The Astral Log

2 August 2015

Travel Tribulations, Vol. 1

Filed under: ALPCA Convention, Artifacts & Holdovers — Andrew T. @ 13:05

Not all of the excitement from last month's ALPCA Convention happened at the destination. A lot of it happened during the journey...whether for better or worse.

I had the misfortune of riding into St. Louis the week an Herbalife convention was going on. So not only was the Gateway Arch and all of downtown overrun with hundreds of snake-oil salespeople completely oblivious to the pyramid scheme they were in, but my motel for the night also had a stiff "convention tax" added to the bill.

On the drive home, I intentionally drove past dusk through all of Missouri and into Quincy, Illinois just to see how the sales tax structure over there compared. Except...a good room in Quincy was hard to find: Even though there was no convention or special event going on, most of the hotels were either booked to the brim, priced beyond my range, or both.

After driving around and about for some time, I wound up at the Budget Host Inn downtown. It was late and I was happy just to have a roof over my head, so I checked in for the night.

The first thing I noticed afterwards was a drunk man standing on a balcony a couple floors up calling out to me in the parking lot, asking what I was doing in Quincy, and opining that he had clothes in his room that I could try on.

I walked into my room. I was immediately taken aback by a musty odor: The air conditioner had leaked onto the carpet, leaving a gigantic patch of damp floor. There was a fly buzzing around the room, and a second insect crawling around in the bathtub. I couldn't get the WiFi to work, so I put my electronic toys away and went to sleep.

I didn't sleep well. The sheet slid off the bed, leaving me pinned between a bare mattress and a pile of bedspreads. I was jolted awake during the night by a torrential thunderstorm, and by the sound of SMS emergency messages on my cell phone warning of a flash flood nearby.

Eventually I woke up at last...and discovered the dining room, which had a plywood and cardboard cover-up over one of the windows. Surprisingly, the continental breakfast was excellent: There was a food bar with hot biscuits, sausages, pancakes, coffee, and cereal. But how the food got there was anyone's guess, since the dining room and office were deserted and there was not a single other soul around.

Now that daylight was out, I could see the actual building. One look at the labelscar revealed the property to be a former Days Inn that lost its franchise...and considering some of the terrible experiences I've had at active Days Inn franchises over the years, that was saying something! I tracked down a receptionist with a bit of difficulty, then got the hell away.

Soon I was serenely driving down U.S. 24 in central Illinois, when a semi came barrelling the other way kicking up gravel and debris as it went along. BANG!!! I heard a terrible sound, and the windshield of my nine-month-old Veloster had a nine-inch crack.

Two days later, my wallet was a lot lighter and the windshield was replaced. But I still wasn't happy about it...

31 July 2015

Rogers in Review

Filed under: ALPCA Convention, License Plates, US-Arkansas — Andrew T. @ 01:40


For those keeping count, I found exactly 30 license plates in Rogers to add to my collection: Ten for the birthyear run, eighteen for the marriage run, and two that didn't fall into any particular category: A rare '73-stickered Virginia that I fished out of someone's dollar box, and a Manitoba '74 acquired purely for aesthetic value.

Absolutely nothing I found for my collection was from Wisconsin. I may have created the leading website for that topic, but I rarely find myself motivated to update it any more as the state quite frankly disgusts me these days and I no longer consider myself a Wisconsin collector.

The attendance figure for the year's convention was 339: High enough to make money, but a far cry from the late '90s and early noughts when ALPCA conventions broke the 500 mark with regularity. A lot of northeastern collectors were conspicuous in Rogers by their absence. Diversity was depressing: The crowd was one hundred percent cis, overwhelmingly male and white (no thanks to this), and with a median age that felt as if it was at least 55 or more.

One of the advantages of license plates as a field of interest is that there are multiple ways to appreciate them: You don't need to physically collect them; you can photograph them, document them, and get geeky about the data. Whether that's enough to indefinitely sustain a demographically-challenged collecting organization with annual conventions, however, remains to be seen. Collecting itself seems to be a pastime in decline, even in popular and well-established disciplines such as stamps. Can—or should—this trend be reversed? I wish I knew the answer.

With that said, here are a few more random snapshots from Rogers:

Some people collect the fake cardboard license plates used as props in film and television productions. I don't understand it, but it doesn't hurt anyone.

Michael Wiener, a public figure with a reputation. I kept my distance; near as I could tell, he was delivering some incoherent rant about "socialism" as though it were a pox on the world.

The Neo-Confederacy is the Bible Belt, and this mega-church dominated several acres of scenery near the convention center...all of it totally unaccounted and tax-exempt, natch. It's a small comfort that these eyesores represent the consolidation and isolation of these virulent sects, and not expansion.

Quoted verbatim from their website: "If you or someone you love struggles with unwanted Same Sex Attraction, please reach out to us. We have resources to help." For obvious reasons, I'm not linking to it.

