Bark's Bites: Vanity of Vanities

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
bark s bites vanity of vanities


One of the baddest men I ever knew, if not THE baddest, ran that license plate on an array of European luxury sleds in the early 2000s. He was a real-life manifestation of Marcellus Wallace, a larger-than-life being whose business was dependent upon the recovery of the same type of thugs he used to take off the streets of Cleveland as a less-than-squeaky-clean cop. His three-car garage was an ever-rotating gallery of high-powered rides that rarely exceeded the speed limit—because speeding wouldn’t have been ICE KOLD. Better to be smooth and slow-moving but with an omnipresent, rumbling threat of power, much like the man who was behind the wheel.

For Uncle Ron, as we called him, simply having something like a debadged, murdered-out, triple black Audi Q7 that rolled on 22s wasn’t enough of a statement. Every ride needed the perfect vanity license plate. Forget the badging that the OEM put on the vehicle—the personality of both the whips and the man were too big for that. No, he used the palette of seven letter provided by the State of Ohio to make sure that everybody in town knew that the BIG DAWG was behind the wheel of that NAZTY Q7.

Me? I had always wanted to get some sort of vanity plate for my cars growing up, but as they were legally titled to my pops, that wasn’t gonna happen. He used to tease me that “JAZZMAN” was available for my Infiniti G20 that I drove in college—I was mortified at the thought. What would my teachers, most of whom had been professional musicians for over forty years, think of a nineteen-year old brat driving around campus with “JAZZMAN” on his brand-new (sorta) luxury car?

It wasn’t until I bought my first new car under my own name, when I was about 23, that I thought that I might get one. I spend countless hours coming up with seven letter combinations for my 2001 Santa Fe V6 AWD. It may not have been a NAZTY Q7, but it was the nicest SUV I could afford at the time. It had chrome door handles, black leather interior, and a sunroof—in other words, every option Hyundai could throw on it. Finally, after a particularly successful gig in Monterey Bay, I came up with one that I felt I had earned the right to put on my car:


I remember it well. I felt pretty cool rolling up to my weekend gigs in it. It let my colleagues at my day gig know I wasn’t just another retail manager—I was a musician. My wife, who was a classical musician, absolutely hated it. Whereas blues and jazz musicians tend to be somewhat full of machismo, classical musicians are often more reserved. When I would pick her up from grad school, her musician friends would announce, “Hey! The Blue Sax is here!” I endured the friendly ribbing with a smile, but she did not.

When it came time for the Santa Fe to go away (or, in Hyundai-speak, when the 100,000 mile powertrain warranty is about to expire), I decided that wanted to go sporty for my next ride. Enter the 2004 Mazda RX-8 touring model with Aero kit, resplendent in Sunlight Silver. BLUE SAX just didn’t seem right anymore. I needed something to fit the sleek, cool identity of the rotary-powered machine.

Again, I spent hours on the Ohio BMV website, checking various seven-letter combinations. I originally thought I wanted something that played on a Silver Surfer theme, in tribute to the under-appreciated Marvel comic. Unfortunately, SLVR SRFR didn’t fit, and none of the variants I could think of seemed good enough. Scratch that.

How about something that played on the RX-8 name? Or maybe the Zoom-Zoom mantra? After a few aborted attempts, I came up with one that (I thought) was brilliant:


It worked on so many levels…well, it did once I had the chance to explain it to people. See, it was an RX-8, so it was like I was saying that my RX-8 was “in effect.” For you Non-Gen Xers, we used to say something was “in full effect” when we meant it was cool. That was meaning number one.

Meaning number two? Much deeper. Taken phonetically, RX N EFCT could also mean Wreckx-N-Effect. In 1992, the rap group Wreckx-N-Effect had a hit song entitled “Rump Shaker.” The chorus of that song?

All I wanna do is zooma, zoom zoom zoom

And a poom-poom just shake ya rump

(Rump shaker)

It was a freaking Zoom-Zoom Easter Egg! Pure genius, right?

Well, as is the case with any good joke, if you have to explain it, it doesn’t work. Nobody got it. My first sign should have been when I had to spend five minutes explaining it to the girl at the BMV (which irks me—why can you name a person anything you want, but some ill-tempered government worker has to approve your license plate?). I spent a good part of the next four years explaining it to people. One night, however, the nebulous nature of the meaning of my vanity plate worked in my favor.

