I saw two bumper stickers this week which have the unique quality of being both funny and poignant. The first said, “My dog ate your stick family,” and the second–a line of a stick family of four with a dog–said, “Everybody hates your stick family.”
It’s all true and it’s all disturbing. Everyone needs to know the problem with the entire family’s names plastered on the back window of the Suburban.
But first, of course, a story:
A colleague and I were at a Starbucks some years ago sitting at a table against the window. Just outside was a parking spot and a car pulled in. As the young woman got out of her car to come in I said to my friend, “I’ll bet you ten dollars the next person in this place is named Anna.”
“You know her.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You planned this.”
“With God as my witness I’ve never seen her before, didn’t plan this and have no prior knowledge of this person even coming here.”
Anna got in line. I called to her, “Hey Anna!” She came over–right over, I mean inches from me, and smiled.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“You’re Anna, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” She looked for a chair to pull up. Unbelievable. “How do you know me?”
“I don’t. Your license plate says “Anna 95. It was either you or maybe your daughter.” The three of us looked at the car.
Then I told them this story. My Uncle Tom Burton was a sheriff in Florida for some years and he told me once of how high the crime rate was because of names on the outsides of mailboxes and the then-brand-new practice of vanity plates. “A young woman could be in a parking lot at night, and some psycho sees her plates and calls to her. Of course she is going to wait–we don’t think of our plates that quickly, and suddenly she’s taken somewhere or carjacked or killed.”
Anna took a step back. “Wow! I’m going to DMV today and changing my plates!” Good, I said. My friend asked if I was on a mission, if I was going to drive from coffee shop to coffee shop to spread the word. I laughed but said I was surprised the DMV doesn’t have some sort of warning about such plates. It seems irresponsible. They’re more concerned about a plate that says, “N S Wipe” or “420 Weed,” both plates rejected by their screeners, than a sixteen year old ordering a plate with “Briana” on it.
And then we have those stick figures, many of which have the kids names under the little ridiculous kid figure, just to the left of the dog, also with a name. I mean, come on! You put your kid’s names on your window?! Then some psycho walks up to you at Target already knowing their names and ready to role play. Scrape those names now
We do an awful lot of crying out in the darkness, don’t we? We want people to know we are here, we exist, we are happy (or not), motivated, in love (or not), on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, car windows, t-shirts…everyone is vying for a few moments of attention, and, truthfully, attention feels good. It can be reassuring, it can be uplifting. I want attention for the work I do, as does any writer, any artist. I hope the attention I seek is for the work and not for me personally–I would rather put a sticker of my books in the window than my family, especially since my dog died years ago and they probably don’t make a sticker for that.
But the problem is real. Young people on Instagram and Facebook enjoy attention from strangers; parents want their children to be popular, and newbie drivers, etc, want everyone they know to know it is their car. So she puts Anna on the plate and drives off hoping someone notices.
Someone did. “Hey Anna!” I called out with a smile, like I knew her years ago and was excited to see her again. She came right over–not one second of hesitation. I hope she wouldn’t have done that in a garage or parking lot–she was relatively safe in the confines of a Starbucks. So I asked her, and she said, “Honestly, yes! I probably would have come right over to you! I wasn’t thinking! I thought we were old friends!” I’m glad she changed her plate.
Bob the Vanity Plate Buster strikes again