Yesterday, someone cut in front of me on the highway. I slammed on my breaks and leaned on my horn, but the driver sped away without even a glance in his mirror. He could have waved, or, you know, signaled. But no. He was just like, “%$#@ that!” I know I shouldn’t be surprised – this kind of thing happens every day – but over the years I have felt that there is a certain camaraderie that develops among the drivers and passengers of highways. It’s in the nods and hand-raised waves as we weave in and out of traffic or pass the slower vehicles on the road. It’s in the eye-rolls when there’s heavy traffic, the brief meeting of the minds when attempting to merge. The subtle “Please let me in” and the silent nod of “No problem, I won’t smash into you.” There’s the carefully averted eye gaze of the jerk that speeds up, the clueless driver who drifts as he’s texting, and the embarrassed look after a loud horn blows him off the road.
It’s a little, short-lived traveling community.
And then there is the singular bond formed with a bumper sticker.
I’ve seen this happen.
Back in the day when I was sporting a “Harry for President” bumper sticker, I developed highway friends who would honk their horns and point to their own Gryffindor sticker on their hatchback connecting me to other Harry Potter fans who wished they were apparating instead of sitting in I95 traffic. As my fandoms changed, so did my stickers. I went through my Sherlock phase (the Benedict Cumberbatch kind) with the nondescript “221 Baker Street” magnet. My “Mother of Dragons” from Game of Thrones joined the crew along with the Deathly Hallows, Appa (if you don’t know, you should remedy that), and my late-to-the-party Tardis. Putting them on the back of my car was a call to others on the road to make a connection and give a salute from the next lane, acknowledging that we have read the same novels, or watched the same shows, and understand – in a way that only fans can – the importance of that experience on a crowded highway.
When I started running, I sported the requisite distance magnets: 13.1, 10K, 5K, and the always funny 13.7 (I got lost). Placing those on my car put me in a new league of commuters – the ones who would rather be sprinting to work than sitting in a leather-upholstered front seat listing to Sirius XM. Though I was hardly a sprinter, those little signs that followed me in my car were portable medals, the not-so-subtle bragging of my accomplishments. They made me part of an elite group of people who knew the racing codes, and the meaning behind the numbers on my tailgate.
I’ve seen fewer fandom stickers these past years. I guess when politics divided the country and Covid separated everyone further, the fandom stickers gave way to political affiliations and presidential candidates. They form a very different society on the road, their own little community of angry “%$#@ Biden” or “%$#@ Trump” announcers, stirring up anger and road rage between the poor “Coexist” people who use their car for virtue signaling and toxic positivity. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch.
Maybe the answer to the anger and divisiveness that’s plaguing the country is to go back to our fandoms. We all have different destinations on the highways and roads, but if we can find commonality in a lightsaber, a dragon, or a sorting hat, maybe, for that one moment, we can forget our differences. Maybe we can all just sit down and kill each other with 10-sided dice.
Granted, it’s easy to wax poetic about solving world problems over a DND game or a cosplay meetup and ignore the unfortunate truth that even those sacred spaces have been tainted by politics and division.
I recently had a minor fender-bender and had to take my car to the shop. When I got it back, all my magnets and stickers were gone. I haven’t replaced them and so now, when I head down I95, I’m like everyone else: angry at the traffic, barely listening to Sirius XM or the podcast I loaded, mindlessly moving forward. But I still keep an eye out for the fandom family that cuts in front of me with a Ravenclaw crest on their back windshield or a sticker with a sharp reminder of “What do we say to the god of death?”
After all, even if I’m not actively wearing the colors, we are still a part of the same team. So I do what I always do: nod and wave to my fellow fan.
And then lean on my horn.
Because %$#@ that.