Charlie’s Whistle, February, 2011
Charlie’s Whistle, February, 2011 avatar

By Bob Beaudet, W1YRC

In order to break up this long and torturous winter of 2010/2011, Mary and Charlie decided to visit the Southeast Division ARRL Convention in Orlando. Getting away from the snow, ice, cold winds for a few days was a terrific idea. They each have many friends in Florida, some seasonal residents (snowbirds) and some year-round, so visiting them was as good a reason to travel to “HamCation” in Orlando as any other.

Upon arrival, the temperature was a bit cool but improved by the second day. Generally, the weather was wonderful, cool by Florida standards, but great by Mary’s and Charlie’s. Temperature topped off every day in the low to mid 70s,

Hard to take by thin blooded Floridians but there was no snow to be seen anywhere! That factor alone made everything simply terrific! Simultaneously, the hardy and durable couple from DX Hill decided that they would not suffer with another long winter without taking at least one break in it. They have reached the age where physical and psychological limitations make demands on their body and spirit that cannot be ignored. In fact, there was unanimous agreement to make reservations immediately to visit HamCation next year and revisit their Orlando area friends.

The visit to the convention wasn’t remarkable for Charlie. It was far smaller than he expected. After all, it’s a division convention, not just a club hamfest. He expected it to be double or triple the size of the convention that greeted him. Indeed, Charlie has attended many ham fests and flea markets in his years that were much larger. The measure he generally uses is the number and scope of forums and how many commercial vendors were in the program. This convention simply didn’t live up to his expectations.

But, the flea market was what made Charlie’s nose seriously wrinkle. He found several things disturbing. First, it wasn’t in one area. It seemed to be all over the place. There appeared to be no order to it and there were several randomly placed sets of tables, tailgates and piles of boxes to make up the flea market. Some sellers were under cover, some were simply in the parking lot, selling out of their truck or RV. That’s OK except that with only every fourth or fifth vehicle selling goods, buyers had to walk through much of the parking area rather than an organized flea market area. For those older or disabled hams who weren’t especially mobile, they had some difficulty getting around to all vendors. It would have been much more appealing if it was somewhat consolidated. Charlie also noted that asking prices on most items were quite high compared to prices that he is used to on DX Hill. On a couple of different radios, he asked the two sellers why he should buy their used radios when a brand new radio with twelve month warranty could be purchased from any of a dozen commercial dealers for nearly the same price; less than $100 or about 5% more? Neither of the vendors offered an answer or appeared to care.

Generally, Charlie noticed that an uncomfortably large percentage of the vendors were selling non ham related items; plastic jewelry, all sorts of gadgets, camping gear, fishing items, auto accessories, personalized caps, candy, kitchen utensils, etc. In fact, it was unlike most any ham flea market that Charlie had ever attended. He figured that it must be a sign of the poor economy, i.e., selling a table to anyone who wants to buy it, regardless of what they are selling, is good business. Charlie believes that sort of desperate move could easily destroy the flea market’s future since hams who are disappointed by that may not return. It probably would back home at DX Hill. But, then again, one must consider the Florida weather in February which surely deserves some extra consideration. Do you think that the folks running the flea market considered that?

Despite the absolutely delightful weather and whatever the logic was behind the flea, the crowd attending the convention was remarkably small. It was Saturday as well, the major day of the convention.

As stated earlier, Mary and Charlie found little reason not to plan a return to HamCation in 2012, at the height of the snow and cold season back on DX Hill. They couldn’t find a better excuse to visit the Sunshine State. They have many friends to visit in Florida and adding Orlando’s HamCation can justify the timing of the trip.

While Charlie was fighting the “crowds” at the convention, Mary was visiting with some former neighbors and new crafting friends who had sold there northern homes and now live year-round in Florida. Getting caught up on news could take some time, don’t you know? But after a while, Charlie called Mary using his cell phone and told her that he was about to leave the convention. They had made tentative plans to go to dinner at a country cooking buffet that was recommended to them by a flight attendant that Mary became friends with. They were both bakers and could have spent hours talking about their favorite recipes. Mary told Charlie that she was going to bring some friends along so that they could continue their chat and get caught up on grandkids, crafts, recipes and all that sort of thing. Charlie chuckled and said that he would reserve the largest table in the restaurant. Mary agreed that would be a good idea.

Well, over dinner which amply lived up to the flight attendant’s accolades, Mary’s friends gently but unmistakably were applying pressure on her to consider moving to Florida or at least buying a winter home so that they could all be together and see one another more often. There were six lady friends who came to dinner with Mary and Charlie. As luck would have it, one of them was a realtor and another was a retired attorney and you’ll never guess where these two sat….. You’re right. It wasn’t luck or chance, I am sure. The realtor sat between Mary and Charlie at a large round table and the attorney sat to Charlie’s right. That wasn’t random choice of seating, do you think?

The pressure was subtle but steady. House prices are low, very low. There are dozens of fully furnished homes for sale at 30 to 50% of the level they were selling at five years ago. The lower cost of insurance and taxes in Florida will also save plenty more. But the selling point that resonated loudest with Charlie was one that the nice ladies had not mentioned. It’s mid February and there’s no snow and the temperature is 74. That alone would get Charlie’s attention faster than all the other reasons that the ladies were politely but firmly promoting.

