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Country Goes to the Movies, part III: Convoy

By Robert Loy, June 1997

When you think about the 1970's, you think of three things - disco music, the Watergate break-in, and movies about fat corrupt Southern cops chasing fun-loving, good-looking truck drivers. "Smokey and the Bandit" was certainly the "Hamlet" of this genre, but let's not forget...uh...what was the name of that thing?

Oh yeah. "Convoy."

It all started with C.W. McCall's hit song that single-handedly started that damned CB craze. When they decided to make it into a movie in 1978, for some reason they decided not to use actors; think about it, Kris Kristofferson was a singer, Franklin Ajaye was a stand-up comedian and Ali McGraw was a wax mannequin.

Kristofferson stars as "Rubber Duck", the only truck driver in the world with all his teeth, a flat stomach and a girlfriend that looks anything like Ali McGraw.

Ajaye is "Spider Mike." Burt Young is "Love Machine" and he's hauling hogs. (He used to haul cows but his brother-in-law kept punching them - that's an in-joke for "Rocky" fans.)

When racist sheriff Lyle Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) tries to arrest Spider Mike on a bogus charge, a brawl breaks out in the truck stop.

And as this film was directed by Sam Peckinpah, every time some one falls through a table or into a window they do so in slow motion. Not only do the truckers whup up on the cops, they sabotage their cruisers and handcuff Sheriff Wallace to a stool. They then head for the New Mexico line under the mistaken assumption that the law won't be able to touch them there. (Let's just hope these gringos know how to speak Espanol.)

Wallace chases after them in a car he stole, but the Duck and his buddies drive him off a cliff. Luckily, Wallace is able to downshift in time and land in slow motion so he's not hurt. He hooks up with law enforcement reinforcements in New Mexico, and Spider Mike and Pig Pen (formerly Love Machine), hoping to add murder to their list of crimes (What the hell, it's New Mexico, you can do what you want) do their best to squeeze them to death between their trucks.

Even though this mess is none of their business, at every entrance ramp more truckers join this convoy, because as one of them comments, "The only things that count are fast trucks, fast women and fast food." (And, of course, slow motion violence.) Also along for the ride are several trucker groupies (known in CB lingo as lot lizards) and a microbus full of long-haired Jesus freaks.

Now Wallace and a federal agent are in a helicopter (known in CB lingo as "bears in the air"). They're overseeing a massive roadblock.

But the Duck shows no signs of slowing down, and the sharp-eyed sharp shooters notice for the first time that he's hauling explosives, so they move their squad cars before he gets there. The Duck still hits a couple of cruisers just for sport.

The truckers are genuine folk heroes now, and the media wants to know what the point of the convoy is, but nobody really knows. The Rubber Duck who is the ostensible leader of the thing, says the purpose of the convoy is to keep going. To the governor, its purpose is to win votes. He arranges a safe place for the truckers to spend the night.

Spider Mike's wife is having a baby (If it's a boy, they plan to name him Tarantula), and he ignores the fact that the background music has turned ominous, and heads out alone for Texas to be with Mama Longlegs. Naturally Wallace follows him, and the spider man is beaten and jailed - solitary confinement actually, which presumably makes him a brown recluse.

(All right, all right, no more lame spider jokes.)

McGraw is negotiating to make some money off the Rubber Duck story. (Ernie of Sesame Street has already expressed an interest in the song rights), and the Duck is not too pleased until after they make out in the cab of his truck (known in CB lingo as gear-jamming).

Meanwhile, back in the Lone Star State, a kindly janitor at the jail CBs out the news of Spider Mike. The Duck hears about it halfway through his meeting with the governor, and he takes off to rescue his friend. Alone.

About dawn the Duck is surprised to learn that the other truckers are behind him after all. (We're not, of course. Whoever heard of a convoy of one?) The truckers line up and tear down every building in town and then ram the Alvarez police department. They lock Wallace in a cell and just to be sure he knows they're not happy with him, the Duck calls him "a broke-down, bribe-takin' piece of meanness."

They then head for old Mexico. All of which causes great amusement to the janitor - ironic since he's the guy who'll be spending the next couple of decades cleaning up the mess that used to be Alvarez, Texas.

Unfortunately, the truckers don't get far before the second truck in the convoy is involved in an accident, blocking the progress of everybody behind him. The Rubber Duck is on his own, and Sheriff Wallace and the National Guard and everybody in the Southwest with a gun and a badge is aiming dead at him.

Wallace stands in front of him with a machine gun, but obviously the sheriff learned to shoot at the bad guy firing range. His first 300 or so shots miss, but finally the Waterfowl's rig explodes and falls into the river.

Ali who has been running after him - in slow motion, of course - stops and tries to do a little acting here. She's about as successful as the guy who ordered the explosives is at receiving his TNT.

Later there is a tribute to the Duck. A bunch of truckers are convoying again and blowing their horns to honor their fallen comrade - or maybe it's just to drown out the governor's specious speech. McGraw is on the microbus with the Jesus freaks, where - surprise! surprise! - the Duck is hiding out. As he points out, "Did you ever see a duck that couldn't swim?"

(Well, come to think of it, Mr. Duck, I don't think many mallards would be able to finish their laps after being shot several times with a machine gun, blown up and set on fire.)

He's lost an eye, and evidently a hundred or more I.Q. points, since as they pass Sheriff Wallace the Duck does not duck, but instead waves at the guy. Maybe he's hoping to lay the groundwork for a sequel which - mercifully - never got made.

Next: My heroes have always been great film-makers, but there aren't many of them involved in "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys."