Writings by Cole Huffman

The Polyvinyl Chloride Chronicles

Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. I notice bumper stickers. It comes with being an avid reader, or textocentric, if you prefer, and being a fan of Don Henley’s music. Put words before my bespectacled eyes and I read, even at 60 mph in six marginal lanes of Poplar between White Station and Mendenhall. Look out!


Much of what follows is satirical, like my all-time favorite bumper sticker: “I Climbed Mt. Juliet.” (It’s a town in Tennessee, not a mountain.) Any likeness to your car is purely coincidental.


Except for the guy whose truck I was behind this morning. You, sir, I’ll specifically single out. A full-size pickup, he filled the ample rear window with three large equidistantly spaced decals: one was religious (“Lamb of God”) and two were sports teams. The man follows Jesus and an NFL team and a college program, all at the same time. Why divide your loyalties?


And you, young mom in the minivan: I like the row of stick people representing your family members, including the dog and cat. It’s cutesy. I note the private school sticker too and that your girls take dance lessons from Little Lass Fauntleroy Studios and are members of an elite soccer team. There’s a “(University Name) MOM” sticker in your future!


In the spirit of full disclosure, we too have our kids’ private school sticker on the back of one of our vehicles. It’s all we have, magnetic and muted behind the tint on the rear window. But still. A friend of mine once suggested he and I make up a couple of children’s glory stickers for our SUVs, one with a big chess piece and one with a Tiddlywinks squidger, with the names “Nigel” and “Lord Horace” underneath. That friend moved away. I sure do miss him.


Speaking of things missed, years ago I drove a Jeep Cherokee. On the rear window I affixed two stickers. One was the rounded “CH” Euro-decal of Switzerland, also my initials. I not only thought it unique to me but cool that I got it in Zurich. The other sticker was a square Lion Rampant of Scotland (or Banner of the King of Scots) that I purchased in a Gaelic shop in Gatlinburg. I had a thing for Scottish stuff in those days—bagpipe music, Braveheart face paint, plaid wear—my first email address was the moniker plaiddad@. I’m not a Scot but I used to play one in traffic.


If you have a favorite sports team and see a gridiron comrade in gridlock traffic what do you do? Are you not usually inclined to accommodate their car’s entry or lane change? Forget it if they bear the mark of the hated rival. I recently grinned at a white oval “0.0” sticker on a Honda, recognizing it immediately to be a subversive counterstatement to the “13.1” and “26.2” stickers of proud distance runners. And I’ve always wanted to come up on a fender-bender involving the car with the “My Kid is an Honor Student at (School Name)” and the car with the “My Kid Beat-Up Your Honor Student” stickers. Delicious if it’s the former rear-ending the latter.


Your cause of passion: “Autism Awareness.” Your philosophical pluralism: “Coexist.” Your sunshiny vacationland: “30A.” Your politics: “NObama 2012.” Your memoriam: “In Loving Memory of Ricky Bobby, 1980-2005.” Your sagacity: “The Moon is Round.” It all fits on a sticky little strip of polyvinyl chloride.


Bumper stickers are slogans and statements and signals and stories all at once and that’s why I notice them. “I’d Rather Push My Landy Than Drive Your Cruiser” (seen on an old Land Rover Defender in South Africa) is a polyvinyl chloride chronicle of smug patriotism over sound engineering. Every day in the automotive pageantry of traffic my fellow commuters tell me something of where they’re from and what they’re into, their longings and loyalties, even their maturity levels and frustration levels. Bumper stickers are silly, vain, cliché, and comical—all that and more besides. But as human communication they’re not altogether without meaning.


And so I want to pause a moment before dismissing something as “bumper sticker theology,” as if theology has nothing to do with the common or colloquial. Those warning against bumper sticker theology are taking issue with sloganeering for God. So noted.


But for those alive to God, everything is theological. Even the trite things and the slight things, the things that stick in us and the things we stick on our cars. Every thought or turn of phrase that isn’t already obedient to Christ will be eventually. In their own way bumper stickers prompt this meditation and expectation for me.


Even those “I (Vineyard Vines pink whale logo) Memphis” stickers I see around town. Do they mean, “I Love Memphis in a Sperm Whale Kind of Way,” or, “I Like to Spend $85 Each on My Pima Polos in Memphis”? Come, Lord Jesus.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 2:24 PM
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