-In in Rockford had recently closed; though I wouldn't have had time for a movie show that evening anyway. Seems the property was a victim of the digital projection transition.

Minutes after the sun disappeared over the horizon, I crossed the Mississippi on a quaint, narrow truss bridge built in 1928. By driving this way, I had the feeling that I was partaking in an experience not long for this world...and indeed, a new bridge is reportedly in the works.

Then, I was in the dark. Since it was too dim for any sightseeing or photography, I drove like hell through the bulk of Missouri; eventually reaching my hotel after approximately 12 hours on the road.

The hotel in Springfield was easy to find, but it felt like an enclave. It was removed from downtown, separated from the road by a long driveway and security gate, and directly attached to the host convention center so that I didn't even need to step outdoors: Undeniably convenient, but isolating. I felt as if I was in a world away from the spectacle of southern Missouri that surrounded me...and if I was going to have a taste of local happenings, it was going to have to come through the words, actions, and interactions of the people who were there.

Why hadn't I attended Skepticon before? Years ago, I didn't attend Skepticon for the same reason I didn't attend the Reason Rally in 2012: I was confined by my circumstances. In more recent times, the main impediment was simply the fact that the conference was in the middle of November...and I usually don't feel like doing anything at that time of year. I got as far as pre-registering for Skepticon 6 in 2013, but chickened out at the last minute. 2015, however, has been the year of cons: After the Freethought Festival in Madison, the aforementioned ALPCA convention, and River City Reason Fest in Manitoba, Skepticon was merely the cherry on top.

13 July 2015

Why am I traveling to a state with a "special rights for Christian bigots" law?

Maybe I'm used to being in uncongenial surroundings. I spent 22 years in West Virginia, after all.

The annual convention of the Automobile License Plate Collectors' Association is going on, and by fate and circumstance this year it's in Arkansas. With stuff like this and this going down, I almost didn't go this year. Now it's too late to back out. Will I regret it? Maybe. At least I can get mild satisfaction out of subverting the situation by using it to fill the gaps in my marriage equality run.

Also, I had an opportunity to take a trip. Here's a small sampling of the artifacts and holdovers I encountered along the way:

I was astounded to see this 1960s-era Howard Johnson's motel, complete with orange-roofed gatehouse, still in operation as a Howard Johnson's motel. The property must have recently recieved sympathetic TLC, since Bing Maps shows the gatehouse with a blue roof and an ugly surrounding cage.

I spotted several Phillips 66 gullwing buildings, in various states of condition. This one is near Rockford, Illinois.

This pentagonal-windowed circa-1970 Burger Chef building was in Springfield, Illinois. The angled signposts are also a Burger Chef leftover.

I spotted a first-generation Subaru Brat on the road. (Framing a camera image is easier said then done when you're shooting blind.)

To wrap things up for now, here's a spectacularly 1960s-mod CVS store from another Springfield (this time, the one in Missouri). It was built as a Katz City drug store, later Skaggs and Osco.

©2015-16 Andrew Turnbull