11/27/2013 01:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Our Cars Are Our "Nametags"

The sticker on my car is there without my consent. While I was finishing my bike tour of the West Coast I received a text message, with a photo, from a friend, to whom I had loaned my car. He'd had right foot surgery and couldn't drive with his feet so I let him use mine with the hand controls. The text said, "Molly stuck your car," with the attached photo of the U.S. Ski Team chevron just to the right of my rear license plate.

Now, I was on the U.S. Ski Team for eleven years. During winter weekends, I often check results from Europe before I get out of bed. I'm a fan, but I don't make statements on my car to the point that after my accident it took me two years to get handicapped parking tags. Later, I thought it was great that one of my friends had a vanity plate with the word racer following the wheelchair icon to drastically change the message.

Toward the end of the summer, well in advance of the "sticking," as I drove up the canyon from Salt Lake to Park City, I saw the significance of stickers. The car in front of me was straight from the detailer, a bright red Mary Kay version Cadillac. The car and Crimson Club license plate pegged his allegiance with the University of Utah in a state, where the choices are blue or red. The Semper Fi sticker, not so much stuck as engineered in place on the hospital corner buffed car completed the image that was confirmed when I passed the man whose hair was perfect -- "Werewolves of London" -- "perfect" -- I felt like I knew him.

My organization One Revolution has an educational program called Nametags. It looks at the labels that we put on others and ourselves. Passing the "werewolves" guy I realized that our cars, more than just about anything, are our Nametags -- the image that we want to present to the world. Whether they are the family of stick figures complete with dog and cat on the back of the Suburban; my child is an honor student at____; or my kid just beat up your honor student, we're making a statement about who we are and what we value. Living in Park City, Utah the most prevalent stickers are "26.2" to signify that you are a marathon runner, or LOTOJA for the 206-mile, longest amateur bike race from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming, or the distinctive Ragnar Relay emblem signifying that you've been part of a team that ran almost 200 miles from Logan, Utah to Park City.


I have to admit that going to prep school on the East Coast the college stickers on the back of the Jeep Wagoneers or Mercedes station wagons intimidated me. With Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the Naval Academy, etc. all on one rear windshield it looked like a report card -- a very good one--and one to which I should aspire. A friend of mine just admitted that she's been getting pressure to "stick" her car with the logo of her kids' school, though in all fairness, her sticker is actually a magnet and I'm not sure it carries the same weight now that it's lost its permanency.

Like beating up the honor student, our bumper sticker nametags can get loud and our eyes can get shut. Ones that I saw on my Who's Your Hero bike tour down the West Coast with other examples added from dangerous "driving and reading" in Boulder, Colorado:

The image of a machine gun with the caption Modern Militia
ABB--as my friend told me it stands for Anybody But Bush
Buck Ofama
Will be President for Food
Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History
Work Harder! Millions on Welfare are depending on you.
Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of true democratic spirit. Ghandi (You see why driving in Boulder can be dangerous)
Why the hell should I have to push "1" for English?
The problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.
Annoyed by immigrants? Tell it to the Indians!

And Ben Franklin's "If we restrict liberty to attain security we lose them both."

Franklin's statement is important for the link to his papers below where he describes the relationship between the early settlers and the "savages" in a way that makes us look at both of them differently. As a Red Sox fan, I feel for the depravity of the person with the Tiffany's designed, interlocking NY of the Yankees cap logo so big on the back of their SUV that it defies taste and safety, but I also know that some of my best friends are Yankees fans and that their obnoxiousness can be endearing and that I probably shouldn't throw rocks. One time I did a presentation with former President Clinton. He said that all of his Republican friends kept quoting a book to the point that he had to read it. He said he didn't agree with it, but he read it.

Thanks Molly for "sticking" my car, though I might call it "tagging" as in Nametagging. You made me make a statement when I might not have made it myself, but you also started a conversation, at least one in my own mind, about the dangers of thinking I know someone or that they know me by the Nametags we hang on our cars. Hopefully, we don't close our eyes when our cars get stuck because there's even a person behind that NY Yankees logo. For a far greater perspective on manners and knowledge please follow the link to Ben Franklin's papers.