Charlie Boothe mugshot

This is one of those stories from youth that makes us scratch our heads and wonder how we survived.

Obviously, it’s not something anyone in their right mind would try today. Well, not then either for that matter. It’s not curiosity that puts cats in danger. It’s a lack of impulse control.

The decision to do what we did was a sudden one, motivated by nothing in particular except an idea completely void of common sense. My brother Barry and I decided to go see my sister, who lived in Fairfax, but there was twist to the trip.

We were both living in Oakvale at the time so it was a nice drive, taking about four and a half hours or so. This was well before cell phones and in the era of CB (Citizen Band) radios, so driving took on a bit of a different ambience, with communication between drivers a routine pastime.

Well, it was also a way to avoid police officers and drive fast, with a foolish goal of seeing how fast the trip to Fairfax could be made. “That’s a big 10-4, good buddy!”

In CB radio code land, 10-4 meant you understood and acknowledged what was said. Using the word “big” with it meant the message received got a strong endorsement.

Movies about CBs were even made, including the classic “Smokey and the Bandit,” as well as “Breaker! Breaker!” and “Convoy,” which was also the title of a hit CB song by C.W. McCall.

Each driver who had a CB also had a “handle,” a nickname, which was used over the air.

I never had a CB but my brother had one in his 1964 Chevy Impala, which sported a 390-cubic-inch engine and a five-speed Hurst shifter, that we made the trip in. Yes, the car would move.

So we took off east on Route 460 to Christiansburg to pick up Interstate 81, then Interstate 66 to Fairfax.

As soon as we left, he got on his radio, signing on with his handle, “Mountain Stallion,” I believe it was.

Of course, one of the purposes of the CB was to help each other be on the lookout for “Smokey,” which meant the law since they wear Smokey the Bear type hats. The CB world has its own lingo, a word or expression for just about anything.

The name Smokey was part of the title of the movie, as we all know, with Burt Reynolds’ handle, “Bandit.”

My brother quickly searched for some driving buddies and found plenty, learning of any radar (Kojak with a Kodak) or a slowdown (brake check) or even the location of any law at all (bear in the bushes or grass).

It was a bit tricky on Route 460, but he still managed to maintain a good clip, the specifics of which I won’t mention. Is there a statute of limitations on a speeding violation?

The real action started on I-81, though, because that’s where the truckers were, and I think all of them had CBs.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard a “breaker, breaker” and a warning about a state trooper near the Ironto exit. Just a few minutes later, we got the clear message that “Smokey” was gone. And it was pedal to the metal.

We were darting in and out of traffic, riding along with truckers, often with one in front and one behind.

In fact, hiding from the law back then meant being in the “cradle,” which put your car in the right lane with one truck in front of you, one behind you and another cruising alongside in the left lane. Nobody would see you. You were as safe as a baby in a cradle.

Through a series of CB exchanges, we could figure out who the “shaker in the trees” was, or the leader of the convoy of sorts, with traffic running together on the same stretch of road for one purpose: to drive as fast as possible, but safely, without getting caught.

The shaker would have to drive a little cautiously as the information was passed on down the line, with others tuning in if something was spotted by truckers in the opposite lanes or there was any kind of obstacle or traffic jams. I was concerned about an “astronaut,” a police plane or helicopter, but no word on anything like that.

Although we knew none of those we talked to on the CB, we felt like part of a community, all looking out for each other.

But I remember it well, and, of course, that slice of life will never be the same. We pulled up into my sister’s driveway in just a little over three hours after we left Oakvale. So it’s probably just as well it was a one-time thing.

Fortune doesn’t always smile on the folly of youth.

— Charles Boothe is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and can be reached at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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