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Sticker it to me

The art of the bumper sticker

© 2001 Duncan Fry


If cars didn't have bumpers we'd have a bit of a problem. Not only would our cars be forever at the panel beaters, but more importantly - where could we put our bumper stickers?

You know the things, a short apposite phrase that sums up the driver's political, social or personal feelings; Japan has the haiku, Westerners have the bumper sticker.

Driving is a particularly common theme.

'Dim Dem Dam Lights', 'Not So Close, I Hardly Know You', and 'If You Can Read This, You're Too F***ing Close', are popular ones, although for humour I prefer 'If You Can Read This I've Just Lost My Caravan!' In fact, one of the fun things to do at a toll booth is to pull up in your car, point behind you with your thumb and ask "How much for the caravan?"
(For those of you in the US, a caravan is a towed mobile home)

There are vocational ones, too. I call them the 'Do it' series. Like 'Electricians Do It Till The Sparks Fly' 'Fitters and Turners Do It With a Left Hand Thread', and for all of us in the audio biz, 'Sound Engineers Do It Till It Hertz'

I suspect that bumper stickers originated in the USA. Certainly you can see a whole lot of them over there. Out on the roads, the trucks all have stickers on the back saying 'How's My Driving? Call 1-800-D-O-N-U-T-S' or whatever. That way if the driver of the Dunkin' Donuts truck (sadly no relation) cuts you off on the freeway, you can pull out your mobile phone instead of your .357 Magnum and vent your spleen ('Quit Honking, I've Reloaded' another sticker seen over there).

Anyway, back in '86 I saw the first of many send-up stickers on this theme. A monster pick-up truck (ute to us) had a sticker on the back bumper that said 'How's My Driving? Call 1-800-E-A-T-S-H-I-T'.

Well, I wouldn't rest till I found a shop that sold them.

When I returned home I promptly stuck it on the back bumper of the Dodge, much to everyone's bemusement, and had to explain it to them at the traffic lights, since 1-800 numbers didn't come in here for several more years. The fact that we'd removed the letters on our phones in the 70's and didn't get them back till the 90's didn't help much, either.

So one day I'm driving down the road to work, and I stop at some traffic lights. A motorcycle cop pulls up behind me and stares at the sticker. Jeez I'm in for it now, I think, knowing full well that motorcycle cops are born without any sense of humour whatsoever. He slowly moves his motorbike up next to me, and I slide down in my seat and stare in the other direction, desperately urging the lights to change to green quickly.

There's a tap on the window. Uh oh. I wind down the window and he speaks.
"That sticker on the back bumper," he begins
"Oh?" I croak, expecting a lecture on bumper bar profanity at the very least.
"Yeah - did you get that in the States? I love it - I've just come back from a holiday over there. Have a nice day." And he zoomed away as the lights finally changed.
All I can say is it must have been his first day on the job!

At the Royal Show one year you could buy stickers for your favourite dog breed:
'Bull Terriers - Not Just a Pretty Face', 'I Love My German Shepherd' (with a heart shape for the 'love' and a picture of the dog with someone's leg in its mouth!), and so on.

Her indoors bought me one that said 'I (heart) My Afghan', and stuck it next to the 'Old Age And Treachery Will Overcome Youth and Skill' sticker on the back of the jellybean, a Suzuki bongo van I drove whenever the convertible was receiving some TLC.

The heart being printed in red, it soon faded away in the sun to nothing. Unbeknownst to me, a 'friend' drew a picture of a screw where the heart used to be, so now the sticker read 'I Screw My Afghan'. Not quite the same thing!

People didn't like this at all, and would yell abuse at me wherever I went, especially if the dog was in the car too, his big silly head lolling out the window.

It got so bad I eventually had to sell the car!

I also unknowingly drove around for several weeks with a 'We're Proud to be Gay' sticker on the back bumper, courtesy of Brad Coates from Melmusic who stuck them on all his customer's cars one Friday. I was only alerted to its presence by multiple comments on sex and travel while driving through Geelong one afternoon around factory closing time.

At the height of the Gulf War, I saw a sticker in the States with a picture of an evilly grinning Saddam Hussein on it, and the words - 'The USA won't be Saddamized'. I bought one at the 99c store and put it on the wall of my office, but it got painted over in the last factory redecoration.

'Other car' stickers are popular, too. You know, the 'My Other Car is a Mercedes/ Roller/ Porsche/ Wankmobile' series. A variation on this is really ugly old women with 'My Other Car is a Broomstick' stickers, although a refreshing piece of honesty would be 'My Other Car is as Rooted as This One'. However, my favourite of this particular series is one I saw in the US - 'My Other Car is Jimmy Hoffa'***.

But my all-time favourite bumper sticker has to be one I saw in Silverado, California, when the late Algis Renkus ran the ARX office there. Silverado was an eclectic mix of hippies, good ol' boys and people we nicknamed the Silverado militia.

On the back bumper of a pick-up truck was a sticker that said 'Jane Fonda - American Traitor Bitch', indicating that Hanoi Jane was unpopular long before she married Ted Turner.

As a postscript to this, I was chatting to an ex-Vietnam veteran friend of mine over there about this particular sticker. His eyes lit up and he said "Hey, where can I get one of those!"


***For those too young to remember, Jimmy Hoffa was a union boss who disappeared one day never to be seen again, rumoured to have been squashed alive in a car recycling crusher!


Seen any favourite bumper stickers? Contact Me with a small pic and I'll post it on the website

This story first appeared in Connections magazine

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