The Amateur Amateur: Hanging Around the ARES Table
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
very different when you’re stuck in one place staffing a booth
or table. And the overly loud announcements over the PA system seem
to come every couple of minutes.
April 21, 2005
There was a time
when I didn’t go to many hamfests. My wife Nancy and I might
attend the largest one in the St. Louis area--Winterfest--but few
others. We’d stay long enough to do a light scan of most of the
vendor tables, skipping those that were heavily congested. I might
buy an adaptor or two and perhaps some cable. I’d say hello to
any friends I encountered, then Nancy and I would leave and go find
someplace to eat. Our stay at the hamfest rarely lasted more than 30
Ah, but that was
before I became involved with the St.
Louis County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES)
Since joining, I’ve often volunteered to help staff the ARES
table at hamfests. On one occasion the Emergency Coordinator (EC)
showed up looking decidedly ill. He stayed long enough to drop off
the promotional material, then said, “Take over, please!”
and rushed out, clutching his stomach. That was my introduction to
running a table at a hamfest. I was fortunate that several other ARES
team members showed up to lend a hand.
Staffing a table
has given me a very different view of hamfests. For one thing, I get
to see the events from beginning to end, not just the middle. I
arrive before the doors open--and why
do these things start so
--and depart after they close.
Before the hamfest opens is always the best time to buy.
I learned that if I want to buy something, I’d better do so
the doors open. I probably won’t have an
opportunity to get away from the ARES table for very long once the
hamfest officially starts. Time seems to zip by when I have actual
duties to perform, and for some reason half the vendors always pack
up and leave long before closing time.
hamfests always start so early I usually need a little fuel to help
me through the day. There’s almost always a snack bar, so I’ll
go see what food is available. This is usually what happens.
like grease, fat or calories?” the snack bar attendant will
think I’ll just have caffeine, thanks,” I’ll reply.
the smells of hot dogs and doughnuts, I’ll return to the ARES
table to find it surrounded by friends and acquaintances. This is
great, but it’s dismaying to see some shy stranger looking for
an opening to see what is at our table. Unable to penetrate the
blockade, the stranger inevitably departs after a few minutes.
sociable as anyone else, and a hamfest is certainly a social event. I
don’t want to tell friends, “Don’t hang around the
table!” I do
want to talk to them. But how do we table
staffers balance the need to chat with our buds and with other ARES
members for that matter with the need to attract new folks? ’Tis
Perhaps what we
need to do is set up a second
table nearby, something like a
mini visitors lounge--with nice comfy chairs behind it.
Max wore two hats that day--don’t ask me why. You can see part of one
of his boat anchors at the bottom left.
very different when I’m stationary. Instead of swimming through
the crowd like a salmon going upstream, I can calmly watch the flow
of humanity sweep past the table. Sooner or later some ARRL
representatives will swim, uh, stop by and say hello. Often I will
see the same people go by over and over again, perhaps looking for
some bargain they missed during their first eleven passes through the
If someone I
don’t immediately recognize stops at our table, the very first
thing I do is search for their call sign. A name tag is always going
to say Bill
, which is no help at all. A
baseball cap with a call sign is much more informative. Sometimes the
call sign will ring a bell and I’ll think, “Oh yeah,
that’s the guy who is supposed to be a whiz at packet radio!”
though, what will go through my head is, “I know that call
sign, but I can’t remember why.”
Perhaps the most
annoying things at hamfests are the public announcements. They seem
to occur every two minutes, last for a minute and a half and are
. The public address systems sound like they
were designed for use by generals directing battlefield exercises.
Practically every conversation I’ve had at a hamfest has been
put on hold at least once while some over-amplified announcement
rattled my teeth.
Not that I mind
announcements. Two of them informed me that I had won door
prizes. Both times they were you-have-to-be-present-to-win prizes, so
there was a definite advantage in staying all day to staff the ARES
The antenna car: More metal sticking in the air than within the body of the
Staying until the
end of the hamfest can also have its disadvantages. It seems someone
inevitably buys more than they can easily carry to their vehicle and
wants help. I remember an instance when one of the ARES guys, Max
Slover, K0AZV, bought a pair of ancient transceivers dirt cheap. He
had been a great help at the table that day, so when he asked for
assistance in lugging his new acquisitions to his vehicle I foolishly
sure you know that a piece of old, heavy equipment is often referred
to as a boat anchor
. When I picked up--tried
up--one of Max’s recent acquisitions, I suddenly realized why
it was called a boat anchor. That baby was heavy enough to anchor an
aircraft carrier. Nonetheless I dragged it out to Max’s truck,
which, he neglected to tell me, was several blocks away. But it’s
hard to be sore with a guy who wears two hats at the same time.
No St Louis-area hamfest is complete unless the antenna car
the parking lot. I don’t know who owns it, but this vehicle
sports a couple dozen mag mount antennas. Who knows? Perhaps its
owner sells antennas. All I can say is that there is more metal
sticking up in the air than there is in the body of the car.
I once sent a
photo of the antenna car to my brother Chris, K1KC, who also has
numerous antennas on his vehicle. I said, “I think this fellow
has you beat.”
he replied, “but mine
Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related
Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail,
© 2005 American Radio Relay League