When Mike Mogil of Silver Spring pulled into the Motor Vehicle Administration office in Glen Burnie, Md., at 5:40 a.m., three people were already in line waiting for the chance to buy one of Maryland's new seven-character vanity license plates.

After waiting in line for more than four hours Thursday, Mogil, a 40-year-old meteorologist, was approved for a tag that says "4CLOUDS."

Mogil was one of about 500 Maryland residents who jammed the Motor Vehicle Administration office in Glen Burnie and other motor vehicle offices across the state Thursday hoping to obtain a seven-character plate on the first day they were offered.

But because of a strange twist of fate, the persons who had waited in line outside since before sunup were not first in line to get their tags. When the doors to the office opened at 8:30 a.m. everyone rushed inside, forming a different line.

Mogil said a man who had been second in line outside the office was 76th inside and someone beat him to "ORIOLES."

"I felt really sorry for the guy," Mogil said.

Until Thursday, Maryland motorists could apply for vanity tags with up to only six characters. The tags are issued six to eight weeks after the application is accepted.

Steve Horwitz, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, said about 50,000 cars in Maryland have vanity plates, a number that is expected to rise with the advent of the seven-character plates.

Virginia, which allows drivers a maximum of only six characters on a license plate, has about 370,000 personalized tags. They are called "communiplate" for communication.

Paula Kripaitis-Neely, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said Virginia probably has many more personalized tags than Maryland because of its aggressive advertising campaign and fee of $10 a year extra, in contrast to $25 a year extra in Maryland.

The District of Columbia has 6,000 personalized license tags, also with a maximum of six characters.

In Maryland, the chance of getting seven characters on a plate has sparked a rash of creativity.

One man from Baltimore was turned down for his first choice because it was not appropriate, but he was approved for his second choice, "TIME2GO." He will place the tag on his hearse, Horwitz said.

A photographer from Annapolis chose "NEWSPIX," while the owner of a dance studio got a tag that said "DANCING."

Also in demand was the tag "ORIOLES," Baltimore's baseball team.

Matthew Celozzi, 41, a psychologist from Baltimore, managed to get the "ORIOLES" tag and another that says "NHLCAPS" for the National Hockey League Capitals, Washington's hockey team.

He said he wanted the tags because he has season tickets for both teams. "If I didn't have season tickets and wasn't an ardent fan I wouldn't have fooled with it," he said.

Even though Jim Halsey of Wheaton didn't get to the motor vehicle office until five minutes before it was to open, he did get the two license plates he wanted, "GOSKINS" and "STADIUM," the name of his sports souvenir shop.

"I tried to get a Skins tag many years ago but somebody beat me so I got 'GOSKINS,' " he said. Halsey, whose van has license plates saying "HOGVAN," said he will replace the "7SKINS" tag now on his wife's Oldsmobile with the "GOSKINS" tag.

"I feel very lucky," he said. "I've been waiting a long time for that."