The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
October 17, 2004

Freeway Blogger Driving New
Free Speech Movement

BY: JOHN CICHOWSKI, North Jersey Media Group

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 the president.

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 some credit for cleverness. The Freeway Blogger, however, thinks of himself more as Patrick Henry than Henny Youngman.

"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 sign."

Yes, FB, but can't Americans do that with old-fashioned e-mail and newfangled blogging?

"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 feel good."

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 these highways.

"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 available?

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.