John Kelly's Washington
John Kelly's Washington: Car Owners Get Wrapped Up
"Is that your car?" a young woman asks outside a Starbucks in Vienna. "Can I take a picture of it?"
Tracy Leverton is used to this sort of thing. You cannot cover your car with more than 400 bumper stickers and not draw attention, especially if those stickers say things such as "War Kills Kids. Will Yours Die?" "Iraq Is Vietnam All Over Again" and "Bush Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction."
Every square inch of Tracy's Subaru Forester, save for the windshield and a narrow rectangle on the rear window, is plastered with messages. The license plate says "PE4CE."
"This is my guerrilla public relations campaign for peace," says Tracy, 54, who lives near Wolf Trap.
Parked next to Tracy's car is Tatyana Schum's public relations campaign for preparedness. Last year, the 39-year-old Alexandria marketing exec founded Radial Pro-Motion Media, a company that pays people to wrap their vehicles in adhesive billboards. This Toyota Avalon is a rolling ad for MakeAPlan.org, a Web site encouraging citizens to be prepared. Red letters on one door ask, "How ready are you for a terrorist attack or a natural disaster?"
"I get hugged by a lot of ladies," Tracy says of his stickers.
"That's a nice byproduct," Tatyana says.
The average vehicle in the Washington area is seen by 40,000 people every day, Tatyana says. That's more than a million pairs of eyeballs a month: on the Beltway, idling at a traffic light, at the grocery store, parked at a curb. Most of us don't send any messages with our cars, beyond expressing some vestigial loyalty to a college or a sports team. Tracy and Tatyana go a bit further than that.
"This car makes friends wherever I go," Tracy says. People flash him a thumbs-up, ask to take its picture, leave notes stuck under the windshield wiper ("Thanks for spreading the message!!! Peace & Love").
"I've made enemies, too," he says. (Some of them leave notes such as "[Expletive deleted] U, [Expletive deleted] UR CAR!"
"I've had a dirty diaper wiped on my car," says Tracy, who keeps a bottle of Windex inside the Subaru to clean off spit.
Tatyana's cars -- she's had as many as 15 out at a time -- earn their owners up to $500 a month, just for driving around and answering the occasional question. She has a database of 300 drivers eager to have their vehicles wrapped. "I wish I could wrap them all," she says.