Dear Tom and Ray:
I never thought you dealt with questions of automotive etiquette, but you recently ran a letter from a man who preferred that his neighbor not park in front of his house, so I'm going to raise my own question of automotive etiquette. Since the mid-1970s, I've belonged to various clubs for owners of one make of car or another. I was in the printing industry at the time, and I produced recruitment flyers, which other club members and I would leave under the windshield wipers of parked cars. The flyers were a very effective recruiting tool, because they were given only to people who owned those specific cars. And at least some of the recipients reacted positively to them.
In the past 15 years, I haven't belonged to a car club, but I'm on a website for owners of a particular make of car. I got the idea of printing business-card-size cards with the URL for the site and briefly spelling out the benefits: a listserv, a list of recommended mechanics, a list of recommended parts sources. I would think that a rational person who got one of these cards and bothered to read it would say: "Aha! Someone is trying to give me helpful information, as one car owner to another," even if he or she had no interest in the site. I'll grant that if the recipient isn't interested in the site, then disposing of the card is an inconvenience, but it's a very small one.
On a few occasions, I've encountered the owner as I was about to leave a card, or just after leaving the card, and the owner was fairly surly about the whole thing. One prospective recipient said, "Whoa, what are you doing to my car?" and seemed quite irritated even after I politely explained what the card was all about. Granted, a car owner who hasn't yet read the card can't be expected to guess what it is, but how terrible could it be? I figure there's no point in arguing with the car owner in these situations, but I always want to say, "I'm not hurting you, or the car!" I think the surliness is completely uncalled for. I occasionally get advertising flyers on my windshield. On one occasion I caught someone in the act of leaving a flyer (for a gym that I had no interest in joining). It literally has never even occurred to me to get angry about this. What do you think?
TOM: I think people are surlier these days, especially when it comes to being "marketed to."
RAY: Thirty years ago, our phones weren't ringing all day with recorded sales pitches to visit condos we don't want in Del Boca Vista, Fla. Our computer browsing wasn't interrupted by pop-up ads for weight-loss panties. Our email boxes (we didn't have email boxes!) weren't overflowing with Viagra ads.
TOM: Oh, yeah? Forward that to me, would you?
RAY: Combine that with the fact that most things left on our windshields ARE unwanted junk, and I think you are more likely to get a grouchy reaction these days.
TOM: There also are issues of personal safety that you're tiptoeing into. Between local TV news and the Internet, we hear about every weirdo who gets caught in a tutu and a bozo wig now, and it's no wonder some people are also apprehensive around strangers who approach them.
RAY: In addition to all the things that make people more jumpy these days, you also have people who are just ... what's the word for it? Jerks. So maybe the guy you ran into just woke up on the wrong side of the couch that his wife made him sleep on that day and felt like barking at somebody.
TOM: But I agree with you, Andrew, that you're doing a nice thing for people, and I wouldn't let a few crabs dissuade you.
RAY: You want the email I got about crabs, too?
TOM: I think a big smile is probably your best defense. I would find a way to explain what you're doing as quickly as possible, to immediately defuse any suspicion.
RAY: For instance, if someone looks concerned or asks what you're doing at their car, you might start out by saying: "Oh, hi. I have the same car, and there's a club for owners, which I was just leaving you a note about. I'm not selling anything."
TOM: Or if you want to stir things up and have a little fun, try saying: "Oh, hi. I have the same car, and I was just helping myself to your windshield-wiper assembly."