LOS ANGELES -- For decades, Nissan's distributor license plates for company-owned vehicles in California have been marked "562" -- a random collection of numbers generated by the Department of Motor Vehicles years ago, when then-Datsun was incorporated in the state.
No one at Nissan PR remembers whether there was a reason that those particular numbers were chosen. That doesn't matter now. What does matter is that the DMV should change Nissan's plate numbers, for safety's sake.
Here's the story: I was driving a Nissan 370Z press vehicle through my hometown of San Pedro, which adjoins Long Beach in LA's South Bay.
For those of you not inculcated into the LA scene, San Pedro is gentrifying, located on the rump of the tony Palos Verdes Peninsula. However, its origin and status as a heavy-shipping port town mean it has some rough neighborhoods.
The young thugs of San Pedro's waterfront have been in a lethal on-and-off turf battle with the gang bangers in adjacent Long Beach for several years. Long Beach's telephone area code happens to be "562," an identifier that their gang bangers display proudly on clothing, tattoos and graffiti tags.
So there I was, getting out of a screaming-red Nissan, with "562" plates, to run some midday errands with my wife in an untidy part of San Pedro. Three toughs started calling me out from across the busy street.
"Oye, what you doin' here, f----- 562 motherf-----. Get the f--- out of here," they shouted with great hostility, while throwing gang signs.
I'm a 40-something white guy. No one will mistake me for a gang member. But my car said "562" on the plate. Guilt by association.
I shouted back, stalling for time, "It's a demo car. The plate numbers don't mean anything."
Not persuaded, the toughs began crossing the street, menacingly. One of the guys reached for something tucked in his pants. Could have been a gun. Could have been a knife. He could have just been grabbing his crotch. I didn't know. I didn't care.
Rather than try to continue my educational seminar with these leaders of tomorrow, I hopped back in the Z, told my wife to fasten her seat belt tight, and sped out of there. In my rearview mirror, I saw the bangers return to guard their corner of turf.
I have lived in San Pedro for 10 years. I know the area. I was able to assess that this was turning into an ugly situation. It might have turned out to be nothing more than some dudes fronting white guys for kicks. But better safe than sorry.
More important, someone else borrowing a corporate Nissan vehicle might not be so familiar with the area, or fortunate in the outcome.
Nissan should have the DMV renumber their distributor plates, immediately.