Monday, March 24, 2008

Bumper Stickers and Ketchup

A friend told me years ago about her experience with personal expression on a Los Angeles freeway. She was driving along, minding her own business, when she saw it: The Bumper Sticker Against Something (In Which She Strongly Believed).

This bumper sticker was, in her mind, obnoxious and infuriating. She actually followed the driver for a while, trying to figure out why this bumper sticker was on the car, who was driving it and why he or she would have something so infuriating on the car bumper.

The desire to know more was short-lived and, after a couple of minutes, she turned off on the next exit and continued on her way.

That story stuck with me. My friend was a reasonable person, but that slogan miffed her enough to make her react. A few years later, when people were shooting each other on the California freeway system, I didn't really need to know why. My friend enlightened me years before.

As a result, I told myself I would not put bumper stickers on my car. I'm not a huge slogan kinda person anyway, and most of what I believe can't be summarized in a pithy catchphrase on a strip of paper. I have to admit, though, if I did put a bumper sticker on my car, it would be the one that reads:
Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons,
for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

I am not for bumper stickers because they, for the most part, seem to be against a notion or practice. Very seldom do I actually find a clever bumper sticker that is not anti-something (with the exception of the clever ditty above).

Most of the ones I've seen lately are religion-based and against something the driver's god apparently abhors — which amuses me because from all I've read, few deities demonstrate that level of brevity. For example, the Hebrew god took 10 commandments to flesh out the basics of his philosophy. Most gods usually take a book to explain themselves. I doubt they'd be pleased by being reduced to a dozen words.

And those are the readable ones. Everyone else takes what I call the PowerPoint Approach: jam as much information on the darned slide — er, bumper sticker — as space permits. Is the lettering too small to read? Heck, the faithful or curious will find a way, and their lives will be changed. Mix that up with a few well-placed symbols that can mimic letters and bingo! Epiphany on the hoof.

The problem is, that never happens. I never met a soul who "saw the light" because they drove behind someone with such a bumper sticker. Add to that the irony of drivers sporting religious phrases containing words like "patience" and "love" who are cutting off other drivers, tailgating and running red lights. Let's hope the illegal driver is "forgiven" in traffic court as well.

That's the irony of the bumper sticker: drivers set themselves up for ridicule. We all have met drivers who need help from their "star" or honor roll student to read directional or traffic signs. Big red sign, four letters: S-T-O-P. Too tough? How about the arrow in a single direction? No need to even read letters. Ask your kid. At least someone in that family can read, and thank heavens for the bumper sticker to tell us that!

Finally, spin-offs on popular bumper stickers aren't any more amusing or enlightening than the original. I don't care whose kid can beat up whom and no one can figure out the letters that mimic European country codes (FX? MNT? OBX? BGDL!).

I try to not get riled by these things, but from time to time, I rant in my car. "Support the troops by bringing 'em home, Chucko! You know, chances are, you'll have that car long after you chose the wrong horse in that race. Oh, no, not another ribbon! I can't keep the colors straight anyway. Choosy mothers choose WHAT — oh, Jif, though I'm a Skippy gal. Where's a Sharpie when I need one?" Life and its trials and choices are too complex for a vehicle bumper.

Now, I do have a personalized license plate, which I suppose is not a lot different, really. License plates have fewer letters (and sometimes are more puzzling than interesting). I also happen to live in the midst of them, with more personalized plates per capita than, well, everyone else.

Unlike "educational" or "saving" bumper stickers, I chose my plate because it amused me. It amused quite a few other people, including one particular police officer at Cape May and at least a few other strangers who have felt compelled to chat me up about it as we stood in line at the post office or the bagel shop. How people interpret it is far more amusing than the plate itself, really.

However, I am waiting for the person who feels compelled to "fix" me because they don't like my plate. And when it happens, I might just have to go incognito again (and confuse the poor soul behind me trying to figure out what "NTA 916" really means).

Aside from my fave quote listed above, the only other sticker I'd put on my car would read simply, "Live your politics. Don't wear them." The irony is that I couldn't put it on my car.

Life is complex. Eschew bumper stickers.

(By George, I think I've got it: a cool bumper sticker! Oh, the irony!)

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