I saw a car covered with anti-American, anti-Bush, conspiracy theory rhetoric the other day. Every window and most of the body of the car was covered with sloppy, rambling and apparently maniacal handwriting. White paint spelling out in gruesome detail how many deaths have been caused by the US since 9/11 (allegedly); how many refugees have been displaced by failed US policies (ostensibly); how many countries hate us (purportedly); why it was all Bush’s fault (hypothetically). I didn’t have time to read the writing at the time as we were traveling side by side at 60 mph on I-25. I did have time, though, to grab my camera and snap a couple of pictures that I just got a chance to look at. Back at home, the barely-legible writing became a manifesto of hatred and paranoia that did not present its author in a very lucid light.
I remember thinking at the time that the driver must be a nut-job without even knowing that he was blaming my beloved country for all the ills in the world. Though I’m even surer of his status as a top-notch whack now that I’ve had the time to study the photographic evidence, another curiosity has occurred to me that is even more intriguing than his nut-job-edness. That is, the propensity of Americans to project their feelings, beliefs, stature and status through their vehicles. Not only do we identify with our cars, but we force them to identify us through the statements we make in them, on them and with them.
Forget the conspiracy whacko. Forget the peace-nik I photographed recently whose car was literally covered with peace/love/harmony/co-exist bumper stickers. (He, no doubt, wanted to save the world and thought that if he could overwhelm enough other sheep into walking the green path of righteousness by virtue of witnessing the plethora of witty, pithy bumper stickers he bought at the local Circle K, nirvana would be one step closer the whole barnyard.) Forget the born-again proselytizer with Bible verses painted on the fenders and crucifixes hung in the window who wants to save our immortal souls (or does he just delight in flaunting his soul being more saved than yours or mine?) We discount all of these fringe dwellers as being just a bit outside and rarely give their arguments for peace or government transparency or soul-searching much credence, and thus neutralize their ability to change the way the rest of us see the world.
The vehicle propaganda that probably affects us more is the more subtle statements that are made via more traditional methods. Where else but in America can you bribe the government to advertise your social standing by giving them extra money for a personalized license plate? The aptly named vanity plate is everywhere you look and is a testament to the American ego and the American creative spirit. Don’t get me wrong, I love the vanity plate! I enjoy the creativity that you often see, the messages conveyed, and the statements made through the intelligent use of just 7 letters and numbers. My plate should say “L8ASUSL.”(For further evidence of creativity, see www.coolpl8z.com)
Personally, I’m too cheap to pay for a vanity plate and too subdued to go for the painted-on manifesto. (or it could be that until the truck is paid off, any painting done by anyone other than Maaco makes for a poor investment.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t want others to know who they’re messing with when they cut me off on the T-REX. My “Native” and “Mountainman” bumper stickers clearly prove to the world that I am a higher (pun intended) life form than they are and deserve their envy and respect as one born in God’s Country. I feel somehow inadequate, though, as I don’t have any really witty bumper stickers although I know I shouldn’t feel that way. I mean, it isn’t as if the guy with the bumper sticker that says something cool (like, “Just say NO to negativity”) made it up himself. He just happened to find it as he stood in line at the 7-Eleven waiting to buy a Slim Jim. (For more fun, check out www.funny2.com/bumper.htm)
Funny or not, I am identified as a skier by my “Loveland 216” highway logo window sticker (the “216” denotes the I-70 exit to the humble resort that is the hardy local’s choice for skiing and boarding.) Not only does it prove I’m an outdoorsman, but it shows, I’m afraid to say, a bit of reverse snobbery as this is NOT the tourist’s preference for powder hounding and those of us who ski there like to make that clear! (It’s higher and colder and windy-er and cheaper and offers no frills for the out-of-state crowd, and that’s the way we like it!) In addition, I can be recognized as a Broncos season-ticket holder by the sticker that is only given to one of the 50,000-ish fans who fork over a month’s pay for a year’s worth of Bronco-mania.
The fact that my not-so-funny bumper stickers are plastered on a Ford truck is another statement – irrefutable evidence of my toughness and hard work ethic. Or so I imagine. Don’t most of us judge others by the vehicle they drive? The VW Beetle with the dashboard flower, the Subaru Forester, the Mazda Miata, the Monster truck with the requisite ladder to reach the running board, the “fast & furious” Japanese coupe, the Ford F-1 pick-up, the Beemer, the Escalade – all of these personal conveyances give the outside observer a distinct insight to the personality of the driver. That insight may be stereotyped and it may sometimes be wrong, but more often than not, it’s either correct or, at least, the image the driver wishes to convey.
Now that I think about it, I guess I don’t have any room to be criticizing someone who paints John 3:16 on his hood. We’re all just trying to be noticed and to tell the world how we’re special in some small way. Ironically, we’re all alike in wanting to show the world that we are somehow unique and different. That we often choose our vehicles as the way to advertise our individuality is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Ford Trucks. (So, you think that should be Chevy? Just my way of being different…)