When I was 10 years old, in 1976, trucking suddenly became a Thing.
The first sign something was going on were CB radios, which started popping up everywhere.
My Dad – Mr. Straight-Laced Air Force Lawyer – didn’t have time for that sort of silliness. So, our Olds Vista Cruiser and Pontiac Bonneville didn’t get sets. My Uncle Bob put one in his Chrysler Cordoba, though. (It had the fine Corinthian leather.) And my Aunt Mibbie put one in her bad-ass ’76 El Dorado (a car I should have rescued from a barn in Mississippi and be driving today – but that’s another story).
I wasn’t into Kiss yet. That discovery was still another year away. So, when my friends and I found a car with the keys in the ignition (a fairly common occurrence in the South at the time) instead of turning in the FM radio station to hear music, we’d turn on the CB and listen to the drivers chattering away, with virtually no clue what they were talking about. Every now and then, we’d try to break in on the channel – but we never had any luck. Nobody wanted to talk to a dumb 10-year-old kid. When my mother and her sisters would get on there, kidding around and acting flirty, though, they never seemed to have any trouble finding guys who wanted to talk to them.
Hot on the heels of the CB craze came a whole slew of pop songs, movies, and eventually TV shows celebrating American truckers. Because Americans have always loved the idea of a tough, independent loner, who just wants to mind his own business and be left alone, who then has to take on The System and deliver Justice when those in power won’t.
That’s basically the plot of every Western movie ever made. And, the Trucking Craze of the 1970s was very much a modern-day version of that classic American motif.
But there was more to it than just modern cowboys driving their steel and iron steeds across the vast American countryside. The movement resonated, I think, because truckers had emerged as the quintessential American Everyman.
Up until the end of the 1960s, it was the American factory worker who wore that mantle – tough guys doing a tough job every day manufacturing the products and machines that made this country a Superpower and the Bastion of Democracy.
But no matter how good a factory job was, it’s only natural to get tired of looking at the same old walls and the same old equipment while you do the same old thing day in and day out. So, who wouldn’t dream of climbing up into an old GMC Crackerbox and taking about across the American West to earn a living? It must have sounded like a dream job to a lot of those guys.
I suppose if I’d told someone in 1976 that in 40 years’ time, American manufacturing would be a gutted shadow of what it was in those golden days, and that truck driving would be the number-one job in most states, they probably would’ve had me committed. And sometimes, it is kind of hard to believe all that industry just went away like it did.
But, nonetheless, that’s where we are today.
It’s kind of ironic, really, that today, with so many families depending on truckers, that you really don’t see them represented in popular culture in any sort of significant way these days. But, back then, there was a certain air of mystic – glamour, even – associated with driving a big rig across country. And maybe that’s the issue today: The realities of trucking – the long hours, the days away from home, family and friends, the traffic, and long delays on docks and in traffic all hit too close to home for too many folks.
Now, when Dad or Mom climb out of their rig and into the arms of their family, maybe the last thing they want to do for a few days is hear a song, or watch a movie about driving a big rig down the open road.