For some of us, the cars we drive define who we are, but it’s what people slap on their bumpers, hang from their rearview mirrors or mount in their rearview windows that reveal the soul behind the wheel of the exterior shell.
Unlike people who literally give their cars names, as if christening them will guarantee lower gas mileage or help them meet other cars in parking ramps, I refuse to forge emotional attachments to objects that are, one day, guaranteed to break down on me. Besides, objectifying cars is wrong.
If asked whether my car has a name or not, my standard response is “Oh sure, I call it ‘Piece of Crap.’” Not only do I not give my cars a name, but I refuse to buy a used car that has been named by the previous owner – a life-lesson I picked up from Stephen King’s cautionary tale “Christine.”
To be honest, I don’t really care what kind of car someone is driving, just as long as they’re not in front of me, driving 10 miles under the suggested speed limit. However, from a pop psychology standpoint, I am intrigued by the accessories people choose to adorn to their cars, especially when the added fixture is ironic when juxtaposed to the car and/or the car’s captain.
Take for example the other morning when I was one my way to work and the car in front of me was sporting a “Rednecks for Obama” bumper sticker. Not only did I find the sticker’s slogan itself a wee bit ironic, but the fact that it was slapped on a Volvo screamed irony. This is even more ironic, when considering that I live in Iowa City — a university town known for its liberal populace and dubbed “The Peoples’ Republic of Johnson County” by politicos across the Heartland. So the prospect of seeing a bonafide redneck driving around in broad daylight is rare and usually triggers campus security to declare an emergency and put the campus in lockdown mode.
Speaking of liberals, last July I moved into a neighborhood considered one of the most liberal bastions of Iowa City. I knew we would have trouble assimilating when I soon discovered we were the only ones on our side of the street, who are not in a band. Because we didn’t go through a realtor, we managed to fly under the Bohemian radar undetected. To help compensate for my musical ineptitude I started this blog, hoping this alone would be enough to keep the neighbors distracted, so they wouldn’t get suspicious when they didn’t hear me rehearsing for my next gig.
Moreover, our move was in the middle of the presidential campaign and we were thrust into the middle of a sign war. All of our neighbors had either anti-war or pro-peace signs in their yards, and I imagined when they talked about us, their conversation started off something like this:
Neighbor One: Have you met the new neighbors?
Neighbor Two: You mean the ones without an anti-war sign in their yard?
Needless to say, in lieu of having the faulty wiring redone, we had a security system installed – just in case Obama lost the election. In the meantime, I knew we needed to put a sign in our yard, but I was on the fence as to which route to take – pro-peace or anti-war? So I compromised by making own sign, plagiarizing a slogan from “Dr. Strangelove”: “Peace is Our Profession.”
Just to give you a sampling of the types of bumper stickers you would see in my neighborhood, one neighbor has a “I’d Rather Be Playing Scrabble” sticker on his pickup truck, while the neighbors across the street from us don an “I’m Pro-Accordion & I Vote” sticker on their station wagon.
This is a stark contrast to the blue collar neighborhood I lived in Grants Pass, Oregon ten years ago. My downstairs neighbor, who we hypothesized, based on the rancid, dead carcass burning smell that piped through our heating vents periodically, was making meth in his kitchen, had a truck that was steeped in ironic accessories. He parked his fully-loaded, black Dodge Ram next to my fun-size Volkswagon Golf. On some occasions, after a night of bar hopping and off-roading in the Oregon thicket, he parked in my spot — his truck serving as a makeshift carport for my Golf.
His truck was equipped with the naked lady mudflaps (speaking of which, I’m in the process of unleashing naked men mudflaps, trademark pending, to tap into the female and gay trucker target market), a chain adornment around his license plate, and not one but two “No Fear” stickers. The implicit irony of the “No Fear” campaign has never been lost on me, given those who truly possess no fear would not have to advertise this to the external world. This type of insecurity can be seen in doubting Christians, who sport crosses around their necks or tattoo their temples with crosses to let the world know they’re believers while simultaneously giving God a symbolic shout out – just in case the Almighty may have missed a beat on His watch.
What pushed my neighbor’s truck over the ironic edge is that he had a once-sacred Indian Dream Catcher hanging from his rearview mirror, thus warding off any evil spirits that might invade his dreams while sleeping. Why people are sleeping while driving is beyond me, unless the intent is to protect daydreams from evil spirits. But aren’t you supposed to be in control of your daydreams? Maybe the Dream Catchers serve as nocturnal car alarms that keep the cab safe while its master slumbers in the house.
Now don’t get me wrong, Iowa City, despite its insulated liberalism, is far from being immune to the fringe element of society that makes people watching a more interesting hobby and legitimate pastime. One of the most bizarre bumper stickers I’ve seen in town was one that read “Necrophilia: Never Too Late to Pop a Cold One.” I’ll admit that I did burst out laughing when I first saw this sticker, namely that somebody would actually buy it, let alone put it on their car, which in this case was a mini-van. I sped up to pass the vehicle, just so I could get a look at the twisted man commandeering the van.
Much to my shock and subsequent horror, a stereotypical soccer mom was driving and there were empty kids seats strapped in the back, as if she had just dropped the kids off at day care on the way to sleep with dead corpses. As a parent of three, I was dumfounded and hoped that she was borrowing the van from a relative who was serving a stretch in prison for public indecency and fornicating with the deceased.
Either way, it was this particular moment that I felt I truly did “Know Fear.”