The License Game

When I was a working person, I drove across town, twice a day, five days a week. It was a boring drive, especially when I was tired and just wanted to get home. It was forty-five minutes of trying to stay alert and focused – not on the day that was to come or that went by, but on the actual drive. Out of that boredom came a time when I devised a game that I have played ever since to keep my mind busy, awake and creative. It’s called the “License Game.”

Car plates

I noticed that Florida license plates had at least three letters preceding the three numbers on the plate. This seems to be the case on many state automobile license plates. Sometimes the plates had three letters, two numbers, and another letter. There were many combinations of numbers and letters over the 50 state license plates I saw over the years.

While in a creative mood one day, I began to look at those three letters on the plates of the cars ahead of me: “CBT.” Hmm, I challenged myself to devise a sentence or phrase that would be a great story starter. Here are some ideas from that plate:

  1. “Come back, Terry!”
  2. “Catherine, beat Tony!”
  3. Crawling by (the) tower…
  4. Creepy, biting tarantulas …

I could go on, but you get the idea. I decided that if there was an “X” on the plate, one could either use a word beginning with “X” – like X-Ray or change it to “cross, crossing or crossed.” Thus “RXJ” could be “Ray’s X-ray journal …” or “Ray crossed (the) junkyard.” Sometimes the entire number/letter sequence was too tempting: CBT 29L became, “Crawling by (the) tower, (came) twenty-nine liberators.” As you see, I added a few words to help the sentence make sense.  Nonetheless, the challenge was to use only the letters/numbers on the plate and not add those extra words!

Sometimes the game was very easy, but at other times I would give up and seek out another plate to try. Some of the phrases or sentences were so good I would memorize them to write down later and use as prompts for writing stories or poems.

Here’s an example of  a story written from such a prompt: License Plate: CBT.

My First Love

“Come back, Terry. I was only kidding”. I yelled as Terry ran towards the cabin. “I promise, I didn’t see a snake.”

Her freckled face was as red as her hair as she turned on me, eyes blazing. Her voice was shaky and high-pitched as she said, “Don’t you ever kid about snakes! I am terrified of them.” She then began to hit me on my arm hard enough to make bruises. For a petite girl, she was strong!

“Stop!” I swung myself around, so her hardest blows hit me on the back. “Honest, I won’t do it again. I promise. Just stop!”

Her anger spent, she confronted me with her arms entwined in front of her. She was breathing hard. A look of terror still shadowed on her face. “I swear I will never talk to you again, if you ever do that again.” Her foot stomped on the ground three times in rhythm to her next words, “Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes, I understand.” I realized then I had really made a mess of things. I had spotted Terry the very first time she climbed out of the Camp Tribune Bus. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. Thinking she would never want to talk to me, a gangly fourteen-year-old country boy, I figured I would do what I did with my older sister – tease her about all the indigent wildlife around here. First thing I said to her was to not stand under the trees as you had to watch out for the jumping spiders. Well, she took off and stood vibrating with fear, hugging herself, in the one open space that had no trees around it. It took two counselors to talk her into moving into her cabin. They glared at me for the remainder of the day for that stunt.

Over the next few days, I apologized repeatedly and tried hard to make amends for my prank about the spiders. Then today a whole group of us went down to the lake to kayak. Terry stood back as the counselor teamed everyone in two-man kayaks. I saw my chance and also waited until it was just the two of us left. Reluctantly, Terry stepped into the front of the kayak and listened as the counselor told her how to paddle. I loved to kayak, so I knew as the stronger person, I could paddle the kayak even without Terry’s help. It took us a few minutes to figure out how to paddle in unison, but once we got the rhythm going, we were the fastest tandem team on the lake. I could tell Terry was relaxing and enjoying the ride, by how her shoulders had fallen from her ears.

“Terry,” I said, “If you want to take a break I can paddle.”

“Okay, if you don’t mind…”

“No, I’m fine.” It slowed us down a little, but we were soon at the opposite shore. “Terry, we need to turn around. You need to paddle on the right while I reverse paddle back here.”

“Okay,” she replied.

Well, I guess I didn’t realize how much stronger I was because the kayak spun around in a circle about three times before we had control of it. Terry let out a scream when she thought the kayak was going to tip, but I quickly righted it. “It’s Okay,” I said. “I guess we need to practice that.”

“No, I think we should just paddle for the dock.” She said stiffly. I could see her sitting ramrod straight in front of me. The anger at me seemed to radiate off her. I think she thought I did that on purpose.

She didn’t say anything more as we smoothly paddled for the camp dock. I was fuming. What had I done wrong? Nothing. I had gotten us out of trouble. Why should she make me feel guilty for that?

We trudged back to the camp carrying our life vests and the paddles. That’s when I made the mistake of pointing out there was a snake on the side of the path. It was just the root of a tree, but in the dimness of the trees, it looked like a snake. Well, she took off like a scared deer. And I was accosted by her for that prank. I had bruises all over my arm from her beating on me.

Strangely, I had a funny, pleasant feeling in my stomach as she used me as a punching bag. It confused me that I thought she was so cute as she stood there, stomping her foot into the ground, her freckles shining on her face like stars in the night sky, as she told me off. At that very moment, I realized I really cared that she was angry with me. I wanted her to like me. I wanted to hold her and tell her it was alright. But I had blown the whole deal.

I stood on the tree-lined path and kept saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to do.” She ran to her cabin. I stood alone watching her go, not having the faintest idea what to do.

The last day at camp it rained all day. She stayed in her cabin. I glimpsed at her in the dining hall, but her girlfriends surrounded her, and I had no idea how to permeate that wall. I didn’t even see her when I left because my parents had come to pick me up early. As we pulled away from the camp, I looked mournfully for Terry, but she as nowhere to be seen.

“Did you enjoy camp, David?” My mother innocently asked.

With my long legs cramped in the backseat and my heart physically aching as I mourned for my first love, I could only mumble in response, “Sure.”

Why don’t you give the License game a try. It’s fun! Go ahead – comment below


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