CORTE MADERA — A pair of mischievous middle-aged men has been stalking through shopping mall parking lots - the habitat of the mighty sports utility vehicle – doing a little civil disobedience in hopes that their prey will become extinct.
For four months, Robert Lind, who runs a deer-repellent business, and his cohort, construction worker Charles Dines, have scampered all over the San Francisco Bay Area, smoothing homemade bumper stickers onto hundreds of SUVs – the vehicles they love to hate.
They’re tired of watching SUVs suck fuel at gas stations and flood rear-view mirrors at night with blinding headlights. Mostly, the “mad taggers” are tired of the SUVs’ impact on the environment.
And now SUV are getting tired of their black-and-white bumper stickers, which exclaim: “I’m changing the environment! Ask me how!”
Dines, who rides a BMW motorcycle, devised the idea after repeated chats with Lind about their shared scorn for SUVs. He likens it to the public pillories of old, where petty offenders were exposed to public shame.
“We look at the bumper sticker as a way to punish these people,” explains Lind, who drives an old BMW car. “They think their status trinket it more important than the environment we all share.”
Judging from what happened during a recent hunt at a mall parking lot here, SUV drivers certainly take offense to their antics.
A flurry of women used their cell phones to call police, and Lind and Dines were twice confronted by security and police officers.
“You don’t know the facts!” one mother hissed as she pushed a baby stroller back and forth near her pristine Chevy Tahoe after they inadvertently tagged it a second time, breaking their own no-repeat rule.
“There’s no other car that has enough shoulder belts for booster seats and has cargo space,” the woman told them. “I don’t want my kids sitting 12 inches from the back of the car against glass like in a minivan.”
Dines and Lind, fresh from a confrontation with police in another section of the lot, looked uneasy but took a few minutes to pitch their case against SUVs before making their escape.
Tagging cars with their removable stickers, it turns out, can amount to a vandalism misdemeanor.
“I understand your cause and everything,” Twin Cities police officer Mark Reischel told them. “I just think that adhering this to a car would make people mad. I know it would make me mad.”
Lind says the facts about SUVs make the risk worth it.
Drivers bought 2.8 million SUVs in the United States through November of this year, about 17 percent of all vehicles sold. Sales are up 4.6 percent from last year, according to Ward’s Automotive Reports.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, average fuel economy in the SUV, van and pickup truck category is just over 18 mpg, compared with 23.6 mpg for cars.
Some sport utility vehicles also have less stringent federal emissions standards since they are classified as heavy-duty trucks, which contributes to urban smog problems.
Carl Calvert, editor of the magazine Today’s SUV, says he doesn’t understand why the pair focuses on SUVs rather than all large pickup trucks.
“There’s always a certain faction that’s going to be looking at the negative attributes of SUVs,” Calvert said. “I think you can look at any automotive vehicle and see negative aspects.”
Lind maintains that most SUVs are bought for status, not utility.
“People are going to see and wonder what’s that all about,” Lind said. “Our goal is to attach enough social shame and ostracism to an SUV so that perhaps we’ll change public opinion. Maybe some people will think, well, maybe I shouldn’t buy an SUV.”
The stickers also list a Web site, http://www.changingtheclimate.com, which gives advice on removing the stickers and invites targeted SUV owners to join in a spirited exchange of SUV philosophy.
“Don’t ever vandalize my vehicle with your sticker again,” a recent post from an angry commercial fisherman reads. “I will physically confront and stop you.”
Lind and Dines, their leather jacket pockets bulging with stickers, brag about the times when they’ve tagged SUVs without the drivers inside noticing. But mostly they try to avoid physical confrontations.
They creep down to bumper level, stoop a bit to stick on their message and move on the next “big game” in one fluid motion, faces bright with glee.
“We’re reasonable about it,” Lind says. “We don’t tag commercial vehicles — there are some people who need SUVs, and if its appropriate we don’t have a problem with it.”
But they don’t always stick to their rules, said the Chevy Tahoe owner, who removed the bumper sticker the first time they tagged her, only to be struck again.
“There are reasons people have large vehicles, like carpooling,” she said, asking to go nameless until she decides whether to sue for vandalism. “I appreciate their concern for the environment but I don’t feel they should be doing what they’re doing without knowledge of the specific car owners’ circumstance for buying that car.”
• Only big SUVs are fair game. “I tag in the affluent suburbs where they never get dirty or use the 4 wheel drive,” Lind says. “I figure that most people in rural areas are probably using them for a functional purpose and therefore don’t tag in those areas.”
• Commercial vehicles are not tagged. “I have no gripe with people who really need these gas-guzzlers. It’s the morons who are keeping up with the Jones’ that raise my back hairs.”
• Vehicles will not be tagged twice.
• Only late models will be tagged. “Not some beat up old Suburban some poor soul has inherited.”
• Vehicles are not targeted simply because they have 4 wheel drive. “Only the types that never use ’em (soccer moms, etc.). That leaves 85 percent.”
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