Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bumper to bumper

I find bumper stickers really interesting. There this odd little window into the lives of total strangers. I’m always fascinated by what people choose to reveal about themselves through car decoration.

There’s a wide spectrum when it comes to bumper stickers. On one end, you’ve got people who paper their car with stickers. Trying to process all their causes, likes and dislikes during the time it takes for the light to turn from red to green can cause sensory overload. But still you try to take it all in. With these, the really interesting part is trying to figure out what one topic trumps the others in this individual’s hierarchy. For instance, I saw one car the other day that, among a menagerie of other stickers, had no less than seven proclaiming that they heart their dog.

Far on the other side of this continuum, are the people who refuse to adhere anything sticky to their automobiles. These drivers maintain their air of mystery whilst on the road. And then there is the vast range of people who fall somewhere in the middle, generally choosing to focus only on one or two interests in their decorating.

There are the people who are proud of some aspect of their life. Lots of alma mater stickers. And who hasn’t sat behind someone in traffic whose kid is an honor student? Or behind the person who was so incensed by the honor students that they felt the need to respond with a sticker declaring that their kid could beat up the honor student? Recently I’ve also seen a rise of the family stick figures. Thanks to these little fellas, not only do I now know that the person driving in front of me has four kids and two cats, I also know that the eldest is a cheerleader and the youngest an equestrian.

Political bumper stickers are, of course, old favorites. But sometimes even these are not as simple as they seem. Roomie and I were driving along the other day and noticed that the car in front of us had but one bumper sticker. It read “Reagan-Bush ’84.” Now, in my experience, it’s not uncommon for cars to have bumper stickers endorsing candidates of decades past. If the car had been old, this choice might have been interesting only because it was the lone sticker on the car and there have been so many elections since. However, what really struck me about this car was that is was fairly new. Made long after the campaign the driver was endorsing. And this left me thinking about what might have been crossing that person’s mind as they made the choice to place that one bumper sticker on the rear of their vehicle. The best I could come up with was something along the lines of, It may have been almost twenty years ago, but let’s keep the spirit alive!

And then there are those people who choose to highlight only one small thing about themselves. These tend to be the ones that I’m the most intrigued by. Roomie and I were driving to work yesterday and a very expensive looking BMW was in front of us. This driver had placed a sticker on his bumper that declared, very simply, “I’d Rather Be At A Journey Concert.” 

Now, I enjoy Journey. Probably not quite as much as J.D., but when “Don’t Stop Believing” starts playing, I start belting it out. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. And, to be completely honest, I’m a little suspect of people who don’t. But this is beside the point. The point is that, for this BMW owner, the love of Journey was vast enough to be the only thing worth sharing with the world. And as he drove away, I believed that he’d rather be at a Journey concert. And I hoped there was one in his near future.

The sentiments expressed on bumper stickers often make me laugh. On rare occasions they can annoy me. And with regularity they leave me with more questions than answers. What they always remind me of, though, is that everyone is a storyteller in some capacity. And the people who shellac their vehicle with stickers are choosing to share a little bit of their story with the world.

As a member of their audience, I certainly appreciate the effort.

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