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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ham - Is the Coffee Ready?

Some of you could not participate in this years March of Dimes Walk (it was my first but not last) so I thought I would share the experience with you here. As with all Ham related events I found it more fun than you could have anywhere else at any price.

It all started with an email from John (WB****) giving the time (7:00am) and location of the event and that there was a pre event breakfast gathering at a Waffle House at 6:00am.

WAFFLE HOUSE! My pulse raced with anticipation. I had to reschedule several client appointments to get Saturday morning clear but they were all most understanding. Yes, I did play the March of Dimes card. No, I did not tell them how much fun I was planning to have.

Some of you may wonder about my excitement about a Waffle House visit since I am not currently allowed to eat anything they have. The answer is simple, good company and good conversation mixed with an unlimited amount of COFFEE! The elixir of life that makes all things possible-before noon.

Nearly everyone arrived within minutes of each other around 6:00am almost as a group. We claimed territory got seated and the waitress came over and started taking orders. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, waffles ……. and then she came to me ….”Coffee” I said ….”Just coffee?” she ask ….. “And lots of it” I said. Our eyes met and we knew no more words had to be spoken. Every time she came to our table she filled my cup which was always almost empty. And she came often.

I listened as the discussions ranged from politics to cooking, motorcycles, flying, youthful indiscretions and of course Ham radio. The conversation was good, the company was the best, and the coffee was never-ending. All was right with the world. But all too soon it was time to leave.

I must pause this story for a personal rant. I feel I have been faithful in embracing the ham lifestyle over the last 2 years. I have gone from 0 radios to 7 radios, with another one on order, on a waiting list for another, and three others on my “want list” when I find them at the right price. I have built antennas, collected articles and parts, and have dozens of un-finished projects around the house - Only to be slapped down by Eddie (WD****). At breakfast he talked about how he and a couple of others were talking on the portable repeater on the way up. It seems he already had the repeater setup and running in his car! Talk about an extreme Ham! He can travel with his own repeater. That’s just not fair (but it is very cool). How is a new guy ever to catch up? Now back to the story.
End of Rant

Everyone went out to the parking lot started their cars and left. Everyone but me. I turned the key in my car and did not even get a click. My first thought …… “My radios still work they are on a separate battery (smile). David (KA****) saw me pop my hood and stayed to make sure I got started. I jiggled a few cables and it fired right up. David (KA****) said “Thank goodness”. Obviously he must not have been aware that my radios had a separate power source. Before I could explain he was off to the event site and I followed.

We all got on site before 7:00am. Everyone checked out their HTs and I got to meet John’s wife Sharon (who is just as nice as John).

We got signed in at the volunteer desk and went over to the girl handing out the volunteer T-shirts. She looked at me ask me what size I took. I said petite …… She tilted her head slightly to the side and got the same confused look on her face that my puppy gives me when I talk to her. I selected a XXL and moved on.  

John was handing out maps and assigning locations and within minutes the professional machine that is ARES and other Ham volunteers were ready to deploy. It was 7:25am ……. The walk started at 10:00am. I went in search of coffee.

I found the coffee and discovered the one vital piece of field equipment forgotten at home. My car mug (I need to make a checklist). They had a stack of Styrofoam shot glasses they claimed were coffee cups. The object I was holding looked like it belonged in Barbie’s Malibu Dream house. Not having a better option I sat down and started doing coffee shooters.

At 8:45am a loud noise disguised as music started and three large costumed mascots began dancing around. My signal it was time to set off to my assigned station. On the way out I shot a picture of the mascots and a group of 5 cheerleaders saw the camera and jumped into a pose so I shot them too. Little did I know at the time what an evil omen that was.

I was assigned to station 9 the half way/turn around point in the walk and one of the water stations along the route where volunteers hand bottled drinks to the walkers. I got to station 9 and found a nice shady spot to park. There was a nice breeze, the birds were singing and I tuned in the repeater on my mobile to save my HT battery and listened to everyone getting setup and checking in. I started cleaning up the loose trash in my car. Something I do about once a year. Then I found and attached the mic holder kit that had been sliding back and forth on my dashboard for the past 6 months. A PROJECT COMPLETE!

My elation was to be short lived for a moment later a van pulled up and out bounced 15 cheerleaders. They actually bounced ….. and jumped and twirled. But worst of all they talked. What they said appeared to be some sort of code as the words seemed to be English but no logical content could be discerned. And they all talked at the same time at a speed and pitch that produced a frequency wave that could jam any radio. Desperately I tried adjusting my squelch knob but it had no effect on the cheerleaders. My salvation came when they moved a few hundred feet down the road to get warm in the only sunny spot in the area. They were there to hand out drinks and cheer the runners/walkers on, so there was the promise of much amusement ahead.

At 10:00am my HT came alive with the message that the Runners/Walkers had started. At 10:10am a call went out for the pickup van to pickup a participant that was all done in. The first casualty of many.

Around 10:30am the first runners reached my station and some real fun began. I seems that the runners/walkers having passed several water stations were almost all already carrying one or two water bottles. This did not deter the cheerleaders who scooped up armloads of drinks and charged the crowd looking for those in need of hydration. They were not to be denied their chance to render aide.

The scene reminded me of those shows on the Nature Channel where a pack of wolves descends on a flock of sheep trying to pickoff the weak. I was not alone in my assessment. An elderly lady who already had two bottles of water took a third when a pair of cheerleaders sprang at her from different directions. The look on the ladies face could only be described as “please don’t eat me”.

Between waves of walkers/runners the cheerleaders practiced cheers and routines.

At one point the cheerleaders created a small human pyramid. As I looked up at the girl on top in her short skirt, perfect tan, with her arms stretched skyward I could not help but think “if she was holding the center of my portable dipole (inverted V antenna) I could work some serious HF ….. I wonder which way is north?” As I searched my pockets for a compass another wave of walker/runners came around the corner and the wolves were again off after the flock.

The walkers/runners came in all shapes and sizes. From the very young (or those younger than me) to the very old (or those older than me). Mothers with strollers, dogs that brought their humans, teens pretending to be normal, adults trying to act responsibly and everyone enjoying a great day and a good cause.

As the last walker past each station on the return leg each Ham was cleared to return to the parking area for the final gathering. Since I had to jiggle cables again to get my car started I decided not to stop at the parking area but just head on out. I said my goodbyes on the radio and let everyone know I was clear of the area.

On the ride back I left my HT on and tuned to the portable repeater and set my mobile to the local repeater. Just then I got a call on my cell phone from the one client I still had scheduled for that afternoon. They were unable to get their data backup complete so I could look forward to 4 hours of data recovery added to the end of my day, putting me home about 10:00pm. I just smiled and said fine. I felt like I had just come off a long vacation as I listened while each Ham volunteer gave his final to clear the area only to pop up shortly on the local repeater and join in on a rapidly expanding round table that sounded like the breakfast conversations never ended. I just listened to my chosen community and smiled.

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