My adult goal was to get a vanity plate.
The opportunity presented itself when we purchased a new family car four-and-a-half years ago. Granted, the “car” was really a minivan. I had wanted my long sought-after custom license plates on a lifted pickup truck or a sports car. But beggars can’t be choosers, especially on our budget.
On the DMV’s online form, I entered three choices in order of preference. The second was HHG2G; the third was Desiato (because the van is black).
The day the plates arrived was seminal for me; I opened the envelope and saw they’d agreed to my first choice! Ecstatically, I removed the dealer-assigned ones from their screws and hung my beautiful replacements in their place. Soon enough, I drove out onto public roads and parked at public grocery stores. I felt conspicuous, but proud.
A few days later, in a parking lot, I noticed a fellow patron checking out the front of my momvan. I geared up for his inevitable question and what my happy answer would be.
“So, is that a sports jersey?” He asked. “Whose number is that?”
Flabbergasted, I did the only logical thing a non-sports-watching nerd of my caliber could do. I corrected him. “No, no. It’s from a book.”
I should have noticed the loss of interest. But I didn’t. “Yeah, it’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything.”
He wasn’t the first. Thanks to my fancy vanity plates, I’ve since learned that they do represent Jackie Robinson’s number. The internet says that (as of this posting) 163 NBA and ABA players have had it. So that’s cool.
I don’t get asked about my choice frequently, mostly because people don’t talk to each other the way they used to. Exactly two strangers of those who asked have heard of the book my plates are from; most others assume sports origins.
Slowly over time, I’ve forgotten the magic. I simply drive, and forget how much I might stand out with such a short insignia on my front and back bumpers.
Today, stopped at the end of a freeway offramp, I happened to look out the passenger window. An older man was pointing his finger in an upwards gesture. Since it was his index finger, I assumed good intentions and rolled down said window.
“What’s the 42 stand for?” He called. He was smiling in a friendly manner.
A split second’s thought didn’t save me. “It’s from a book,” I yelled back. “It’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything.”
His pleasant expression lessened a bit. “Oh. Okay!”
The light changed. I rolled the window back up, and off we drove.
I know I ought to just give up. When an interested party asks, I ought to say, “It’s Jackie Robinson’s number, of course. I love sports! I sports so hard; don’t you?” A part of me just can’t. It’s a small, stubborn part; but it just can’t let the literary decline of America be somebody else’s problem.