Thursday, July 26, 2007


This morning was one of those interesting times when I got to do something that doesn’t roll around very often – I went to register our vehicles AND bring my blue lettered and numbered plates back to the DMV. Yes, my 1994-issued plates had been recalled. Recalled! Why? Because the DMV folks made a decision to make the letters and numbers red.

In case you missed it, here is what the DMV put out:


RALEIGH — North Carolina’s vehicle license plates will soon be getting a makeover by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. In April, DMV will begin replacing existing plates with an updated version. The oldest plates will be replaced first.

“Removing old plates from our roads will increase the safety and security of our drivers and
provide law enforcement agencies with an updated identification tool,” Commissioner of Motor Vehicles George Tatum said.

Tatum said that many of the 8.4 million vehicles operating in North Carolina carry license plates that are well over 20 years old. Their legibility and reflectivity have deteriorated, making identification difficult for law enforcement officers, he said.

DMV expects to replace more than 600,000 of the oldest plates during the first year of the program, with another 500,000 plates to be replaced in 2008. These plates have been identified by issue dates and sequence numbers. DMV will continue replacing older plates each year afterwards based on available funding. The division received about $1.2 million from the legislature in the 2006 session to begin making the change.

Owners with registrations identified for plate replacement will be notified with their renewal
notices. They will be automatically issued a new plate. Owners renewing registrations through the mail or via the Internet will be mailed a new plate and registration sticker. The cost of vehicle registration will remain the same.

The new standard plates for private automobiles will continue the “First in Flight” design, but will carry red letters and numbers rather than the blue letters and numbers now in use. Owners will be encouraged to take their old plates to license plate agencies for recycling, keeping them out of landfills.

Well, just traveling around, it’s my opinion that it was easier to see the old blue letters and numbers than it is to see the red. I asked others if they had any reaction to the new color and all felt as I do, it’s just harder to see.

It’s worth noting that somebody at the DMV studied marketing because if you don’t want just any old letters and numbers, a few dollars more than the basic fee will get you a “Specialized” ($10) or “Personalized” plates ($30). In the specialized category, there are over 120 options, with military, collegiate, civic clubs, special interests, and stock car racing themes. And for the creative types, most of the specialized plates can also be personalized.

The personalized plates can have eight characters and some special characters may count as more or less than one character. Of course, the DMV won’t approve naughty words or other combinations that they deem unacceptable. On their web site, you can “test drive” your creativity to see if it’s available, then they will inform you if it's acceptable.

Well, after all these years knowing by heart the letters and numbers of our two plates , I will try to learn the new ones before they get recalled!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


This summer we spent a couple of weeks in Europe and rather than a travel log, I want to mention a few things that struck me about some of the cities that we visited. To get off on the wrong foot, my clothes (in a suitcase) got to visit cities that I didn’t even get to visit, but after seven days, we were reunited. Of course, buying clothes was a hassle and our airline says that they only will reimburse 50% - that is yet to be seen!

The fist city was BERLIN. I have not been there since the wall came down, so flying into their airport was a first time experience. The last visit was on an Army train in total darkness. The first thing you notice is how clean the city is. Their tube and buses was easy to use and like other cities, they operated on the honor system. We never saw one inspector.

I particularly enjoyed our visit to their Holocaust memorial in tribute to Jewish victims. I was particularly impressed with the honest expression of sorrow. As you stroll through the blocks of various heights, the emotional reaction is amazing.

Another popular site is Checkpoint Charlie. There is a museum but there is also a series of outdoor panels that tell much of the post-WWII history involving a divided Berlin.

The Wall is on display all over the place. Pieces are part of postcards and other souvenirs so you have to wonder about authenticity. We took lots of pictures of various slabs and all were highly decorated with "art" on the side that faced the US Zone. There is graffiti everywhere in Berlin and the city is trying to remove it - good luck!

As Lutherans, we wanted to take the opportunity to visit Lutherstadt Wittenberg for the first time and see where Martin Luther lived and nailed the 95 Theses on the door of Schlosskirche in 1546 on All Saints’ eve. The door is now bronze, but the panels tell the story.

We left Berlin on the train. Not only was their central station amazing, but the train was on time, clean, and a real pleasure to be on. Here is how they keep their stations so clean – people seem to be willing to take the time to keep it clean and recycle what they can.

And as I said, the trains were all top shelf.. Here we are arriving in Antwerp. We also went over to Brussels, Delft, The Hague, and Rotterdam, then ended up in Amsterdam for a conference. One train was seven minutes late! Note on the picture the commitment to those with disabilities and those traveling with bikes.

AMSTERDAM was nowhere as clean as Berlin, by a huge margin. There were also more bikes in Amsterdam. We were told that the bike is primary transportation for 28% of the population. I saw one mom with a baby on her back, one child on the front and the third on the back. Talk about family transportation! They also provide places to store bikes.

The only problem that I had with the bicyclists was that even with the dedicated bike lanes, many also used the streets and the sidewalks and you had to dodge them constantly as you walked. They ride fast and are not concerned about pedestrians it seemed to me. Even the guidebook warned you to be on your guard!

Visiting a working windmill village of Zaandam was also a treat. Watching the miller turn the sails to get the windmill do what he wanted was impressive.

It was also clear that marketing to the tourist is worth the effort, even if Americans were taking a beating with the dollar at $1.37 against the Euro. That didn’t seem to stop all of the Americans I saw buying stuff.

Amsterdam is truly a “liberal” city and there were many, many, young folks taking advantage of what the city had to offer. In addition to café’s able to sell MJ, there were also these “ladies” sitting in these picture windows that had big red lights over them. The Bulldog seemed to be a popular café with locations various places.

As for the ladies, none seemed to want their pictures taken. From the picture below, you get an idea of what the red light district looked like.

When it was time to go home, we had to fly from Amsterdam to London, then change planes to get to RFK. Unfortunately, it was the day after the car bombs in England, so things didn’t work out for us very well, but that’s a story for another time.