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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Radio Daze



Many people today aren't old enough to remember the CB radio craze of the late 1960s through the early 1980s. I suspect a few people just don't want to remember it, maybe even making a conscious effort to forget the fact they were deeply involved.

While I wasn't involved, I remember Dad was. And so was Uncle Mike. Deeply involved. Obsessed probably isn't too strong a word.

They had it all, too. All the latest gear, most of it very illegal. I remember when Dad finally saved up enough money in 1976, when I was five, to buy his dream radios. He went to the local radio store, owned and operated by a man I knew only as Red Horse, and bought a Lafayette Comstat 25B base radio and a 525F mobile radio. Only Dad and Red Horse didn't call them Lafayette radios. They were "Laffin-Idiot" radios.

Dad got the works, too. This was in the days when CB was limited to just 23 channels, so he paid extra and Red Horse installed some little switches on the radios that gave Dad "uppers", "lowers", and "RC" channels. I gathered that the FCC, or Uncle Charlie as Dad called them, would be very upset if they caught him with the modified transceivers.

And he bought two linear amplifiers. Dad called them "boots" and Red Horse called them "lean-e-ars".

Dad said he could talk all over the world with these radios. I wondered who he would talk to. Dad's English wasn't the best, and other than cussing I never heard him speak any other language.

Then again, CB-ers spoke their own language back then. As mentioned, Lafayette radios were Laffin-Idiots. A single woman was a YL. A married woman was an XYL. At five years old, I was a yard ape. I graduated to that from being a rug rat.

And they used a secret code, too. Well, maybe not secret, but cryptic. The aptly named "10-code".

For example, 10-4 meant something like I understand, but it could mean a lot of other things, too. 10-20 meant location. One that got quite a workout from Dad and Mike was 10-9. That meant something like "repeat what you said because I didn't understand a word of it."

And there were other linguistic oddities, too. Like "catch you on the flip side", and "we gone" were commonly heard around the channels, especially the uppers.

You could hear a lot of these things without ever turning on a radio. All you needed to do was go to a jamboree. One of the biggest was the Fudpucker Jamboree.

Not long after Dad got his Laffin-Idiots, the Fudpuckers had a jamboree in St. Louis. We, of course, just had to go.

So, I piled into the old Dodge van, now bristling with Shakespeare Big Stick antennas (co-phased, of course), with Dad, AKA Chicken Charlie, and Mom, AKA Little Fat Hen, and away we went. Mike, AKA The Oleo Kid, and Lucille—she had no handle as she never really caught the bug—would meet us there.

As we neared the St. Louis Arena where the jamboree was being held, the traffic on the radio became more intense. Only rarely could Dad understand anything people were saying because 3 and 4 folks at a time would try to talk.

And they kept speaking in code.

One thing I remember that struck as me as odd was that people into CB radio spoke in the plural a lot. For example, when Dad told Mike that he found a parking place in the big lot at the Arena, he said, "10-4 Oleo Kid, we done found us a place to keep the greasy side down, go 'head."

I have no clue what the rest meant.

And the place was thick with Fudpuckers. They all wore the same outfits; navy blue polyester double-knit pants, light blue short-sleeved dress shirts, and red vests. Even at five-years-old, I knew there was some inherent problem with wearing double-knit polyester.

Then there were the shoes. All Fudpuckers wore white, patent leather shoes. Funky looking boots were in style then—don't ask me why—and most of the Fudpuckers wore some sort of boot affair.

The vests were interesting. On the back, every Fudpucker in the place had their CB handle embroidered in shiny white thread. On the left side of the chest was the handle again along with the wearer's Fudpucker unit number. And then every square inch of the vest was covered in patches, pins, buttons, and other assorted decorations.

One commonly seen patch had a picture of turtle talking on a radio and the letters "R-U-A" just above the picture. I wondered about that. I liked turtles. I still do. When I asked Dad what it meant, he said it was another club, The Turtles, and the patch asked the question, "Are You A Turtle?"

About then, Mike and Lucille joined us. Mike looked resplendent in his Fudpucker outfit, and I noticed he wore a turtle patch on his vest. So, I asked the obvious question: "Uncle Mike, are you a turtle?"

All of the blood drained from Mike's face. I glanced at Dad, and he was similarly pale. Mom looked like maybe she had actually swallowed a turtle, and it was working its way out again. Lucille was nearly as red as Mike's vest and her burning glare flickered between Mike and Dad.

Dad seemed to recover first, and he nudged Mike playfully. "Well, tell her, good buddy."

Lucille's eyes flared like small nuclear weapons. "Don't you dare!"

Without knowing it, I had stumbled into one the hidden meanings of CB radio. Like other secret societies such as the Masons and the Water Buffalo, CB radio operators of the time had secret words, and pass-phrases. I suspect there were secret handshakes and the likes as well. Just like Fred and Barney did with the lodge secrets in Bedrock, Dad and Mike had not only to protect the secrets, but also remain true to the fraternity.

