The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

March 26, 2014

From sea to shining sea, they’re coming to Stanly Co.

By Roger Thomas

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 — Editor’s Note: Roger Thomas sent in this column for consideration in January. Since we were planning a special on the great things in Stanly County and why it is worth visiting, we saved it for this special.

I have been a resident of Stanly County for almost 11 years.  For the first nine and half or so, I observed a phenomenon of which I often remarked. Almost every day, it seemed that I saw a different license plate from some state other than North Carolina.  I begin to wonder if people from every state come to Stanly County; then I decided to find out.

In December 2012 I came up with a plan. Starting on Jan. 1, I would record every time I saw a license plate from a state I had not previously seen. My goal was to see a tag from every state in our nation. Since this game was of my own invention, I made three absolute rules from which I would not deviate. First, the vehicle had to be within the borders of Stanly County. Second, the license plate had to be on the back of the vehicle and had to be a real active plate, not a souvenir plate or an old plate placed on the front of a vehicle. Third, no one could see the plate for me.  I had to see it. Someone could call and tell me there was a plate somewhere, but I had to actually go and see the plate myself. I printed out a map of the United States, placed it on the bulletin board in my office, and whenever I saw a new state plate, I colored in the corresponding state.

The first few months was suprising: Texas and Ohio at Office Max, California and Oklahoma at Yadkin Valley, Oregon at the McDonald’s in Richfield, Washington State in the parking lot of SCCM and Washington D.C. at Trinity Place. (I included Washington D.C. since it is the only city in the U.S. that has its own plate.) The Saturday last winter when it snowed, my daughter and I found nine in the parking lots of Pfeiffer: Michigan, Delaware, Mississippi, Alabama, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Indiana and Kansas. (There were also two tags from Canada there that day: Ontario and Brunswick.) I found several in Wal-Mart’s parking lot and some at the various hotels, all places I cruised occasionally hoping to find one more plate for my list.  

Whenever I would tell people what I was doing, they almost always said the same thing: “Good Luck getting Alaska and Hawaii.” I knew they were right, but I refused to give up. One day in March I was driving up 52 and noticed a strange plate at Whispering Pines. I turned around and went to investigate. That was the first Alaska tag I found on my journey. A few months later I spotted a different Alaska tag at the Holiday Inn.

Eventually, it got down to six. In fact, it only took three months to find the first 44 states and Washington, D.C.  The night of Easter, which was March 31, I had not found a different tag in a couple of weeks. This had been the longest stretch since I had started the game. That night I went to the movies at Eastgate Cinema. When I came out of the theater there were three cars in the parking lot. Two couples were standing and talking between their two vehicles and then there was mine. I got in my car that was parked behind one of the couples’ car. When I cut on my headlights, I looked up and saw they had a Nebraska tag, and I was suddenly down to five.  

The final five were Rhode Island, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and Hawaii. I cannot remember exactly how much time passed, but it was more than a month. One Sunday afternoon I got a call from a friend who had seen a Rhode Island plate on 24-27. I went looking and found it at The Marketplace. I was down to four.

Another month or more passed and one day I spotted what I thought might be an Idaho tag. I followed the car to the Dollar Tree and verified that it was the tag I needed.

Two more months passed and fall had come.  I was taking a walk in my own neighborhood when a friend came driving by and stopped to speak to me. We chatted for several minutes and while we were talking a truck went by us. I happened to glance as it passed, and that day I got New Mexico, my forty-eighth plate.  

There are several persons in our county who have Wyoming plates on the front of their vehicles; so many times I had been fooled. Sometime in November I spotted a vehicle turning into Wal-Mart that had a Wyoming plate on the front of their car. I turned around and headed into the parking lot as well. I was not sure where the vehicle might be, and just as I was about to give up, I spotted it.  Wyoming has the smallest population of any state in the union. There was a while I wondered if anyone from that state would ever come to Stanly County, but I am happy to report that they did.

 Only one was left.  The one everyone told me I would never get. And when 2013 was coming to a close, I was beginning to believe they were correct. 2013 turned over to 2014 and I remembered that in the early days of my game I thought I would find every state in three months, or maybe even six months, but I would not need a year.

Then I got to the final six, and things drastically slowed. But I still held out hope. When I found Wyoming, I thought, “Maybe, just maybe, Hawaii will come before the end of the year.”  But alas it did not.

One week and one day into the new year, on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 around 4 p.m., I went to Big Lots for no real reason, but to just look around.  When I came out of the store and got in my car, I saw a different license plate.

These days every state has a variety of plates and I thought this was just one I had not seen. I drove toward it out of curiosity.  As I closed in on the tag, I saw that ever-recognizable rainbow, the same plate they had when I visited Hawaii in 1999. It was a Hawaii plate on a Kia. And around the tag was a frame from Kia of Honolulu.

In one year and eight days,  or put another way, one year, one week and one day, I had met my goal, seeing a tag from every state in the Union in our little county called Stanly.

All that is left is the question people often raise to me when I tell them this story: Why are all these people from others states here?  I will let someone else solve that mystery for my game is done.

Roger W. Thomas is director of Stanly Community Christian Ministry. He writes a regular film column for The Stanly News & Press.