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Consumer Reports

All is Vanity (plates) | (KRT) The Chicago Tribune asked readers for a peek at their personalized license plates and the stories behind them. More than 600 people responded, from Jenny (EGG FOO) Young to Dee Dee (TOPLS MA) Garee.

Hey, she drives a convertible.

There were plates referencing occupations, hobbies, philosophies, kids, dogs, favorite entertainers, ex-spouses and the vehicles themselves. Some were obvious (Y HE WRKS, on Sharon Salzberg's Lexus). Others took some thought (Brian and Lin Classon's APPL 314, if you think about it, is as easy as apple pi).

A good number were clever and amusing.

That car up ahead with PPMD plates? It belongs to Dr. Lawrence Ross, the head of the department of urology at the University of Chicago.

If you see TRN N CGH, that's Jay Symowicz, a first-year medical student.

L HI M_L'Chiam, Hebrew for "to life"_belongs to Sharlene Sherman, who sells cemetery plots.

Burt Thomas' motorcycle sports BOLEGS. "Ever ride a motorcycle for more than one hour?" he asked in his e-mail.

Beth Weis' maiden name is Kahn. Her plate? X KAHN.

Pam Teasley has had I AM PST, her initials, for about 15 years.

"I have people hanging out of their vehicles on Lake Shore Drive and the Kennedy to ask me what I'm mad about," she wrote. "Last week a construction guy . . . told me, `You are too pretty to be p___.' That made my day."

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Valerie Binkowski is a math teacher with ABS VAL U on her car. On a calculator, the absolute value button is marked ABS. She put a space after VAL to highlight her name.

"I offered extra credit to my class to create a new vanity plate for my car. After brainstorming, we came up with two options: ABS VAL U and ALGBRA 1. However, if a non-mathematical person looked at the second choice, he/she may read it A LG BRA, a large bra." So ABS VAL U it was.

Fredi Dangoy's plate is CLASFYD. "People like hotel front desk personnel who ask for my license plate sure give me a puzzled look when I answer `CLASFYD,' Dangoy wrote. "`Oh, it's a government secret?' `No, really, it's CLASFYD.' `Don't worry, I won't tell.'"

Terry Cummings' PILE IT plate has a double meaning. Cummings used to be a pilot and also used to live on a small farm and cleaned stalls.

Angelo Campanella loves coffee, hence JAVAHED. "My front plates have been stolen twice. One person was nice and actually left an apology note with $10 for ordering my replacements."

Daniel Hyman's wife rides and raises horses, so he thought he'd get his own horse: His Mercedes 2003 SL 55 sports HY HORSE.

Angela Berka's husband is a Mike Ditka fan. When he once saw the coach standing his ground against a heckler, he knew what plate he had to have: AW SHD UP.

Some folks use their vanity plates to take shots ... at vanity plates.

Greg Gallier has AN T VNTY "because I dislike vanity plates ... or do I?"

Pat Kauffold's plate is ECCL 128, for Ecclesiastes 12:8, which says "Vanities of vanities, saith the preacher; all (is) vanity."

"I think it's the ultimate vanity plate," Kauffold wrote. "It has been a very private joke since nobody else seems to get it."

Until now.

By far, most of the personalized plates that were sent along convey messages or commemorate something personal in the driver's life.

Former Indiana State Rep. Jerome J. Reppa, sponsor of that state's mandatory seat belt law, has BKL UP as his plate. Reppa would probably like Jesus Perez, a UPS driver who has KLK R TKT ("click it or ticket") on his car.

The Kennedy family of Green Oaks, Ill., has TI EVOM, which becomes MOVE IT when a pokey driver sees the Kennedys bearing down on him in his rear-view mirror.

Becky Baumann and Lois Price took different routes to the same message. Baumann's plate reads AU VOIR 6, while Price has OR WVA.

Occasionally, a message is easy to figure out. Paul Zubinski has no trouble telling his fellow commuters IOTOMCH.

Others are tougher. Barbara Mecca, after a rough divorce, got LWITBR, for "living well is the best revenge." She points out_gleefully, it seems_that the plate has since appeared on a Lincoln, a Mercedes and a Jaguar.

Causes also get advertised. There's BANFUR 3 (Eileen Kinney), FEMNST 1 (Judy Jepsen-Popel) and TREHGR (that noted tree-hugger Regina Drahnak).

Sheryl Altman (CAR SIK 2) tells us her occupation and an interesting fact. "My initials were SIK, my occupation was a Commercial Account Rep," she writes. "(And) I get car sick."

Michael Foster's plate makes a statement: NO WIFE.

Fred Blanford sports GRUMPY 3. "My wife felt my plate should be easy enough to decipher and that all who knew me would understand why."

Darlene Heslop is QTE BLND, "a cute blond," she says, also filling us in on her height (5-foot-3), weight (96 pounds) and eye color (green) and telling us she's single. Maybe we should fix her up with Michael "NO WIFE" Foster.

