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Bumper Stickers Wax Philosophical in New Book

“Remember my name. You’ll be screaming it later.”

I’m stuck at a red light on India Street and Laurel, behind what appears to be a 1990’s Honda Civic. And I’m being subjected to one of the oldest (and most cringe-worthy) pick-up lines in the book. Via bumper sticker.

Do you kiss your wife with that mouth? I want to say, sticking it to him. Pun intended. After all, this is a story about bumper stickers, quite possibly the punniest bits of wisdom pre-Twitter.

Instead, I find myself thinking about how these one-sentence witticisms provide a raw glimpse into someone's otherwise-mysterious psyche. Would I be just as offended by this nondescript young gentleman if I ran into him at a bar?

What if we were all forced to decorate - or deface - our vehicles by slapping one on? And most importantly, what would yours say?

For those entranced by the cult of bumper stickers, author (and Coronado native) Jack Bowen has a book for you.

Book cover for

Above: Book cover for "If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers". Written by Jack Bowen who teaches Philosophy at the Menlo school in Atherton.

His “If You Can Read This: This Philosophy of Bumper Stickers” relies on Plato, pop culture, and decades worth of sticker stock to dissect the meaning behind those other highway billboards.

From “Free Tibet” to “Life is Just Like a Straw – It Sucks,” Bowen explores the symbolism and deeper philosophical meanings behind such credos, even providing a nifty visual glossary of Darwin vs. Creation fish.

And he’s not just another roadside prophet – his C.V. includes the best-selling “Journey Through The Landscape of Philosophy” and a documentary with Richard Dawkins and Leonard Susskind, The Nature of Existence.

He’ll also be in town this week for some book signing (and in the studio for a These Days interview). I thought it’d fun to find out some of the KPBS crew’s best and worst bumper sticker sightings.

Arts and Culture Producer Angela Carone was aghast when she spotted “If you keep riding my ass, you'll have to pull my hair" in traffic.

Meanwhile, Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce adores "Whirled Peas" and "Kill Your Television." His least favorite?

"Probably those “my kid made the (blah, blah school) honor roll," says Joyce. I agree (this one's covered extensively by Bowen in the book, by the way.)

As for Erik Anderson, Editor and ATC News Anchor:

“My Favorite: Tolerance."

A good philosophy to have, indeed, when sharing the road.

Author Jack Bowen will host book signings at Bay Books in Coronado this Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Warwick’s this Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Culture Lusters, what are some of your most memorable bumper stickers?

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Avatar for user 'crisofer'

crisofer | March 24, 2010 at 10:55 a.m. ― 7 years ago

My favorite bumper sticker had to do with a local hospital that used to go by the initials ECCH, which to us as kids sounded like an expression of disgust. So it was hilarious to us when they started a bumper sticker campiagn that said "People caring about people - ECCH"

Coincidentally I have a child at Menlo, and I hope he appreciates that class when he takes it. Sounds wonderful.

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Avatar for user 'gusperry'

gusperry | March 24, 2010 at 11:06 a.m. ― 7 years ago

I created a bumper sticker that reads "BUMPER STICKER" and another of a football helmet that has the word "TEAM" written on the side. The idea behind these stickers is two-fold. 1) I like the idea of blending in at a glance; looking like an ordinary Joe. 2) I think it's hilarious that people make an attempt to define themselves or place themselves in a social group with so few words.

My favorite stickers are the political ones for candidates/props from bygone elections. You won/lost, it's over. Go buy some adhesive remover.

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Avatar for user 'JonBoy'

JonBoy | March 24, 2010 at 11:13 a.m. ― 7 years ago

We all know how dangerous motorcycles are and constantly hear of them in accidents, tying up the freeway commute, so on the back of my cycle... to help others tolerate me and my driving (weaving, speeding, lane splitting, etc.) I have a bumper sticker prominently displayed that shows, I believe in and support organ donation and am willing to donate mine, in which the odds are increased in the case of all cyclists. The sticker reads," You have the power to donate life", then the Donate Life Logo. I have found now that other drivers are more tolerant of me now and less rude or apt to get road raged at me. :)

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Avatar for user 'Joe Spurr'

Joe Spurr | March 24, 2010 at 11:19 a.m. ― 7 years ago

There's a car on my street that reads "Don't believe everything you think."

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Avatar for user 'Kevlar'

Kevlar | March 24, 2010 at 2:10 p.m. ― 7 years ago

I like that one Joe.

It's not always just about the sticker. Often there's a much more complex picture painted with a collection of stickers, and the car they appear on matters a lot too. Some of my "favorites" often appear on Hummers. Here's my collection.

And there are lots more here.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | March 25, 2010 at 10:31 a.m. ― 7 years ago

My least favorite bumper sticker is the Not of This World (NOTW) bumper sticker, and there are a lot of them around. My impression of these people is that since they aren't from this world that makes it perfectly okay then for them to ruin this one they're passing through. I've noticed they generally disregard any courtesy while driving and also seem to like to smoke cigarettes while pumping their gas. I guess when you're not of this world the rules don't apply.

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Avatar for user 'JodiC'

JodiC | March 25, 2010 at 2:09 p.m. ― 7 years ago

One of my favorite bumper stickers is on my own car -- "Well behaved women rarely make history." I'm also fond of, but don't have, the one that says, "When Jesus said love your enemies, I'm pretty sure he meant don't kill them."

Like Randolph above, I don't care for the "Not of This World" stickers because they just seem sort of presumptious. I also don't love the weird little stick figure family groups you see on practically every SUV, but I just think they're weird.

I saw a very odd window sticker the other day on a Mercedes SUV. It said, "This Mercedes is dedicated to Jesus." I couldn't figure out why Jesus would want a luxury gas-hog, and it made me wonder why the owner was driving it instead of selling it and giving the money to a group that feeds the hungry.

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Avatar for user 'Joanne Faryon'

Joanne Faryon, KPBS Staff | March 25, 2010 at 9:25 p.m. ― 7 years ago

I just saw one in the parking lot near KPBS: "I'm not speeding I just really have to poop." loved it

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