Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hamfests and Other Porcine Efforts

Today was a hallmark day of the year: the first hamfest of the season.  For those unfamiliar, hamfests do not actually involve pigs or other pork products at all.  It is an electronic flea market, focusing largely on amateur radio gear.  Since I like amateur radio, scanners, and old shortwave tube radios that weigh more than my car (boatanchors), it's always a fun time.  The internet has largely killed in-person shopping fun so we have to seek it out where we can find it.

Today's shopping extravaganza happened in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, at a place called the Grange.  This was far start enough from the house as to start entering the hinterlands, hence the Grange.  We have no granges in my town.  In fact, if I didn't know of this one, I'd say we had no granges in the state.  The date of this particular `fest is always in contention, largely as it always rains on this `fest.  They tried moving it a week in either direction and it rained then too.

What they failed to grok is that this is Pennsylvania, where the state bird is the cloud and the state color is gray.  My house not only has a cloud based largely over it but so does the state.

But enough observationhal humor about Pennsylvania - anyone who has visited it has enough ammunition for days of this stuff.

The only serious problem the radio amateurs (hams) present is that the hamfests tend to start at seven or eight in the morning.  As a musician and dyed-in-the-wool computer geek, I try never to even think about seven in the morning, no less see it.  So after the initial shock of an alarm going off at six in the morning, I somehow managed to find myself out of bed and pointed in the vicinity of the car.  Fortunately the wife was driving, so being asleep was an acceptable option for me.  Not for my wife, though, which is a matter I will not be addressing in an upcoming blog entry.

The weather, albeit cold, was pretty good, as was the turnout.  Both vendors and shoppers were out in full force, even as we were parking.  Hamfests are not only fun, but very interesting places to watch people.  You see all kinds, by which I mean 95% male, 90% over 50, and 99% less than attractive.  In fact, the only way attractive people can get into a hamfest is on a minority scholarship.

Computer goodies can also be found.  And there was good news for computer people: Windows 98 is no longer considered state of the art.

I did see a few boatanchor shortwave radios, including one I really want to get my hands on: a radio called an R390.  Unfortunately it's something like seventy-five pounds and the vendor wanted $600 for it.  I had to leave it there because I left my $600 bill at home.

Just so you think the ladies are underrepresented, there are many items my wife looked at.  She spent a lot of her time pointing out things I missed, like tubes.  It's a great place to find weird tubes.  In fact, guitar players are starting to get hip to hamfests.  I saw a guy who makes guitar amplifiers locally checking things out.

But the people, the people....  today's absolute winner had to be the person I saw across the way.  It was probably the large pink shorts that caught my eye.  I naturally assumed this woman was to be observed (even after I realized this was a guy).  The wide shorts transitioned to a sweat jacket, with a tightly-tied hood and another jacket outside it.  The cherry on the top was definitely the latex gloves.

After meeting a friend and chatting about our various and sundry ailments, I realized that this would be like Disneyland for the right psychologist.  And after throwing in the wife's diagnoses, it could become a lifetime project.

Before we knew it we were hungry for lunch.  And why not - it was almost nine.  Fortunately for us, the Grange kitchen staff had been hard at work for a while, preparing stuff for our enjoyment.  As we moved toward the counter, my wife heard the Magic Words<tm>: hot dogs.  Hot dogs are timeless, so we had to have them.

The nice old lady at the counter had other ideas.  Before I could get a word out, she asked if I wanted the last of the egg casserole.  Or something like that - I couldn't understand her and my wife just stood there looking helpless.  I smiled and my wife indicated her desire for a hot dog.  I seconded.  Unfortunately it became immediately apparent that my request was not processed and that this was to be a memorable order.

We watched as the lady picked up a hot dog.  She asked about sauerkraut, which my wife approved.   `Sally' picked up what I can only describe as a little paper hot dog cozy, put the dog on it, then piled on the kraut.  At this point I can guarantee there were many internal conversations happening and I'm only talking about the wife and myself.  Finally a less flummoxed coworker asked Sally if she had forgotten something... perhaps a roll.  Sally's last remaining brain cell leapt into gear and she offered that something did indeed seem amiss.

Some laughed.  My wife laughed.  I couldn't bring myself to laugh at Sally, as her faculties were obviously on strike.  I simply asked the less flummoxed coworker for a hot dog with sauerkraut and a bun, which elicited joy from all concerned.  Sally went back on Egg Casserole Duty, presumably where she wouldn't hurt anything (except sales).  I discovered the secret to their donuts when I watched them crumbling up Dunkin Donuts boxes.  No matter, we were there before seven in the morning anyway.  My wife will not leave the house without first stopping at the local Dunkin Donuts (HER Dunkin Donuts) for an intravenous refill of coffee.

With all of that hilarity behind us, as well as the hot dogs and both buns, it was time to bid the hamfest a fond farewell.  There will be another at the Grange later this year, round about the time it's getting too cold to continue.  We will return, cash in hand, and ready to get hot dogs.

But seriously, folks, one can procure much more than hot dogs.  There were also sodas.  But I digress (still): we saw radio-controlled airplanes, toys, test gear, power tools, and all sorts of other manly day-out treats for our weary eyes.  It's a nasty hobby but somebody has to do it.

It was a great, strangely sunny day.  We even got to sit on the front steps and grumble about having trouble parking due to the damn church down the block.

But certainly you're asking yourself what other porcine events I attend.  Funny you should ask.  We're but a month or so away from a huge block party/pig roast at which my band is performing.   Yes, you know you've `made it' when you are headlining a pig roast for the third year in a row.  It will be hot.  It will be humid.  There will be pig.  And it will be loud.

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