The Amateur Amateur: Meet the Zombies
There are a number of organizations that find ways to perform community services and have fun at the same time. I had already encountered a Klingon Assault Group during a blood drive some years ago; I had even chaired a convention for a Doctor Who fan club myself where we raised money for children's charities. So I wasn't entirely surprised when I first heard about the Zombie Squad.
Kyle Ladd of the Zombie Squad had dropped by our ARES table during several hamfests. He was a very personable young man, but I still didn't quite know what to make of a group that purported to be preparing its members for zombie attacks. Eventually though, the subtlety of his organization dawned on me. The zombie hunters may be training for the arrival of hoards of the undead, but their preparations would be just as useful if, say, an earthquake struck. Or a flood. Or any other natural or man-made disaster. And they do, in fact, support a number of local and international disaster relief organizations and charities.
This was the second year that the Zombie Squad had set up a Disaster Alley, which was primarily a collection of booths manned by disaster preparedness organizations. Rather than a stand-alone event, however, this year's Disaster Alley was part of a larger community street festival called the Grove Fest. The Grove Fest ran from noon until midnight, but the Disaster Alley portion was scheduled to shut down at 6 PM.
On the day of the event, I encountered a couple of minor disasters before I even reached Disaster Alley itself. During the drive there, I kept running into detours, road closures and even found myself at a dead stop on a blocked highway. When I finally did reach the event, I found that I couldn't contact my partner because my handheld radio would not accept the frequency we had agreed to use.
By contrast, Disaster Alley itself was well managed and under control.
Craig Hirsh, K0CMH, and I are both Assistant Emergency Coordinators for St Louis County ARES; we had agreed to meet at the event and run the ARES booth together. Craig had reached the site shortly before I had and had found out where we could park and where to we were supposed to set up our booth. I was glad that he did that bit of preliminary legwork, because I had already driven all around the event site and was pretty confused. By the time Craig managed to contact me, I just wanted to park my car and get out of it.
As Craig and I set up the ARES booth, I glanced around to see what else was happening. There were a lot of Zombie Squad folks around. Some were setting up booths, some assisting other people who had arrived with their own displays and some were patrolling for zombies.
That gave me pause. The patrols consisted of black-clad paramilitary types who looked very serious. They even had serious-looking military vehicles. For a while I wasn't sure if I'd slipped into an apocalyptic future, a parallel universe or even directly into a zombie movie. It was all kind of spooky.
I calmed down some after I saw some of the displays the Zombie Squad had arranged. They showed the gear you would need to prepare yourself when the dead started walking. I smiled a little as I noted that most of the equipment they recommended was stuff I had in my own go-kit. The premise might be fantastic, but the personal preparedness accessories were completely legitimate, right out of FEMA's "Are You Ready?" manual.
Sadly, we did not get a lot of visitors at our booth. For the most part we talked to people manning other booths, zombie hunters, and, of course, the zombies themselves.
Did I mention that? There were zombies. They shuffled up and down Disaster Alley, some of them moaning and listlessly handing out brochures from their limp hands. I didn't see any skirmishes between the zombies and the zombie hunters, so perhaps there was a temporary truce in effect.
The zombies weren't particularly good conversationalists. Mostly they moaned or said nothing at all. One fem-zombie did stop in front of our booth and mutter incomprehensibly for a while. When I pointed my camera at her she tried to smile and pose. It was ghastly, but I guess it's not easy to be photogenic when your flesh is decomposing.
Craig and I spent most of the time talking to each other. Screaming, really, because the music at the streetfest was incredibly loud. We occasionally entertained ourselves by chasing down brochures that had blown off of the Red Cross table next to us. During brief breaks between songs, I made a call or two on my transceiver. But I had to stop as soon as the music resumed, so my on-air time was very limited. Craig was smarter, though, and had brought a Morse key. He made at least one long distance contact on HF, even though his antenna was not fully deployed. (Why doesn't that ever work for me?)
We took turns wandering around Disaster Alley and the rest of the street fest. Some of the Zombie Squad booths were pretty amusing, especially the "brain toss." It was the classic carnival ball toss game, except that you had to throw a small brain instead of a ball.
I didn't ask who had donated the brains.
The day wasn't wasted, however, as some very nice people did stop by the booth. A camera crew from a local independent television station did a short interview with me, but their main interest was whether or not we were using renewable energy. Regrettably, we weren't. But I did promise that we were working on it.
I should also mention that there was a strong movement in the Zombie Squad toward Amateur Radio, so a lot of zombie hunters -- and one zombie -- did come by and have long chats with us. In fact, the only time during the day that the "zombie" was out of character was when he was asking Craig about his antenna.
Craig and I, along with the rest of exhibitors along Disaster Alley started taking down our booths at around 6 PM. Initially, I wasn't sure that this was a good idea, as the number of visitors at the streetfest was picking up dramatically. But I changed my mind when I saw that the new arrivals were mostly in a mood to party. And the music was getting even louder. So we shut down, packed up and headed home.
I understand that they showed a zombie movie on the side of a building later that night. But we had already spent personal time with a zombie discussing the intricacies of setting up an HF antenna in an urban area. It just couldn't get any more entertaining than that.
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 Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail.
Gary Hoffman, KB0H