How the Worm Turned on Interstate 95

3-25-06, 9:26 am

'Tread on a worm,' goes an old proverb, 'and it will turn.' This bit of ancient folklore - which suggests that even the most humble of creatures will eventually react to brute force - came to my mind recently, just two days before another dark anniversary of Bush's war on Iraq. I was driving along a car-filled stretch of Interstate 95, just outside Portland, Maine, on a cool, cloudless Friday, and around me, a seemingly endless river of cars and trucks crowded the dark asphalt road, all madly racing south towards Boston and points beyond.

For two decades now, I had traveled this same stretch of highway in northeastern America once or twice a year, to see family and steep in the region where I was born and raised. The repeated experience of this particular highway travel had given me, over the years, a tangible litmus test of physical progress - the wealth and population of southern New England, moving sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, north through Portland and up to Bangor.

But so too, this repetitive travel experience - after 2000 and the dubious election of George W. Bush and his subsequent Wars of Unreason - had provided me with a peculiar political litmus test against which I judged the ebb and flow of America's trials and tribulations, of prescient patriotism and protest.

What do I mean by a 'peculiar political litmus test'?

Well, after September 11 this stretch of highway absolutely percolated with bumper sticker patriotism: bumper stickers of American flags, every shape and size; bumper stickers proclaiming God's singular love of America; bumper stickers expressing unqualified, blind support for George W. Bush; and bumper stickers ominously threatening all perceived and declared evildoers: you're either with us or you're with the terrorists. Traveling this stretch of Interstate 95 outside of Portland, Maine, for all these dark Bush years, I had watched political bumper stickers proliferate like mushrooms in damp soil and had learned much about the politics of this new America.

The bumper sticker proliferation soon accelerated when the Iraq war was gruesomely unleashed, and America began its long descent into a dark sleep, dreaming its national nightmare of bloodlust and mass murder, a fervent crusade-like fever. And with this dark dream came a plethora of yellow ribbon bumper stickers trumpeting troop support and God's righteous wrath against those who trespass on America's emerging dreams of freedom as empire - its wolf in sheep's clothing.

Over time, as the national nightmare took a more menacing and turbulent shape, there came another dubious election - Bush/Cheney II: the Empire Strikes Back - and with it a faux bumper sticker fight, Bush vs. Kerry: a depressing choice between Bush or Bush Light, the choice of empire and murder by degree, and in the end, just more madness with the mounting bodies of Americans and Iraqis and Afghanis to mourn.

But then, driving on that same stretch of Interstate 95, as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers ran red, and the American madness seemed to pass its peak, there came an eerie bumper sticker silence. Those bumper sticker flags simply began to disappear. And those Bush/Cheney bumper stickers soon started curling at the edges. And those yellow ribbon bumper stickers proclaiming blind support of our troops just faded in the unblinking sun.

What did it mean? It was difficult to know.

But that's when it happened, just two days before another dark anniversary of Bush's war on Iraq, on a cloudless, cool Friday, driving along Interstate 95 outside Portland, Maine. It was then that I saw another kind of bumper sticker. 'W,' this one read, with a solid blue line through the 'W,' 'isn't my president.'

I slowed down, and let the car pass me, just so I could read it again. It may sound silly, but during the past five years, driving along this busy stretch of Interstate 95, I had not once - not once - seen an anti-Bush bumper sticker. And then, suddenly, there it was. Deliriously direct. Bluntly honest. Even faintly heartening. And I wondered if maybe, just maybe, this was a sign, a subtle suggestion that sanity or reason or hope was returning to a nation now sick with its bloodlust.

But, of course, I couldn't be sure, certainly not after one bumper sticker. I couldn't be sure that something was changing, that perhaps a new wind was blowing in America. I couldn't be sure, that is, until I saw a second bumper sticker.

'The Bush I like,' this one read in dark blue, block lettering, 'doesn't live in the White House.'

I smiled. And then I laughed.

I laughed at the humor, laughed at the irreverence, laughed at the implicit hopefulness that comes with bringing the high and mighty down a peg or two. These two, small bumper stickers - the first I'd seen in five years of pro-madness, pro-war bumper stickers - finally said that the emperor had no clothes; that the King, at long last, was dead. These bumper stickers said that there now lived in the white house a rather ordinary, rather tired, lame duck.

Driving along that stretch of Interstate 95, outside Portland, Maine, on cloudless, cool Friday, I knew that the road ahead was still long and unpredictable. And I also knew that these two bumper stickers hardly constituted a national revolution for peace and sanity in America.

And yet, somehow, these two bumper stickers, with messages so wonderfully irreverent and suggestively democratic, assured me to my soul that, in America, finally and perhaps irrevocably, the worm had turned.

--Steven Laffoley ( is an American writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of .