by Thomas Givens
”How ‘bout that east bound K-Whopper, High Yeller?
You got the number one Cordova over here west bound.
How’s it look on your donkey? Come back.”
“Cordova, you got the number one Road Master here.
I’m in the rocking chair and you’re good back to mile marker 220.”
“Thank you, rascal. On this side, far as I know, you OK back to marker 180. Keep the big ‘un t’ween the ditches and the little ‘un in your britches and the shiny side up. Catch you on the bounce around. We gone.”
Just about the time I came of age, Ford came out with their small Y-block V-8s, and Chevrolet followed suit with their small block V-8s. Although small, they were high compression engines with 4 barrel carburetors and powerful. These came about in 1954 and 1955.
Chevy introduced their V-8 in 1955, along with their wonderful Bel Air two-door hard top sport coupe. I came into possession of a 1956 Ford Fairlane, and it would fly. It had 120 on the speedometer and I pegged it a few times. It was also a good drag racer, and did well until more powerful vehicles appeared on the scene, mostly the Chevrolets with their power packs.
The 50's and 60's were the glory years for the muscle cars. Gasoline was in the neighborhood of 30 cents a gallon, so no one was concerned about mileage. I was fortunate to have enjoyed several of those cars. I owned a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hard top sport coupe with the power pack. Just think what it would be worth today.
Following that, I came into possession of a 1967 Pontiac Bonneville with a 428 cubic inch V-8 engine -- awsome. Then I got probably one of the best cars I have ever owned. This one was a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Holiday Coupe. Under the hood the Olds had a 350 cubic inch engine (5.7 liters), and was rated at 325 horses. For some reason I can't remember, I drove it from Brooks Road in Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi, in two and a half hours -- part of that on unfinished portions of I-55. Since I am typing, this is proof I survived.
The next best car I ever owned was a 1974 Pontiac Grand Prix. Lovingly called the "Prix," this car was a great machine, radial tuned suspension, 400 cubic inch V-8 engine, and 12 miles per gallon, and it handled beautifully.
In the late 60's and early 70's, we Americans got crossways with the Arabs. This was due mainly to our support of Israel. In retaliation, they formed OPEC and cut back on oil production and raised prices. So the good driving times were over. Lot of things changed: small Japanese cars came into vogue, and we cut back on unnecessary travel.
To counter the crisis, President Richard Nixon returned daylight savings time and the 55 mile per hour limit on all interstate highways. I worked during this time as an Administrative Judge with the Mississippi Worker's Compensation Commission. My work required me to travel to north and northwest Mississippi. I went as far north as Hernando, so I was on I-55 quite a bit where I came in contact with lots of truckers.
Well, this was a good idea, and everyone got involved. I really tried driving from Memphis to Jackson at 55 miles per hour -- it was pure torture, having driven at the speeds previously mentioned. I even resorted to driving back roads just so I could drive fast, probably not saving much time.
Then I got a CB radio with my aerial on the trunk. I was communicating!
The truckers were witty and fun to communicate with. As everyone remembers, if you were a CB'er you had a "handle," which was your alias on the air.
These were really fun times. My original handle was "Cordoza," a name selected because Cordoza was a famous Supreme Court judge, and since I was a Worker's Comp Judge, I chose it. Well, the handle got adulterated to "Cordova," and that is what I was known as on I-55.
When I got established on the interstate, I started calling. I used the mile markers to give my location. What a driver wanted to do was get a "front door" and a "back door" so he would be in the "rocking chair." This meant he was protected ahead, and no "smokie" (highway patrolmen, so-called because their hats looked like that of Smokie the bear in the forest fire commercials) could head him off or sneak up on him. He was in the middle.
Some of the "handles" I remember were "Cupcake" -- he drove for Hostess. Then you had "Mothertrucker" and other colorful names. There was no profanity back then.
When CB radios first started being used, everybody was "good buddy," but that fast changed to "rascal." If you were west-bound, you would key in and ask an east-bound trucker or someone with "ears on" (aerial): "How bout you, rascal? How's it look on your back door?" If he got back, he would tell you it was okay or there was a "smokie" lurking.
On I-55 we had two colorful "smokies."
The "Diesel Snatcher" hung out between Batesville and Grenada. "Gunslinger" ran between Batesville and Senatobia. They liked to pose as "backdoors" or "frontdoors" and sneak up on you or wait for you.
Overall, this was great fun, and most of the time we got to drive as fast as we wanted to.
I guess the best time I had was in January of 1976 when I was driving from Jackson, Mississippi, to Washington, DC, for training in the legal job I have done now for many years. I changed my handle to "Mississippi Judge" for this trip and the CB was good company. I talked to many different "smokies" and others.
But the most fun was traveling across Pennsylvania on the famous turnpike on the way to Lexington, Kentucky, my duty station. Many ladies came on and asked me where I was from. I told them Mississippi, and they always said, "Keep talking, we love your accent!"
Made me feel good.
Tom Givens is a judge, and he knows some stuff . . . and remembers even more.
Read another of his stories at USADS: My Dog Jack
Check the USADS Articles pages for many, many more memoirs from the judge.
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