A decade ago, "Top Gun" was a term known to only a chosen few fighter pilots. After Rick Sorenson won the title seven years in a row while flying F-105s for a reserve unit at Hill Air Force Base, he decided to take advantage of Utah's new vanity license plate offering and ordered a set proclaiming him "TOP GUN."
"I had no idea what I was letting myself in for," said Sorenson, a Salt Lake resident and consultant/lobbyist in the Utah Legislature for the transportation industry."At first it was great. The only people who knew what it meant were other fighter pilots and a few other people on Air Force or Navy bases. It confused a few gas station attendants when I put it down as my license number on a credit card slip, but it was no problem," Sorenson said.
He could not know the complications that would follow in the wake of the hit movie by the same name, as well as a rash of armed robberies by a man wearing a "Top Gun" baseball hat.
In fact, other than occasional questioning looks from gas station attendants and inquiries if he was a hit man, Sorenson cruised along merrily in his Nissan Z.
Then the movie "Top Gun" hit theaters. Sorenson said his plates drew a little more attention, more curious inquiries and an occasional honk from a passing car. But he'd had the plates for a decade, since 1977, he'd explain, and the reaction died down as the movie's popularity faded.
But interest in Sorenson's unusual plate was renewed last fall when a rash of so-called "Top Gun" armed robberies - more than 30 of them - were committed by a stocky, middle-aged robber wearing a "Top Gun" baseball cap.
In addition to giving the police fits, the so-called "Top Gun robber" made Sorenson's life miserable.
He was in Panama when the robber was at his busiest and didn't know anything about the series of ice cream store and delicatessen robberies until he went in to make the lease payment on his car.
"The clerk looked at me kind of odd, although I'd been going in there regularly. She looked at me to see if I fit the robber's description. Then she told me the sheriff was in, looking for me," said Sorenson.
"They were asking all kinds of questions about me, did I have a mustache, did I wear a Top Gun baseball cap, that kind of thing. But the answers from the leasing agency must have satisfied the detectives, because they never contacted me personally."
Although the inquiries and curiosity were intense in December and January, Sorenson said it faded after that, until this past weekend when he called the police to report his car, with its "TOP GUN" plates, had been vandalized.
The inquiries started all over again. "Can you believe that? Would the robber really drive around with license plates advertising who he is?" asked Sorenson.
"I tell people `I am the Top Gun . . . but not that Top Gun,' " said Sorenson.