I’ve received a steady stream of visitors far removed from the geo-geek community on my Smokey and the Bandit Route article over the last several months. I didn’t anticipate or perhaps didn’t appreciate that the geographic construct behind a movie made over thirty years ago would still elicit much curiosity. Apparently I was wrong. Released in 1977, Smokey and the Bandit rode the tail-end of a Citizens’ Band radio frenzy that crested in the mid-70′s and ran through the end of the decade.
One leading theory links this broad cultural touchpoint to the disruptive nature of the 1973 OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) fuel embargo. As postulated in "’I Can’t Drive 55′: The Economics of the CB Radio Phenomenon" published in the Winter 2011 edition of The Independent Review – a Journal of Political Economy:
The CB craze of the mid- to late 1970s is thus an archetypical case of an entrepreneurial response to a change in relative prices. Because the relative price change of the altered time constraint was enacted so swiftly over such a large economy and the subsequent boom in CB sales and usage was so immense, a case study of the CB phenomenon of the 1970s merits the attention of economists.
I love it when someone describes a popular cultural event in even geekier terms that I would use. Broadly, the United States enacted a nationwide 55 mile per hour (88.5 km/h) speed limit to reduce fuel consumption in the wake of an uncertain, possibly permanently decreasing supply from OPEC. This impacted long-haul truckers disproportionally since slower speeds meant longer (fewer) trips and less income. CB’s became a tool to evade speed limits and avoid law enforcement. The public-at-large didn’t have as much of an economic incentive, however CB’s allowed them to act mildly subversive and pretend they were outlaws. They could become antiheroes like the truckers, stiking it to The Man.
[turn sarcasm filter on]
Thus, a conglomeration of middle-eastern nations were responsible for a cultural shift that led downstream to the Daisy Dukes phenomenon, which is ironic considering their conservative views on appropriate dress.
[turn sarcasm filter off]
Let me see if I can pull this conversation back to the point. There is a geography topic here, I promise.
The CB craze was already in full swing several years before Dukes of Hazzard and even prior to Smokey and the Bandit. One manifestation was a 1975 novelty song created by C.W. McCall titled "Convoy" It included a number of geographic references, some obvious and some not. For example:
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- "It’s clean clear to Flagtown" – Flagstaff, Arizona
- "We is headin’ for bear on I-one-oh" – Interstate 10
- "’Bout a mile outta Shaky Town" – Los Angeles, California
- "By the time we hit that Chi-town" – Chicago, Illinois
I think my favorite one is Shaky Town for Los Angeles, an apt reference to its seismic instability.
These are indicators of an argot (e.g., "a specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular class or group of people, especially that of an underworld group, devised for private communication and identification"). The unusual anti-language developed by long-haul truckers and their wannabe automotive kin conveyed a wide spectrum of descriptions for their business needs — the movement of goods from one location to another as quickly and efficiently as possible. It made sense, given their objective, that CB slang would encompass alternate names for various geographic locations and features.
There are countless websites that catalog CB slang. I can’t guarantee that names I’ve chosen to highlight are definitive versions or are even still in use today. Any given town may have had several variations that fell into or out of favor. I’m not in the industry and I’m relying on the Intertubes so take that into consideration. Nonetheless and with all due caveats noted, I’ll share a few of the more memorable and less intuitive examples I uncovered.
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- "Big Stink" – Las Cruces, New Mexico. Alleged to have been derived from a sewage plant found in proximity to Interstate 10.
- "Bubble City" – Champaign, Illinois. A reference to the sparkling wine spelled slightly differently, champagne.
- "Cactus Patch" – Phoenix, Arizona. I suppose this could apply to any number of places in the southwestern desert, although Phoenix is one of the larger so maybe that’s why it stuck.
- "Capital J" – Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson is indeed the capital of Mississippi.
- "Circle" – Indianapolis, Indiana. There are several different slang terms for Indianapolis, generally derived from the annual Indy 500 automotive race. Technically the track is an oval so does the same apply here too or does it refer to the general design of the Interstate Highway around the city?
- "Divorce City" – Las Vegas, Nevada. A location well-known for its quickie divorces.
- "Ghost City" – Casper, Wyoming. Casper, the Friendly Ghost!
- "Hot Town" – Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta, sometimes Hot-lanta, shortened even further.
- "Nickel City" – Buffalo, New York. From the U.S. coin minted between 1913-1938, even though the animal is technically a bison not a buffalo. Not that it really matters.
- "Taco Town" – Corpus Christi, Texas. I’m going to hope that this is named for its geographic proximity to the Mexican border rather than taking a swipe at its residents. There is a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, bordering on offensive thread running through CB argot that tends to denigrate those who are not part of its stereotypical trucker demographic.
There are hundreds, literally hundreds of other geographic references incorporated within CB slang. I’m sure this extends internationally although I’ve focused solely on the United States.