This is Garth Yeaman, the 30-year-old who valiantly struggled to keep the world's greatest license plate from being destroyed by Virginia's humorless bureaucracy. He lost the battle, but he's not giving up the war. We interviewed him. Here's his story.
Jalopnik first wrote about Yeaman's plates in 2008 when they popped up online. The plate shows two small red hand prints with the words "Kids First" underneath a blank space. The money for these plates goes for domestic violence and prevention, thus it was an ironic choice when Yeaman chose the letters "EAT THE" to go on his plates.
"I was really bored and like any 20-year-old male I surf the Internet and I was on the DMV website and there's this place where you can through all the possible plates... and I thought 'I can do something funny with this plate," said Yeaman.
After going through a variety of six-character possibilities he picked EAT THE, thinking "There's no way in hell this is going to pass." It did and he threw the plates on his car.
For years Yeaman enjoyed the almost unanimous attention he received for the plate on his Volkswagen and then on his Miata when he transferred the plate, including the attention of women. However, he confirmed the plate never got him a date.
"No, not one [date]."
The only negative reaction he can remember was at a National Tire and Battery in South Carolina when a possibly drunk and belligerent senior wandered up to the car screaming "Eat The Kids First!" as he approached.
"He was obviously upset about it," said Yeaman, who tried to explain it was a joke. "'What's the joke?' he literally yelled at me. And I was kind of just... I didn't know what to say. It's one of those things where you get it or you don't... so I just locked eyes and slowly rolled away and he just watched me leave."
Most reactions were like the one from a mom in a minivan plastered with pro-Christian bumper stickers who chased him down.
"I thought she was going to yell at me and tell me I'm going straight to hell, but she and her kids found it absolutely hilarious and she took pics of it with her kids next to the plate," said Yeaman. "I learned my lesson on judging people before they speak."
Sadly, the Virginia DMV didn't talk to him before they judged him offensive and sent him a letter requesting the plates back immediately. With his brother's encouragement, Yeaman requested a hearing with a mediator to keep the plates, which he didn't find offensive.
"My defense was 'this is ridiculous, at no point I was condoning cannibalism.' I thought they thought I was condoning cannibalism, like the actual cooking and eating of children."
Representatives of the Virginia DMV had a different idea, and according to a letter denying his appeal they said a member of a "diverse" panel they gathered together to review the plate thought, beyond the obvious Swiftian undertones, it could also be sexual.
"[Redacted] also noted that, as some people initially view the plate, "the vision of cannabilism of children conjures a truly horrible image. Others may view the message as being "vulgar in nature," associated "eat the kids" with oral sex."
"I was dumbfounded. That never even crossed my mind and that's why they took the plate away," said Yeaman.
They sent him new "Kids First" plates with a random number series, but he thought it was just strange looking that way and he didn't want to have his spirit crushed so he tried numerous other options including "FU VA DMV," which was also rejected. He finally was able to get "ohno 5oh" through and placed them on his 1994 Miata R.
Despite what happened he's not actually upset with the DMV, which he says made "surreal" decisions but was never rude, short or unprofessional. As he explained to Jalopnik and to the community members of social linking site reddit, he reserves any anger he may have for the people who complained.
"If you're that offended why do you even bother getting up in the morning given the stress of brushing your teeth?"
The biggest irony in all of this is that Yeaman really hopes to put the kids first, by teaching them not eating them. An electrical engineer by training, he's currently a math tutor working to become certified as a math teacher.