Friday, February 22, 2008
The big news in Delaware this week was the huge price paid for a small license plate. Frank Vassallo IV of Wilmington, bidding on behalf of his grandfather, property developer Anthony Fusco, paid $675,000 for the number 6 black and white Delaware tag. That’s a lot of money for a flat piece of steel. To put it into perspective, the same cash would buy a nineteenth century house in Lewes, educate ten kids at the University of Delaware or put a few hundred thousand pounds of RAPA scrapple on the table.
My first visit to Delaware was about thirty years ago. Driving south from Wilmington I remember seeing endless flat, green countryside. There were big farms with grand old houses. There wasn’t much in the way of development. Frank Perdue’s trucks roared up and down highway 13 but otherwise there didn’t seem to be much going on. Lewes was sleepy and Rehoboth was a cool place for kids to hang out at the beach. Now it seems highway 13 has been developed into one long strip mall; highway 1 is even more built up. Retirement communities are being raised on vast expanses of what were once rich agricultural lands. Heritage Shores, south of Bridgeville, is about 40 miles from the Atlantic or Chesapeake but apparently that is close enough to attract flocks of buyers from the snow country up north.
It is easy to snicker at the silly amount paid for the number 6 license plate, but the widespread enthusiasm for Delaware's retro black and white tags represents something deeper than keeping up with the DuPonts. For most, those tags are tangible links to a simpler past when Delaware natives did not fight traffic to get to the beach. They declare “I was here before all this.”