BLKPHBE, Black What?

BLKPHBE, Black What?
Photo taken by Ms. Jen with a Nokia N97.

Sat 11.07.09 – To all of you who know me in person, know that my car’s license plate is BLKPHBE and that my Prius’ name is ‘Black Phoebe’. Not named after this website, but named after the bird that this website is named after.
For those of you who don’t know me in person, or who don’t know about my lifelong passion for native song birds, here are some reference pages on my all time favorite SoCal bird, the black phoebe:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/black_phoebe/id

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Phoebe
http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i4580id.html
Why does this come up today? Because recently I had the third comment where someone who doesn’t know me or a neighbor who I only know in passing has said, “Black Phobe? What are you racist?”
The first time someone asked this I was so surprised. Each of the three times it has happened I have said, “No, it is black phoebe, it is a local bird.” I then go on to describe a black phoebe and its habits, some of which are very unique to flycatchers. The first two inquirers knew exactly what bird it was and were a more than a bit baffled that I would name my car after a bird. The third one, a retired neighbor, asked a couple of days ago and kept asking me to describe the bird, as it was obvious he didn’t believe me.
I find this baffling. Why would I have a license plate named ‘black phobe’?


Most of the folks who do ask me about the license plate think my name is Phoebe and exclaim something to the effect, “Oh, my daughter’s name is Phoebe, too.” This usually happens at gas stations in passing and I just smile and let it slide.
I have only ever had one person exclaim after seeing my car, “Oh you are a birdwatcher!” and that person was a professor from Texas who is also a birdwatcher. ;o)
In thinking about this it reminds me of a conversation that Ruth Palileo, who has spent most of the last decade in Ireland studying for her masters and Ph.D., and I had after we had taken Scruffy to Dog Beach a two summers ago. Ruth noted that one of the big differences between Americans and various Europeans is that Americans would just stop in public and start talking to you about something that was obvious or state the obvious in passing. At first she found this off putting but then realized it was just an attempt to be friendly and welcoming, she told me later that she now finds it charming.
I agree with her for the most part, it is charming when someone wants to talk about my license plate in a way that opens discussion, as I am the one who decided to pay for & order a personal plate, but when someone assumes/accuses me of being a racist without asking about the plate, then I find it disturbing.
I love this photoset of a black phoebe and her nestlings that Kjdrill posted in 2006 entitled, “5 Black Phoebe babies leave the nest and learn to fly “:

2 thoughts on “BLKPHBE, Black What?

  1. Actually, I didn’t know the story either, but I certainly know you aren’t a racist! 🙂
    It’s always good to have a “reference” post to send people to. People always ask me where I got “dunkirk” from in my business name and “the hot iron” as a blog name… I think I’ll go write those now.
    mp/m

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