I was sitting in front of my home computer, reading articles, as I’ve often done before. I was logged into the ALPCA web site, and reading the latest PLATES magazine online. It was just a first once-over, to skim the sections of most interest to me, and as is my habit, I’d find more time later to sit down with my paper copy, once it arrives. On the “contributors” page, I noticed the familiar name of an old friend: Joey Koldys. He had written a small article and accompanying photo-essay about international plates as décor within the Columbus zoo (Ohio), where he lives. I glanced at the magazine issue date on the lower right page: August, 2016. Wow, I thought.
It had been 21 years to the month since I joined ALPCA, thanks to Joey. And thus, my mind starting wandering backwards.
In the summer of 1995, I was midway through my first university degree, taking a stats course through the summer to lighten the workload for the coming fall semester. I was working close to full-time hours in a doctor’s office organizing even more stats for an upcoming clinical research study. I lived in the basement apartment of an older, well-kept bungalow among a near-forest of mature trees on Edgar Drive, in London, Ontario.
One evening in the earlier part of the summer, I was trying out my new computer modem—an add-on device that you had to buy; computers generally didn’t come with them—and I dialed in to the local university BBS server. From there, I could select different university servers (Rice U in Houston was my favourite) and enter search terms for subjects of interest. All of this was on a black screen with white DOS-style text and underscore cursors. This was the Internet, such as it existed back then. There were no browsers, and it was all reading. If you found an image file, you’d spend 5 minutes loading it, and if you had a program that could read image files, maybe you could open it later.
I decided to search for “license plates” on a whim. Most of what I found consisted of lists full of clever vanity plate combinations, which didn’t really interest me. But then, I found an article that caught my full attention. It was a transcript of an article earlier that year from the Lantern, the student newspaper of Ohio State University. The headline: “Ohio State Staffer Travels the World for License Plates”. This fella had been collecting plates since he was a kid. He collected them from flea markets, junkyards and county courthouses. He had over 12 thousand plates in his collection. And – most importantly – he belonged to three collecting clubs?!
I had been collecting plates myself ever since I was ten years old. Nobody else I knew collected such a thing, and I figured I was the only person in the world who was strange enough to collect them—but that perception evaporated as soon as I read the article. I needed to know more about these clubs. There was no reporter name given, so I e-mailed the person who posted the article. He got back to me with the name of the reporter, J. C. Benton. I contacted Benton and asked to be put in touch with Joey. Joey didn’t use e-mail, but he sent me a mailing address. I typed out a letter introducing myself and asking to know more about organized collecting.
Joey, who has always been a class act, graciously replied to my inquiry with a handwritten letter and photocopied collages of the plates, highway markers, and bus destination rollsigns that he collected. He gave me the contact info for ALPCA, plus a run-down of membership dues. I bought a US money order with my meagre savings and sent it in immediately. Joey and I continued our pen-pal dialogue over the next few weeks while I waited for my membership materials to arrive.
A package arrived in the mail around the third week of August. The new issue of the ALPCA Newsletter was all about the Pacific island nation of Nauru—a place of which I had never heard before. I read the magazine from cover to cover and was amazed to see that over seven thousand people had joined the club since its inception over forty years earlier. This club – ALPCA – assigned me a membership number, 7135. All odd digits, just out of order. The significance of the membership number was not lost on me as I read the magazine— every club member name mentioned in print had the corresponding number printed right beside it. A badge of honour, I guessed.
I had paid a year’s worth of dues, so they included the three back issues for 1995. There were interesting articles about Ohio and Pennsylvania – at the time, two places where I had never been – and I read those issues cover-to-cover also. I was enthralled, and the only disappointment I felt was learning that the annual convention for 1995 had just been held in nearby Toledo. Even a poor boy like me could have made that trip, if only I’d known.
Nowadays, I’m prevented from attending most Conventions due to family and professional obligations, but the days are coming where I’ll be able to either bring the kids, or let them stay at home. I’m hopeful for the 2018 edition in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
I feel a certain loyalty to the club for all the people I’ve had a chance to know over the years. Some people allow their membership to lapse because they feel they can get the same good vibes over social media, and maybe they’re right. But ALPCA Conventions have helped make a lot of great memories. There’s my first convention in ’96, when my mind was blown by the sheer magnitude of it all. Or Chattanooga in ’99, when Scott Mitchell, Billy Moore and Joe Sallmen and I were all crammed into a tiny motel room. Or Niagara Falls ’02, when I won my first display award, and Andy Pang found a big bag of drugs under the mattress in our hotel room. Or Erie ‘09, when I could only attend half the convention and stayed awake nearly 24 hours because I didn’t want to miss a moment after driving through the night to be there. Or Rochester ’14, when we were encouraged by a local cop to go and explore the abandoned subway system. There will be more memories to come—and I’m really glad I’ve been recording them in My 2 Cents over the past 19 years.