Many years ago, when cell phones were still as big as your head and probably cost as much as your car, my husband and I were reassigned from one coast of the US to the other coast. We decided to drive our two vehicles in our own mini-convoy, and bought two CB radios for this purpose. They were very handy for coordinating our movements on a cross-country trip: when to stop, where to eat, how long to drive on a given day. Nowadays I suppose those things are handled via cell phone. More’s the pity.
Our CBs went into storage when we went to Europe, where CBs are not allowed, and we pretty much forgot all about them. But upon returning to the US in 2002, I dusted off our old radios, and now I still use one when I go on long road trips. But what a surprise I was in for: if I needed any reminder that we are no longer in the 1980s, the CB radio is it.
First off, where the channels used to be crammed with ordinary “four-wheelers” as well as the 18-wheelers, now there is very little breaking squelch. Not only are nearly all of the “four-wheelers” off the airwaves, many truckers are as well. I mean, doesn’t everyone have a cell phone, and why talk to a bunch of other truckers when you can direct-dial a girlfriend, wife, parent or child if you’re bored? Besides that, the old jargon – “Good Buddy,” “Smokey,” “Put the hammer down,” and all that 1970s – 1980s Smokey and the Bandit stuff is gone, along with common courtesy and the rules of the FCC. Cursing and silliness abound, along with long stretches of dull silence. You even hear truck stops advertising their wares, which I’m pretty sure isn’t strictly kosher according to the FCC, but no one cares.
Occasionally there are interesting conversations to eavesdrop on, but the 10-codes are nowhere in evidence (except for 10-4 and “what’s your 20?”); people just talk. And while some still use handles like “Cowboy” or “Big Red” or whatever, it’s more common to hear something along the lines of “Hey, Driver with the blue 18-wheeler, you got a taillight out.” “Thanks, Driver, I’ll check it at my next stop, where you at?” “I’m pulling the aluminum can at the 219 yardstick. (translation: a tanker truck passing mile marker 219).” “Yeah, I see you. Thanks, Driver.” If you’re lucky, maybe someone will even mention the best place to eat along your route.
Or you might hear this, which perks my ears up: “How about it Southbound?” This is a request for southbound drivers to give a little traffic report, since they are just coming from where you want to go. “Looks good, Northbound. Got one in the median at the 124 yardstick watching your side (they might say “a bear” but just as often it’s just “Got one at…”).
Another thing that perks my ears up is when, after a long silence, the radio lights up with “What the f*** is this s***? What’s up there?” This gives a listener ample warning that there is some kind of serious traffic problem, and you are coming up on it fast. Now is the time to pay attention, because next you will hear 1) what is going on, 2) where it is, and 3) directions on how to avoid it. The trick is, you have to actually have your radio on, which, surprisingly, even a lot of truckers don’t. More than once I have had the experience of following these directions around a blockage, only to see – when the Interstate is visible – that dozens of trucks are stuck in traffic right along with the little “four-wheelers.”
Must have been talking on their cell phones…