A few months ago I was walking down Park Avenue with Jay Israelson and he pointed out a very funny vanity plate.  It read “I Broker.”  We assumed it was referencing “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov, but even if itwasn’t, it was still classic U.E.S. (Upper East Side).

Since then I’ve started a photo collection of vanity plates in the neighborhood.  My official parameters are 59th Street to 96th Street anywhere on the East Side of Central Park but by routine I generally keep to the 80’s and 90’s.  Other photo categories I continue to separately archive include neighborhood pigeons, cats, dogs, and awnings – I’m not exactly sure why I feel the need to do this, but it’s all very formally sorted out on my computer’s hard drive.


Back to license plates.  I’ve never had a car, or a license for that matter, but I’ve learned a lot about license plates this past month from observing patterns.  I know that a regular New York State license plate consists of 3 letters, a space, and then 4 numbers.  Sometimes it can be deceiving when the first three letters happen to spell something and the 4 numbers look like a year.  There are also many exceptions to this format for New York plates, such as those on commercial vehicles, cars of doctors, as well as categories I had never thought of or even heard of which I have since looked up.  Here is the collection so far…

First, some exceptions.  These aren’t really “vanity” plates but they are noteworthy.

Civil Air Patrol – They’re actually called The New York Wing.


State Magistrates Association


Dentists and doctors seem to have an actual quantitative number, regardless of how many digits.  So it is exciting to see #755 considering how many dentists there are in New York.


A sure sign that the art of chiropractry is gaining universal acceptance:


You can’t leave out the diplomats.


Here is a Volunteer Firefighter of Fire Island plate.  The father of an old friend of mine was a volunteer firefighter in Fire Island, the location of their country house.  I wonder if this is his car and he has since moved up to captain.


Korean War Veteran:


This plate below has got to be by far the most awe-inspiring, imagination-spurring, and intimidating of all license plates.  This was parked in the 80’s on York Avenue.



These kind of remind me of in middle school when everyone would get their initials monogrammed on to their L.L.Bean backpacks.  I, too, had RSS done on a large red one.  (My middle name is Suzanne for Suzanne Farrell, the ballet dancer, and I am also Becky-Sue.)




Then there are some that are more like screen names or a user name you’d use to log into your bank account.  You can tell the person specifically requested this particular combination of letters and numbers but it’s meaning is cryptic.  Sometimes it seems like, why even bother?  But I guess that’s why they’re called “vanity” plates.







A rare view inside:


Funny spelling:


It’s a little unclear to me whether the plate above is meant to read “Meg and Kate” or “Megan Kate”.  I would guess the latter.  But this next plate has been driving me nuts.  It looks like I’m supposed to get what it means, like when you text someone “see you tmrw” – it’s obvious.  Any suggestions?


Cute ones:




I’m not sure what “Nit Devil” means, but it’s still cute…


People with vanity plates often express themselves further with bumper stickers, etc.  It’s too small to see, but between the “Fish Tremble…” and the American flag is a National Rifle Association sticker.



(Well, Venustas, your bumper sticker had some impact.  It got me to look up Mitch Landrieu who is actually the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana and whose father Moon Landrieu was the mayor of New Orleans from 1970-1978.)

Sometimes the message is not in the plate number, but around it:


Hey, it’s true!  Washington D.C. doesn’t get representation!


At first I thought the plate below belonged to a special advocacy group but according to the Wikipedia entry for District of Columbia Voting Rights,

While the District’s official motto is Justitia omnibus (”Justice to All”), the words “Taxation Without Representation”, echoing the Revolutionary
slogan, “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny!”, were added to
D.C. license plates in 2000 (although alternative plates featuring the
D.C. website URL are available on request), and there was briefly a movement to add the words “No Taxation Without Representation” to the D.C. flag.

Moving on, apparently you really only need a rear license plate.  I wonder if it is the case that the cameras for catching traffic violations always shoot from behind the car…



And some more:





It’s gotten to the point where I can’t walk down the street without
having to read each license plate I pass for fear that I’ll miss a
good one.  I also have to glance across the street and read those too, and sometimes I must even cross over to peak between cars which are parked too closely together to read.  So far I have yet to find another plate as bad-ass as “I BROKER” but my collection is just getting started and I’m sure there are many more gems to be found.


REBECCA SCHIFFMAN is a jewelry designer, musician, painter and writer from New York. She attended The Cooper Union School of Art. Her jewelry line IMK is carried in stores throughout the United States. As a singer-songwriter she released her first solo-album on Some Records in 2003 and self-released her second album "To Be Good for a Day" in 2009 which was named "Best Album of the Month" by Vice Magazine, Feb 2009. She lives with her parents on the Upper East Side and maintains a jewelry studio behind the bike room.

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