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A Day At The Hamfest
So you married an audiophile. Your friends and family try to comfort you and say, "Look at it this way, you could have married a gambler or an ax murderer instead." But you know better. What, you ask yourself, could possibly be worse? Let me tell you, I know. You see, I didn't just marry an audiophile; I married a ham radio fiend.
Like some kind of modem day werewolf, my man looks like a regular audiophile by day, but come dusk he disappears into the attic with his radio and his antenna and turns into a ham. He's gone for hours every night and I don't know what he does up there, because all I've ever been able to hear is a lot of static, some loud crackling and maybe a few snippets of conversation such as "You're 59 Virginia, WX is sunny, running a HQ-792, QSL." Oh boy.
Audio may rule the day, but the night, the night belongs to Ham Radio. Unless, that is, the next day is a Hamfest Sunday, in which case he'll get up at the crack of dawn to reach a swap meet where he can rub shoulders with others of his kind and check out ham radio gear. You can imagine my shock when he asked me to go with him the other day, because, he said, he was actually going to get rid of some stuff (hallelujah!) and he needed someone to help him watch his stand. How could I refuse?
We drove for hours down winding country roads before arriving at the entrance of the Harnfest (a.k.a. the home of the local Agricultural Fair) where we were met by at least 20 members of the local Civil Air Patrol, all of them hams. The cadet selling tickets glanced into the car and sold us one ticket, "No charge for the XYL," he said, and waved us on to the parking area.
That's ex-young-lady in ham-talk, and just one of the many mysteries of the hamfest. I t took my husband 46 seconds to unpack the car and abandon me to the unknown perils of selling radio parts and gear with a simple, "I'll be back." I am left alone to sell four boxes of tubes, two boxes of radio parts I don't know what they are, a few miscellaneous drivers, transformers and books, and a classic 1960s Collins S-Line receiver.
By now its 6:30 in the morning and a lot of people are starting to pass by. I sell a few tubes and parts for a buck apiece. Then an old man comes by and carefully checks out the Collins receiver. He lovingly opens the top, inspects the workmanship inside and turns towards me, "What's your husband's name? I think I sold him this receiver. What's he selling it for?" "Two-seventy-five," I answer, and the old man shakes his head. "Nice radio," he says, "I know, because I owned it," and walks away.
Maybe I'm not so good at this hamfest selling. I observe the guy next to me, who is hawking obsolete satellite receivers. He loudly calls to passersby, ''Everything is five dollars, that's right, five bucks takes anything!" When a potential customer asks, 'That's so cheap, do they all really work?" my neighbor doesn't miss a beat, "Its a fifty-fifty chance, sir. Maybe half of them work, half don't. But at that price, you could buy ten! The odds are with you. How can you miss with a deal like that?"
Finally my husband returns, and I tell him about the old man who came to look at the receiver and thought it once was his. But my husband says he got the Collins receiver in trade from Keith, who got it from Mike, who got it from Steve, who maybe got it from the old man. While I'm still trying to memorize the distinguished ancestry of our Collins receiver, my husband disappears, as mysteriously as he appeared.
For another hour, more hamfest characters come by, some to look, some to buy, and some just to chat. Steve, an old radio buddy stops by and I ask him about the Collins. Yes, he was the one who bought the radio from the old man, who then sold it to Mike, who, by the way, didn't sell it to Keith, but traded it to Dennis who owed Mike for some gear, but since Mike himself owed Keith from another deal, he was the one who sold the receiver to my husband.
I sell a few more items and am still trying to mentally sort out the Collins history when a voice over the public address system interrupts my thoughts, "Ladies, we remind you that Bingo is about to begin, free of charge, in the bovine pavilion. That's right, ladies, and free Bingo courtesy of the Lyons Club."
A few more people stop by to buy parts and the old man reappears. He runs a proprietary hand over the Collins chassis and says, 'Your husband still running around? When he comes back, tell him I'll give him 125 for it." and walks away. Another man stops to look at some parts marked 25 cents. Will you take 10 cents for these?" he asks. All of a sudden, playing free Bingo in the cow pavilion sounds like an excellent pastime.
My neighbor is still calling, "Five bucks takes anything!" A man stops by, takes a look at all the ancient tubes and parts I have for sale and asks, "So who died?" I am startled and just stare at him. The man steps closer and asks more loudly, 'Who died? Whose estate is this a part of?' Nobody, I explain, it's my husband and he's into these things. But from the suspicious look on his face when he left, I'm not sure he believed me.
Another old timer checks out my wares and is about to pass on when he does a double take and picks up a silver painted transformer looking thing. A huge smile transforms his face. 'You know what this is?" he asks. Like no idea. "I was a railroad man myself," he proudly tells me, "worked up and down the line in '38. This here's a W.E. repeat coil, used to use 'em everywhere." Would you like one?' I ask. "Nah," says the old timer, and walks away, the smile still on his face.
My husband finally comes back to relieve me and I get a chance to look around the hamfest. Half an hour later when I come back, I'm just in time to see the old Collins radio man leaving with his newly re-appropriated S-Line receiver. I notice a certain spring in his step. No wonder, I realize later. His radio went through five different hands, in three different states, and he not only managed to get it back, he also made some money on the deal!
Next I discover that my man has spent all of our profits. The car is once again packed to the grills. The money I got for the mysterious parts I've spent all day selling has been converted into other, equally mysterious parts. The back seat is now taken over by another large receiver, twice the size of the old Collins S-Line.
Believe me, the man is a maniac. A friend once said, "He would rather see a 5692 in a perforated tube shield than Cindy Crawford in a string bikini." I'm afraid the truth is even worse; I suspect he would rather see the 5692 in a string bikini.