illustration by Bob Staake


Before reading further, please be advised that the following lecture on social behavior has not been inspired by road rage, any recent fender bender or an increase in automobile-insurance rates. Despite what some in my family might say, I’m a gentle traveler who takes note of speed limits, acknowledges crossing guards and brakes for all manner of furry creatures in my path.

I’ve dutifully heeded the warning against ­texting and using my cellphone while driving (mainly because electronic gadgets remain a mystery to me). I buckle up to avoid stiff fines and make sure the kiddies are safely strapped into their car seats. Obeying these commands, however, does nothing to eliminate the major ­concern I have when traveling highways and byways.

When, I want to know, is someone going to do something about bumper stickers — those inane and irritating little vinyl notices that cover today’s vehicles like wet leaves?

If I see one more warning that “If You Can Read This, You Are Following Too Close,” I may start taking the bus. If the guy behind the wheel doesn’t want me to read it, why is it plastered across his rusty, dented bumper in the first place?

They provide far too much information. On even a short trip down to the grocery store, I can learn what sports teams a driver supports, his or her political leanings, the church the family ­attends, parks and tourist attractions they’ve visited, where they go for ice cream and pizza, organizations where they hold membership, or that they dutifully recycle. While one proudly announces that “My Kid Is an Honor Student at Such-and-Such Middle School,” there’s another in the next lane boasting that “My Kid Can Whip Your Honor Student.” We’ve got bumper sticker conversations, for Pete’s sake.

There are even people who collect them like bubblegum cards.

Mike Karimi, manager of Irving, Texas–based LookingGlass Graphic & Design, which has been producing bumper stickers for 27 years, says “the people who order them are ones who have a message they wish to send, be it political, promotional or personal.” The trick, he says, is to state one’s case with a minimum number of words.

They’ll give you two-bit advice (“If everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.”), sarcasm (“Don’t laugh. It’s paid for and ahead of you.”), tortured wit (“You can’t be late until you show up.”), put-downs (“Idiots surround me.”) and shameless boasts (“I ate the 72-ounce T-bone at Billy Jack’s Feed Barn.”). Just follow the minivan ahead and you can profile those inside better than the FBI. In addition to everything already mentioned, you’ll learn that they have a “Baby on Board,” and, heaven forbid, the breed of dog waiting for them to get home and fill the food dish (“I [Heart] My Doberman.”). And does that slow-moving truck driver really want me to respond to “How’s My Driving?”?

Who comes up with this stuff? Apparently, the sources are widespread and growing. Individuals, clubs, schools, candidates for office and businesses large and small purchase them from neighborhood print shops for advertising purposes. If you’re shopping for something humorous, drop in at any truck stop or gag-gift store, or go online. You write it, someone out there will print it. Karimi’s company has filled orders ranging from as few as 250 to 10,000. They are, he suggests, the auto owner’s answer to T-shirt slogans and body tattoos. Some customers, he notes, plaster them not only on their cars but on their boats as well. Clearly, this thing is spreading.

Truth is, I’m a bit tardy with my complaint. This is hardly a new problem. Historians who seem to care about such matters point out that the first known bumper stickers were attached to Henry Ford’s Model A’s. (Thank goodness the forerunning Model T’s didn’t come equipped with bumpers.) Advertisers, we’re told, first jumped on the bandwagon in the 1940s, when a tourist attraction called Rock City in Lookout Mountain, Tenn., started putting promotional stickers on every visiting car in the parking lot. Look what they started.

I’m thinking of having Karimi print me one that reads “Ban Bumper Stickers.” Not all that catchy, I admit, but you’ve got to start somewhere. On the other hand, perhaps I should simply heed the suggestion of one I saw recently on a Stone Age vintage VW bus that read “Stop Reading My Bumper Stickers.”

How I wish I could.