TRUCKERS AND CB RADIOS
Jane Stern’s Trucker is a romanticized, pop-sociology account of the independent truck driver. The image of the nomadic “leaver of the pack” who adheres to a quasi-chivalric code of conduct was adapted slightly in the 1970s. Blue-collar grunts were transformed into anti-establishment rogues, members of a diesel-fueled counter-culture with beards and acoustic guitars, who frequented roadside diners instead of outdoor concerts. Just like the peace-loving pothead, the free-thinking, independent ways of the “good buddy” were constantly threatened by killjoy, incompetent cops.
Truckers, however, had a secret weapon that allowed them to exceed speed limits and drive overweight rigs with impunity, the Citizen’s Band radio, a lo-tech transmitting device that operated on the lower, open (read: bad) frequencies available for public use. The insider argot that allowed truckers to pass information about the activities and whereabouts of the highway patrol
gave the impression that truckers were were magi, or members of a rolling Masonic order.
The public’s positive image of truckers was almost entirely derived from one unlikely AM radio hit, C.W. McCall’s 1976 single, ”Convoy,” a country-flavored song about truckers who form a mile-long convoy in defiance of an evil sheriff. The song was developed into a feature film directed by no less than Sam Peckinpah. Kris Kristofferson was probably cast as the lead because his best-known song “Me and Bobby McGee,” prominently features a sympathetic trucker who picks up hippie hitchhikers and joins them in a Peter Paul and Mary-style sing-a-long— instead of shooting them over like the truck driver in Easy Rider. Despite Peckinpah’s efforts to make the movie into a meditation on the law (his default theme), Convoy is a big-rig film written by a pop singer and performed by another pop singer. As such, is the apotheosis of the long-haired trucker.
The other hit movie involving an 18-wheeler, that proceeded Convoy on the market, was the low-brow comedy Smokey and the Bandit (1977), which concerns the transportation of beer across dry state lines for the birthday party of a decadent Texas oil baron, played by Hollywood song-writer Paul Williams.
The smirking lead-driver (Burt Reynolds) and good ole boy truck driver (Jerry Reed) are joined by roguess (Sally Field), who has just walked out of her own wedding, recalling the conclusion of The Graduate. The three are pursued by an fat, racist, moronic, Archie Bunker-like Sheriff, played as broadly as anything was ever played by Jackie Gleason. The truck and its trucker, however, are relegated to supporting roles, unable to compete with the gorgeous 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am driven by the dashing Reynolds.
The fact that these outsized federal felonies were committed in the name of beer made it all OK; the fact that the beer was made by Coors, viewed at the time as an anti-establishment company adhering to a higher standard, absolved the protagonists of all guilt.
There were some genuine efforts to portray truck driver’s sympathetically yet realistically, like “Willin,” a Lowell George song about a good-natured, drug-smuggling trucker plying the backroads of California and Nevada, brilliantly-performed by Linda Ronstadt on Heart Like A Wheel. (1974)