September 21, 1893
First of all, let me offer a hearty congratulations on the success of your gasoline-powered motor wagon. The citizens of Chicopee, Massachusetts are honored to witness the unveiling of this tremendous technological feat. Truly the American spirit will not be extinguished.
Relatedly, I hoped I might impose upon you to move your vehicle slightly, as it is currently blocking my horse and buggy from leaving the carriage house. Of course, I understand that in all of the excitement, you likely did not notice your Ladies Phaeton was preventing me from exiting my own home in the middle of the day. Some of us, after all, do have real jobs we must attend, however inconvenient that may be for someone with as glamorous of a lifestyle as yourself.
After all, the rules of etiquette state quite clearly that a man should not box in another man in his own home as if he were a common prisoner. Perhaps if you spent less time riding around town in your show-y contraption and more time at home with wife and family, you would be able to recall that other people, my God, other people have feelings too, you grease-y lice-ridden purveyor of monkey tricks! And that dent on the side of your wagon–I caused it! Perhaps if you had left the vehicle somewhere more appropriate that damage would not have occurred! Damnation, let me out of here!!
A plague on your children and on your children’s children! I hope your motor vehicle works in HELL!!!
Although the birth of the automobile was to change the face of the United States and the world in the 20th century, it was merely a curiosity when this letter was written. And, as with all curiosities destined to change the fate of civilization itself, it quickly became a pain in the ass for everyone. Early automobiles ran on an expensive mixture of whale blubber and children’s tears while emitting a thick cloud of pure malevolence. This quickly led to calls to restrict the invention or ban it all together, patriotically proposed by the buggy industry. Congress failed to act, however, and the automobile would become king shortly thereafter.
Scholars believe this note is the first left on the windshield of a combustion-powered vehicle. Though the automobile was new, however, the practice of leaving a note on a person’s windshield goes back ages. Evolutionary biologists note that one of our closest relatives, the Bonobo, will leave a “note” of feces and rotting fruit at the base of a rival’s tree if they rip some of the bark off to hunt for grubs, so it’s fairly safe to assume that note-writing goes back to before humans evolved. In human history, notes have been left on every type of vehicle, from chariots to Chinese junks to the backs of slaves pulling rickshaws. Historians often cite the following passage from the Sumerian epic poem of Gilgamesh as the first recorded instance of leaving a note:
And lo, the Great King ventured to the city walls
And was made disconsolate when he came to see there
Massive dents and damage to the gates, caused by battering ram
And scrawled in the dirt, an ominous warning:
“Sorry about the damage. I backed up without looking and smashed my battering ram into your door
Hope your insurance covers it, sucker!”
And Gilgamesh did wail and bash his fists against the unforgiving earth
For insurance had not yet been invented
The Chinese elevated leaving a note to an artform in the latter half of the 3rd century BCE. Surviving clerical records from this period include hundreds of notes, written in some of the most beautiful verse of the period, left on plowshares and yokes, alternately apologizing for the damage and suggesting that perhaps if Li Xi learned how to park, this never would have happened. The Duke of Wellington left a note on the charred remains of a French Cannon battalion after the Battle of Waterloo. The most famous note in history, of course, was revealed to be a hoax many years later. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar marched on Rome and destroyed the last remnants of the Roman Republic, all because he “found a note” from Pompey promising to repay him for damage caused when Pompey dented the front of Caesar’s chariot. When Cicero claimed the letter was a forgery in a moving speech to the Senate, he was executed, and Caesar ascended to the throne as the first Emperor of Rome. In a bit of irony, the following note was found on Caesar’s body when he was assassinated:
Sorry, brah, your dictator just jumped in front of my knife. Wasn’t my fault, dude. Sorry about the scratch.