Bumper stickers: Irritating free speech or secret coded messages to members of lost Gen X tribe

Bumper stickers covered the rear end of the smallish SUV in front of me.

The owner of the car, or one of their kids, really wanted me to know some things about them.

They wanted me to know that people from all religions could get along with the sticker that read “Coexist” using a variety of religious iconography.

They wanted me to know who they voted for in the last two elections.

They wanted me to know where they went to college.

They also wanted me to know someone they loved had died, including what year they were born and what year they died, and that they had dedicated their rear window to the memory of this person.

I knew more about this person than I really wanted to, especially for someone who was just in front of me in traffic.

I believe in unfettered free speech, even when it’s annoying or inconvenient.

I could do without the bumper stickers, but that space belonged to the car’s owner.

I used to own a car in which I placed one sticker inside the car on the passenger side above the glove box.

It read “War is over (If you want it),” a quote from a John Lennon song I loved.

The sticker stayed with the car when I traded it on my current wheels. I imagine someone peeled it off with a razor blade.

I typically don’t put identifying things on my vehicles.

In my old job as a newspaper reporter, I didn’t want to call attention to my car.

There were a lot of people who might take their frustrations out on my vehicle if they couldn’t find me.

I didn’t even have a Drake University license plate holder; there’s no place I’m prouder to be associated with than Drake.

I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, I shall try to do right and be good so God will not make one again.

So, I allow myself one bumper sticker.

It reads “WKRP 1530 AM, Cincinnati’s No. 1 Rock Station.”

This is a secret code. Only people from my tribe will understand it. My tribe is the Lost People of Gen X. We had a moment about 30 years ago. Now people just complain about Millennials, Gen Z, and other made-up things to divide us against one another.

I don’t really have a tribe. I just have a small group of people with the same shared cultural experience.

I just finished student teaching. I referenced “WKRP.” Neither the youngsters nor the teachers I worked for knew what it meant.

That’s fine.

It’s not for them.

The sticker is for people who remember when there were three channels plus PBS.

The sticker is for people who worried that if they missed an episode of their favorite show, they might never see it again.

The sticker is for people who spend a summer wondering who shot J.R., sobbed when Hawkeye took the last chopper out of the 4077th and saw B.J.’s “Goodbye” written in rocks on the ground, and stayed up way past bedtime to watch David Letterman smash things — including a Mr. T doll — in an 800-pound drill press.

I’ve had the sticker on my bumper for some years now.

People acknowledged exactly twice.

Once, I parked outside a UPS store. On the way out, a lady stopped me and asked if it was my car.

Who wants to know? I asked.

She thought the “WKRP” bumper sticker was hilarious.

She’s right. It is.

The second came the other night when I was sitting at the ice cream shop near my apartment.

The show owner leaned on my window and asked me about the sticker.

The ice cream shop used to sell Maytag appliances. The shop owner got to know Gordon Jump, who played the bored Maytag repairman in commercials.

The gag was Maytag machines, made in Newton, were so reliable they never broke down and the dullest job in the world was Maytag repairman.

Maytag ran that campaign for decades, until Whirlpool bought them out, and did away with the Maytag brand — and scores of jobs in Newton.

Jump also played Mr. Carlson on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” the show which my bumper sticker references.

The ice cream shop owner reported Gordon was a gentleman, the type of guy you could invite to church with you.

The previous actor, though, had a foul mouth and you had to be careful with him, the ice cream shop man said.

I had a pleasant talk with the ice cream shop owner. We both agreed that the Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP” was one of the funniest things we ever saw on TV.

The ice cream shop guy gets it.

He’s part of the tribe.

If you don’t get it, that’s OK. It wasn’t for you.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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4 thoughts on “Bumper stickers: Irritating free speech or secret coded messages to members of lost Gen X tribe

  1. Definitely get it. I hope you show a few clips to your students each year. Maybe around Thanksgiving.
    I miss having a common culture- and I think families, and society have suffered when each person has their own private screen to look at.
    I hope I notice your bumper sticker around town. I’ll give a honk and a wave.

    Like

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