Somewhere around these parts, there’s a person driving around with Elizabeth Desmarais’ heart on their car.
It reads “BAWLMER” and it’s broken. Here’s why: The vanity license plate paying homage to the colloquial slurring of our jewel on the Patapsco was once owned by Desmarais’ beloved uncle, who died too young in 2004. After David Desmarais passed, Elizabeth received the vanity plates in 2014 as a gift from her father, who had done the necessary paperwork for a Christmas morning surprise.
From that day until earlier this year, the 31-year-old Hampden resident drove the streets of Baltimore with hometown pride and familial devotion. Not anymore.
Through her own acknowledged errors, the 2019 hacking of the Baltimore City computer system, the burden of the pandemic, and misunderstandings with the Motor Vehicle Administration—which Desmarais visited several times this past summer in a too-late attempt to save her tags—the vanity plate slipped away.
“My registration lapsed,” Desmarais says, noting that she owed about $300 in parking fines when she began trying to salvage the plates earlier this year. “Somebody got the tags before I could straighten everything out.”
According to the MVA, the “Bawlmer” plates were due for renewal in 2018. Vanity tags—some of which are highly coveted, like “Ravens” and “Elvis”—are reserved for about six months before becoming available to the first Marylander who asks.
A person did—someone unknown to Desmarais and believed to be driving a 1995 BMW. She says she would dearly like to meet this person and throw herself upon their mercy.
If said person is found—whether they are willing to relinquish the plates or not—Desmarais wants to “find out what makes Baltimore so near and dear to their heart, too.”
“My uncle would get tremendous satisfaction knowing that, all these years later, someone out there shares his quirky way of showing love for the city,” Desmarais says.
David Scott Desmarais, a Calvert Hall grad who owned a dry-cleaning business and was devoted to his Arabia Avenue neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, died of cancer in November of 2004. He was 46 and passed when Elizabeth was 16 and just learning to drive. The Bawlmer plates also graced his dry-cleaning delivery van. A decade later, they became Elizabeth’s most prized possession.
“We were kindred spirits before I even knew what that meant,” Desmarais says. “He gave me my first Beatles album and showed me so many of Baltimore’s historical gems—the Washington Monument and the B&O Railroad Museum. We went to Lake Montebello together to rollerblade and Walther Avenue for snowballs.”
All classic “BAWLMER” memories, she said, “but memories made with Uncle David come first. Not a week goes by where I don’t see something in the city and think, ‘I wonder what David would think of this…’”
Desmarais—Loch Raven High, Class of ‘07—knows that getting the Bawlmer plates back is a long shot, and has gently told her sympathetic father that “BAWLMAR” (which is available) isn’t nearly the same thing.
She keeps going over all the “what-ifs” that might have saved her such distress. As in, what if she’d been pulled over for having expired tags before the grace period of retaining “Bawlmer” had expired?
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” she said. “It never happened. Not even an expired tags ticket while I was parked.”
Her hope is that someone sees this story—or the several Facebook posts detailing her situation—and the current motorist in possession of the Bawlmer plates will contact her.
It could be someone with a heart as warm and soft as the rice pudding at Ikaros Restaurant in Greektown. Or as cold and hard as a set of white marble steps.
In the meantime, the plates currently assigned to her read: 8EH9461