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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Podcast: Don’t mess with the swim-up bar and other topics Dan can’t stay awake to talk about

Vincent Van Gogh plays Graceland and other bizarre adventures from the life of Paul Talking Paragraphs

Let's be honest: I forgot what we talked about for most of this podcast. It seemed interesting at the time, at least to us. I know there's something about Paul and his mom going to see a traveling Vincent Van Gogh exhibit at Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. After that, there's talk of an African restaurant nearby. The rest is hazy to me. So, we can listen and discover together. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/support
  1. Vincent Van Gogh plays Graceland and other bizarre adventures from the life of Paul
  2. Crypto tanks; Don't mess with the swim-up bar; and Dan is mumbling again in a medication haze
  3. Tragic and bloody true crime! Weird animal stories! Shocking superhero secrets! Everything the almighty algorithm says you wanted and more!
  4. Bears use house as Airbnb without owners knowing; Elon Musk buys Twitter and its still horrible; Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly blood-drinking habits; and 'fictosexuality'
  5. 3,500 pounds of cheese stolen in Netherlands; Iowa Democrats can't count; Fox News hosts are horrible people; and tackling in junior college baseball

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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

In a blink: 25 years between Drake graduations

I will graduate from Drake University for the second time Saturday afternoon.

The first time came at age 21 in 1997. I earned a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial journalism with a minor in English.

I thought I was done with school 25 years ago.

After that, I planned on getting a job at the local newspaper and writing until I retired.

That plan worked, but not quite long enough for me to retire.

Two years ago, I got laid off from the local newspaper. I tried other types of journalism. I was terrible at them.

I quickly learned that the thing I did best — tell stories — was not as useful as it used to be.

The world changed fast in 25 years since my first graduation.

The internet was still new, and you needed a landline and a disc from AOL to get online.

I blinked and everybody had high-speed internet from the cable or phone company.

Making mixed tapes slowly turned into mixed CDs, which were far less romantic.

I blinked and the iPod put thousands of songs in your pocket.

I blinked again and Apple announced they’ll stop making the iPod.

Mobile phones were clunky things with short batteries for rich people.

I blinked and the iPhone put the internet in their pocket — and connecting to a network with an ever-increasing number of “G’s.”

This made it easy for people to stream music, movies, live TV, and, for some reason, lots of videos of cats in the palm of their hand always.

I blinked again and the iPod was gone. Nobody bought songs anymore. They streamed them on their phones, which connected seamlessly to their stereos, wireless speakers, and vehicle sound systems.

Twenty-five years ago, newspapers were still viable and thriving. Classified advertising revenue flowed in. People would always need a way to sell their old car or that ratty leather couch in the basement.

I blinked and then there were free online classified where people gave their old junk away and newspapers started the slow process of dying.

Why buy a newspaper?

You can stream all the news you want with the swipe of your finger.

Free is better than pay, and the ethos of the internet has always been free when it comes to content.

So here I am, 25 years later graduating from college again.

I’ve earned a master’s degree in secondary education with endorsements in 5-12 English language arts and journalism.

I plan to teach. I’ve got applications out for every job that I’m qualified for in the metro.

I’ve had one interview. I’ve got another scheduled. Hopefully, something comes together soon.

It’s only been two years since I was a full-time reporter, but it feels like much longer.

I think I was good at my job, but I wasn’t good at it the way you need to be good at it today.

The modern reporter needs to be concerned with what stories the data shows people want to read, knowing how to use certain words to draw optimal search engine traffic.

Whenever possible, go viral with a story that’s adorable or tragic, that makes people angry or coo like they do at the sight of a kitten playing with a wand toy.

I tried to be that kind of reporter, but I just couldn’t make those metrics numbers light up the way stories about football and sick and dying people do.

I’m not alone. Tens of thousands of journalists lost their jobs in the last decade — people in the middle of their careers, just like me, took it the hardest.

Two years has been long enough, though, that I don’t miss it.

The only thing that makes me truly sad is that I’ll never make a living off my writing again.

All I just wanted to be a writer. I know I’ll always be one, but it somehow feels more official when you’re getting paid.

I blinked and I couldn’t be a writer anymore.

So, I started graduate school and decided to become a teacher.

Interviewers always ask why I chose to become a teacher.

The most important people in my life are Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died.

After that, the most important people in my life have always been teachers.

Carol Liechty, my fourth and seventh grade teacher in Winterset, pushed writing until I finally got into it.

Chris Madison, my first journalism teacher, saw my knack for stacking paragraphs before I did.

Ed Kelly, the East journalism teacher, let me run wild in the pages of the school newspaper.

Robert D. Woodward, that legendary Drake professor, nudged me to the straight and narrow even when I wanted to careen into the ravine.

I choose to teach because it’s like that Bob Dylan song: “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”

I would rather serve students and the future for the second half of my working life.

Now I must find the place where I can start doing it.

I’m excited to get started. Time moves so fast.

Who knows what I’ll see the next time I blink?


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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.