Since the early 1990s, Arkansas has replaced license plates on an eight-year "rolling replate" schedule. Almost all cars now bear the graphic diamond design introduced in 2006...but here's one of the few remaining older-style plates that are still currently registered. I spotted no more than two or three of them on the road.

The motorcycle plates were also there to keep me on my toes, since the sequencing had reached the very end of the alphabet. This particular plate was issued between the 1st and 14th of July: It's possible that Arkansas exceeded ZZ 999 and reversed to 001 AA during the week of the convention itself.

Two closing shots, ending on a foreboding note. It's a sad commentary on our society that the Equal Rights Amendment isn't part of American constitutional law, but the Armed Nut Amendment is...and there was no escaping that in Rogers any more than in the rest of the country.

But I could escape from Rogers...though it took a few misadventures trying.

28 July 2015

Rogers, day 5: That's a wrap.

Filed under: ALPCA Convention, License Plates, US-Arkansas — Andrew T. @ 21:49

The final day of the ALPCA convention always feels like a downer: Collectors pack up and move out, and an air of finality lingers in the air. It wasn't all bad news, though, since it was a time for awards.

Morning ceremonies began with two new inductions into the group's Hall of Fame. First on the list was Dick Pack...a forty-year veteran of ALPCA who also helped establish the Illinois-based Mid-America Plate Association chapter in the 1970s.

Mike Naughton, a longtime ALPCA president and officer (and another Illinois MAPA luminary) was second on the list. There have been a total of 31 inductions since the Hall of Fame was established in 2004, both living and posthumous.

Next came the display awards. First-place winners received an attractive porcelain-enamel souvenir styled similarly to a 1938 Arkansas license plate, while second-place winners received plaques with actual 1954 Arkansas plates mounted to them. 1954 was the founding year of ALPCA, making this the 61st club convention.

Oh, and there was one more prize: The "Best of Show" award which, like the Stanley Cup, is a traveling trophy for super-duper achievements ordinarily unattainable by mortal men. By no one's surprise, it went to Gus Oliver. (Maybe the judges liked the NASCAR cut-outs after all.)

As for yours truly? My eyes and ears were directed to the stage, waiting and burning with anticipation...until suddenly, I heard the words "Andrew Turnbull" be called. My display (or more precisely, the "Canada in the Year 1985" portion) won a third-place prize: "Honorable Mention," in ALPCA-speak. Even so, I was excited: This was the first very time I had ever received an award for a license plate display in the nine years I've been attending hobbyist meets and conventions, and it was a perfect way to crown the week.

The main convention hall reopened at 10 a.m., but the scene was decidedly sleepier than it had been the previous three days: A fair number of collectors had picked up their tables the evening before, others were hurriedly spending the next morning doing the same, and there was very little left to see. After making one final round of the hall to make sure I left no stone unturned and bidding a final adieu to a few other collectors, I bowed out at high noon and set off on the long drive home...where I would receive more unexpected excitement on the road.

But that's a story for another day.

26 July 2015

Rogers extra: License plate displays

Filed under: ALPCA Convention, License Plates, US-Arkansas — Andrew T. @ 22:59

It would be impossible to distill an entire convention's worth of displays into a single blog post. Nevertheless, here were some highlights from the week...

One of my favorites was this audacious bicycle exhibit, with 36 "Share the Road"-themed plates fastened to the spokes of an enormous bicycle tire. An adjacent vertical display contained statistics and related information.

There were so many recent plates on tables and on display that it would have been pointless to determine what the newest one of them might have been...but the oldest was another case entirely. The Cincinnati plates of 1906-1908 predate the advent of statewide registration in Ohio, and were crafted out of solid brass. The Illinois plates date to the same era, and constitute both Chicago, Elgin, and statewide registrations.

This set (here shown as a composite of two pictures) had a similarly historical theme, comparing the current-issue plates of 34 states with license plates of the same states from 100 years earlier. Fascinating, and thought-provoking...not least because there's no guarantee that this set will be repeatable in another 100 years.

Shawn Auchinlock compiled this outstanding collection of early (and almost impossibly-rare) Newfoundland license plates. The earliest motor vehicle registrations began in 1906. Annual license plates began to be issued in the capital of St. John's in 1920 and spread throughout the entire dominion in 1925, which joined Canada as its tenth province in 1949.

The nation of France recently discontinued its long-standing number plate code suffix system in favor of a suffix band and single numbering series. This display board contained a assortment from different regions of plates of this new design.

Weird and wacky prototypes and design exercises for Georgia license plates...some of them similar to production designs, and some of them far off. The 1985 Georgia Tech prototype design actually wound up being dusted off and used five years later as the general-issue base.

The single most expansive display was this colossal Oklahoma exhibit by Gus Oliver, which consisted of literally hundreds of plates mounted to seemingly a dozen display boards, took up an entire corner of the convention hall, and left no detail overlooked. I suppose the cardboard cutouts of NASCAR drivers were there to "set the mood" for the NASCAR-themed license plates (why is the OTC subsidizing a for-profit corporation at all?), though it was a little too over-the-top for me...

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