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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Waite

Road Signs

I don’t love the idea of bumper stickers on my car.

“But you keep saying that voting for Joe is the most important thing we can do,” Kathleen said, smoothing a white and blue Biden sticker onto the center of our back bumper.

“Yeah, but what good is the election if we end up in a terrible accident because someone was upset with our political views?”

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m not actively worried about this. I’m not seriously driving around in fear that some angry Trump—or even Bernie—supporter will ram us off the road. But I do think it’s valid to worry about the microaggressions our sticker could stir. I find my own blood pumping when I see anything to do with MAGA, or guns, or that sticker of Calvin peeing. Seriously, what’s with that sticker?

And microaggressions at 70 miles per hour can’t improve anyone’s safety.

But I didn’t protest enough to stop Kathleen. Nor did I peel off the sticker. I figured, why not drive around spreading a little common sense?

Then, on Tuesday morning, just a few days after Kathleen applied the small piece of political messaging to our car, I encountered a Trump supporter. It was in a McDonald’s parking lot, which seems fitting somehow. Ria and I were returning from a night in the woods. I needed a coffee and an egg biscuit, and Ria thrilled to the idea of pancakes. So we pulled off U.S. 2 to the drive-through and sat on the curb to enjoy our breakfasts. Under those arches, the sky was golden, the air was mountain fresh, and the western Cascades were right above us.

My coffee was nearly empty when the Trump supporter stepped down out of her big Mercedes van. At first, I thought she was simply going to throw out her trash, but then she turned in a way that made it clear she wanted to talk. She wore hiking pants and a loose-fitting blue top, ready for an adventure in the mountains. I thought maybe she was in need of directions. “How do you like your Subaru?” she asked. She was Asian and spoke with an accent. She wore a mask.

I told her we liked it a lot, had it since 2014.

She nodded, and it quickly became apparent she hadn’t come over to talk about SUVs. “Tell me, why are you supporting Biden?”

My heart thudded, bracing for the conflict. “We need someone who can unite us.”

“And what do you think about the immigrants coming into this country illegally?”

There went any chance at a rational conversation. We went back and forth for a few minutes. I found myself fighting the urge to say mean and hurtful things to her, resisting the temptation to unleash the ire that’s been building in me for more than four years. She was the one who came over to me. She was the one who decided to disrupt our breakfast.

She asked if I support defunding the police, and I told her I believed in reform. She asked if I supported bans on guns, and I told her I think this would be a much better country if no one had weapons. But she was delighted to trap me with her next question: then who are you going to call when someone comes into your house in the middle of the night and you don’t have a gun? How are you going to protect yourself?

I tried to stammer out an answer about police reform not being equivalent to lawlessness, about reform still allowing for a unit that responds to emergencies, but she’d already landed her punch.

Finally, I shook my head. “What are you so afraid of?”

She pointed to Ria, who’d been silently listening to all of this. “I’m worried about the future of this country. Don’t you worry what’s going to happen to her?”

I turned to my daughter, nibbling a pancake. “That’s exactly why I’m voting for Biden.”

The woman and I went around a little bit more, until I said I wasn’t going to convince her and she wasn’t going to convince me, so thank you anyway and goodbye. She waved as she climbed back into her van.

I thought about the interaction the rest of the way home. In one sense, it was exactly what I don’t like about bumper stickers. It was brash and in your face. It was unnuanced, full of succinct talking points. On the other hand, it never would have happened if Kathleen hadn’t put that sticker on our car.

Through the rearview mirror, I glanced at Ria, who was busy brushing color onto a page.

“Like it, Dada?”

“I do,” I said. “I love it.” Though I couldn’t really see it. We were zipping down the highway at 70 mph, and I needed to keep my eyes on the road. –Andrew Waite

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