Mike's eyes darted around a few times, and he mumbled something. Reading his lips, all I saw was, "Um, you bet..."

I felt puzzled by his actions. Normally Mike was a loud and boisterous man. I tugged on his vest. "Are you a turtle?"

Lucille punched his arm. "I said, don't you dare!"

Mike seemed to gird himself up to his full six and half feet. "I have to." He swallowed once, and then again. "You bet your sweet ass I am."

Mom and Dad nearly collapsed to the floor in hiccupping fits of giggles. Mike looked like he wanted to hide someplace. Lucille looked like she was ready to kill someone. Probably Mike.

Mike pointed to a smaller patch beside his RUA Turtle patch. It had another turtle, smiling hugely, and the letters, "Y-B-Y-S-A-I-A" below it.

I suppose it's a good thing that little children have short attention spans because it probably averted a homicide that day. A vendor with a tray full of pink cotton candy walked by, and I pointed. Mike quickly bought me a huge cone, still warm from the kitchen, and all thoughts of asses, sweet or otherwise, and turtles left my mind.

As we wondered around the Jamboree, Dad and Mike put eyeballs on many people they had previously only talked to on the radio. People like Big Jim and his XYL Frenchie. There was Mountain Boy who said he was "climbing hills and popping pills, smoking hash and talking trash". We also met Gigger, Atex, and Big Shoe. And then there was Lolita...

Looking back, Lolita was probably out of high school, but not by much. Then again, she may have been 22 and still in high school. It was clear that snappy conversation and witty turn of phrase weren't her strong suits.

Lolita wore a kind of modified Fudpucker suit. The navy slacks were replaced with a short navy blue skirt. A very short navy blue skirt. I mean REALLY short. The powder blue shirt was completely unbuttoned except for one fastener at the level of her rather ample breasts, and the tail of the shirt was tied tightly around her chest leaving a good deal of pink skin showing around her waist. She must have lost her vest someplace. Her hair was bleached to the point of being white, and her makeup must have come from the local Sherwin-Williams store and be purchased by the gallon. Oh, and 4" spiked heel knee boots. In white patent leather.

To be fair, more than a few women at the Jamboree fit that general description. Some were clearly with someone else, but most just wondered around loose. Like cannons.

These loose cannons all seemed to have an entourage with them. Mostly men, mostly middle-aged or older, the followers seemed to spend a lot of time staring at the woman's chest. Imagine that.

Lucille was pleased to learn that Mike had never talked to Lolita on the radio. Since Mike was already in trouble just for being a turtle, this was a good thing.

Dad wasn't so lucky.

We were in front of the Antenna Specialist's corporate booth when Lolita walked passed us, her gathering of four or five middle-aged men following along with glazed faces. Her beady brown eyes fell to the embroidered front of my Dad's Fudpucker vest.

She smiled, and I noticed her teeth had wide gaps between them and a couple of molars were just plain missing. "Why, Chicken Charlie! You old fool!" She threw her arms around Dad's neck and hugged him.

Dad managed to extract himself from the embrace and pushed her back a little. He glanced down to her chest to read the embroidered name there. There wasn't any embroidery. He stared at her chest anyway.

At the time, I had no idea why, but Mom didn't find this at all amusing. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I think Mom took it rather well. Neither Dad nor Lolita died that day.

I think it was a close thing, though.

I can only recall Mom swearing a few times. This was one of them. Drawing herself up to her full height of just under five feet, Mom huffed. "Who the hell are you?"

Lolita laughed. "And you must be the Little Fat Hen!" She moved to hug Mom. I don't think Mom wanted a hug, but she was so taken aback by all this that she just stood there and let the young woman hug her briefly.

To this day, I don't know if Lolita just wasn't interested in Dad and Mike, or if her dance card was already full with the groupies following her around like lost puppies, but she made some excuse and moved off, tossing a quick, "Catch you come later!"

We wandered around the exhibition for hours, and we went to a couple of seminars. One was about how to shoot skip. Another, far more interesting, was about a new line of beam antennas from Cushcraft. Still another was put on by the E. F. Johnson company about how to properly align and adjust a CB transmitter. We saw Red Horse there.

It was pretty late when we decided to leave, and being in early March, it was cold outside. Dad slipped off his red vest and wrapped it around my shoulders, and then picked me up. As we moved out the door and into the chilly night air, we passed a man dressed in the now familiar Fudpucker fashion. The embroidery on his chest read simply, "Doc".

He smiled and glanced at Dad's vest around me as he tussled my hair. "Say, Little Girl, are you a turtle?"

I smiled despite how tired I was. After all, nine o'clock is pretty late for a five-year-old. "You bet your sweet ass I am!"

3s and 8s, we gone.

Keep Loving!

Melodee Aaron, Erotica Romance Author
Home Page
Melodee's Books at BookStrand
Inquisitor Betrayer


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