Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Free Flea. Yesterday I went to a "free flea" in the parking lot of the Motorola center on Sunrise Boulevard. A "free flea" is an event that a ham radio club sponsors where hams bring junk from their garages, set up card tables, and sell the stuff to one another. Some of the engineers at Motorola are hams, they have a radio club, and they sponsor a "free flea" every six months or so, or when their garages fill up to the point where, to preserve domestic tranquility, they have to push the stuff out on the rest of us. As a ham radio operator (K4JSU), I just love these events, and so I went.

These events also provide the opportunity to meet hams in person with whom one has spoken on the air. You can put a face with the call sign, the first name, and the voice (or, if you mainly communicate digitally, the "fist").

Meeting other hams in person is a problem for hams, however, because, as my late father observed, most hams are "introverts". His theory was that the only way the sorts of people who become hams can relate to other people is by the relatively elaborate mechanism of licensure, antennas, transmitters and receivers, propagation, and RF. Now this does not apply to all hams. My dad was a ham (WA4DCK), and he certainly was not an introvert. But my experience with hams supports this view, and the free flea was no exception.

Because I wanted to make contact with people I had worked on the air, I wore a badge that has my call sign and first name on it. It is permissible to wear such badges in ham protocol, even if most hams will not wear them. Most of the hams at the free flea did not wear them.

Most hams think that ham radio is all about the radios All about the junk. Of course, it is not. It is really all about shy people devising a safe means to relate to one another and carefully giving other people permission to talk to them. Of course, I knew all of this when I went, and did not expect many people to have badges on. I knew that if I wanted to know whether I knew any of these guys (they are almost all guys, by the way) I would have to be fairly outgoing.

So I would go up to a card table with junk on it, behind which sat the ham carefully avoiding eye contact. Instead of my standing there looking at the junk and then in a monosyllabic way, commenting on an item, ("Is this an early serial number?") I would brightly smile and say "Good Morning!" There would be a sort of look of surprise, almost a flinch, and the ham would, after just a moment, say "Hi" and we would talk about the junk or the weather or something, and it would be pleasant. For they are really pretty nice people, though shy (To my dad, being an introvert was like having a disability.)

I did meet some guys that I had met on the air, and really had a good time.

I spent $2.

No comments: