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Like most states, North Carolina raises revenue by allowing people to purchase vanity license plates for their cars.  Unlike bumper stickers, which allow a car owner freedom to express an idea (possession of an honor student, an emotional attachment to a particular breed of dog, a political view held during some previous election cycle, etc.), vanity plates allow more extroverted automobiles an opportunity to stand apart from their peers.  (Disclaimer: I drive a gray sedan.  This is the soulless corporate drone of automotive expression.)

The problem is that a vanity plate only has room for 8 characters.  Admittedly, when your only forms of communication are honking and breaking down, this is a downright verbose medium for idea exchange.  But still, with only 8 letters to work with, there is a premium on being both pithy and precise.

I bring this up because, as I was driving home this evening, I was in traffic behind a particularly gregarious Mercedes-Benz, proudly stating for all the world to see that it was, in its own “words”, a

CHICMAGT

I’m pretty sure I know what the Mercedes was going for, but the whole way home, all I kept thinking was, “What a stylish fly larva!  I’ll bet you can attract more women with that vanity plate than with honey or vinegar!”

Bad car! Bad!

My car is five years old.  Unfortunately, this week it started acting like a five year old.  Wednesday morning, I left the house to go to work, and the car wouldn’t start.  Now, I know nothing about cars beyond the barest basics (i.e. where the gas station and oil change places are).  I let my company stuff me in a cloth-covered box and type all day so that I can afford to outsource automotive knowledge to other people.

So, after doing a level 1 diagnostic (yes, there’s gas — no, the battery isn’t making that click-click-click noise it does when it’s too dead to start the car), I called Roadside Assistance.  It’s always fun trying to explain what’s wrong with the car, since I know none of the terminology, and can only run a level 1 diagnostic, so I have to fall back on the skills I do have, i.e. sound effects.  “When I turn the key, the engine goes, “vroom-flup” and then stops.”  The purpose of this is to get them to quickly realize that I’m going to be of no help to them beyond reciting my address and phone number.

I have no shame whatsoever about this.  I help people all the time with obvious investment questions (like why a giant tax refund is not “found money”) and technology questions (like why my DVR won’t save anything).  This is called specialization, and is a direct consequence of the development of agriculture 6000 years ago.  Since the only other direct consequence of agriculture I can think of is vegetables, I consider this fair compensation. Continue reading