Q. Dear Umbra,

Today I obtained a Wisconsin driver’s license and plates, after nearly a year of denying my residency in America’s Dairyland due to my pride in my home state (which has produced gems such as Rod Blagojevich, and his hair). But instead of accepting my olive branch, the DMV issued me license plates reading “365-PVC,” or “three hundred sixty-five days a year, polyvinyl chloride.” Great Odin’s raven–it’s an environmentalist’s nightmare! I suspect that via some elaborate government conspiracy they learned of my treehuggery research (which, ironically, being out of the reach of public transportation, requires me to drive my greenhouse gas-emitting vehicle) and played a prank on me. I hope to demonstrate my displeasure by exacting revenge, but as advice on ecologically responsible prank warfare tactics seems to be missing from the annals of Ask Umbra, I don’t know where to start. Please advise.

Sarah R.
Madison, Wisc.

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A. Dearest Sarah,

license plateSo many possibilities.McHenry County BlogHeavens to Murgatroyd. There must have been a terrible mixup in the prison’s license plate factory, and the DMV mistakenly sent you the vanity plates for the American Plastics Council’s company car. Too much cheese on the brain, that’s what causes these strange bureaucratic problems. And because it is likely a bureaucratic issue, a prank is not the answer. No ma’am, bureaucrats do not like pranks, except perhaps intra-bureaucratic pranks, which are complicated and beyond our ken.

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Alas, it is not legal to obscure a license plate by dirt or other objects (Wisconsin statute 0341.15). You need to get a new license plate. It may be that you can simply complain and exchange this strange plastics-loving plate, paying a small fee and receiving a random plate. If this is not feasible, your choices are to leave Wisconsin and try your DMV luck in some new place of residence, or to order special plates from the WI DMV.

The most well known special plate is the personalized or “vanity” license plate. The vanity plate will not only solve your PVC problem but offer a chance for retribution in the form of “MS ECO” or “EARTH 1” or “NO PVC” or something actually clever. It does have a yearly fee, in your state $15.

The one-two solution, however, is a vanity conservation plate. Mayhap you know of these conservation plates, available in many if not all U.S. states. The car owner pays an additional fee for said plate, and a portion of said fee goes toward the supporting organization. In Wisconsin, you have the option of a Ducks Unlimited or Endangered Resources license plate. Either will cost you an extra $25 per year. I couldn’t find out how many dollars actually went to DU or the Endangered Resource program of Wisconsin — the descriptions make it sound as if all $25 goes to them, but in other states, similar programs receive about $12 to $14 of the total fee. The conservation plate comes with a little illustration inspired by nature (wolf in front of moon, duck with other ducks, etc) so that even if your plate is not a vanity, all will know of your nature-lovin’ nature.

Best of luck resolving this vexing issue.