Breaker breaker

It's the Bandit...!
It’s the Bandit…!

Back in 1973, the OPEC oil cartel initiated an embargo on the sale of oil to the U.S., which caused oil prices to increase from $3 to $12 a barrel. In response, then-president Richard M. Nixon found himself in the difficult position of having to find ways to conserve the nation’s energy resources. His staff promptly advised him that driving an automobile at a speed of 55 mph, on average, uses less fuel than driving at any higher speed over the same distance. Thus, he decided to issue an executive order mandating a 55 mile per hour national speed limit.


Those of you who were not yet driving in 1973 (or even born, for that matter) will never know the tedium of driving from Chicago to St. Louis at 55 mph on I-80. This section of the interstate, which stretches mostly in a straight line as far as the eye can see, was built for speeds well in excess of 55 mph and, speaking from personal experience, can safely handle up to 90 with no problem. Under the president’s edict, the US highway system became the world’s biggest speed trap.

Enter the common man’s discovery of the citizens band radio.

Mobile CB radios had previously been operated primarily within the realm of over-the-road truckers (eighteen wheelers) back in those days. The radio has various wave lengths, but channel 19 was unofficially designated as the common communication channel. Not long after Nixon tried to slow us all down, long radio antennas began sprouting from the bumpers of virtually all vehicles, from Mercedes Benz’s to the Volkswagen beetles (you remember those, right?).

Now, the reason we regular drivers (four-wheelers) became so enamored with CB radios is that we soon learned we could use them for the same purpose for which truckers often used them: to determine whether there were any traffic cops in front, back or above (aircraft). By staying ever alert, one could race along at pretty much any speed desired as long as everyone within about a mile or so of you was teaming up to keep track of the local constabulary – at least until those antennae started showing up on the rear bumpers of the police vehicles, thus setting off twenty-two years of escalating war between the citizenry and those appointed to protect them: When the troopers got CB radios, we got radar detectors. And then the cops got a new kind of laser detector. Manufacturers of radar detectors promptly came out with versions that could detect it, and then the cops came out with two variations of lasers. And so it went until 1995, when Congress finally pulled the plug. After all, studies indicated that only 5% of the population was paying any attention to the law anyway.

The proliferation of CBs in that era required those of us who spent a lot of time on the highways to come up with “handles,” which were our individual CB identities. You might recall the classic movie, “Smokey and the Bandit,” with Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed, whose respective handles were “Bandit” and “Snowman.” If one wished to participate, though, it was also necessary to pick up the CB jargon in order to know what was going on, such as the following:

  • Breaker breaker (Hey, I’m breaking in, anybody out there?).
  • How many candles are ya’ burnin? (What’s your age?).
  • Eighteen-wheeler (semi truck).
  • Four-wheeler (Any vehicle with only two axles).
  • City kitty (local police).
  • Smokey the bear (state troopers – in reference to their funny-looking, flat-brimmed hats).
  • Bear in a plain wrapper (unmarked trooper).
  • Blue bear (Michigan State Police).
  • Nice seat covers (attractive female driver).
  • Bumper lane (the passing lane).
  • In the rockin’ chair (between two semis).
  • Ad infinitum (ad infinitum).

In the meantime, truckers were growing increasingly sick and tired of all these civilians elbowing into their business. And, undoubtedly to their relief, after 1995 fewer and fewer autos would be found with those antennas waggling in the wind. (I had one on my GMC van, but Christy forbade me to put one on the family sedan – tacky tacky.)

On my most recent sojourn down I-95 here in Florida I saw not a single vertical antenna on any car, other than the black-and-tans (Florida State Troopers), and those were the ones used for UHF/VHF bands. Nevertheless, shorter versions of those CB antennas remain standard equipment on tractor-trailer rigs to this day.

Do yourself a favor and follow this link to watch “Bandit” and “Snowman” show you how to talk the talk.

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