The Hazards of the Bumper Sticker

As published in The Rye Record on January 12, 2013
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The other night, I was driving up to my house and saw a man unloading garbage from his car into the dumpster at the construction site next door. Is this a crime? Probably. Am I the Sheriff? No. He turned his head away from my headlights so that I couldn’t I.D. him in a line up, just in case. What he didn’t know is that, at 15 miles per hour, I had a chance to read his entire biography on the back of his car.

The only reason I slowed down to look at the back of his car is that I have an unusual interest in bumper stickers. You could almost call it a hobby. I have a collection of about 50 great ones, all which I find hilarious and none of which are on my car. I’m generally fascinated about how much information people post about themselves on their rear windows. They are mostly for fun (Life is Good!), or for bragging (insert fabulous vacation destination here), but if you’re going to be on the wrong side of the law you should really be careful. I don’t have access to technology that would let me run his plates, Cagney and Lacey style, but here’s the data I gathered in 12 seconds:

His oval RYE sticker identifies him as one of approximately 7,500 males that currently live in Rye, New York. Another sticker told me where his kids go to school, narrowing my search down to 300 dads. The soccer ball on the gas cap eliminated no one, but the sticker advertising specifically which travel soccer team his child played for narrowed the choices down to 12 dads. Now I’m not that interested, but I’m pretty sure that with one phone call I could figure out which of those 12 dads drives a minivan and is affiliated with that impressive eastern university. Gotcha!

The only way he could have made this easier on me is if he had the stick figure family bumper sticker. That thing might as well include your Social Security number and your blood type. I’ve spent a lot of time in traffic marveling at the choices that the driver in front of me has made to identify her family. I’ve even been on the stick figure website to look through the choices, so I know what she’s been through. They replicate your family in a very specific line drawing that you’ve compiled from 3,000 variations. I’m not sure that genetics even gives us that many possible options.

You start by choosing the size and shape of your body and the exact cut of your hair. They want to know if I have straight hair or straight hair with layers. The distinction eludes me so I go on to choose a personal interest for each of us. At this point in the ordering process, I imagine most people just log out. I mean this is a bumper sticker and here I am asking myself existential questions about who I really am. I have a lot of interests. Am I supposed to pigeonhole myself with one and then paste it on my car? I am more complex than that triangular lady with the shopping bag! I like cooking, but not for children; I like the Wall Street Journal, but only on Saturday; I like sports, but only as a spectator and only if it’s not too cold or wet outside. I like bumper stickers, reality TV, and ironing. There are no icons for that person. I’m at once annoyed and delighted that I’m not among the choices for “adult female” on this website.

As I start to design my husband, I’m generous with the amount of hair I place on his head. I can make him a golfer, a guy with a lawnmower, or a businessman, but none of those get to his essence. His likeness would include all of those things, plus a clicker and a martini glass. And he’s only got two hands. I give up at this point, wondering again why I would want the person in the car behind me to know how my husband spends his time.

Bottom line: if you have a tendency to do anything that could be described as surreptitious, you should probably keep identifying markers off your car. Last spring, there were a couple of teenagers that liked to park in front of my house for a smoke before school. They drove a very popular car but with two distinct bumper stickers on the back. If I were so inclined, I could identify them faster than you can say, “Cheech and Chong didn’t finish high school.”

I only have one bumper sticker on my car: Peace is Possible. I’ve chosen this one because I think peace actually is possible and because I believe the message limits the amount of honking and gesturing on the part of the driver behind me when I’ve forgotten to yield at the traffic circle. And if I were ever to be spotted on the wrong side of the law, the witness would have nothing to go on. “I didn’t get her plates, Officer, but she seems to have an optimistic outlook about the future of mankind.” They’ll never find me.