I just got off the phone with a clever man from
California who is determined to export his devilish brand of free speech to
a highway near you. Calling himself the Freeway Blogger, he and his
followers last week began plastering homemade political signs on highway
overpasses from coast to coast on the same day that George Bush and John
Kerry squared off for their last televised debate.
For all its hype, the presidential debate produced few, if any, memorable
phrases, although each candidate spewed thousands of words.
On the other hand, the Freeway Blogger and friends deployed only a few
words, which they used to great advantage - almost always at the expense of
A makeshift sign in Cleveland, for example, used numbers to make its point -
"KIA: 1,076; WMD: 0." One in Pflugerville, Texas, used only two white
directional arrows. The one pointing right was labeled Bush; the one
pointing left said Truth.
No matter how you vote on Election Day, you have to give these folks (whose
signs are posted at freewayblogger.com) some credit for cleverness. The
Freeway Blogger, however, thinks of himself more as Patrick Henry than Henny
"Freeway blogging is an extension of free speech," he said. "You don't have
to own a television station to get your views out there. Just put up a
Yes, FB, but can't Americans do that with old-fashioned e-mail and
"But your message gets ghetto-ized or marginalized," he responded.
"Thousands can see your sign on the highway."
Indeed, mass exposure drew Caroline, an Essex County art teacher, to freeway
blogging. You can see her 2-by-4-foot, cardboard handiwork on westbound
Route 280 at the West Orange-Montclair exit: "Bush boozed while Kerry bled."
||"I like having a
captive audience share my ideas while they're stuck in traffic," she
said. "I might change a few minds, but even if I don't, it makes me
A steady visitor to Web blogs, Caroline was inspired when she saw
this online replica of the Freeway Blogger's work: "When Clinton
lied, nobody died."
"In a few words,
he said exactly what I was thinking," she said.
The Freeway Blogger, a liberal who runs a charity in
archconserv-ative Orange County, Calif., said he stuck that message
on the Santa Monica Freeway after the Los Angeles Times declined to
publish one of his letters. Within months, freeway blogging spread
throughout California, then to Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and
Ohio. On Wednesday, press releases heralded an expansion nationally.
But state transportation departments have their own ideas about
"Nobody's allowed to put anything on a state highway," said New
Jersey DOT spokesman Marc Lavorgna. "It anybody does - whether
they're running for governor or dogcatcher - it can be removed."
Violators can be charged with defacing state property, although such
arrests are rare, said Lavorgna.
"But we have a tradition of civil disobedience in this country,"
said Severn Williams, an organizer for the Freeway Blogger.
"Americans often ignore minor laws in pursuit of a greater good."
True enough, but what is the great public benefit in extending free
speech to makeshift signs on highways? Are clever sayings on
bedsheets tacked to overpasses the only remaining, cheap mass medium
Hardly. Most Americans would rather see unclever highway signs that
clearly guide us toward the right exit ramp than clever signs that
try to shove us either to the political left or right.
Listen, FB, if you must use public highways to drive home your
political agenda, paint a big clever message on your pickup truck
and take it as far as your imagination, good sense and the
constitution allow. Most of the rest of us would sooner concentrate
on our driving.