I bought my first car in 1977 and bought my first CB at the same time. At the time, CBs were like iPods today, a fad fueled by "Convoy" and "Smokey and the Bandit," turning every other VW Rabbit - my personal chariot of choice - into a rocking chair.
The CB was a friend-maker on long runs, and bear hunting was a major topic of conversation. I'm sure I skated past hundreds of radar units, thanks to early warnings.
The fad faded and when my el-cheapo unit failed after a lot of miles, I hung up the mic until the mid-'90s, when fate turned me into a truck writer. My, how things had changed on Channel 19. But bear hunting was still tops, and I happily rejoined the conversation.
Not only that, I also decided I was going to help only professional drivers. No more flashing my brights to alert four-wheelers. My principle was the superhero stereotype of "using this power only for good," and I had decided that only the pros were on the side of good.
But now I'm not so sure.
Folks, I have hung up my bear-hunting mic. I've changed my mind, found a better principle - the one that Spiderman got from his uncle: "with great power comes great responsibility."
It was something that came on slowly, brought on by a long string of speed-related big rig incidents where I live, of seeing 18-wheelers careen through construction zones, of more than a few riding my bumper and whipping from lane to lane without signals.
Where I live in middle Tennessee has been covered up with construction. On the superslabs, the state had 45 mph speed limits in the zones. Months would go by with nary a hardhat seen; it was unrealistic to expect people to obey. So you had to run like a bobsled with everyone else or be run over. Which happened a number of times, with horrific results whenever a big rig was involved.
These are the professionals, I thought? This is the good side? Why, they're driving like - amateurs! I'm aiding and abetting them in reinforcing the bad rep all truckers labor under, justly or not. And I am benefitting, as well, from the communal early warning system.
Few owner-operators drive like this; I bet most offenders are relative newbies, high on being Billy Bigriggers. You have more experience, more pride and usually a lot more to lose when you're an owner-operator. I hear you on the CB trying to impart some of that wisdom to the hordes of rookies on our roads. But you are also the minority, and are tarred unfairly by the acts of the many.
Enough, I decided. If we're all going to speed, then we're going to do it with one less lookout. You and I will take our chances, and if caught, pay our money. I am sure all of you would agree that people should take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Hunting bears is trying to dodge that responsibility.
It has been an uncomfortable position to maintain, because I use my CB to help folks merge or change lanes, or give directions. It is so tempting to listen juusssst long enough to maybe hear there's a county mountie on my side at the 217, and so hard not to back off the pedal. I confess to often being weak at those times. My only defense is, I don't intentionally listen for bear sightings; at least not consciously. And I don't pass them on.
So from now on, I'll tell you when it's safe to change lanes or merge in front of me. I'll tell you about that burned out light, and that there's an emergency vehicle trying to come through.
But I won't warn you about that bear over the hill. He's a professional with a job to do, and so are you. You do your job, and he won't have to do his.
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often.
Bill Hudgins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.