Bumper Sticker Stories in Dangerous Times.
As the Trump presidency brings us new scandals and outrage every day, what can stickers mean for authentic expression? And with the country more polarized than ever before, what risks do we take when we post stickers on our auto for anyone to see?
New stickers generate new stories.
Last week I was pulled over by the State Police for speeding. I know I was going fast, but I know the places that the police usually monitor for speeding, and this was a totally different spot. I realized this was not really any kind of argument and figured I was just getting a huge ticket. Huge expense, points on my insurance, the full disaster. I was done for.
So I pulled over and the police pulled up behind me, approaching slowly on the passenger side. My full implications of the disaster had time to sink in and I was ready as he asked for license and registration. “Traveling pretty fast,” he said. Yes was all I could say. As he looked over my license, he commented that he had noticed the Bernie Sanders sticker on the back of the car, and figured I was from Vermont. But he saw on my license the town where I lived in Western Mass, saying that seemed pretty much like they think in Vermont. (Yes, if it was up to us in this part of the state, perhaps Bernie would be president now, but this was not the place for such discussions. Silence maintained.)
Then he asked me where I was going. “Just heading up to Greenfield where I run a business distributing cards and bumper stickers,” I said. He asked me, “What’s the funniest bumper sticker you’ve seen lately?” Well, speaking off the top of my head, I said: “We just got one in that says – If You’re Not on a Government Watch List By Now, You Should be Ashamed of Yourself.” Immediately I am thinking perhaps this was not the right sticker to mention, I added, “Well, I thought it was funny.”
He changed the topic. “Well, you can relax, because I am not writing tickets today, just writing warnings and encouraging people to slow down. So I am taking your license and registration back to my car to write up that warning. Should be just a couple of minutes… unless I find that you are on some Government Watch List or course.” We both cracked up.
Finally, I drove away, thinking how lucky I was. The encounter could have gone very differently if I was in a different part of the country, or just was stopped by a different policeman. Plus, of course, I was not “driving while black” or going out of my way to provoke the NRA (ie. to advocate any sort of reasonable gun control.)
These are indeed dangerous times. But many feel it is all the more important to express themselves and get others to think, even when we do not have room for a deeper discussion. Does the current selection of stickers really enable full expression? What is still missing? What is next? Can the depth of our honest expressions get people to laugh, or think, rather than just disagree and offer nasty hand gestures? We understand that stickers are not just for cars anymore, so perhaps these are best to post in other places, where there is more chance to follow up a conversation.
We would love to hear your thoughts and stories.