Bumper stickers are a serious thing

by Auden Schendler



I have two bumper stickers on my truck, and one I'd like to add if I could find it. The sticker I've had the longest is also the best, making Gary Snyder's poem, "Jackrabbit eyes all night, breakfast in Elko," seem wordy. Some of you will recognize it: SILT HAPPENS. It was, for years, the official motto of Silt, Colo. Now, the motto is "Where the sun rises with a smile." Boring.

Silt Happens has multiple meanings. It means that Silt had it going on. It's also an anti-dam statement, saying to Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge: You may be big, but your days are numbered. And it says so with a play on the great and profane American battle cry. This is the ultimate bumper sticker because it makes you think, and yet, it doesn't make an overtly political statement that could get a brick tossed through your window while you're parked at a trailhead.

Bumper stickers are a serious thing: You don't attach them frivolously. First, they're hard to get off. Second, add too many, and you'll exponentially increase your odds of getting pulled over by the cops. Trust me on that one. I tested the hypothesis with my old truck, and despite my "I gave to the Fraternal Order of Police" sticker strategically placed on the top of my driver's side window, I still got a lot of tickets.

My second bumper sticker is local, unique and only understandable by a select few in the know in western Colorado. It reads: SAVE the TAQ. The TAQ is the Taqueria, a small dive of a Mexican restaurant in a dilapidated shack on the way out of Basalt.

It's the best Mexican chow in the valley. It‚s the cheapest. It‚s the friendliest. And it's going away not because it's unprofitable — you can't get in the door on a Friday night — but because the town bought the property for a park and to manage floodwaters, and it now intends to sell it to a developer.

Basalt is getting gentrified, and the last of the cheap-rent joints are going down. No more chances for a guy named Ishmael from El Salvador to break through in his shot at the American Dream. And, in turn, no more good, funky, low capital, start-up businesses. SAVE the TAQ refers to a community effort to forego outsize profits in order to build affordable residential and commercial space in resort areas. That's too wordy; just say SAVE the TAQ. The beauty of that sticker is that, unlike "Free Tibet," people who post it may do something about it.

My third bumper sticker exists, but I haven't secured one yet. The sticker says: "Coal, Crank and Cribbage: Welcome to Paonia." If you know the town of 1,500 people, you get it. You got coal, the heart of the economy. You got cribbage, the ultimate cowboy card game and crank, the poor man's cocaine, a particularly Southwestern drug. The telltale sign of a house full of meth freaks is that the front yard is covered with appliances that have been taken apart but not repaired, hinting at what you might do if you didn't need to sleep for three days and felt like you just drank 50 cups of coffee.

The Paonia knock-off bumper sticker I found reads: "Coal, Crystals and Cribbage: Welcome to Paonia." A pithy cultural analysis has become a nice-nice aphorism, the way new biblical translations might transform Job's "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward" into "Life is hard." Speaking of the Bible, there is a whole range of religious bumper-wear, the most prominent of them being the Jesus Fish. In addition to all the other stickers, I used to have a Darwin Fish on the back of my truck; it was labeled "Darwin" and growing legs.

Driving in traffic into Colorado Springs, a woman leaned out of her Taurus wagon and yelled: "Did he make beauty?" I was stunned, finally yelling back, "Yes!" as her lane crept ahead of mine, seemingly with God's help. The correct answer, I realized, minutes too late, was "Did God make war?"

But this exchange illustrates just what you don't want to do with bumper stickers. You don't want to start a fight, you just want to give people something to think about, maybe ease their boredom in traffic. The great paranoid conspiracy bumper-sticker of all time is so good just because nobody feels bad after reading it: "Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed." If only that were true. But he fell. Things go wrong. Silt Happens.

Auden Schendler is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Basalt, Colorado, and handles environmental matters for the Aspen Skiing Company.

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