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From 2001 through 2010 New York had an attractive plate in white and three shades of blue.  It says 'New York' on top and 'Empire State' on the bottom.  There was a graphic showing New York City on the right, the Adirondack Mountains in the center, and Niagara Falls on the left.  When I was a kid New York license plates were orange with dark colored numbers.  I thought they were the ugliest license plates of all 50 states.  The current license plate is similar.  While not quite as ugly, it is an orange plate with dark blue.  It also says 'New York' on top and 'Empire State' on the bottom.

With a new decade coming it's time for a new license plate design, and Governor Cuomo wants you to vote for your favorite from among five proposed designs that hearken back to the dark and light blue approach.  Voting closes next Monday, so you should get your vote in now.  Here's the thing... while they are all more attractive than the current orange plates, they are all terrible.  Here's why...

New York License Plate Design ChoicesClick on the graphics to vote for your favoriteThree of the plates feature the Statue of Liberty.  Choice #5 has New York City on the right and Niagara Falls on the left (sound familiar?) and nothing in between.  That one had to be designed by someone in New York City.  People who live in the City have heard of Niagara Falls, but in their minds there is nothing in between (that's where we live).  All but one of the choices have the phrase 'Excelsior' on the bottom, replacing 'Empire State'.

New York is commonly referred to as 'The Empire State'.  I have always been uncomfortable with that label, because in a country that is supposed to be based on the principals of democracy, where does one lowly state get off proclaiming itself an empire?  Sometimes I feel like the current governor takes that to heart, behaving as an emperor would, but that's a different editorial.  'Excelsior', the state motto -- it means 'Ever Upward' in Latin -- is emblazoned on a banner on the state seal of New York.  So I suppose it's not out of the question for it to be printed on license plates.  It seems awfully pretentious to me, but maybe that's just me.

Also I can't help thinking about the trouble New Hampshire got into because they put their state motto -- 'Live Free or Die' -- on their license plates.  In 1977 a case against the motto being displayed on license went to the US Supreme Court, and the court ruled 6-3 that the state could not require citizens to display the state motto, making it legal to cover the motto up on your car.  I also think about 'Free Willie' and 'Born Free', but those movies really have nothing to do with license plates.

The most attractive design does not say 'Excelsior'.  Your license plate number is superimposed above an attractive drawing of the Tappan Zee bridge.  It is more attractive than the actual Tappan Zee bridge.  It is really a lovely design, except for one thing: while an iconic piece of New York City it has nothing to do with the rest of New York State.  Despite the prejudices of NYC dwellers, their little island city is geographically but a pimple on the rather more vast face of the State it calls home.

Let's face it, the Statue of Liberty is also in New York City.  It can be argued that it is a symbol of the whole country.  But how is that emblematic of New York State?  Well, you might argue, all the choices except number four, which is a cartoonish drawing of the statue's hand holding the torch, have a little tiny silhouette of the state in the middle.  But really, is that what your eye is drawn to when you look at these license plates?  And evidently it is only included if there is a space in the text of your license number.  If your vanity plate were to say 'GR8DRVR', for exdample, there would be no state symbol unless you spelled it 'GR8 DRVR'.

That leaves us with choice number five, the one with New York City on the right and Niagara Falls on the left and nothing in between.  It depicts the extreme boundaries of the state, which should please conservatives who think New York is extremest.  And in a way it does show some of the places in between, if you interpret 'Excelsior' in a different way.

Maybe the first E is for Endicott.  I don't know what the X is for.  But C could be for Catskills.  The second E might be for Erie County.  the L -- well, heh heh -- should be for Lansing, right?  Obviously!  It could also be Liverpool, but I don't think the L should stand for a place named for a pool of liver.  Lansing has more gravitas.

The S could be for Syracuse.  The second E is probably Elizabethtown.  The O has to be Oneonta. And R could be Rye.

Let's go back to X.  It doesn't seem fitting that the state capital isn't represented, so let's say that X is really an A with two antenna sticking out of it's head.  Now the X stands for Albany, the seat of the Empire in 'Empire State'.  And those antenna make sense, too, because the A with the antennae on its head has to be an alien from outer space, which explains some of the wacky mandates that come out of Albany.

Anyway, you still have a few days to vote for your favorite.  Excelsior!  Or, as the Firesign Theatre aptly proclaimed in the 1970s, "Forward into the past!'

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