Matt Sommer's plates are CHEMO 93; he had cancer in 1993 and now mixes chemotherapy for a living. "Would never have gotten into health care if I hadn't gotten sick," he says.

Other folks highlight their military connections. Wayne Miller's plates read ETO B24. During World War II, he served in the European theater of operations and flew in a B24 bomber.

Danny Yates has NAM N 67_"the year I served in Vietnam." Ex-Marine Mike Pawelek has 1 LNECK on his Dodge Ram truck. And Lester J. Hartrick, who spent 40 years in the Illinois Army National Guard and retired as a lieutenant colonel, has LTC RET 1.

Some plates are touching once you know the story.

Toni Lee's plates read EMASKID. "Emma's kid. It's my favorite nickname. My mom died in 1989 at 41 of breast cancer. I was 21, and I'm her only child. She was my best friend."

Kathy Mudroch went with LO2BVE. "It means `to be in love.' It says this because I am madly in love with my husband."

And the story behind Vicki Dvorak's VKIWNI 1 is really sweet. And long. And we don't have the space for it here. But believe us, it's sweet.

Some personalized plates express an owner's religious beliefs.

Jefferson C. Lewis has ALL MY TI on his car. "It is a reference to God," he wrote. "Basically it means that He goes before me and follows me when I am in my car."

Phil and Barb Leo GOT JOY. "When people ask what our plates are about, I simply say, `Well, we've got joy because we've got Jesus!' "

Religion was popular, but pets were even bigger. Lindy Korner's plates read MUGGS UD, in honor of her Shetland sheepdog Muggsy, who has an advanced obedience trial title, utility dog.

Marie and Paul Schmidt have a Lab and a springer; their plate reads DOGSRUS. "The plate is not popular with our two good-looking daughters for obvious reasons," Marie wrote.

Basset hound owners Brian and Kim Lukanic have AHROOO_and if you've ever been around bassets you know why.

And cats were not without their supporters, such as I PURRR 2 (Nancy Kay Parise) and Carl and Sandy Zapffe's slightly more cerebral FELIDAE, which is "the scientific name (in proper Latin) for all members of the cat family."

Kids were only slightly less popular than pets. As it should be.

There was 2EGLES (Michael Hamer, father of two Eagle Scouts) and BRYNSMA (from Barbara Eaves, the proud mother of Brian).

Others are more direct. Leadia Dzurisin has three kids under the age of 5.

"No matter where I go or what we are doing I must hear 30 times a day, `Boy, you've got a handful' or `You sure do have your hands full.' " Her plate: HNDFUL.

Equally realistic is Pam Lome, mother of four teens, "all very close in age." Her car sports LUNYMA 1.

Cora Dutkiewicz, the mother of twins, has TU FER 1.

Sports and hobbies are big too.

Barb Fritz's family still hasn't gotten over Michael Jordan's departure from Chicago (MISN 23).

Brenda Malin (RACNCK 3) says she's a "racing chick" who followed the late Dale Earnhardt (No. 3).

Brian McCudden is Scottish and he loves golf. So, AYE GOLF.

And there was a whole team of Chicago Cubs fans. Wendy Zumpano told us about her husband's BRK N IVY, which isn't too far from Diane Egebrecht's BRXNIV 1; Kristal Davis is ACUBFN 1; Donald Rendler-Kaplan is CUBZFAN; Karen Gross loves her CUBBEEZ; Bob Angone honors Greg Maddux, who wore No. 31 as a Cub and is a four-time Cy Young Award winner now that he is with Atlanta, with CY YNG 31; and Reed Snyder's LTS PLY 2 is a nod to his hero, Ernie Banks.

(To answer the next question: No White Sox plates were submitted, even though they are the superior team.)

Personalized plates are often a way to make a comment about the car they're on.

Carol Davis' purple 2001 PT Cruiser tells other drivers to CMYCAR. Tom Nasuta advises drivers to C TOM FLY as he roars by in his 2000 Pontiac Formula. Dick Hartop says that Earnhardt once said that if Darth Vader were an automobile, he would be a `96 Impala SS; so Hartop gave his `96 Impala plates reading DARTH V 8.

Chicago motorcycle officer Lee Ann Neubauer rides a Harley. "I took a short trip of about 2,000 miles and when I got off the bike I had a scathingly brilliant idea," she wrote. "I have since named my motorcycle `The Vibrator!' " She has also slapped VBRTR1 plates on it. "You should see the looks that I get out on the road."

Then there are the plates that get misinterpreted.

When Heather Peck got BLOPEC 8, "everyone made comments about it meaning something dirty. I still haven't figured out what dirty little message the plates 1/8a combination of the first three letters of her maiden name and the first three letters of her husband's last name3/8 give out."

And Melody Savage's husband bought her a car and got the plates SAVAGED. "This was his way of branding it," she says. "Our last name is Savage and his first initial is D. It just happened to create a word_but you should see some of the looks I get."

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© 2003, Chicago Tribune Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services