It’s a Sign
When I was about 21, living in Wellington, my parents very kindly bought me a metallic grey Daihatsu Feroza jeep. I thought it was the coolest car anyone had ever seen, and while it definitely wasn’t, it was a huge a step up from borrowing my Dad’s Ford station wagon, which permanently had bars at the back seats to stop our overexcitable yellow Labradors from jumping over to ride shot gun and lovingly lick your face at the lights.
My jeep had the licence plate JP83, a couple of numbers less than the standard plate but otherwise meaningless. I had tried to think of a clever word it could be short for (Ja’pate? Gepetto?) but never got far. Besides, there were far more pressing things to think about back then, such as how many menthol cigarettes I could smoke before breakfast or what tacky outfit I would wear to the weekend rave party (most likely, a pair of red PVC pants in a nod to Britney Spears but in reality more Marilyn Manson, which I would peel off at the end of the night).
While I was really chuffed with my new car, I wasn’t exactly treating it like a temple of travel, more like a mobile recycling receptacle – on account of the rubbish I was merrily accumulating on the floor. Nothing perishable or offensive really, just discarded evidence of the chaotic life I was leading at that time.
One uncharacteristically energetic day, I cleaned up that rubbish, filling up two black garbage bags. It was clearly more than enough effort exerted for one year, so instead of then throwing them out, I just drove around with the bags in the boot for weeks, like a lunatic perpetually lost on their way to the rubbish dump.
Late one night, sometime after my spontaneous cleaning spree, a gang of opportunistic thieves mistook the brevity of my jeep’s license plate to be a valuable personalised plate, painstakingly unscrewed them in the dark and nicked off with them, presumably to sell on the black market for random things nobody wants. As always, the car was unlocked, so they also took off with whatever they could from the inside too.
I can only imagine their disappointment when they got home to reveal the contents of those garbage bags: 30,000 empty Diet Coke 500ml bottles, crumpled up cigarette boxes, rejection letters for journalism jobs and the parking fines I was ignoring.
Something I’ve realised since being back in NZ (3 months now!), is that kiwis LOVE personalised license plates. About 1 in every 5 cars is sporting one, from 16 year olds driving beat up old Morris Minors to diminutive nannas in their timeless gumboot green Jaguars.
Some I have seen recently are: 0 CONTROL, BOG, TURD, PO0P, PREMIERE, HOBO, IH8U, DSIGN and WYHEKI (on Waiheke Island). My favourite was a black Bentley with the license plate FLU, which I spotted a few days before COVID had properly hit, blithely driving around like the Grim Reaper.
The toilet humour on the plates is understandable (relatable, but not necessarily forgivable) but it seems just your average Mom and Pop like to dress up the plates of their safe bland grey Nissans doing the weekend sports run with kitshy phrases – BIZEE, MUMSY (she was), DILF (he wasn’t).
I can’t quite figure out what the impetus for this tacky practice is. In Sydney, the only people who have personalised plates are either organic fruit delivery vans or drug dealers wanting to distinguish their particular yellow Lamborghini from those belonging to the other drug dealers.
And it can’t be about recognition. The population of towns in NZ is so small, everyone knows everyone, you really don’t need a personalised plate for people to recognise it’s you or your car, no matter how ubiquitous it is.
What I do know, is they must be very cheap, as kiwis hate spending money. Thriftiness is a badge of honour here (in contrast to Sydney: where you would greet someone with how much you had spent that day before enquiring how they were). Because kiwis don’t enunciate vowels, we can also get away with many loose interpretations of the word we want, and opt for the cheapest. Are JOHN and JON taken? Well JOAN, JUN, JIN are still available and they all sound exactly the same here.
I tried to find variations of my name, KIM, like 0 KIM 0 or KIM 1, but prices for these start at $2499. However, one hardly needs to get creative to bag a bargain. When said with a NZ accent, my name sounds more like COME, and I see I can nab the plate CUM 247 for less than half the price, yet arguably twice the statement.
Wait til the DILFs see this travelling temple of exertion!