Everything that they presented over the fried chicken, mac and cheese, fried okra, salad, sweet potato pie and sweet tea was appealing. But, Mary knows Charlie like a well read book. One could even say that Charlie is a bit “dog-eared” but that could be the result of his close friendship with Rufus. She asked her friends to talk about any real estate that they knew to be affordable property where Charlie could install a tower and antennas without necessity of resorting to Devine Intervention or devious tactics with the town government. She knew that would have a far better chance of becoming a winter retreat for them than the restricted parks and communities that are extremely popular most everywhere in Florida.

The realtor who was sitting between Mary and Charlie nearly spilled her iced tea as she dove for her briefcase under her chair. This lady, always queued up for a sale, flipped through a loose leaf note book of listings, stopping at one that she showed to Charlie and pulled out another book for Mary to see. Charlie doesn’t like this sort of pressure and closed the book and put it back on the floor without looking at it. Mary knew that the realtor was not going to gain any footing with her tactics, so she asked, “May we come see you later and look at your listings?”. Of course, the realtor lady caught the obvious hint and agreed.

Picking up on Mary’s question, a fellow crafting lady across the table said, “Well, I live up toward Ocala. A fellow came down from Ohio a couple weeks ago to see his elderly mother who was living alone in her home. Her husband passed away a few years ago. I guess that the family decided to move mom into a senior home and sell the place because she can‘t take care of it any longer. He dropped this information sheet by all of the neighbors‘ places. It may be something that you would be interested in.” The realtor wanted to get hold of that sheet of course, but Mary took it first. After briefly looking it over, she smiled and said across the table, “Yes thank you. This may be perfect for us.”

The group enjoyed the rest of their lunch but all the while, were wondering about that property toward Ocala. Mary didn’t talk about it but her body language made it plain to her crafting friend that she’d appreciate keeping it between them for the present.

After lunch, the group went their ways and Mary kept the Ocala lady behind the others by asking her questions about crafting, cooking and her grandkids. Clearly, she was simply detaining her so that she and Charlie may have some private time with her without being rude to the others.

Mary saw immediately what she knew Charlie would like very much. The property had several tall trees and the fact sheet claimed that it included five acres of land. The price was very reasonable and even stated that it was negotiable. On the way out of the restaurant, Mary slipped the sheet with the property information to Charlie who excused himself for a side trip to the men’s room.

There, he skimmed over the property data sheet and decided that they must see this place. Returning to the front door of the restaurant, he found Mary chatting away with the crafting lady. Charlie asked, “What are the zoning restrictions in your area?” To that, she replied with a grin, “If you mean can you put up a tower or two?, the answer is certainly yes. We have horse farms a few blocks away and the towns around us are not at all restrictive except when someone wants to do dangerous things like operate a still or gun range.” Charlie asked if they could follow her home and possibly see this property to which she agreed.

Well, to make a longer story shorter, Mary and Charlie found the son at his mother’s place and saw the property. Charlie paced off some approximate distances between a few likely tower locations. The house was small but actually larger than their home up north on DX Hill. It appeared to be in fairly good condition with small things in need of repair. The asking price was very reasonable. The neighborhood was quiet and well kept.

The son explained that he was taking mom back to Ohio so that he could take care of her better than if she was so far away. Mom didn’t care that much for warm weather, especially in summer and was lonely in Florida. The son said that he was a CPA back in Cincinnati and owned several condo units back there. Mom could live in one of them. He owned other property near Disneyworld that was much bigger for his family of seven to use when they wanted to escape the cold and snow. He didn’t need this property at all. It was entirely surplus. He didn’t want to involve a realtor to keep the price down.

So, Charlie and Mary decided to bite and wrote a check as a deposit and told the son that their lawyer would contact his to handle the transfer of title and take care of other details and arrange the payment of the balance. As they drove away, Mary was already planning how she would change the kitchen and Charlie mentally had two towers in place with a third one in mind. For low bands, he was planning a four square on 80 and maybe 160 meters. He would put a 40 meter Yagi on one tower and probably an 11 element log periodic array on the other. The towers will be 150 feet apart, so a simple dipole, doublet or lazy H could hang between them and favor the states.

They needed to get back the DX Hill and rescue Rufus from the dog boarding facility and while waiting in the airport for their flight to board, Charlie turned to Mary and asked, “Dear, can you believe that we own a home in Florida that’s larger than our home on DX Hill?” Mary smiled broadly and replied, “Isn’t that nice? I already know how I want to design the kitchen. Can we come back soon so I can hire a builder and get these things done before fall?” Charlie agreed of course and just grinned. Mary was in her glory with plans for a new kitchen and crafts room. Charlie was in his as well with plans to expand his antenna farm well beyond his situation on DX Hill. In Florida, he will be able to have two or three towers, a couple of four squares, beverages in all directions and have five acres to access compared to DX Hill where he only has a little more than an acre. True, DX Hill has a magnificent 360 degree horizon that is ten miles or more from the antennas. The Florida house is not on a hill. The terrain is fairly flat. But, there are no obstructions all the way around other than trees. Getting his /4 station on the air will be lots of fun! Both Mary and Charlie can hardly wait to tackle their remodeling.