Why Do People Have Bumper Stickers?

There’s a lot of stop and go traffic in our city. Our 3-mile drive to school tends to take us 15 to 20 minutes each morning. Needless to say, over the years we’ve been at a traffic standstill behind many cars that are…colorful. Especially the language on bumper stickers.

Over the years I’ve noticed bumper stickers and I think to myself, “I hope my kids don’t see that.” Whether they see it or they don’t see it, they rarely ask about them because they either can’t read them or what is on the sticker doesn’t make sense to them. There is a truck in town with a bumper sticker of a silhouette of a naked woman with her legs spread open and the words “spread the love.” Every time I see it, I hold my breath and try to figure out what I will say If my children bring it to my attention. As of right now, that has not happened, but this week a different bumper sticker was brought to my attention by them.

During our evening commute, we were stopped at an intersection stoplight. There were about 15 cars ahead of us on the two-lane highway and I was contemplating changing lanes when my daughter asked, “Dad, why do people have bumper stickers?”

“Well, I guess bumper stickers are a way for drivers of the car to tell people what they think is important and what they like,” I responded. “Sometimes they’re symbols that let drivers feel like they have power over other people and tell people something that could be hurtful.”

“Why would people do that?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe because they have an empty or cracked bucket? The bumper sticker makes them feel like people who have hurt them or make them feel bad will stay away and people who might make them feel good will come closer.”  

“Why don’t you and mommy have any bumper stickers?”

“I don’t know about mommy, but I don’t think they look good and if I want to share something that I value or find important to share I’ll do it in other ways…and I don’t have an empty or cracked bucket. I think having a bumper sticker might cause someone to dip into my bucket by treating me worse as a driver.”

“How do you tell people what is important?”

I thought, “Wow, great question. How do I do that? I don’t think I really care to share my thoughts with strangers.”

My passivism, which I consider to be rationalism came out. “I guess I can put things up on Facebook or write blogs. I don’t know. People who drive are already unhappy while they are in their car, it won’t help for them to be mad at the choice I made during driving, and then they see a bumper sticker on my car that says something that makes them angrier.”

“Can you take bumper stickers off?”

“It depends. Some bumper stickers are magnets. Others are like a sticker. If they’re magnets then you can take them off. If they are stickers, it’s harder to take them off.”

And then…

Still stuck at the same stoplight, my younger daughter who had been listening then asked, “Daddy, what’s horny?”

I looked in front of us and saw a car with a bumper sticker that read, “Arvada is horny.” On it, a picture of a horn on the right and light rail train on the left.

A little background: For the past five years the city has had light rail tracks for the Denver Metro Light Rail. The train was expected to begin running in October of 2016. It didn’t open until last year. The almost three-year delay was due to safety concerns at the train crossings. During the lengthy delay, the railroad commission did a lot of testing of the train horns. This was occurring in neighborhoods and the residents were not happy.

I laughed in my head and then said, “You know how the light rails have been delayed.”

“Ya, remember they were supposed to open when I was 6.”

“Yes, and that was because gates at the places on the track where the train crosses the road were not working correctly. So every time they would run the train conductors would blow the horns really loud so cars and other people could hear the train coming. So the bumper sticker says that there is a lot of noise from horns in Arvada.”

“Since the trains are working now, why don’t they take the bumper sticker off,” my older daughter asked.

“I don’t know exactly. Maybe they think it is something that will make other drivers like them more and be nicer if they are being a bad driver.”

“Mommy thinks you’re a bad driver. Maybe you should get that bumper sticker.”

“That’s mommy’s opinion and I disagree. But, I don’t think that’s a bumper sticker that will make people like me more. Do you think there are bumper stickers that cause people to want to fill my bucket or might fill a person’s bucket?”

They then gave me ideas on what bumper sticker ideas with flowers, and rainbows, and love, and funny words. They then went on to repeat some of the words they suggested a car horn should say.

Later, during a solo car ride, I began to take notice of all the bumper stickers people have on their cars. Most were benign to me. Others didn’t make much sense. A few were ignorant. Regardless, they all seem like symbols that make people feel like there is a “tribe” that they want to let everyone know they belong to. Does it help? Does it hurt? Do people think about child passengers and their effort to make sense of the world, especially when adults are afraid to talk with them about sex and politics? Doubtful. But it reinforces our need, as parents and caregivers of young children to talk about social issues when a child is young; before they know how to read.