The Prius & American Flag Index: How to tell where you are

by Eric Lucas


The American flag is red, white and blue; but America itself has become a bicolor place. We have red states and blue states, and almost everyone knows what these terms mean after the hotly contested elections of the new millennium. If people go to the grocery store packing pistols and Bibles, for example, you’re in a red state like Nevada. If folks wear Tevas to go to the store packing canvas shopping bags with the one-world logo on the side, you’re in a blue state: Oregon, say.

But this red-state/blue-state inventory is unsophisticated, obliterating regional differences within states—even neighborhood differences within cities.

Few states are “redder” than Arizona, for instance, which is attempting to quell illegal immigration by requiring police officers to check citizenship papers. But within Arizona are many quite liberal places—Tucson and Flagstaff, whose City Councils voted overwhelmingly to challenge the law in court.

What’s a savvy traveler to do? It’s important to know the nature of the place you are visiting. If you’re on a car trip, for example, should you remove the Obama sticker on the bumper (someone once did this for me, with a screwdriver, in a very red place) and replace it with a 30.06 in the rifle rack? Or, conversely, should you put on Tevas instead of Nocona gator-hides?

Thoughtful sojourners need to know.

After years of traveling the world—25 countries, all 50 states, from Chicken, Alaska (really) to Key West—I’ve conceived an answer. I call it the “Prius Index.” It’s an easy, effective and almost universal way of determining whether you are in granola-land or handgun heaven. Here’s how it works:

As you travel about, count the number of Toyota Priuses you see; and the number of American flags. No need for extravagant effort to find either—if you see one, count it. For good measure, I throw in Mercedes Benz Smart cars; it and the Prius are instantly recognizable, as is the American flag. If you see a Prius with a flag on it, count both; but I’ve never seen such a thing.

Then figure the ratio of the two counts. If you’ve counted 21 Priuses and 7 flags, the ratio is 3-1. If it’s 2 Priuses and 10 flags, the ratio is 1-5. The higher the Prius side of the equation, the more progressive the place. The higher the flag number, the more retrograde the locale—in fact, with a really high flag number, the average resident wouldn’t even be able to spell “locale.”

I stumbled on this idea while driving around Tucson, which has a higher Prius index than I expected, 3-1. This measure of its liberality was confirmed a few weeks later when the city officially protested Arizona’s new immigration law.

Where I live, a Seattle neighborhood, the index is 10-1. It’s one of the most progressive areas in the whole country; we think President Obama is conservative.

By contrast, traveling recently in a southern state, the Prius ratio inside a particular city was 1-2; it would have been 2-1 had I disregarded the umpty-nump flags downtown merchants had stuck on their light-poles. Reasonably centrist place, that. Whiter than rice, but pleasant. There was a Bolivian family selling jalapeno pickles at the farmers market.

In the county surrounding this city, the ratio was 1-5: six Priuses, 30 flags. And in the countryside in a neighboring state, the ratio was negative infinity: zero Priuses, hundreds of flags. Yikes.

That’s a place a non-white person ought really not get out of the car. Sure enough, the state’s governor recently issued a proclamation honoring Confederate soldiers as freedom fighters. Are you going there? Take your passport in case officers need proof you are an American citizen. Hide the Tevas. End each sentence with “sir.”

And if you’re visiting my neighborhood, please, lose the silver and turquoise rodeo belt buckle. No need for a handgun to go grocery shopping.

I’ve been testing this principle now for four months, and it has so far worked perfectly everywhere. If you visit a spot where it doesn’t work, let me know and I will reconsider. In the meantime—travel safely. Take your passport. Sir.


Eric Lucas does not own stock in Toyota; visit him online at




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