Sept. 16: First sighting of a "Bush/Cheney '04" bumper sticker in Santa Monica. Well-maintained 2004 Ford Freestar headed east on Olympic; diligent use of turn signals (commendable), 7 mph over speed limit (acceptable); windows closed (air-conditioning polluter); ding in rear left wheel well (tax cut didn't cover repairs); valet stub in windshield (Bush event at Tom Selleck's house?). Veers toward freeway (and presumably Orange County).
Within a 150-car margin of error, Kerry/Edwards stickers outnumber Bush/Cheney stickers in Santa Monica by 520 to 1. Hence, a Bush-mobile evokes Audubon-like scrutiny. Residents note its make and model, driving habits, destination, fuel efficiency -- all while hoping it gets pulled over for expired tags. It takes courage to drive through Santa Monica with a Bush sticker. Not that the Gulfstream liberal in the ostentatiously modest hybrid driving his son to a viola lesson will pull alongside wielding an untraceable Beretta bought at a gun show outside Bakersfield. But a glare or down-turned thumb is possible. Impolite car-honk language is rare but not unprecedented.
Underlying this hostility is the same dynamic underlying all hostility in Los Angeles: the fact that you never actually meet people different from yourself; you just ask if you can merge into their lane. Most Santa Monica drivers never meet a Republican human, just the occasional Republican car. Your car says a lot about you, but not very articulately. The inevitable mistrust festers as election day nears. Times are tense in our seaside community.
Sept. 28: Second sighting ("W '04"). Late-model Impala, south on Lincoln, under speed limit (no insurance?); one missing hubcap (reassuring); parks in front of Centinela Feed (pit bull owner?). Driver -- 40-ish woman, jeans, 2 inches of midriff -- puts two coins in meter (an hour at a pet store?).
A nice thing about Santa Monica during this campaign season is that there's so much antipathy toward President Bush, it's like living in Europe. That's why a Bush sticker jolts the town's whole Tuscan, provincial, rent-controlled reverie. Granted, the cringe-inducing Porsche regularly seen around here with the license plate "NOZE FXR" is probably driven by a Democrat. But that's just bad taste.
Bush-mobiles stir moral outrage. Hand-wringing is the local art form. It's as if people here have a special gland that secretes self-righteous indignation.
The problem lies in the purity of our rightness. Before campaign '04, one could see someone in a Navigator, on the phone and drinking coffee, and quickly assign blame for all that's wrong in the universe. But now, that same mastodon may have a Kerry sticker on its grenade-resistant bumper. Where's the clarity? The temptation is to get nostalgic, to yearn for a simpler time -- but that's so Republican. All Santa Monica can do is turn on NPR, rock the vote and stay vigilant.
Oct. 1: Third sighting. North on Pico, well-worn Lexus 300. Tinted windows (stonewaller); "Jesus fish" affixed to trunk (odd how few of those you see on, say, a BMW 745). Runs light on 11th Street (never a cop around when ... ). Tailgates slow-moving Cadillac Seville (obvious senior citizen driver); passes illegally on left.
Funny how people with divergent political views can drive so similarly. In Santa Monica, this should constitute common ground. But everyone's tired of common ground. The country, we hear, is bitterly divided. So it's frustrating that conservatives don't drive conservatively and liberals don't drive liberally. Nothing makes sense anymore.
Well, not nothing: Famous actresses do skew toward the BMW X5; executives are wait-listed for the Mercedes SL55; agents adopted the Porsche Cayenne, and the midlife crisis set found the Audi TT. Then Oct. 4 rolls around and a Prius with a Brandeis decal and a Bush sticker slows down, lets you into traffic on Ocean Avenue, then makes a breathtaking U-turn toward the valet stand for Ivy at the Shore -- and it's hard not to wonder what it all means for the future of our nation.