Chattanooga-area Jeep drivers explain why all those rubber ducks are on their dashboards

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Rubber ducks line the length of the dashboard of Teresa Atkins Jeep Wrangler.

There's a saying among Jeep owners that the brand name is actually an acronym meaning: "Just empty every pocket."

They're not necessarily talking about the standard costs of ownership. Consumer Reports puts Jeeps near the middle of the pack in 10-year costs among 28 brands — more than a Toyota, less than a Porsche.

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No, for some owners, the costs associated with owning a Jeep aren't about the maintenance but the aftermarket accessories. Sportier models, like the compact Wrangler SUVs and Gladiator pickup trucks, are infinitely customizable.

Yet, the hottest add-on these days is a freebie: a rubber duckie, preferably several, lining the dashboard, most gifted by a fellow Jeep enthusiast.

"The first time I got ducked was in the parking lot of my business," says Candace Turner, owner of The Soddy Celebrity Hair & Beard Lounge, a barbershop in Soddy-Daisy. "I didn't even know about the ducking — that's what they call it — until I had a Jeep."

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According to media reports, the phenomenon started in 2020 with Allison Parliament, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada and divides her time between Clanton, Alabama (just north of Montgomery) and Washago, Ontario. To cheer herself up after a frightening encounter with a stranger during the COVID-19 pandemic, she bought a bag of rubber ducks and left one with a complimentary note on a Jeep she admired. She was still nearby when the driver found the odd gift.

"The guy had the biggest smile, and he just cracked up laughing," she told Alabama's Elmore-Autaga News.

Seeing his reaction, she posted a photo of the duck on Instagram and created the hashtags #DuckDuckJeep and #DuckingJeeps. By the next day, she had 2,000 followers. She and a friend then created a Facebook group, Official Ducking Jeeps Est. 2020. Her social-media sites now have tens of thousands of followers in more than 20 countries, she says.

Plenty of Chattanooga-area Jeep drivers are among them.

Teresa Atkins, a T-Mobile manager who lives in Harrison, says the ducking phenomenon has become part of the lore — and allure — of Jeep ownership.

"A lot of people name their Jeeps and fit it to their personality," she says. "Or the opposite. Mine is the opposite of my personality."

Her 2021 Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4xe is painted Tuscadero Pink, an attention-grabbing, limited-edition shade named for the "Happy Days" character Pinky Tuscadero. Its aftermarket accessories include rock lights for an underglow, halo headlights with a star pattern and window decals of Joker and Punchline.

"I'm a big DC Comics fan and those villains in particular," Atkins says.

If hers is a show Jeep, meant to be noticed, the family's other daily driver is built for rock-solid adventure. Wife Brittany Atkins' 2021 black Gladiator Rubicon is the Jeep they take off-roading.

"Mine is a glorified pavement princess," Teresa Atkins says.

In the past year, Atkins says she's been "ducked" at least 110 times and rides with a select 35 across her dash.

"The rest are at home, or I duck other people with them," she says. "I switch them out when they get sun-faded and put new ones in."

Although she rides with a Joker duck she bought for herself, her favorite gifted duck looks like Elsa, the icy princess from the movie "Frozen."

"A villain. It's perfect," she says.

Turner, the Soddy Celebrity stylist, says she's been ducked about 30 times in the past year, since buying her 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara, which is painted a radiant teal known as Bikini Pearl.

"They all ride," she says of the ducks.

She doesn't have a favorite, but "there's some I think are cuter than others as far as the looks," she says, including a duck resembling a koala bear.

Turner actually saw the first ducking of her Jeep — left by a little girl and her dad driving another Jeep — while it was parked outside her shop, but usually they appear randomly, she says.

"I will be in a parking lot somewhere, at Food City or Walmart or the ballfield (with her daughters), and I'll come out and there's a duck sitting on my Jeep."

When she ducks other Jeeps, she often attaches a business card to advertise her salon.

Teresa and Brittany Atkins keep their spares in an official Duck-It Bucket, basically another aftermarket accessory to entice Jeep owners.

Brittany Atkins, who works at EPB, says there may be a little envy of the Jeep community's solidarity among drivers of a competing make and model.

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Instead of Duck Duck Jeep, certain Ford drivers have come up with "bucking Broncos," she says. "They leave little horses or pony figures like the rubber ducks."

"If you drive a Bronco, you get a My Little Pony," Teresa says.

Contact Lisa Denton at [email protected] or 423-757-6281.