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O Where, O Where is Delaware?
By Dave Kiffer


August 13, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Several folks have asked how my annual License Plate Bingo battle is going, so time for an update as we head into the dog days of August.

The quick answer is pretty darn good, but then you've heard that before.

Just a quick refresher on the rules. You have to "collect" the license plates by spotting them on cars on Ketchikan streets. One year, I was missing North Dakota and naturally saw one in the Sitka airport parking lot of all places. Close but no cigar!

Last year, I came within one Delaware sighting of "running the table."

That was the closest I had gotten since 2001 when I came within a "West Virginia" of taking the whole enchilada. Yes, that year I even saw a Delaware license plate for the first and only time ever in K-town.

As of a couple of weeks ago, I was about six plates away from the complete set. And the missing plates weren't very promising: Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia and - yes - Delaware, again!

But then I saw a West Virginia plate outside Big Boxville (what a surprise!).

Then I saw a North Dakota plate in the Tongass parking lot.

Mississippi was parked near the Rainbird Trail access on the Third Avenue Bypass a week later.

Then Rhode Island popped up on a jeep parked next to the library. Things were looking up.

I know that I will eventually see a Kentucky plate, those are not that unusual here. Though you have to wonder what someone from Kentucky would be doing in Our Fair Salmon City. It's not like a lot of Kentucky-based Coasties or Forest Service folks get transferred here.

And I doubt that a lot of the other "summer folk" head up here in the off-season from Kentucky. There might be a few Ohio riverboat jewelry sales in those parts, but last I looked Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean weren't making too many stops in Lexington and Frankfort.

So I suspect if I am diligent and the god of traffic and parking (Automobius) has been appeased by my numerous overtime citations, then I will see a Kentucky plate before the season is out.

Delaware is another matter. It's a tiny state size-wise, the second smallest state in the union, only marginally bigger that Rhode Island. It has a small population, just about 100,000 more than Alaska's 660,000.

So finding a Delaware resident in Ketchikan - with the license plate to match - is pretty infinitesimal. Just doing some quick math - the kind I like best, although it is usually wrong - if you were to check the heritage of 100 people on the street in Ketchikan, you could expect that less than one quarter of one percent of them would be from Delaware.

Of course that would be based on assuming that all 100 people were American residents and that is not likely.

Perhaps we should base the likelihood of finding a Delawarean in Downtown Ketchikan on the total population of the world. In that case, if you survey 100 people in downtown Ketchikan, the likelihood of finding someone Delaware drops to less than 13/1,000 of a percent.

Pretty slim pickings (or Slim Pickens if you prefer) indeed.

But wait, there's more (and no, operators are not standing by)!

Delaware does have a remarkably high number of licensed drivers. According to Federal Statistics (with even more "truthiness" than "lies" or "damn lies"), nearly 78 percent of the men, women and children in Delaware have a car. All those drivers make it a heck of a lot more likely that one could see a Delaware plate in Ketchikan.

After all, in Alaska, less than 50 percent of the population has a registered car. Even in the "Mecca of the Car," California, barely 60 percent of the population (per capita, of course) has a car. So there is an awful lot of car ownership (as opposed to a lot of awful car ownership) in the "Blue Hen State."

Which probably led to the first "Why Did the Blue Hen Cross The Road?" joke. (To get out of skinny little Delaware, most likely)

If these Delaware auto numbers seem inflated to you, they should. They don't take into account the fact that some people may have many cars (Jay Leno - for example - owns more than 80 different cars. He keeps them in a Los Angeles garage that is bigger than Delaware).

And because of that sort of conspicuous consumption, a whole community can have more cars than drivers or even more cars than people.

In the mid 1980s, the state of Alaska reported that there were some 13,272 registered vehicles in Ketchikan. The population (and that means men, women and children) was only 12,892. Go figure.

But getting back to Delaware, it could be Pete DuPont ( of the illustrious Wilmington, Delaware DuPonts), maybe the richest person in Delaware, personally owns 600,000 cars. Since he would probably not have any reason to visit Ketchikan, he would then be personally responsible for preventing me from winning at License Plate Bingo, again.

But I remain hopeful as summer is not yet over. The god of traffic and parking could still pull a miracle and plop a Delaware plated vehicle somewhere in Tanzanite Town for me to see. I suspect it will happen this month. This month would be a good time, because I will be in Oregon for half the month and would probably miss it.

But fear not. The first car I see on my vacation in Portland will undoubtedly have Delaware plates.



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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