Sunday, December 8, 1996
Have bumper, will shill for Ohio tourism

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

My bumper is available. I mention this because now our license plates are officially supposed to become dinky little billboards to sell us as a mecca for travelers. I stand ready to shill for our state.

You might have heard that Ohio and North Carolina are fighting over bragging rights to the Wright brothers on auto license plates. Since 1981, North Carolinians have been imprinting plates with ''First in Flight,'' celebrating the windy day in December of 1903 when Orville and Wilbur flew the first powered aircraft at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Well, Dayton, Ohio, is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore. Although the Wrights made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., Ohio would like everybody to know that they were born here. And that they are buried here.

Grave site of aviation

''It was only at the urging of the weather bureau that the Wright brothers journeyed from Dayton to Kitty Hawk, where they would find better air currents, as well as the Outer Banks' water and sand more appropriate for crashing than trees and pastures,'' Rep. Marilyn Reid, R-Beavercreek, says.

Babe Ferguson, a former Montgomery County commissioner, says, ''It's sad that few people outside Dayton know what a tremendous impact our city and state had on the lives of every man and woman in the world.'' She led the drive to have ''Birthplace of Aviation'' put on Ohio license plates, which I do think sounds better than ''Grave site of Aviation.''

She says she thinks that the new plates will attract more visitors to the Wrights' home, bicycle shop and grave site in Dayton. Plus, she says, ''This will help erase the image that Ohio is the home of the hayseeds.'' It seems a tall order for 3-inch-high words on a moving vehicle.

Think about it. When you went to your last college reunion, did all your friends say: ''Omigod. You're living in Ohio? The heart of it all?''

Besides, putting our message on our own license plates seems a little foolish. We already know that the Wrights were born here. And we're not going to travel here because we're already here, and we know that we would rather go to the beach at Hilton Head, which is in North Carolina, where we can also see license plates with the message ''First in Flight'' when we get there.

A real tourist trap

And, excuse me for saying so, but I don't really think either slogan is going to be a big lure for travelers. Our tourism departments might want to consider something like ''Giving Away Free Popcorn'' or ''Mime-Free Zone'' or ''The Fat-Free State.''

When you come up with a slogan that you think might really pull in those tourist bucks, see if you can't get your message on somebody else's license plates. Maybe we could come to an exchange with, say, Minnesota, which could brag about being ''Home of the Spam Cook-off.'' Or Kentucky could call itself ''First in Clooneys.'' The point is that you want to send your message to the rest of the world. Not to people who already live here.

This is where my bumper comes in. Every motorist in Ohio who thinks that ''Birthplace of Aviation'' is a dopey way to attract visitors could just pay an extra dollar to be issued a license plate that has a crisp six-digit number and one word, ''Ohio.'' Blue numbers and letters on a white background. No cardinal, no slogan, no new-wave color scheme.

I would be willing to accept this money to put a more complete message across the entire bumper of my car.

Then I would drive to places where people hang around just before they decide to commit thousands of dollars in search of attractions such as the World's Largest Ball of Twine or Spam festivals or famous aviation sites.

We'll need a good slogan. How about: ''Bring your family to the place where the Wright Brothers were born and would have stayed except that they heard there was a high wind in North Carolina. So if you're looking for fun, and you do not particularly need wind, sand or an ocean, then come to Ohio.''

I think this should fly, don't you?

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.