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The Low Plate Lottery Edition
On ceremony, superiority seeking, and the exquisite pronunciation of the towns of Massachusetts
Ryan McManus (RMM) is a product designer at Ford and longstanding friend of WITI. He has previously written about the Mystic Cobra, the prevalence of aero wheels, and how to start your own town. His license plate number is EVHV45.
Ryan here. Last Tuesday, Sept. 12, there were two notable livestreams: One was the Apple event announcing the iPhone 15 (yawn), but the other, arguably more anticipated one was the annual Massachusetts Low Plate Lottery drawing. If you missed it, you missed out on a very unique and gripping combination of Bingo, the Oscars, and the RMV.
Why is this interesting?
We’ve covered the strange, extremely expensive valuations of low number plates around the world on WITI before, but I wanted to give a peek into how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deals with demand (and attempts to combat corruption) for these coveted plates through a randomly drawn state-wide lottery.
[A note here: these plates cost no more than a typical registration, and have no actual value beyond what we’ve talked about before - the coveting of something rare and difficult to obtain. And there is a value in that of its own.]
Every year, citizens of Massachusetts are invited to express their interest in getting a low number plate (Registry employees, temporary employees, contractors, and their spouses and family members are not eligible to enter the plate lottery.) The offerings vary annually, depending on what plates have recently become available through attrition or death. They can range from the extremely rare single digit plate (7!) to the more mundane but still rare 4 digit plates (2826). Citizens submit their name through the RMV website during an interest period, and once the submissions close, the drawing is held.
The drawing is about 90 minutes long and is live streamed from an anonymous building on Beacon Hill. By law, lottery winners must be announced by September 15. The scene consists of a handful of people in a large, bureaucratic conference room. A woman stands at the dais and cranks a large brass cylinder filled with paper slips with entrant names on them. An assistant sits nearby, feeding her the plate numbers. She announces each one in a loud, clear, accented voice: “The next plate, 2203, goes to Tommy O’Dwyer from Worcester!”. There is dead silence otherwise, and the announcements are only punctuated by the soft rustling of the paper slips as the cylinder is cranked, like so many autumn leaves swirling through a Stockbridge alley in late October.
Between every 5 or 6 draws, however, the ceremony is punctuated by a third woman who stands at a separate lectern and shares license plate fun facts, like the history of special plates in Massachusetts, or a brief thanks to the Department of Corrections for manufacturing all of Massachusetts plates. She also commands applause for the winners of the lottery.
I know what you’re thinking: Ryan. This doesn’t sound interesting. At all.
And you’re right! But blame my prose’s inability to capture the magnetic charm of this event, and the inexplicable reason why once you tune in it’s impossible to turn away.
Now, listen: I had skin in the game. Since moving to Massachusetts I’ve entered the Low Plate Lottery every year, and have yet to be selected. (The odds are not in my favor: For reference, there were 191 plates announced this year from over 11,000 entrants). And so I tuned in to see if my name would be among the many others expertly pronounced by the moderator. (It was not).
And I didn’t have to tune in at all! If I had been selected the state would have emailed me tomorrow, and I would have until December 29 to swap my current plate over or forfeit my good fortune to an alternate winner. The livestream is orchestrated, broadcast and streamed purely to let those interested participate in this very niche, very weird little bureaucratic gem.
I could have just waited for an email that would never come. But where would the fun be in that?
A few favorites from this year’s drawing:
1999 (I admit, i wanted this one to go get a 1999 purple Plymouth Prowler like Prince)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Ryan (RMM)
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