Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The PRC-320 at Starbucks. Last fall.

I had the PRC-320 with me and decided I needed a cup of joe. I was in the process of scouting out a decent spot to set the rig up and get on the air but the urge for a cup of coffee set in. The warning light was on and I was going to put it out. I pulled into a lot where I knew there was a Starbucks.

It was a pretty warm fall day and as I write about this mishap I am looking out the window at this white nasty cold stuff falling out of the sky. I pulled into the lot and automatically started scanning for a place to go on the air. The more I looked the better the Starbucks looked. It was on high ground and I decided on a whim to see if I could simply set up shop on one of the tables.

The best way of getting thrown out of the place would be to simply set up shop. I knew I had to ask permission. This was one of those cases where asking permission would probably be a whole lot less trouble than asking for forgiveness. While generally it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission I knew this would not be the case.

I made a mental note of any credentials I might need to show if asked and remembered that I had both my Merchant Seaman's document and my FCC ham license. Those were real and I knew that they'd be accepted.

In Pittsburgh the Merchant Seaman's document is a pretty powerful document. Often called a Z-card, it generally commands a certain amount of respect as there are not a whole lot of them floating around here and they look pretty impressive. Most people do not know what they are and therefore are impressed by one.

I hopped out of the pickup and slung the PRC set onto my back and walked into the Starbucks. While ordering my coffee I asked for the manager and she appeared instantly. I asked her if I could set up my radio outside on one of the tables.

"Are you some kind of governmental agency?" she asked.

"Merchant Marine, Ma'am," I replied. "Conducting a ham radio emergency communications drill."

She told me to go ahead and I took my coffee outside and moved one of the tables a couple of feet and opened the ancilleries bag. Out came my slingshot/fishing reel and before anyone could say anything an ounce sinker dragging monofiliment line lofted up and described a perfect arc over not one, but two light poles about fifty yards apart. It was one hell of a lucky shot.

There were curious looks but nobody said anything and I wandered out to the sinker end of the line and attached a piece of 550 paracord to it and returned and reeled the paracord in. While I was doing this a well dressed woman in a suit asked what I was doing and I told her I was conducting an emergency communications drill. She asked if she could help and I told her she could watch the rig and if she felt like it she could charge the battery. I showed her how and she started spinning the crank.

As she was doing that I ran out and finished stringing the antenna. I had guessed well and the antenna was up, well out of reach of even the biggest of trucks and the end was right at the rig. I connected it, thanked the woman, spun the crank a few more times. I then turned the rig on. It had only taken a few minutes.

I went straight to twenty meters and slowly combed through the band which is a pain. The 320 was not made for scanning and the decade switches are a pretty slow way to find anything out there but after a few minutes and a few CQs I made contact with a ham out in Texas, which is one of the states I needed to complete my 'All States' project that I am still working on.

As I yakked with the Texan, I turned to the woman that had cranked the generator. "Texas," I said to her and she nodded.

It was about this time I looked at myself and realized what I must have looked like. I had on a pair of worn khaki pants topped with a British Navy pullover sweater and I was wearing on my head what looked like a German U-boat skipper's cap. Add a growing in winter beard to the picture and it is complete. Kapitan Piccolo. Oh, well. Too late now.

The Texan was actually fishing for someone else when we QSO'd and we broke off and I fished around for someone else and in a couple of minutes I was in contact with someone in Nebraska. "Nebraska," I said to the interested woman, who nodded.

Some jerk in a suit wandered up and asked me in a psuedo tough guy what the hell was going on. I answered by reaching into my pocket and pulling out my Z-card and FCC license. "Ecomm drill," I answered with a tone of authority in my voice, and holding out my IDs. The look I gave him when I pulled one earphone off let him know I wasn't going to be intimidated my his demanding tone. He looked a little humbled as he wandered off back to his table. As he was walking back, the woman spoke to him.

"Now that he's told you, he's going to have to shoot you," she said and a couple of other people chuckled.

Then she picked up her coffee and sat down next to me.

"You're pretty smooth," she said, in a very low tone. "I knew what you were doing the minute I saw you. My father is a ham radio operator and he has a similar set. He called it an 'Angry nine' and every summer the kids would drop by and turn the generator for him in the yard. I won't say anything because I think it's funny."

I was sort of shocked in a way. The woman was dressed in heels, hose, a suit, makeup, the whole deal and I knew she was a professional of some sort. I asked her what she did and she told me she was some kind of supervisor for a drug company. While I seldom meet people like her, I wonder about them. I'd bet she grew up with ten brothers or something along these lines. Maybe she was raised by a single father.

"He used to talk to people all over the world," she said. Then she returned to her table. A few minutes later she got up and met someone I presume was her husband. She swung by the table and thanked me for reminding her of her dad. That was nice of her. I thanked her for helping me out.

I went back to work trying to find someone else to QSO with and shortly made another pair of contacts. As I was finished yakking with the first a Marine wandered by and asked me what was going on. I grinned and told him it was a uber cool emergency tactical ham radio Ecomm drill. He grinned and wandered inside and bought a coffee and some kind of snack and when he approached the table I offered him a seat.

The jerk that had demanded to know what was going on was still there glaring at me. In a hushed tone I told the young Marine what was going on and asked him to give the guy a hard looking over which he did. It made the man a bit nervous. A minute later he left.

Of course, I am the one telling the story so we can say that maybe he had listened to the woman and left because he was afraid the Marine was going to shoot him because I told him what I was doing. Yeah. Good addition to this tale and even though I really do not know why he left we can say he fled in fear for his life. Why not? Makes the story a little more interesting. Whatever. Shortly after the Marine gave him a hard look he left.

I told the Marine what I was doing and he asked me if the rig was an old Army one and I told him it was British. He was impressed and he sat there as I dug around and scored another contact.

I decided to call it a day as I didn't want to wear out my welcome. The Marine offered to help me. I found out he was on recruiting duty hence the uniform. He wound in my antenna and as soon as he was done I tossed the antenna bobbin in the ancilleries bag, shouldered the rig, went in and thanked the manager and off I went.

I had gotten clean away with it. Sometimes the best place to sleep is in the lion's mouth.

It is winter now and cold as all hell. If we get a couple of warm days I'm going to set up shop in the WallyWorld lot again some afternoon and work 10 and 20 meters.

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