For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed a photo I posted a week or so ago where the subject was this amazing late-1970s camping cooler covered in vintage bumper stickers. It’s arguably the coolest thing in my apartment right now. I did not thrift this, I finally got my mom to agree to let me have it. Turns out she was planning on dumping it at a thrift shop sooner or later, and I’m so glad I saved it from that fate. Because, this cooler? This cooler! It is a family artifact. It is older than me. Allow me to break it down for you why this thing rules Planet Cool.
1. My parents got this cooler when they were going steady, before they were even engaged, actually. As the story goes, my dad bought it for all these camping trips that he and his eventual wife (my eventual mom) went on in the mid/late 1970s. There are photos of the two of them camping in California and in a couple shots there will be a corner or side of this very cooler in view. It’s just plain and brown and it looks kind of naked and awkward.
2. The stickers on this cooler both followed and predicted my life’s direction. How could my parents have known, as they slapped and smoothed the stickers over this blank metal canvas, that their daughter would one day visit or live in most of those places. Anchorage, Alaska? Check. Oregon? Check. Virginia? Check. And that’s just the first three.
3. Oh, and the Alaska Highway? My parents drove that whole 1700-mile road in the 1970s, back when it was dirt and gravel and worth getting a braggy bumper sticker for. Years later, I rode shotgun with my dad in our VW Westfalia bus and traveled that same stretch of road with him. I had just turned thirteen.
4. The New Mexico ‘Alien’ sticker. We briefly lived in Santa Fe in the early 1980s before my sister was born. I like that this is a play on the ‘Native’ version of this sticker. Stickers like this can say a lot of different things, but for me, it acknowledges that New Mexico has a complicated history regarding its residents, and that we most certainly were visitors, especially when considering the indigenous folks that populated the area long before white folks like us showed up.
5. I grew up with this cooler. Here’s my sister (blue hoodie) and me (pink hoodie) eating what is most likely dry cereal in the mid-1980s, probably in a campground somewhere in Virginia. Who would have guessed that 30 years later, it would be sitting in my apartment, serving multiple purposes (none of which however involve keeping food cold).
6. That Sundance sticker was really confusing to me as a pre-schooler. Who was that guy? Did we know him? I couldn’t read yet so the possibilities were pretty much endless.
7. Oh, guess who the manufacturer of this cooler is? Thermos! Yup. Needless to say, this model was discontinued many years ago.
8. These days the cooler is sitting in my living room, serving as a little end table and doubling as a storage box for all the vintage hats for the shop. So if you ever buy a hat from me, it’s pretty much a guarantee that it was hanging out in the cooler before you bought it.