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Where it's easier to get good vanity license plates

On Road Trip 2009, CNET News reporter has been appreciating some of the simpler things about life in small towns and out in nature.

A calm, mild evening in Thermopolis, Wyo. On Road Trip 2009, I have seen a lot of America--nearly 5,000 miles of it--and there is one thing about it that is indisputable: It can be stunningly beautiful. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

CASPER, Wyo.--I come from California. In California there are almost 37 million people. We have several cities with more people than some states. So when it comes to things like getting vanity license plates, you've got a lot of competition if you want something good.

But over the last few years, I've been to a lot of states with far smaller populations. Idaho, for example, has 1.5 million people. Nevada, where I've spent more time than any other state besides California, has just 2.6 million. And Wyoming, where I am right now, has just about 533,000 folks.

That's why, last night, when I saw the Wyoming plate "DDS," I laughed. In California, to see the car that has that plate would be utterly improbable. Here, it's completely expected. And I've noticed it before. I can't remember what the plates were, but I remember awhile back, when I was in Boise, Idaho, seeing two plates in a parking lot that were very good. Something on the order of a URL like

I was able to walk right into this minor league baseball game in Casper, Wyo., for free, and sit down in a seat right behind home plate. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

And last night, seeing that "DDS" plate, it just made me think: life is sometimes very simple. I saw it in the parking lot of a rookie league (think: low, low minor leagues) baseball game I had stumbled on by accident, across the street from my hotel, while out for a walk. It was the middle of the game, so they had clearly stopped checking tickets, and I just wandered in and sat down right behind home plate. That seat would have cost $50 or more at home.

I've been on Road Trip 2009 for a month now, and I've been deeply focused on complex things: military installations, national parks, rocket motors, fire technology, and the like. This ballgame was just simple. After it was over, they let folks onto the field to look at the sky through a big telescope, in honor of the rather huge event of Monday, the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.

In Butte, Mont., a dad and daughter drive in Uptown. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A few days ago, I was in Butte, Mont., working on a story about that longtime mining town's deep environmental crises. It was sobering stuff. But then I was walking down the street and this old jeep pulled up to a red light. It was an old, retro Army jeep, with a white star on the side, which I assumed meant it had once been a general's car, or at least was painted that way. And behind the wheel was some normal-looking dad, and his passenger was his mellow-looking kid. It was a sweet scene.

Too late, I asked if I could take their picture, and while they said yes, I couldn't get the whole car in the frame. Yet, I think the shot turned out great. Whimsical. Fun. And simple.

It's not that there's no simplicity in big cities, or that there's no complexity in small towns. It's more that there's just a higher degree of probability of experiencing the simple in quieter places. That's probably even over-thinking it. Things are just slower and there's maybe just that little bit of time longer to appreciate the elegance of the uncomplicated.

Like a great sunset, for example. I saw one on the road in Wyoming the other day, out in the country. A big sky. Some amazing clouds. And the sun shining through. Gorgeous.

Sunset along U.S. route 20, in central Wyoming. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

For the next week, Geek Gestalt will be on Road Trip 2009. After driving more than 12,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last three years, I'll be writing about and photographing the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation, and more in Wyoming and Colorado. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. And in the meantime, join the Road Trip 2009 Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed.