“Breaker. Breaker. One nine. Westbound 30.”
“ You got a westbound. C’mon, breaker. ”
“Say good buddy, Blue Diamond here, you got room for a friend San Diego-bound? I’m turning off at the big D town.”
“I’m just headed to Abilene tonight. Take him that far.”
“Got a 10-4 on that. What’s “You got the King’s Kid westbounding down.”
“What are you peddling, King’s Kid?”
“I’m in a Blue Montego. What’s your 20, Blue Diamond?”
“Just passed mile marker 112.”
“I’m at 115. Got your back door.”
“Can you meet us at exit 104 up ahead?”
“ You got a 10-4 on that, Blue Diamond.”
“Appreciate it. King's Kid.”
When we reached Interstate 30’s exit 104. just east of Dallas, Blue Diamond pulled off and minutes later the King’s Kid pulled up. Blue Diamond went on into Dallas and I had another ride towards San Diego. Hitchhiking the CB way certainly made things a lot easier.
When I first left Virginia, the prospects of another week-long crosscountry hitchhiking trek — the interminable waits on lonely interstate on-ramps, the short hops, the hassles with police, the long walks out of unfriendly, crowded cities, and the usual “what the hell am 1 doing this again for,” filled me with serious misgivings about hitchhiking to Ocean Beach.
Misgivings have a way of becoming regrets, however, when it is two a.m. and you are walking along the interstate in Knoxville, Tennessee. Seventeen hours on the road and only 400 miles from where I started. Maybe 1 was getting too old for this sort of thing. But suddenly, soon after sunrise that same Tennessee morning, my luck changed dramatically.
An impressive gold Pontiac Grand Prix with Tennessee tags veered over from the fast lane and screeched to an abrupt halt.
“Hurry ’er up. Get in ’ere boy, ’fore I lose me front door.”
I quickly threw my backpack in the back seat, settled into the comfortable cushioned seat, and over the blare of country music (Dolly Parton on cassette), I asked, “What did you say about a front door?” Once again, in a thick, southern Tennessee drawl, the middle-aged, balding salesman in coat and tie repeated, “He’s got ’er front door. Ya dunno CB talk?”
And with that I was initiated into the CB world. Apparently the salesman, after having his CB stolen in Atlanta, had to put himself in the trusting hands of other CBers, following them and slowing down when they did to avoid the “smokeys”.
It was only when we caught up with the salesman's “front door” that he relaxed, saying, “Gotta get me 'nother CB. Ain’t as many back 'n East. Nurth Caroliner smokey dun gav’ me 'er ticket yesterday ’cause couldn’t find no CBers.”
We averaged a swift 80 mph on the interstate, surprising uninitiated motorists, as two, then three, and by the time we reached Memphis, four speeding cars forming a well-orchestrated convoy whizzed by.
After a couple of hours, the CBer had long acknowledged our presence. Each time the convoy slowed down to 55 mph, thereby successfully evading the inevitable “smokey taking pictures,” the CBer ahead of us in a white Ford Pinto would raise his fist and “throw the hammer back down.” We followed close behind. “San Dieger? Yer chur gettin’ a long way yet. Feller there,” said the salesman pointing to the CBer in the Pinto, “has Texas tags. Let me see if he’r pull on over and give yer lift.”
At an exit outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, after the salesman and the CBer congratulated each other on having outsmarted their common enemy on the road, smokey, 1 got in with the CBer headed to “that big-D town,” Dallas.
We fought our way back into the busy interstate 40 freeway of Little Rock, quickly exiting onto interstate 30 and getting into the fast lane. With his hand on the microphone, the other hand steadying the steering wheel, and his foot alternating the Pinto’s speed in and out of cars, I quickly learned how the CB worked.
“Breaker. Breaker. One nine. Eastbound 30. Westbound looking.”
"Say, eastbound 18-wheeler, you got a copy on me, good buddy …”
“Sometimes,” says ' the young soldier, breaking his intense concentration, “you have to spot someone on the other side and pick them out for some information.”
“Say eastbound 18-wheeler, you got your ears on, good buddy?”
“ You got the eastbound 18-wheeler. C’mon.”
“Say, good buddy, how's it look over your shoulder on to that Texarkana town?”
“The magic number is 74. He was on the westbound, but then another report later had him eastbound. He’s just flipflopping around down there, so just keep your ears on. How about a copy over your shoulder to Opry town?”
“Ain’t seen nothing since 183 out of Memphis town.”
"Appreciate the info, good buddy.”
"Okay. You have a good day now, and a better day tomorrow.”
“You too, now, 10-4.”
As soon as the magic number was uttered and the green light was given, the small Pinto quickly maintained the customary 80 mph CB speed limit.
Following behind a CBer, 1 soon realized, had some advantages over having your own. With the CB constantly on, “smokey reports” took priority over any music from the radio, and conversations quickly ended when a 10-20 was given over the crackling chatter of the CB.
“What was that 10-20 on that smokey again?!”
“C’mon. Someone give me a 20 on that smokey!”
But soon you get used to it. And as my CB soldier friend, the Blue Diamond, continually stressed, “If you do any kind of long-distance driving, 55 is nowhere. When I’m on leave I can save six hours from Knoxville to Dallas. At 55 it’s about 17 hours. I’ve made it in 11.”
As we passed Little Rock, Arkansas, I didn’t expect to reach the California state line at Yuma the , next day, but I also did not expect to hitch rides on the CB.
Leaving Arkansas’s rolling green hills and bearing down on those hot, tyimid, never-en.ding Texas plains, Blue Diamond found me King’s Kid heading for Abilene. The King’s Kid found Scoobie Do heading to El Paso. Then it was the Flying Ace to Tucson, Hustling Ranger to Gila Bend, and Toy Man to Yuma and the California line.
By the time Flying Ace, a University of Texas student, let me take over the wheel of his Dodge van and help him drive to Tucson, I was a near veteran of the CB airwaves (“Breaker. One nine. Eastbound 10. Westbound looking . . .”), and had even given myself my own handle. Fuzzy Face.
Flying Ace’s parents bought him a CB for Christmas after he had been caught three times in one year for speeding. That was a year and a half ago and not a ticket since.
Even though Flying Ace fell asleep and even though I had a little trouble understanding completely what was being said on the CB, I kept the hammer down to 80 mph in that desolate southern Arizona desert. I was gaining confidence, and it rose each time I got my “smokey report” and 10-20 right, slowing down, smiling, and watching that smokey, hidden from non-CBers, fading in my rear-view mirror.
Ever since we had crossed into Arizona and after we had the van inspected for any contraband fruit, I kept hearing contradictory smokey reports at mile 302. Smokeys, I had been told before, go on and off the interstates to try and throw off the CBers. My last eastbounder gave me a green light as we passed mile 308. Just the same, I slowed down a bit. Suddenly an eastbound smokey caused me to hit the brakes and grab the microphone. “Eastbound. Westbound looking. Can anyone give me a 10-20 on that smokey now?”
“You got a westbounder here. Is this the westbound red Dodge van asking for that 10-20?”
“ Yes it is. You got a copy on him?”
"That eastbounder flip-flopped. He's heading your way Dodge and I think he’s got himself a customer. Too bad. good buddy.”
Already in the right lane, my confidence shattered, I saw the flashing red lights of the Arizona highway patrol car pulling up behind me.
Flying Ace quickly woke up, wondering why we were going so slow. “You’re kidding. What a pisser. First time since I got my CB.” “Could 1 see your driver’s license and registration?” The young officer routinely added, “I clocked you going 68 in a 55 zone.”
“Can’t you give us a warning ticket for 60?” asked the distraught college student.
“Not when you’re going 68.”
I turned off the CB, which by now was buzzing with smokey reports at mile 302, and waited for my $ 12 fine.
“I put you down for 67. You can just mail your fine in this self-addressed envelope or appear in court . . . .”
