The ultimate local’s label |

The ultimate local’s label

Did you ever drive down to Glenwood or out to the Aspen Business Center and wonder just exactly what the digits were on the license plate ahead of you? If you stopped at a light, or somehow managed to get a little closer than usual, you might have seen that it said ZG-something, so faded you could barely make it out. Such notice of vehicle registration might be found on a new BMW, barely a month old, but said plate was probably made back around 1980. In some cases, the owners have taken to restoring the letters and numbers themselves, with white paint. What gives – can’t the state penitentiary afford to make plates anymore?That’s not the problem, if it really is a problem. Since most of us are from somewhere else, and upon honest self-inspection must realize we all look much the same, many of us have latched onto the ZG license plate as a way of saying not only where we live, but in many cases, approximately how long we’ve lived here. For instance, to actually have a ZG plate means you’ve lived here quite a while, or bought it from somehow who has. The county ran out of ZG numbers many years ago, so just to have a ZG plate says the owner has lived here a long time. ZP became the next generation, then VBS or other forms of VB or maybe even something I’ve missed. So, in reality, even if you “only” have a ZP plate, it means you’ve been around long enough to have at least thought about staying here for a while.When I was a kid, the Pitkin County designation was 57 rather than ZG. Instead of ZG-10, for example, your license plate would say 57-10. Eagle County’s identification was 27 and Garfield’s was 24. My maternal great-aunt, Julia Stapleton, always had the No. 1 plate, 57-1 affixed to a blue ’39 Ford until she upgraded to a yellow-and-white ’53 Chevy Bel Air, black steering wheel, with an outside windshield visor, skirted rear wheel wells, and a tire-squealing stick shift. In the late ’50s, when the designation changed to ZG, she kept ZG-1 for a year or two until the local sheriff told her she couldn’t have it anymore because someone as important as the sheriff should have the No. 1 license plate. Rather than bless him with the universal hand signal, she verbally eviscerated him, leaving no doubt as to what she thought of that dumb-assed idea.One year at college, I lost a ZG plate off my car, so when I came home for the summer, I went up to the courthouse to get a replacement set. As I emerged from the County Clerk’s office, some newly hired reporter for The Aspen Times cornered me without provocation, welcomed me to town and told me that I was now “officially” a “local” with my supposedly coveted, new ZG plates, although she pronounced it “zujh.” Whatever. Somewhere inside, I felt resentment, thinking there must surely be more to living here than having a certain kind of license plate.As time went on, however, and still being a Front Range college student, I developed a certain amount of pride in showing off my hometown plates. Complete strangers would accost me at filling stations or parking lots in Boulder or Denver, saying they used to live in Aspen, or did live in Aspen and were in town on a visit. It made us comrades-in-arms away from home, so to speak.Mostly, I used to think it was absurd and provincial to become so license plate-dazzled, but now that the state has made the county designations all generic, I say more power to those who are proud of where they register their cars. But, just as a word of common sense – if no one can read those cherished plates, they’re not doing much good, even if they might say “ZG.”Tony Vagneur is saving his ZG-231 plates for the next millennium. Read him here on Saturdays and send mail to

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