The Amateur Amateur: 30 Minutes to Get Rid of Everything
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
April 1st, 2018
Something fell out, went 'tink', and rolled across the floor.
I yawned, then blinked my eyes.
Where was I? Pumpkinfest? Scorcherfest? No, I remembered it being miserably
cold and wet during the drive there, so it was probably Blizzardfest. My friend
Steve and I had partnered to man a table promoting the ham radio group to which
we both belonged. We hoped to sell some items that had been donated and pass
out some of the group's brochures.
I looked over at Steve. He was
adding more sale items to the table and whistling Whistle While You Work.
That was a surprise. I'd never heard him so much as hum before, let alone
whistle. Was I mistaken? Was I still in Dreamfest? Or had Steve won a big door
prize while I was mentally snoozing?
Glancing at the table, I saw that
our stock of free promotional buttons had diminished, but none of the
brochures. Why not, I wondered. After all, they were free, too.
The sale portion of the table also
looked different. Some items had obviously sold, but Steve had a virtually
endless supply of replacements. Donations to our group had been heavy recently.
Of course, the donations tended to be obsolete, beat up, and missing cords. One
or two had blemishes that looked suspiciously like bullet holes. But, you can never
tell what will appeal to hamfest attendees.
Steve had placed an old, but
popular rig on the table. After several price reductions, it had not sold and
no one had shown any interest. Steve decided to take it off the table and try
some other item. As he picked up the rig, something fell out, went 'tink', and
rolled around on the floor. An attendee with a walrus mustache knelt down, his
eyes wide, and said, "Is that a.... No! It can't be! I've been looking for one
of those for years!" straightening up, he looked at Steve and eagerly asked,
"How much do you want for it?"
"Ummm... fifty bucks??" Steve replied.
"Ha! Sold!" the man said, whipping
out his wallet and forking over the money. Snatching the mystery item from the
floor, he dashed off into the crowd, chortling.
"What the heck was that?" I asked.
Steve shrugged his shoulders and
began whistling We're in the Money! as he stuffed the loot into our cash
I dicovered that the message had been horribly misspelled.
For several years, we had lots of
battery-powered power supplies that had been tossed out by a telephone company.
Interest in them had initially been quite high. We completely sold out one
year, only to find out that another vendor had bought them and was selling them
for twice what he'd paid us for them. Eventually, interest had tapered off, and
last year no one had wanted any.
Today, virtually everyone who came
to our table was asking for them. We didn't have any. Nor did any other vendor
at the hamfest. I think they had all been beamed up to the telephone company's
mother ship. They were probably going to deploy a bunch of new satellites and
needed the batteries back.
I replenished the stock of free
buttons on the table. I noted, sadly, that none of the coffee mugs were moving.
I'd purchased two dozen at a ridiculously low price, figuring we could make a
killing selling them. They took fourteen weeks to arrive, and had apparently
been shipped from southeast Asia via a refugee boat. When they finally showed
up, I discovered that the message "I (heart) Amateur Radio" had been horribly
misspelled. Having no other options, I'd put them on the table anyway. Clearly,
though, the attendees of this hamfest knew how to spell.
I took down the sign, changed
"Amateur Radio coffee mugs" to "Novelty coffee mugs", lowered the price, and
put the sign back in place.
Steve seemed to be constantly
checking his phone. Whenever someone stopped at the table, though, he would
look up, smile, and say, "Hey Bob (Chuck, Irving, whoever)! How have you been!"
The person would look up, somewhat surprised, and shake Steve's hand. Within
moments, they'd be deep in a conversation about whatever most interested the
guy. Perhaps one time out of five, the fellow would buy something before
I was utterly amazed at Steve's
ability to remember so many people, especially since more than half of them
didn't seem to remember him. Everything became clear, though, when I peeked at
Steve wasn't checking for messages.
He was noting the call sign of anyone who approached our table, then quickly
looking it up in the FCC database to see who they were.
"Hey, 'Amateur Radio' is misspelled on these mugs," someone said.
"Yeah, yeah," I muttered. You're
only the 500th person to notice, I thought to myself.
Steve went around the table and
looked at my sign. He grabbed a fresh piece of cardstock, wrote something on
it, and replaced my sign while whistling La Marseillaise.
No one else made any comments about
the spelling on the mugs. Curious, I looked to see what Steve had written on
the new sign.
"FRENCH AMATEUR RADIO COFFEE MUGS," it said, "$25 EACH."
Genuine boat anchor, barnacles included
The morning dragged on and the crowds began to thin.
"You know, I've got a real boat anchor out in my truck," Steve said.
"Oh? What brand?" I asked.
"Dunno. It's still covered with barnacles."
I smiled, then realized that he
probably wasn't kidding. Someone might buy it just for the laugh value.
Someone might even buy the barnacles.
Steve looked at his watch and frowned.
"Oh man, the hamfest closes in 30
minutes," he said, "and I really need to get rid of everything!"
"Oh? Why?" I asked, puzzled. No
vendor ever sells everything on his table.
"My wife told me that I'd better
not bring any of this stuff home, because no matter what, she was going to park
her car in the garage tonight!"
I didn't say anything. The poor guy was doomed.
We watched the minutes tick away
til closing time. We grabbed a couple of carts and started piling the unsold
stuff onto them. Once they were full, Steve yanked on the handle of one of
them, strained until he managed to get it rolling, then whistled Song of the
Volga Boatmen as he dragged it toward the exit.
We got Steve's truck loaded up
(there was no boat anchor in it after all). He got in, started the engine, then
gave me a sad smile. As he drove off, I heard him whistling a funeral dirge. I
hoped that he could find a large dumpster before he reached home.
As I got into my own car, I
reflected that, Steve's woes aside, it
hadn't been a bad hamfest. All in all we did disposed of numerous radios,
antennas, and sundry items.
We even sold a few French coffee mugs.
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