Monday, November 09, 2009

Red Light District

The last few months have been a veritable whirlwind of celebrity death, celebrity embarrassment, historic anniversaries, Bubble Boys, healthcare disputes, teabaggery, and financial volatility. It's sometimes comforting to know that even despite our varying interests, likes or dislikes, or political position, we are ultimately all in this together. And, it is in that spirit, that I would like to touch on a topic that affects all of least all of us that drive or ride in an automobile with any frequency whatsoever. Something that truly binds us at the very roots of humanity itself.

In a broad sense, the personalization of one's possessions is not a new or novel idea. Engravings, brands, and paintings date back to the Upper Paleolithic era, thousands and thousands of years age. In modern culture, it is seen as an expression of individuality and creativity, be it a t-shirt, a guitar case, or a necklace. Do not misunderstand. My disdain for this one particularly dark and decaying branch of an otherwise beautiful and flowering tree is highly isolated and should be looked upon as such. It's one of the few things that can subconsciously make my face retch when behind the wheel, as if I've driven through the recent airborne gift of a skunk, or imagined a T-Pain edition of Rock Band. What is this bee in my bonnet? I'll tell you my friends:

The back of your car is apparently the new social media.

Once upon a time, it used to be that you would become "acquaintances" with another person, perhaps through work, church, or social events, then you'd exchange phone numbers or maybe even an email or two. After a socially acceptable period of time, perhaps you'd "hang out" outside the confines of your normal day-to-day relationship in which you met, such as a party or weekend event. At some point during this phase, you would become what is called "friends". This would involve things such as (but not limited to) going on vacations together, introducing spouses or significant others, learning their middle names, babysitting one another's children, and possibly even making it into their will. Not necessarily in that order. And during the "friendship", you would forge rock-solid bonds built on the foundation of the things that brought you together in the first place. Maybe a favorite football team, the fact that your boys play soccer together, or that Sally and Rachel are on the same dance squad. And, in our day and age, the bonds are strengthened even further by the relatively new and innovative social technology such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogspot, and Flickr. Regardless of time difference or distance, you can see their little tax deductions grow up as if they lived right next door.

But this is rapidly becoming a fading wisp of smoke across the skies of friendship, thanks to a broad-sweeping and overly invasive new technology, brought to you by the closest van or SUV in your neighborhood. You know exactly what I'm talking about, and you should feel the same way:

I am not interested in learning everything there is to know about you while sitting behind your automobile at a red light.

This has become somewhat of a running joke with many of my friends, and my humor is of course, intentional, but I don't want to dilute my animosity toward the absurdity and overuse of the magnetic and adhesive qualities of passenger vehicles. I am not opposed to an allegiance to a sports team, a homeowner's association, or an emissions inspection. I am very happy that you are proud of your children. I do tend to enjoy humorous bumper stickers, especially when they alienate others or make you feel uncomfortable just having looked at them...almost like the traffic-based version of Southpark. My brow begins to furrow ONLY when your tailgate starts to resemble the Berlin Wall instead of a cargo access point.

It is this psychological unrest that has caused me to pen this official listing of overused and annoying "automobile flair", which from this point forward shall be deemed both highly illegal and cause for concern regarding the mental health of the offender. In the fashion of David Letterman, let's order them from least to most annoying.

10. The Apple Logo: I have an ipod. I love it. I also enjoy using Macs. What I don't love is giving somebody one more reason to break into my car, especially considering recent events with my own truck. Why don't you just go ahead and duct-tape a spare key and a lottery ticket to the rear window? Idiot.

9. The Gag-Inducing Religious Sticker: Jesus is most certainly NOT your copilot. You aren't even flying, you are driving. Plus, he would be mortified to ride shotgun knowing what horrors lurk on your rear glass and bumper. Omnipotence, people.

8. The Rear Window Memorial: What is up with this? I am seeing more and more people driving around with slogans like "In Memory of Barnwall McGillicutty, 1967-2008" on the back of their car. I have the utmost respect for the deceased, and I'm sorry for your loss, but if any of my friends ever memorialize me in the form of white stickers and Safety Glass, I give the rest of my friends permission to de-friend said person, both in real life and virtually.

