Remember CB’s, good buddy?

Published 4:12 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

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Mobile phone misuse in automobiles has become a national problem, but motorists communicating with other motorists when driving is nothing new. Remember CBs?

Citizen Band radios were invented in the 1940s, but they didn’t become an American rage until the 1970s. Their popularity, not coincidentally, grew dramatically during the gas shortages propelled by the Arab oil embargo. Many of you may recall that an international conglomerate known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) felt the oil-rich nations of the Middle East weren’t receiving their just desserts from exports of their crude oil, and they started closing crude oil valves, limiting what we oil-hungry western nations would receive.

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The result was limited oil supplies, spiraling gasoline prices and lines at the gas pumps. This newspaper dutifully published a photograph of a gas pump the week that gasoline prices rose above a dollar for the first time. And there were even, if you will recall, days when you could purchase gas for your car and days when you couldn’t — even-odd, I believe they were called.

In order to reduce gasoline consumption, states and the federal government reduced speed limits to 55 miles per hour on interstate highways, and they enforced the reduced speed limits. The rules hit home especially hard for long-haul truckers who, with good old American ingenuity, looked for, and found, ways around that enforcement.

And part of the solution was the mass production of the CB radio, which in turn, led to a whole new distinctive jargon. The fad naturally began with the truckers who felt constrained by the lower speed limits, but it rapidly spread to the general motoring population. At one point, it seemed everyone had a CB.

The fad and the language that it bred were soon recognized and fed by movies, in particular the series of “Smokey and the Bandit.” Who can ever forget Jackie Gleason as the hapless sheriff chasing Burt Reynolds who was determined to meet some ridiculous interstate challenge aided and abetted by Jerry Reed and accompanied by a very sexy Sally Field. But back to the CB.

Much of the language related directly to police officers enforcing traffic laws.

It was truckers who coined the term “Smokey” because the hats that many state troopers wore looked a lot like Smokey the Bear’s headgear. It went from there — or, perhaps spiraled downhill. “Smokey with ears on” was a trooper with a CB listening to the traffic. A “Girlie Bear” was, naturally, a female officer.

And the Smokey analogy covered many situations — and quite colorfully.

“Brush your teeth and comb your hair” was a clear warning there was radar ahead. “Bear in the air” meant the police had helicopters monitoring traffic.

“Someone spilled honey on the road” was a declaration that there were bears (police) everywhere. And “pigeon pluckers” were police issuing tickets to speeders. Speeders, of course, being the pigeons.

And if a trucker got into serious trouble he might be “in the pokey with Smokey.” Truckers’ camaraderie with each other included much friendly advice. “Don’t feed the bears” was a gentle warning not to get caught in a radar trap, and “keep ‘em ‘tween the ditches” was a wish for a safe trip.

Some truckers still use CB radios, but the national craze has passed. Some of the more colorful phrases, fortunately, have stuck.

Do you copy? 10-4, good buddy.