Nineteen, we were told then, was the average age of US troops killed in Vietnam.  The age of the casualties, however, actually was several years older than that.

Hey 19 was a 1980 Steely Dan record about an older man, perhaps in his early thirties, who was trying to convince himself he must not get involved with a 19-year-old who he perceives is flirting with him or to whom he has a frustrating, unreciprocated attraction.

Nineteen was a midterm score on I received on a college bonehead math test. Actually, it was 28. But as a person who had to take a remedial math class in college, I don’t understand the difference between 19 and 28. I think it is between four and six. Or maybe it is X.

In Ajijic, however, 19 means something quite different. It is not an age or an embarrassing  score. But what is it, then?

To answer that question, I ask what US state or Canadian province license plate do you think is the most common along Lake Chapala? California? Texas? Georgia? Ontario? All of those are seen frequently in these parts. But no license plate is more common here than those from . . .


Yes. South Dakota.  “How can that be?” you ask. “That doesn’t make any sense.  There aren’t that many people in South Dakota, let alone South Dakotans living in Mexico.”  Nevertheless, there are more South Dakota license plates here than there are streets named after historical heroes.

Clay County, South Dakota is a small area with a meagre population. It is not a wealthy place. Economically, it struggles. Clay County officials scramble to generate income to operate and maintain the region.  A creative method to accomplish this, they have found, is to issue inexpensive, long-term license plates and ship them to expats and émigrés in Mexico with “temporal” or temporary visas who need to license their cars. Car owners who live in Mexico and have Clay County plates can then buy temporary American auto insurance for sporadic trips north. It is similar, I suppose, to the carless driver, who buys insurance only when renting a vehicle.  While it may seem an odd practice, it is legal and it brings in necessary revenue. Clay County is alphabetically nineteenth in the list of Mt. Rushmore State counties. Therefore, all license plates begin with 19.

So, to paraphrase an age-old question, “Who do you have to fuck around here to get a South Dakota license plate?”

I don’t know. But I’ll bet they’re around 19.

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