After nearly a year of piloting 70 feet of flatbed Kenworth around the country I'm getting better at navigating tight streets, negotiating big city traffic, and blind-side backing. These are techniques I worked on in driving school and with my trainer. I continue to work on difficult parking maneuvers when there's a big enough (and empty enough) parking lot available. But, one aspect of truck driving nobody prepared me for was using the CB.
Sure, I know how to operate the black and chrome electronic box. My Cobra 25LTD owner's manual clearly explained the mounting procedure, power connection, and antennae placement. I fine-tuned my squelch setting and tweaked the dynamike and RF gain for optimal reception and modulation. The mic dangles from the cab roof – suspended by an elastic tether which allows for ease of access and proper vocal amplitude. But nobody taught me how to talk on it.
I've used my radio to communicate with friends and co-workers as we've gone down the road, and have given an occasional thank you to another driver for a courteous gesture, but I've never spoken more than a few words at a time. Before becoming a trucker I'd given a few speeches and presentations in front of large audiences and did okay, but listening to the ease in which some of these concrete cowboys rattle off trucking lingo is intimidating to a radio rookie like me.
When I was a kid in the 70's, my grandparents always had a CB scanner on to monitor local police activity and truckers as they passed through town. I'd sit on the floor with my little book of 10-code definitions and slang dictionary – fascinated by the secrecy of it all - and hoping to hear something I could decipher. Thirty-five years later I finally have a chance to use a CB and I don't know what to say.
Each day I hear phrases like, "How 'bout it Southbound – what's it looking like out your back door, c'mon?" I understand that the phrase asks on-coming drivers if there's trouble up ahead, but I self-consciously have trouble using phrases like that myself. As a life-long Midwesterner, who spent most of my formative years within a hundred-mile radius of home, it's only been until I started trucking that I've become aware of my "yah-hey-der- jeez-I love-da-bratwurst-and cheese-hotdish-don'tcha-know," Wisconsin-speak. Though no one can see me when I grab the mic, I cringe at the thought of embarrassing myself with my nerdy diction saying something like,
"Umm, yes…hello…excuse me, but will any driver travelling in the opposite direction, who is receiving this transmission, please inform me if there's anything I'll encounter in the next several miles that I should prepare for? For example; law enforcement activity, vehicular altercations, highway maintenance, or inclement weather? Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response."
It seems like most truckers have a smooth, southern vernacular that sounds like Wolfman Jack and Gomer Pyle discussing NASCAR on The Grand Ole Opry. On a recent delivery in Alabama, an impatient trucker who wanted me to pass the cars ahead of me, so he could pass us all, got on the radio and poetically suggested, "Hell, driva, get yo K-Dub in the hamma lane and eat up them fo-wheelas, c'mawn." Instead of responding with something cool like, "10-4 driver, hammer down," I said something awkward like, "Thank you for your assessment of the situation, sir. I'll cautiously proceed as soon as an opportunity is available to safely and efficiently pass these vehicles."
Like other truck driving skills, I'll have to practice my CB work, too. The next time you're rolling down the road and hear a driver bumbling his conversation over the radio, it's probably me. C'mon.
The Blue Hills Trucker
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