7. The Excessive Cause-Related Ribbons or Flags: I am very glad you support the troops, as do I. Unfortunately one of the freedoms they have inadvertently granted you is the ability to place forty ribbon magnets all over the back of your Caravan alongside the mindless "Freedom Isn't Free" and "These Colors Don't Run" placards. Also, why is there a ribbon for everything now? Every color is taken. All of them. I've even seen plaid ribbons. Bagpipe research?

6. The Flip-Flops Emblazoned With Team Logo: I don't even know what this is supposed to mean. You enjoy Auburn Football as well as comfortable summer footwear? Did it come free with the purchase of team flip-flops? Or does it have a more secretive meaning, like the Ichthys or the Square and Compass, only revealing its "true" meaning to other flippy-floppy people? You can't just start randomly combining phrases and objects, or we are going to end up with "God Bless America" whoopee cushions and "Al-Anon" beer koozies.

5. The Old Campaign Sticker: It's not a rock band. The election is over. Your candidate either won or lost. The only thing this is good for now is giving people one more reason to hate you when you drive like a jackass. Move on.

4. The Euro-esque Vacation Destination Oval: These have totally gotten out of hand. What was once deemed by some people to be "internationally cute" is now just annoying. Contrary to what you might believe, we aren't all enthralled by your clever choice to display the abbreviation to "Saint Simon's Island" in big black letters inside a geometric shape. At least this way people will know (combined with your license tag) two locations they can avoid, thus avoiding YOU.

3. The Sports Magnet With Child's Name: All parents are proud of their children. All children enjoy knowing their parents are their biggest fans. Let's find a more heartwarming way of bonding with your offspring and expressing your parental pride than slapping their name on a magnetic soccer ball and throwing it against the back of your Volvo, shall we?

2. The Stick-Figure Family: I would like to know who originally thought this was remotely acceptable. For those of you who haven't had the privilege, this is a sticker in which each member of the driver's family is represented by a stick figure, often to the point of even including pets. When combined with a "Mackenzie Soccer Ball", a "Taylor Ballet Slipper", a "W" or "O", a "Gout Awareness Ribbon", a "UGA Flip-Flops Magnet" and our #1 winner below, I must tell you, the effect is truly stunning. This is grounds for immediate evil staring if you manage to pass them in traffic, as well as a photo to prove to your friends that you aren't the most disappointing person alive after all.

And the number one most ridiculous annoyance of them all...

1. The Girly Monogram: The one that seems to have really started it all, at least with the trendy female set. And you know, why not. I mean, if I'm behind you in traffic, I probably already know how many kids you have, what sports they play, where you vacation, your favorite team, your party of choice, where you pray, and that you support Whooping Cough research. Why not also tell me what I'd need to know if I wanted to buy you a nice set of personalized towels between here and the next intersection? I've never really understood monograms in general, nor the need of some people to apply them to everything they own. Now including automobiles. Was the car title not enough for you?

If you disagree, let's face it. You're obviously part of the problem. Or as one of my small business-owning friends said to me quite recently, "Jason, if we don't sell them these stickers, they'll just buy them from another store." Well, you may well be right. I'm certainly a fan of free-market capitalism, and I have an enormous amount of respect for all of my buddies who take the daily risk of following a dream. But somewhere along the way, this particular dream turned into a nightmare. If nothing else, before you sell these people a magnetic football with the name "Rupert" on it, I beg you, go out to the parking lot and look at the back of their Tahoe. You wouldn't serve an alcoholic with 8 drinks under their belt another shot, would you?

But as long as we are taking advantage of people and their wallets, you sharp-minded venture capitalists and entrepreneurial types need to get on board before this new method of social networking has set sail. If you can figure out how to advertise your product while at the same time convincing soccer moms, technophiles, or teenagers that it's the "next cool thing" to stick to their ride, then you're going to be swimming in a great big ocean full of Benjamins. Me? I'll be the one quietly cursing your success while adding your creation to this list.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go change my status from "My Other Car is a Broom" to "Save the Pandas".

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