Context: I asked the informant if he would like to collaborate to work on our collection projects, and invited him to my dorm room at USC. We began chatting about various forms of folklore that would fit into our collections, and he informed me that high schoolers at his former high school school had a tradition of pranking people in their trucks. Essentially, he told me, there was a practice called ‘rolling coal,’ involving the exhaust of the car and a cloud of black smoke. Intrigued, I asked him if he could elaborate, and began to record.
WD: What’s like, that thing you were telling me about people’s exhausts in Memphis? What’s that called?
EG: Oh, rolling coal? I mean, I don’t really remember the mechanics of it or anything but…
WD: Oh, don’t worry, just tell me what you remember about it!
EG: Okay, so, I went to high school in Memphis, Tennessee, so it’s a southern town with a lot of southerners. So, down there, what a lot of southerners take great pride in is having a big truck. I mean, people will spend… thousands and thousands of dollars…
WD: To jack that shit up, huh?
EG: Yeah, exactly, to jack their truck up, lift kits, and all this other stuff, new lights… a hook thingy…
WD: You know, bullshit.
EG: Yeah, bat-mobile type stuff. Um…. And so, there’s a group of kids at my high school who all did that. And, there’s also this other thing they do, mostly douchebags with trucks do, called rolling coal. What they do is modify the exhaust pipe on their truck, so that when they rev the engine hard enough, just black soot and smoke will come out. You can’t see through it, even, since it’s so thick.
WD: Kind of gross, but okay… then what?
EG: So, people at my high school used to drive around town, they would roll up to somebody on the sidewalk and ask them, “Do you like to smoke?” And even before the person can reply, all they do is floor it, and it’ll blast the person on the sidewalk with this disgusting, black smoke, and they just get totally obliterated.
WD: It’s kind of a flex though, because then the person will look in the distance at the souped up truck as it drives away.
EG: Yeah. It’s both a prank and a way to show off your truck, I guess.
Informant: The informant is a 19 year old student at the University of Southern California. He is from Memphis, Tennessee, and is Jewish-American. He had both seen and heard of the prank, since a group of kids at his high school (he referred to them as the “Truck Kids”) found it funny. While the informant, too, thought it was somewhat funny, he also recognized the environmental impact that the prank may be having.
Analysis: While, on one hand, “rolling coal” is a prank, it’s also reflective of southern attitudes towards trucks and truck drivers. Truck drivers typically take great pride in their cars, especially in the South. Drivers will affix numerous accessories and upgrades to their vehicles in order to customize it to their liking, as well as show off their purchases to other truck drivers. Therefore, these sorts of modifications are normalized in the truck-driving community and, in turn, truck drivers will generally see their vehicles as superior to pedestrians and smaller cars. However, the practice of “rolling coal” takes this self-prophesied superiority to a higher degree. The point of the specific alteration is to spray an unsuspecting victim with the exhaust fumes from the truck’s engine. Most popularly, the practice is used on pedestrians, who are located lower than the driver’s seat on most souped-up trucks, further embedding the notion of superiority into truck-driving culture. While the prank may be funny for the driver and their passengers, it typically is not funny for the other person or people involved.