Barry Saunders

From a license plate in the drive-thru lane, words to live by – Saunders

Back before the Interweb took over, in the time before Snapchat, Facebook, Grindr, Findr and other social media sites, if you let a chance encounter pass, you were S.O.L.: sure out of luck. Your only hope was to take out a personal ad in the newspaper and hope he or she reads.

You’d pay per word, the ad would go in the local fishwrap’s “Missed Connections” section, and it would read something like this: YOU in the white Hermes scarf and fuchsia yoga pants, nibbling an organic bean sprout, in the Whole Foods produce section Saturday morning. ME in the red Jordans, the “What, me worry?” T-shirt with the ketchup stain shaped like Texas, sniffing cantaloupes. We exchanged a brief smile. Call me at 555-555-5555.

I let a moment pass Sunday, and I want to connect with somebody. Here’s my ad:

YOU in the Honda Accord with the “DONTHATE license plate, in the drive-thru lane at the McDonald’s at 4301 Roxboro Road at 2:11 p.m. (I checked my receipt.)

ME in the big belching truck behind you, listening to news on the radio of three more cops being killed, wondering if I should get the Big Mac, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese or a salad. Also wondering why is there so much hate.

Most vanity license plates advertise motorists’ vanity or some inanity, so it was refreshingly unusual seeing one that actually had a message we can use.

There’ve been other times in the nation’s history when we had to take a deep breath – or stiff drink – before even opening a newspaper or turning on the news, haven’t there? When has there not been a surfeit of sadness, solemnity and sorrow, of hate, in the world?

It’s possible, but unlikely, that the license plate was issued since the wearying events of the past two weeks, during which at least eight police officers have been killed in America, scores of people celebrating France’s independence were murdered by a truck driver and thousands of Americans hit the streets proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.

More likely, though, the plate was issued before the current run of bad news. There’ve been other times in the nation’s history when we had to take a deep breath – or stiff drink – before even opening a newspaper or turning on the news, haven’t there? When has there not been a surfeit of sadness, solemnity and sorrow, of hate, in the world?

So captivated by the license plate was I that I don’t even recall if the arm reaching out of the car in front of me to take the sack of food belonged to a female or male, but I’d love to find out what made her or him choose that message. Was it one personal tragic incident or the accumulation of universal tragedies?

If you were born in the 1950s or 60s, you’re old enough to remember when television stations signed off some time after midnight. They played the National Anthem and some dude announced “This concludes our broadcast day.”

One day in 1970 or 1971, a Charlotte television station faded to black – but it was around 7 p.m. Then, as now, racial Armageddon seemed plausible, perhaps imminent to some, and people protesting the war in Vietnam loudly and angrily exercised their First Amendment right.

Then, as now, virulent feelings flared and people raged at each other across racial, gender and generational lines without hearing each other. Too many blacks thought race had something to do with everything, while too many whites thought race had nothing to do with anything.

Sound familiar?

I was 12 or 13, so I recall nothing remarkably different about that day’s news, nothing more terrible than the previous days’ servings of journalistic jambalaya.

Someone at that station apparently did, though, because as the evening news concluded, the screen went black and the station aired Stevie Wonder’s musical prayer “Heaven Help Us All.”

Merely reading the DONTHATE license plate won’t fill your heart with love or make you change your outlook in any meaningful way. Just for the second it takes to read and decipher it, though, you’ll be thinking DONTHATE.

That’s all. In my dotage, there are days when, without burping, I couldn’t tell you what I ate five minutes ago. There has never been a day that I couldn’t tell you what I felt like watching that blank TV screen and listening to Stevie’s plea for humankind.

Who among us hasn’t felt like making that same plea – heaven, help us all – after reading or watching the news, news which, unfortunately, never signs off?

Merely reading the DONTHATE license plate won’t fill your heart with love or make you change your outlook in any meaningful way. Just for the second it takes to read and decipher it, though, you’ll be thinking DONTHATE.

Or Don Thate? Succumbing to cynicism, I began wondering if perhaps I were reading too much much into the plate and it was just a personal acknowledgment to someone named Don Thate.

If you know Don Thate or the owner of the car with that license plate, tell her or him to call or email me. I’ll be right over here – sniffing cantaloupes.

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