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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Leon None Litwin and the NO PLATE Guy 

Supposedly, when my great uncle Leon joined the military, he was stumped by some of the paperwork. He had no middle name, so where the forms asked for his middle name, he wrote "none." You can imagine what happened.

I don't know if the "Leon None Litwin" story is true. But it ought to be.

Here, courtesy of the absolutely essential snopes.com (and Metafilter) is a story that is definitely true:
In 1979 a Los Angeles man named Robert Barbour ... sent an application to the California Department of Motor Vehicles requesting personalized license plates for his car. The DMV form asked applicants to list three choices in case one or two of their desired selections had already been assigned. Barbour, a sailing enthusiast, wrote down "SAILING" and "BOATING" as his first two choices; when he couldn't think of a third option, he wrote "NO PLATE," meaning that if neither of his two choices was available, he did not want personalized plates. Plates reading "BOATING" and "SAILING" had indeed already been assigned, so the DMV, following Barbour's instructions literally, sent him license plates reading "NO PLATE." Barbour was not thrilled that the DMV had misunderstood his intent, but he opted to keep the plates because of their uniqueness.

Four weeks later he received his first notice for an overdue parking fine, from faraway San Francisco, and within days he began receiving dozens of overdue notices from all over the state on a daily basis. Why? Because when law enforcement officers ticketed illegally parked cars that bore no license plates, they had been writing "NO PLATE" in the license plate field...Barbour received about 2,500 notices over the next several months...

A couple of years later, the DMV finally caught on and sent a notice to law enforcement agencies requesting that they use the word NONE rather than NO PLATE to indicate a cited vehicle was missing its plates. This change slowed the flow of overdue notices Barbour received to a trickle, about five or six a month, but it also had an unintended side effect: Officers sometimes wrote MISSING instead of NONE to indicate cars with missing license plates, and suddenly a man named Andrew Burg in Marina del Rey started receiving parking tickets from places he hadn't visited either. Burg, of course, was the owner of a car with personalized plates reading "MISSING."
Nonetheless, some motorists still choose personalized plates destined to land them in similar trouble. Jim Cara of Elsmere, Delaware, found that out the hard way when he selected the phrase "NOTAG" for the license of his Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle in 2004.


UPDATE: I now have confirmation that my Great Uncle's legal name is, in fact, Leon None Litwin. Excellent.

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