It all started the week after my husband and I watched the slightly goofy yet utterly charming movie “The Big Year” with Owen Wilson and Steve Martin. We chose the movie when nothing else fit the bill for a light-hearted free movie on Netflix and we were surprised at how much we loved it, despite the mixed reviews. If you haven’t seen it, it is about a trio of ardent bird watchers who participate in the real life competition of spotting as many different bird species as they can in one calendar year. We had no idea there was such a thing as competitive bird-watching, but in championship-level birding this is known as having a “Big Year,” and the movie is a mix of serious life hurdles with light-hearted fun.
Fast forward a few days to Thanksgiving and as we often do on long road trips we pass the time playing car bingo or some version of looking for license plates with our young son. Somehow our conversation led us back to talking about the movie and creating our own “Big Year” collecting license plates from every state in the Union. We gave ourselves one year to see a license plate from every state, but of course there were rules to be developed and followed. What ensued was a fantastic game of fun and learning, with a lot of help from friends and family, who would call us if they spotted a plate they knew we were looking for and give us its location. More than once we piled into the car on a random goose chase for a state we still needed. And the more our friends heard about the game, the more they got involved, and soon many of our closest friends decided to start their own Big Year and developed strategic plans for spotting hard to find plates (think national parks and military bases).
And so, on this Thanksgiving week as many of us set about on long drives to friends and family across the country, we share with you the rules of our “License Plate Big Year” and encourage you to create your own version.
Object of the game: Spot a license plate from all 50 states within one year.
- The license plate must be spotted while driving in your own car around town or on a road trip you started from your own home state. In other words, if you are from Seattle and fly to New York, you can’t claim you saw the New York plate on that trip. But if you are on a road trip that started from your house and drove all the way across country, you are good to count it.
- We quickly learned that it can be very hard to positively identify some plates while barreling down the highway at 60 mph. For safety sake, we added a rule that 2 members of the family had to be present for the plate to count – one to drive and one to spot!
- Tip - keep a list in a safe place in the car. We lost our list early on and had to recreate it from memory.
So, did we make all 50 states in one year? Nope. We got close, very close. Some of the states we thought would be the hardest (Hawaii and Alaska!) turned out to be spotted early, but there were some elusive states we just couldn’t spot. In desperation about three weeks before Thanksgiving last year we actually drove to a military base about 30 miles away and drove around hotel parking lots. We were rewarded with a few of the last states on our list but alas, Thanksgiving came around and we were still missing Rhode Island. Finally, about two months later it was spotted at the end of a ski trip. But in the course of a year, we got very good about identifying plates, learned so much about different state logos and mottos, and had a blast looking for different plates whether driving to the mall or to grandmas.Safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!