The View from the Other Side of the Couch
I try to get a little exercise each day by taking a walk with one of my co-workers. We chat about all manner of things, but inevitably I find myself talking about Amateur Radio. My co-worker's face will initially show confusion and then her eyes will glaze over. She doesn't understand what I'm saying. My efforts to simplify the conversation only make things worse.
I had always assumed that my co-worker thought of me as just another geek spouting techno-babble. But during one of our recent walks she laughed and said something like, "And Gary goes down into the basement to talk to his 'secret friends.'" She was kidding me, but it did make me wonder if perhaps some people have a completely different view of our hobby.
Read on to see how people might perceive us:
I shifted uncomfortably on the couch. I'd prefer to be sitting, or maybe even standing.
"Tell me more about these friends of yours," said Dr Weir.
"Well, they're just ordinary people, like me," I said.
"'Ordinary,' like you," she repeated, writing on her pad.
"Yeah. We get together on the air once in a while and chat," I explained.
"'On the air,'" Dr Weir said, looking up with suspicion. "Do you believe that you can fly?"
"I didn't mean that literally," I said. "I just go down to my shack and talk to them."
"I see. And where is this shack?" Dr Weir asked.
"In my basement," I replied.
Dr Weir's eyes narrowed as she looked at me.
"You put a little building your basement," she said, her pen poised over her pad. "Do you feel safe inside it?"
"'Shack' is just what we call it. It's just a corner of the basement," I said, hoping that was clear enough.
"So you meet your friends in the corner of your basement, in your 'shack,'" Dr Weir said, making a note.
"Do they live there?"
"No!" I said, exasperated.
"Now don't get excited, Gary. I'm just trying to understand," Dr Weir said soothingly. "So, if I went to you house and went down into your basement, to your 'shack,' would I be able to see your friends?"
"Of course not," I said, gritting my teeth.
"Invisible friends," Dr Weir said, writing it down.
"They're not invisible, and they're not really in my basement," I said. I was starting to get a headache.
"Very good, Gary. I think we're beginning to make some progress!" Dr Weir said, beaming at me.
"I talk to them through my rig," I explained.
Dr Weir's smile faltered. She looked at me sadly, then muttered, "Talks to friends who aren't there through a 'rig' in his 'shack,'" as she scribbled on her pad.
"Yes. It's a 2 meter rig. It's only good for local contacts," I said.
"So you can talk to your friends who aren't there, but are nearby," Dr Weir said.
"Yes, other hams like me."
Dr Weir silently mouthed the word "hams," blinked a few times, then wrote it down.
"Are there 'hams' elsewhere?" she asked.
"Oh yes, all over the world. With the right rig I could talk to any of them," I said.
"Really," Dr Weir said.
She seemed interested, so I elaborated.
"It's not always easy. It depends on atmospheric conditions..."
Dr Weir started writing again.
I could see her say "bands" to herself as she wrote.
"...and a lot of other factors. Making contact can be very tricky. Sometimes a multi-hop will work..."
She kept writing.
"...gray line propagation..."
She wrote faster.
"...or even moonbounce."
Her eyes got very wide. She muttered "moon" and wrote faster still.
"Gary, Gary, Gary...," she sighed, still looking at her pad.
"Dr Weir, may I call you Julia?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"Sorry," I said, chastised. "Could you loosen these restraints a little?"
"No," she said firmly. "Now, when did you first feel that you had turned into a ham?"
I sighed and tried to relax. Sometimes these sessions seemed to go on forever.
My thanks to Dr. Zulia Kisrieva-Ware, MD, PhD for suggesting the idea. -- Gary
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