A voice shot out from across the crowded room. Like most club meetings, the usual suspects were there- a mixed crowd of engineers, computer programmers, communications tech wizards of their own right- and me, the relatively quiet enigma who frequently sits in the back with a small notebook.
“Good to see you bro, how’s that one project you were talking about on the repeater the other day? That wire antenna thing you were building? Sounded really cool.”
Jeff was a scruffy, later middle aged computer engineer, lanky, around six foot five, and could play Shaggy in a live action Scooby Doo, with the laid back attitude to match.
“Oh yeah, that. The balun for the Windom I was building. It turned out really well. Modeled it on NEC, nice and resonant where I wanted it, Tommy thought it looked really good for ARES, he wants me to build one for the MCU.”
One big advantage of talking about antenna designs with this crowd is the decades of experience- should I be wrong, somebody would be there to help fix it- that is, the ones I care to talk to.
James, a programming student at one of the local colleges cut in. “Yeah, we ran that antenna last month for the FYBO contest, later that night when the bands really opened up we talked almost all the way around the world- 80, 40 and 20 were on fire. That thing worked.” James is a maven in his own right, especially as a teenager, a frequent SOTA activator, and competitive shooter.
“It was ok…I could change a couple things about it, make it more durable. But I put it up just to test my portable kit. I guess we got our answer.”
One guy who had been a staple in the afternoons on the repeater was noticeably absent- Michael, an inked-up guy who seemed a little quick to volunteer from my own observations, had missed the last couple meetings. The last time I saw him he was over eager to be friendly, something experience has taught me to be leery of.
“James, where’s your buddy been?” Nothing like a loaded question.
“Who, you talking about… Michael?” He said with a chuckle.
I noticed James had always gotten really quiet and looked cautiously around Michael, but I never asked why. It might be because I already sensed I knew.
“I heard he was hanging out with his buddies again…that crowd…”
“What…is he some sorta oddball survivalist type?” Jeff butted in with obvious curiosity.
“Nah, I think he likes to raise his right hand and shave his head.” I said with a grin.
Michael had been busted a couple years ago in a meth ring in his home county- the club there wanted nothing to do with him. His reputation far preceded his attempt to disguise it, as did the group he had been affiliated with. James had been forewarned by his friend in that county’s club, a long retired SF Team Daddy from the 80s, and both had asked me what I knew about it some time ago at the local range.
“Dang…that’s a shame. He didn’t seem like a bad guy to me, a little hick-ish, but not bad.” Jeff said, pausing a bit before adding, “…but you know…things are getting kinda…ugly these days.”
I sensed the hesitancy in his voice. Especially in this mixed bag of folks, you never quite know who’s listening, and more importantly, who would be on your side or not. Better bet to keep leanings to oneself, and learn all you can, while you can, about more than just the hobby in question. It’s people who are the “Great Game”, after all, with many not being what they appear. I looked down at my “Cuban” loafers- a pair of khaki canvas slippers with my light colored shorts and linen button down- and thought damn, it’s nice to blend in.
I returned, “Yeah, they are. Probably gonna get worse. Oh well. Grab some extra cans of expresso, when it rains it’s nice to have an umbrella.” with a chuckle and a smile, attempting to ease his fears. He thinks I was joking.
“My wife’s been buying a little extra here and there, just in case. You know, for hurricane season.”
Jeff returned, not eased in the least by my vain attempts at humor, “For sure. We’re long overdue for a bad one.”
“Caleb here was in the Army…he can survive anything” James cut in, almost unexpectedly.
“Nah, I dunno about all that. I’m just a regular guy.”
“Seriously…Jeff, this dude went to Iraq and Afghanistan, some of the pictures he’s got around his ham shack-” Damn this kid. I don’t like getting into these conversations in public.
“Nah, seriously, I had fun. It wasn’t that big of a deal…”
Jeff looked at me with a deeply interested gaze. “I’d like to learn some stuff…I mean, just in case…I’ve got this pistol I picked up…”
“Yeah we can definitely take a day or two at the range. Just let me know when you wanna go.”
“Definitely…it’s good to know folks, you know, just in case…” He replied, with an uncharacteristically stern look.
It sure is Jeff. It sure is. Networking is a two way street…and you don’t know it yet, but you just said all the magic words.