I was in Maine a few weeks ago, walking along Kennebunk Beach, a 1-mile arc of sand that attracted a slew of demographics on this beautiful, sunny spring day. Young families walked on the sand, the little ones running ahead, buckets and shovels in tow. The elderly were walking slowly along the seawall, clearly enjoying the weather. Young couples were pushing prams, young show-offs were spinning on skateboards, and it seemed like everyone had a dog. We all had one thing in common: we clearly appreciate the weather, the ocean and the 2 or 4 legged companions who accompanied us.

I, on the other hand, worried about work, about the pile of due assignments waiting for me at the office. With each step, I took mental notes and didn’t look at what was in front of me until suddenly I saw a nondescript green car parked a few feet in front of me. While many cars sported out-of-state license plates, this one was a Mainer and simply read NJOYNOW. It stopped me dead in my tracks because as simple as the message was, that’s how deep it was at the same time. I had risen before dawn that Sunday and walked 165 miles to have the privilege of being where I was, and yet here I was all stressed out, shoulders hunched and mind who was racing, worrying about the work I had previously done to be able to be here.

That license plate was a real wake-up call. It quickly brought me back to the beat of my sneakers pounding the sidewalk, the strong ocean breeze blowing through my hair, and the beautiful day I was having NOW. Tomorrow would not be guaranteed. It was NOW, and damn if I wasn’t going to take full advantage of it!

I’ve always had a fascination with license plates. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve relished road trips where I can meet others than those pale, yucky yellows we had in Jersey. I loved learning what colors different states had on their plates – this was before they all started having more than one type and way before vanity plates. My mind started categorizing pictures and fonts, so even though I was a myopic little nerd, if I saw a plate in the distance with a script, I knew it had to be Louisiana or California. It was rare to see one in the East, but if I saw a cowboy on a wild horse, I would instantly know we had a visitor from Wyoming.

When I moved to Rhode Island 36 years ago, I couldn’t understand people’s obsession with low number plates. I still don’t know, and I certainly don’t understand why anyone would want to spend a ridiculous amount of money just to have this privilege. Some will tell you it’s a status symbol. I thought status symbols died out with the 1960s. Although Massachusetts, Illinois, Delaware, and DC also have this low-number fever, we have drivers who bequeath them to relatives to keep in the family at all costs. In 1994, a madman in Delaware paid $182,500 for the #9 plate. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan has been accused of handing out low-number plates as favors. And in little Rhody, two brothers went to court in 1983 for possession of their late father’s plate. John Raiche of Coventry has 3,000 poorly numbered plates in a collection. I guess stamps and coins didn’t do it for John.

I’m not ashamed to say my husband and I played a license plate game every time we traveled we even had an official board to check states so maybe this guy from Delaware n He’s not the only fool when it comes to this stuff.

There are many funny license plates. It would take a lot more than one column to list all the crazy, dumb, smart, sincere people I’ve seen, but before I left Maine, I saw one that must surely rise to the top of the list to my eyes. It was a New Hampshire label and had a simple but “urgent” message: PB4WEGO. Obviously, every mom about to start a road trip with kids can relate, but hey, remember this gem comes from the same people who think “Live Free or Die” is a cool state motto. Nevertheless, I heeded the license plate warning.

Designed for a smooth ride home.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 20 years, including her “In Their Shoes” articles. She can be reached at [email protected] or 401-539-7762.