I had left work late one wintry Cincinnati evening, and a thick layer of snow had covered the ground quite quickly. The powder was much too much for my poor Dunlop all-season tires to handle, and my RX-8 was quickly reduced to nothing more than a snow-spitting device on the side of Kenwood Road. Car after car passed me by as I sat there, helpless. A man walked out from his house with a shovel—only to offer to dig me out if I paid him fifty bucks. My roadside assistance was two hours away from being able to help.

All of a sudden, a car slowed to a halt behind me and turned on its hazards. A kind-looking man stepped out of the vehicle and approached my door.

“Need a hand?” he offered.

“Would you mind just seeing if you can push me out?” I asked.

“Not at all!” He got behind my bumper and shoved with all his might. The little Renesis spun the back wheels, covering the poor man with slush and snow as he pushed. Finally, I grabbed some traction and shot out onto the plowed section of the road.

I jumped out of the car and ran back to thank him profusely.

“Anytime!” he said cheerfully. “Always glad to help a fellow pharmacist in need!”

Pharmacist? Huh? Oh. RX. Right.

“See you at the convention!” I shouted as he retreated to the safety of his car.

When the RX-8 was replaced by my 2009 Pontiac G8 GT, I immediately planned to order a plate that indicated the G8’s capabilities in comparison to the car it had been benchmarked against. Sure enough, “I8URM5” was available (yes, I know an M5 of that generation would have “8en” my G8 alive). However, I kinda felt that I had outgrown the vanity plate. The G8 was a grown-up sort of car. Maybe it was time to just be a grown-up and take whatever plate the Commonwealth of Kentucky assigned me. And when the G8 was replaced by the Boss…I mean, isn’t a Boss 302 enough of a statement on its own? What could you out on it that wasn’t already said by the “BOSS 302” in all caps on both sides?

But just when I thought my vanity plate days were over, along came my little Fiesta. Let’s be honest—it’s somewhat of a toy car. Why not have some fun with it?

And so I found myself typing various six-letter combos into the Kentucky BMV website (unfortunately, Kentucky only allows six letters) the other night when it hit me. There’s one plate I’m sure nobody else has—or would even want. I typed it in, and of course, it was available.

Turns out that, in Kentucky, the price of vanity is twenty-five bucks. When I went to the title agency this morning to order it, I was wondering how I would explain this one. However, I guess 37-year-old me doesn’t seem as subversive as 26-year-old me did. The agent typed it in and took my money with nary a word of dissent.

It’s just as well. I’d hate to have to explain “BARK M” to anybody.

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  • Cognoscenti Cognoscenti on Mar 12, 2015

    I once Stage 2-modified a MB C32 AMG to the neighborhood of 425 HP/420 Ft-Lbs torque. It's vanity plate read M3EATER. What was so much fun about that was that I was in fact a serious BMW enthusiast who had owner/operated many a Bimmer. So, it was even more fun when I built an E30 swap car with a 24-valve E36 engine and E46 M3 6-speed. The M3EATER plate fit even better on that car! ;)

  • LeeK LeeK on Mar 14, 2015

    When I lived in Florida when personalized plates were first introduced, a neighbor filled out a request form (before personal computers were around) and put his initials as the first choice. For his second choice, he put "none". Sure enough, eight weeks later his plate shows up: NONE. I saw a Corvette with a NO WIFE plate once. My favorite is a Volvo 240D running around Chapel Hill NC with the plate: LICENSE. Probably a UNC professor.

  • TheEndlessEnigma $150k for GM build quality. $150k for GM parts and material quality. Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • Rusty The panther platform is one of the greatest vehicles platforms ever produced. This author is a moron.
  • Bullnuke It may be awhile before these show up on US shores. The MV Fremantle Highway has just started demo/reconstruction in Rotterdam after the large fire when transporting its last shipment of electric Porsche products.
  • Fie on Fiasler Big, fast and thirsty does not equal good. True luxury is not cobbled together by the UAW.
  • Inside Looking Out I see it as gladiator races - only one survives in virtual world.