Flying Ace was disappointed in me and took over the reigns of his
van. After a bit of “eastbound, westbound looking,” we were quickly up to 80 mph once again. I guess I needed a little more practice.
Channel “One nine (19)” is the main channel CBers tell each other where the smokeys are, but it is used for various other purposes. And since you always have your “ears” on channel 19, you quickly learn of the many other uses CBs offer. For instance, the King’s Kid who took me to Abilene, the town known as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt,” used his CB to find out how far ahead the rain began. In a world where mile markers make a difference in time and money, Texan eastbounders would act as weathermen.
"King’s Kid. the rain starts on up there arond 220 or so. It gets pretty heavy about 200. so you watch out now.”
“O.K. Appreciate the info. This is King’s Kid westbound-ing down. 10-4. ”
Other times, truckers familiar with these roads would recognize each other’s handles. “Is this the Dapper Dan from Houston? Well, damn . . . .” If the conversations got too involved they would switch to
“Breaker. One nine. West-bounders. Need some help. Need some jumper cables here near mile marker 38."
By the time we got there, someone had already pulled over to give the elderly couple a hand.
Scoobie Do, an El Paso elementary school teacher, got lost in Carlsbad, New Mexico, having taken a short cut off the interstate. He got on the CB.
one of the other 40 CB channels to keep channel 19 open for more important smokey reports. When I was with Blue Diamond back in Arkansas, there was a CBer stranded by the side of the road asking for help.
"Breaker. One nine. I need some road information, please.”
“Come on breaker. ”
“What’s the best way to get to El Paso from here. I’m right across from the post office.”
“Okay. Now head back to Fifth Street, make a right at that light ….”
Then there is always that interesting exchange when the rare female CBer gets on the air, someone like Lady Blue Eyes.
"Lady Blue Eyes, this is Rambling Red. C’mon Blue Eyes.”
“C’mon, Rambling Red.”
“ You said you were headed to Tucson.”
"Well. I’ve got to stay overnight in Tucson before unloading my 18-wheeler, mind if I come by to see what you look like?”
"Uh. Okay, Rambling Red. What’s your 20?”
Driving through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, it appears that everyone has a CB. The Hustling Ranger, an ex-Texas cop who quit the force to run his father’s ranch outside of Salinas, California, said that five years ago when he got his CB hardly anyone had them.
Today, according to a poll he read before leaving Houston, one out of every three cars there had a CB. “End the isolation on the road,” the billboards advertising CBs promise. “But,” said the ex-Texas Ranger, “the CBs are really being misused now. It was better in the days when only a few people had them.” I did not ask him if hitchhiking on the CBs was considered misuse of the air waves.
Toy Man, who took me to the California line, said that sometimes he prefers listening to the CB rather than turning on the TV at his Phoenix home. He had three CBs, one for each of his two cars and one at home.
One time while sitting at home. Toy Man almost got into a fight with another CBer.
“This guy said he was the new channel master in the neighborhood. I told him there were no channel masters in this neighborhood. He told me to shove it and I said we could settle this at the Safeway parking lot. He never showed up.”
Arguments among CBers, however, are rare. And Toy Man agreed. “Sure, these CBers are usually good folks. You know, the kind who help you out.” Ironically, soon after we agreed how helpful most CBers were, I couldn’t get a CBer to give me that last lift to San Diego.
“Say, good buddy. Fuzzy Face westbounding down with Toy Man who’s headed to Yuma. Got room to San Diego?”
“Fuzzy Face, you got any beavers hitching with you?”
“Nope. It’s just me, good buddy.”
“Sorry, I don’t want to ride with no buffaloes.”
Despite the rebuff, I made it to Ocean Beach from Yuma the next, morning. Three thousand miles in three days isn’t bad at all. An image comes to mind: scores of hitchhikers on the nation’s highways, antennas sticking out of their backpacks, their hands on the microphones of portable CBs.
"Breaker. Breaker. One nine. Westbound.”
"C’mon, you got a westbound.”
"Say, good buddy. Fuzzy Face here, where you headed?”