Poland is filled with antennas on cars. Even in cities, thousands of people drive around with rod-thin sources of information. Channel 19 of the Citizens Band is filled with discussions, questions, cries for help, insults, guidance and jokes. The sale of CB units is skyrocketing as Poles learn their benefits – those, that were driven into too-narrow alleys or under too-low bridges by their dumb GPS units are the first to get excited over “real help” from fellow motorists.
CB radio is all about the benefits of fellow-to-fellow assistance. Those that are lost receive useful guidance. Those in large trucks receive size-specific guidance from fellow drivers (not all roads, tunnels, bridges can support the 40-tonners). Everyone shares information about traffic jams, accidents, pedestrians in stupid places. Everyone also shares information about the locations of police cars with their Freudian “little things” aimed at the passing cars (mobile radar units are a big annoyance), and everyone slows down a few hundred metres before the cops, only to accelerate away after passing the bored officers.
Politics, sex and swearing are kept to a minimum, often squashed by fellow drivers. Politics, because everyone is annoyed with the crap happening in Poland. Sex, usually as a joke or to comment on hookers by the road. Otherwise, not present. Swearing as well, since the CB is a car-wide unit and children, grannies, priests can hear what is being said (well, same for the sex chats…).
The truckers have their own reality, lingo, attitudes. Their life is tough, demanding, unforgiving. They hate the little drivers (cars), make fun of the delivery van drivers, conspire to avoid any controls so they can drive for 18 hours straight, or so their trucks do not get caught out with less-than-perfect brakes of no insurance.
CB radio is all about building “civil society”, the dream of all transformation-era politicians and academics, breaking out of communist-era self-imposed isolation of people and small groups. It is about the exchange of information, sharing, supporting, offering more than what is received. Asking for information requires an automatic response: when asking for the situation 5 kilometres ahead of me and upon receiving the info, it is expected (and I abide, without being prodded) with information about MY past 5 kilometres, which create a good picture 10kms long. Not only for me and my respondent, but for anyone within range, going in both directions. It is customary to send out a “blank call” to any “mobile” and have the response come back if anyone, anyone is within range. People share and interact and communicate like never before. In 99% of cases we never see each other, never meet. We are, however, part of the travelling community (no, not gypsies).
CB radio is also a challenge to the state institutions, following (or maybe reinforcing in a Bourdenian sense) the communist-era division of “us” (citizens) and “them” (government, power institutions). Drivers have four main enemies, against which everyone bands together.
– Cops, are the biggest baddies. Those in non-descript mobile chase units are not anonymous, as local drivers know their vehicles, their plates even the coppers themselves, and warn out-of-town travellers about the location of a given chase unit. Those hanging by the side with their puny radar guns cannot hide and surprise anyone, as those coming from the opposite side warns us, a few kilometres away.
– Fixed radars in predetermined spots annoy drivers, and are often accused of causing accidents instead of reducing them. In Poland they even cheat on those, having more radar masts with empty boxes, while the radar/camera unit is moved around every few weeks.
– “Crocodiles” or the transport police, tasked with checking the trucks, busses and other contraptions for safety and technical violations. They pose a threat to the big guys, but we from the small cars warn them anyway. Civil society and all that…
– “City guards” (or any other weird name that you wanna give to the not-cops-not-anything-else, renta-guards hired by every city). These pseudo-sharks operate within their cities with small radars and the same ticket-awarding powers.
When will civil society win with the anti-establishment tendencies? When the number of information passed on cop locations will be lower than other, helpful advice. But then, we go into the zone of topics like: do roadside radar checks increase or reduce safety? Should roadside cops be hiding? Are roadside speed controls all about penalising abuse or deterring abuse?
Why this post? I bought a CB radio unit 5 years ago (after a 15 point and 1000zloty mis-adventure). For the last 60 months I benefitted from its endless wisdom. Until last bloody Friday, when I switched it off (as some idiot was singing on channel 19). The ONLY two hours without a CB and God punishes me with 10 bloody points plus a few hundred zlotys!!!!!!
Being a good “civil societist”, I didn’t complain. No point, as I knew I was in the wrong: accustomed to perfect visions/knowledge of the road, thanks to my CB… I did one of those more embarrassing road manoeuvres.
They KNEW where to wait for such CB-less idiots like me. I was on TV again, as they showed me my “manoeuvre” on their internal “cop TV”. Nice guys, BTW, polite, professional, smiling.