Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mark of the volunteer

I had a very enjoyable morning yesterday. We had 19 candidates for ham radio license exams and most of them passed the test with flying colors, thanks in no small part to Mike Anderson who is chairman of the education committee. He does a fantastic job teaching the courses and giving everyone a good grounding in electronics theory and radio operation. Mike does have a problem using sharp and pointed objects and shouldn't be allowed to use them without constant supervision, but that's another story entirely. There was one other woman at the exam session yesterday and she was testing.

Over the past two years I have spent a lot of Saturday mornings with most of these guys and since I became newsletter editor (a job I was tricked into taking--but more about that later) I have gotten to know them all a lot better. We laugh and joke and tease each other and get along great. I like them all even when they tell really awful jokes, as one of the guys inevitably does. He does love his puns and plays on words and I had to hit him a couple of times with a paper folder to get him to behave.

One of the examinees came up to me as he walked out the door with his paperwork. When I first saw him as we checked everyone in and made sure they had all the proper identification, etc., I thought he was a woman. His face was smooth with no sign of a beard and he wore two little gold hoops in his left ear. He wore a baseball cap, but then so do I most of the time. It has my call sign on it and it's brand new. He stopped and told me his name and that it was nice to finally meet me. He was the guy who called me a couple months ago just after I returned from Ohio, having been told I was the head of the ham radio club. I'm not. I'm just the newsletter editor, but the owner of Ham Radio Outlet in Denver gave him my name and number; it's on the newsletter, but so are the names of all the board members and president. I guess he figured I'd know where to go. I sent him to Mike and he passed his test and got his first ham radio license (technician) at 70+ years of age. It was a pleasure meeting him and flirting with all the guys.

Yes, I flirt with the guys. I smile and laugh at their jokes and tease them about their tee shirts and ball caps and such. I am the only female on the team here in Colorado Springs so it's my job to remind them that women are ham radio operators, too, and we aren't trying to be men. We just like science and math and electronics--and we look really good in ball caps.

One VE team member made a point of showing me his tee shirt. It was a relic from 1988 that reminded me of the west side of Columbus on the Hilltop where I lived after Dad retired from the Army. Made me a little nostalgic for Westgate park where I picnicked, fished in the pond in the spring, summer and fall, played tennis and baseball, walked through the trees and around the track, necked with my boyfriends and ice skated in winter. It was a special place for me, somewhere I could go and feel a bit of freedom. I walked there when I wasn't old enough to drive and drove there when I was . . . usually in the company of my current boyfriend so we could talk, walk, kiss, hold hands and do all the things teenage boys and girls do without going so far we'd be embarrassed and arrested by the cops who patrolled the area. My piano teacher lived a couple blocks down the street from Westgate park and I always stopped at the park and breathed in the pine-scented air, especially after it rained, before I walked the three or four miles home. In the winter, I caught the bus and walked home from Sullivant Avenue, just three blocks, but when it was nice I walked down the side streets and through the neighborhoods and never thought twice about it. Neither did my parents.

After everyone testing had gone and we finished cleaning up and having a two-minute meeting, we walked outside into a sunny and warm spring day. We stood outside talking for a while until there were only two of us left, chatting about what had happened since the last time we saw each other and had enough time to catch up. About that time a little tarball, a black male squirrel, came over. He stood on the little grassy spot around a tree and looked at us. He's the second black squirrel I've seen but evidently he and his friends and relatives have taken up residence in Black Forest, which is a few miles away from where we were standing yesterday. He was a bold little fella and he wasn't afraid of us. He kept getting closer and closer, stopping every once in a while to sit back on his haunches. That's how I knew he was a male. He came straight for me, but before he got all the way over to me (must have been the way I smelled) my friend and I said goodbye and went our separate ways to run Saturday errands.

I haven't been to quite as many exam sessions in the past few months and I miss them. I miss being with my friends and the guys on the team. Someone always has a story or joke to share and it's just funny watching the guys sheepishly look at me as they go for their third or fourth or tenth donut or cookie. I don't eat the cookies or the donuts but the guys never pass them up . . . not even after having a big breakfast over at the Hungry Bear up in Woodland Park 15 minutes before. They may not be able to eat that third stack of pancakes, but they always have room for donuts. Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little; they can't eat the second stack of pancakes, but the pancakes are HUGE.

I have made a lot of good friends, the kind that like to tease and don't mind being teased. One of those friendships resulted in a brand new flat panel monitor for my work computer. When I get it and hook it up, the two big old monster monitors (17" and 19") on my desk are going to Mike Anderson to use for the computers he puts together from spare parts for people he knows who can't afford to buy one. When I get all the information off the three hard drives I have, I'll give him two of the extra computers for parts to help the cause. That should give me a little room in the living room closet next to my stash of keyboards (I go through about two a year). I can't wait to use the new monitor and I'd still be saving the money for a really nice one if it weren't for these wonderful and generous ham radio operators.

Oh, yes, I said I'd explain about these wonderful and generous hams who tricked me into becoming editor. Well, it wasn't all the guys, just one: Jim Harris. One Saturday I helped a fellow ham put up his new antenna tower. He took us to lunch at a nearby Denny's and Jim was part of the group. I wasn't a member of the local ham radio club (PPRAA) then and my only knowledge of them was through exam sessions as a (volunteer examiner) VE. My first session as a brand new VE was for the PPRAA. Anyway, the talk turned to needing a newsletter editor right after I answered the question about what I did. I should have looked at their eyes instead of eating my lunch, because I'm sure they lit up like Chernobyl.

"You're a writer?" they asked innocently. "What kind of writing do you do?"

"Articles, stories, editing, newsletters. All kinds of writing."

And then Jim lowered the boom. I never saw it coming. "I was considering taking the job but since you're a writer . . ."

Everyone looked at me.

"Well, I did want to get to know the community and local hams better," I ventured. After that I never had a chance.

"You should be a member of the PPRAA, but we'll work around that."

"Who do I talk to?" I didn't know it but I had already talked to the right person.

Three months later at a VE session in Woodland Park, one of the other VEs congratulated me on being the new PPRAA newsletter editor. "I beg your pardon," I said.

"I heard it at the club meeting last month."

These wonderful and generous guys had so wonderfully and generously hooked and landed the new fish--me. I went to a board meeting, found out I had to become a member to be on the board (the newsletter editor is not voted in but serves on the board as long as they are editor--in my case, I got life), paid my dues for the next year (they threw in December for free) and took up the position that everyone assures me I do beautifully. I think I'm being hornswoggled yet again but I do know that they're not about to let me walk away, and I'll bet running isn't an option either. I'm sure the speediest grapevine in the world has already put out the word that no one is to step up to the plate and volunteer to become editor. They'll tell me about it just before I die. I know that for certain.

Just like that furry little tarball who checked me out yesterday and decided I was the one who'd give him a nut or a treat, the guys in the PPRAA checked me out and decided I was the perfect mark. I feel like the only guy left standing alone when the rest of the battalion takes a giant step backward when the captain asks for volunteers for a long and possibly dangerous mission. I avoided the squirrel but I'll have to be a lot quicker to avoid the guys in the PPRAA. They have radios everywhere and they are not afraid to use them.

Until then, I'll keep making changes and shaking things up until I find out just how far they'll let me go before they volunteer someone else.

That is all. Disperse.

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