Motorists are out of odor and not making any scents

This column published as "Raising a Stink" in November/December 2021 issue

David Matthews / December 02, 2021 / 3 minute read
David Matthews

They say that everything’s bigger in Texas, and that’s not just true of the geography and the hats.

This spring the FBI uncovered a massive racket involving fake Texas temporary license plate tags.

Authorities estimated that as many as 2 million fake Texas temporary tags have been sold across the country by state-licensed auto dealers who don’t sell cars, just temporary registrations.

The scheme has become so successful that the Lone Star State now has 25,000 registered new and used car dealers—more than 20 per city—at least on paper.

If you can’t register a vehicle due to a suspended license, or you just don’t feel like dealing with taxes, insurance, safety inspections, or tolls, you can find these dealers openly selling bogus temp tags on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and Instagram for anywhere between $35 to $200.

In May, the U.S. Department of Justice began cracking down, charging three people in Houston with using fictitious car dealerships to issue nearly 600,000 fake temp tags over the internet in a 17-month span, all without selling a single car.

They are accused of using the state registration system to falsify car sales in order to issue temporary license plates which were then emailed to customers across the country in PDF format.

“You can get one in an igloo in Alaska if you pay for it and have a printer,” Sergeant Jose Escribano of the Travis County Constable’s Office told the Houston Chronicle.

Reverse course

The state of Ohio is dealing with its own embarrassing license plate issue.

In October, Gov. Mike DeWine held a news conference to unveil the state’s new “Sunrise in Ohio” license plate design.

“We wanted Ohio’s new license plate to reflect the heart and soul of our state and to encapsulate where we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going,” Gov. DeWine said.

The new design includes a farm representing Ohio’s roots in agriculture, a downtown skyline symbolizing innovation and technology, and the Wright Brothers’ airplane pulling a banner that reads “Birthplace of Aviation.”

There was just one problem with the design: the Wright Flyer was depicted flying backward.

It’s an easy mistake to make because the Wright Brothers placed the “elevators” (what we think of as tail fins) in the front of the plane for easier pilot control.

Unfortunately by the time the oversight was noticed, 35,000 plates had already been produced at Ohio’s Lebanon Correctional Facility, and officials were drawing straws to determine who would have to notify the inmates.

The blunder didn’t escape North Carolinians, who also claim to be “first in flight” since the Wright Brothers performed their first successful powered flight at Kitty Hawk.

“Y’all leave Ohio alone,” the N.C. Department of Transportation wrote on Twitter. “They wouldn’t know. They weren’t there.”

Garbage in, Garbage out

Something stinks in Chicago, and it’s not the Cubs.

Residents first began noticing the putrid stench this summer.

“It smells awful,” resident Michael Waechter told Block Club Chicago. “It smells worse than sewage. It’s got a stench you wouldn’t believe.”

The source of the smell was a mystery at first, until puddles of “slimy, greenish, oily goo” were found on the streets on garbage day. A Nest camera confirmed residents’ suspicions: city garbage trucks were leaving a slimy, stinky trail throughout the city.

The ooze goes by many names, like “Garbage Juice,” “The Goo,” and “The Gravy,” but the technical term is “leachate.” Leachate is a highly toxic sludge created when water seeps through decomposing garbage.

Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation commissioner said aging garbage trucks are to blame for the street slime.

Gunk leaks out when truck parts erode and break down, but those parts can’t be easily replaced right now for the same reason that I won’t get a Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse for Christmas: global supply chain delays.

In the meantime, the trucks remain on the streets, stinking up the city worse than the Chicago Bears’ postseason record.

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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