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Drivers vie to get 9/11 license plates
Some people raised flags, some bought bumper stickers. Californians ordered vanity plates.
Among the hundreds of homespun homages to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the custom license plate has emerged as a micro-trend.
More than two dozen of the limited ways to combine 911 with SEPT, WTC, NYFD and NYPD have been claimed in California, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles' records show.
Someone managed to squeeze Remember the World Trade Center into the maximum seven spaces: RMBRWTC.
Others claimed 11SEPT1, SEP11TH, 911O1NY, 9FDNY11 and at least 22 similar permutations, along with hundreds of clear 911 allusions to Porsches and emergency hot lines.
Robert Yellen of Los Angeles got a plate bearing 11SEPT for his truck a few days after the attacks. The 39-year-old firefighter said that, once he heard people toot their horns or saw them flash a thumbs-up, he knew he had done the right thing.
"Every once in a while, if I'm stopped at a light, people will say, `I like your plate,"' Yellen said. "At first, I thought people would think I'm a terrorist."
California's DMV does not track how many references to the terrorist attacks have wound up on plates or how many drivers tried and failed to get them, said spokesman Steve Haskins. Anybody with $41 who wants a personalized plate that isn't obscene and isn't taken can have it.
"If they come in and are not offensive, we go ahead and approve them," Haskins said. "But, in terms of making note of them, we don't."
California doesn't have a monopoly on the phenomenon. It took about a New York minute for someone to request WTC911 in the Empire State, according to New York DMV spokesman Matt Burns. That particular request arrived "before noon" on Sept. 11, Burns said, and was followed in subsequent days by hundreds more.
New York is not issuing plates with Sept. 11 connotations--at least not yet--out of sensitivity to victims' families, he said.
"We haven't processed any of those because of deference to the families. We're holding on to the information from people who requested them" until a decision is made on whether the plates will be issued, he said.
The District of Columbia, across the Potomac River from the still-scarred Pentagon, has had no requests for commemorative references in license plates, said a DMV spokeswoman.
But New Jersey and Virginia have granted plates with attack references and, like New York and California, are considering issuing Sept. 11-themed plate.
For Jim Prete, 37, of Encinatas, Calif., hanging an American flag from his Harley-Davidson wasn't enough. So, a day or two after the attacks, he reserved SPT11O1.
"I knew that, if I didn't act on it soon, someone else would get it," Prete said. "This was a little something to remember what can happen when we get too comfortable."
Ken Leasure, a 31-year-old firefighter stationed in Monterey Park, Calif., wanted 911FDNY but, by the time he looked online, that combination was gone. He ended up with 9FDNY11 for the used pickup he bought two months ago.
Michael Lever, 39, bought a "patriot blue" PT Cruiser about five weeks after the attacks. When it came time to tag it, Lever thought about a custom plate.
"I started putting in a lot of combinations, a lot of `love' and `peace,' but they were taken." He tried RMBR911, which was taken, before landing on SEP11TH, a combination he could not believe was available. There have been a lot of honks and waves since.
"The reaction I want is years from now, that people still remember," Lever said.
For others, though, the last thing they want on a plate is a reference to the date that now has such terrible significance.
One New Jersey motorist who had long held a SEPT11 tag, which had personal meaning, surrendered it to the state on Sept. 14.