june 25th, 2005
supposed to get up to 94° F today. rebecca and myself went to union station to pick up the rental car to head out to company 7. a gleaming plum-red chevy
everything’s decidedly better in the chevy maibu as we crank the much needed a/c, as we head out to laurel,
after a couple of missed turns trying to find cherry tree court; there’s cherry tree this, cherry tree that, we pull into the correct small parking lot and park right outside company 7’s showroom. for anyone not too familiar with telescopes on sale to the public for use in amateur astronomy, they come in a range of sizes and financial outlay. places that sell telescopes range from department stores and camera shops that sell a few smaller models all the way up to the very best specialist shops that are owned and run by dedicated amateurs with a staff that actually know what they are talking about. company 7 is definitely not a camera shop.
this is our second visit out to the small showroom. last year we went and decided that whenever we were ready to buy a telescope, we were coming back here. as we’re given a very expert tour of the museum-come-showroom that has on display the very best, as well as more affordable offerings, martin cohen, who runs the small enterprise is talking to us at length about what to look for and the importance of having a good mount for the telescope. as we nod along to what he’s saying, he suddenly leaps over to a nearby astro-physics refractor (read 3-5 year waiting list and a lot of $) and smacks the huge refractor tube on it’s side with his hand, thereby demonstrating the solidity of the mount it’s on. of course the telescope doesn’t move an inch. but i’m horrified and speechless to see what is the best refractor type of telescope you can buy that costs $8,000 (without eyepieces or mount) being treated this way. i have no idea what rebecca is thinking, but together we are quietly saying to ourselves “this guy is a loony”
not quite a loony, more of an whacky individual, since it turns out he gives talks at the smithsonian institute here in washington, dc and did work for nasa when it found out it needed to repair the hubble telescope. like i said, company 7 is not a camera shop.
after recovering from this shock, he takes us to the other side of the showroom, which is no more than 25ft wide by about 35ft long and proceeds to do the same to another telescope, this time a celestron 9. 25” model!. i’m thinking, please don’t hit any more telescopes! he’s proved his point, of course. the telescopes are totally unharmed and we have an image burned in our minds forever that customers buying from other another company or online over the internet will most likely never see. turns out martin is a volunteer fireman and the name company 7 comes from his fire-fighting unit’s name. he of course, was the unit’s captain. unusual bloke…
it’s a year later and we’re back. not without trepidation, since i don’t want to see him launch an attack on a telescope and the fact that last week, i telephoned him to ask his advice on a compact telescope that they sell that wouldn’t break the bank. “oh boy” was his first words when i mentioned the telescope model. he then proceeds to spend the next 20 minutes telling me why they are looking to stop selling that model because of all the quality control issues they have with it. it should be mentioned at this point that company 7 tests each telescope they sell, regardless of price and produce a detailed report of it’s individual optical and mechanical performance. after he’d finished by telling me to “save my money”, i put the phone down and we decided that it would be best to pay another visit. so here we are:
martin’s not there and we talk to another guy instead. he’s showing us a model that we both think will work for us in terms of size, performance and budget. after giving us a very comprehensive tour of this telescope (the one we want is a little smaller, but otherwise identical), we decide to go ahead and order one and discuss accessories. there must be more accessories for a new telescope than any other product. and they are all “necessary” to a greater or lesser extent. i practically have to ask the guy to start the paperwork on this, as he seems reluctant to actually sell me anything! he doesn’t know the price and goes and picks up a magazine and flicks through it to find an advert with the price on it. company 7 is definitely not a camera shop..
he adds the bill up wrong. i look at it and point out that the figure he’s written down seems a little high. this guy can’t add up, even with a calculator, but he does know everything about telescopes. he does all the testing for the company. i point out the error. he’s out by some $800! “oh look”, he goes, “i entered that wrong and by the wrong amount, twice…” i want to burst out laughing but restrain myself and instead smile, pat him on the shoulder and say “don’t worry about it” add the bill up in my head and tell him what it should be. about 20 seconds later, after keying in the buttons on the calculator, he agrees……
in walks martin, carrying a cockatoo . this doesn’t surprise me. not sure if this is a good sign or not, but my instincts tell me that it just wouldn’t seem right to buy a telescope without at least talking with him. once I tell him that we’ve just ordered a telescope and it’s not the one I telephoned him about, he points to two sealed cardboard boxes on the floor. “DNP” is marked with a marker pen on both of them. it’s two of the very same telescopes that I had telephoned about a week earlier. “DNP” means “did not pass” and company7 is sending them back to the manufacturer and will not sell them any more. i feel relieved.
martin’s genuinely very happy about our new purchase decision and proceeds to talk about anything other than telescopes. somehow he gets talking with rebecca about the
while he’s over in
i ask him about how firefighters wear all that heavy gear in summer. in the dc-metro area, it gets incredibly humid and i know those suits and equipment must be very hot and weigh a ton. and then you have to go and deal with a fire… “come on”, he says. “want to try on a jacket?, i have mine in the car”. so out we go, Rebecca and myself following martin out to his vehicle. he pops the back up. sure enough, there’s a full firefighting outfit ready for an emergency call. i try on the jacket in the already hot sun. this thing is heavy! rebecca tries it on as well. we’re impressed. – see photos.
it’s back to the showroom. he’s now bringing out the tea and chocolate for us as he proceeds to tell us about a recent trip abroad where a customer of his has a very nice house in the
there’s more. while we’re drinking our tea and looking at photos of the trip on martin’s laptop computer, the guy who handles all the admin side of the business presses martin to tell us about the initiation rite given to a young guy named greg, who wanted to become a volunteer fireman.
greg is sixteen years old at the time and wants nothing more than to become a fireman. his duties at the station include washing the trucks and cleaning the toilets. of course, would-be firemen are not allowed to sit in the fire truck when cleaning the inside of the truck. only real firemen get to do that and there is someone watching at all times to make sure that greg doesn’t sit in the driver’s seat of the fire truck. martin, who at the time is the captain, regales us with stories of his fire-fighting days. such niceties as when he once had to enter a burning woman and rescued a fat pregnant woman who was too heavy to pick up and put over his shoulder, but none the less still needed saving, had martin drag her by her legs down the stairs, and out the building with her head banging on the stairs as they went down. we look at him horrified (although we’re laughing). well, she didn’t die, he says, shrugging his shoulders.
a customer, along with his wife are being completely ignored as we’re all engrossed in martin’s stories he comes closer to the point where the guy who taken my order begins to talk about zoom eyepieces. it’s obvious this customer is an experienced amateur judging by the overheard conversation he’s after a special eyepiece that will enable him to go from high to low power without switching eyepieces. “oh no, we don’t sell that here, pipes in the other guy sitting next to martin they’re not as good as…….you’d be better off with……” the customer nods ”i know, i have that” he responds “well as long as you know that it’s not as good as…….” in the end the customer has to admit that what he wants is not as good as what he already has and at that point martin chimes in with, “oh well, in that case we can get one in for you in a few days” bear in mind that we’re talking about a $300 eyepiece from a premier manufacturer that company 7 already deals with and makes what are generally accepted as the best eyepieces in the industry. a very strange way of conducting retail business. govenment and defense contracts allow company 7 to exist as an entity unlike any other i,ve come across.
back to the greg story. the volunteer team decide that the only way they can accept greg is if he agrees to a test to prove his worth. the ‘test’ consists of being put inside a full chemical suit that is sealed with a half tank of oxygen that will provide 30 minutes of breathing time along with a gold-visored sealed helmet. there is no way that greg will be able to breath without the tank of oxygen and no way he can take the helmet off on his own to breath once he runs out of air to breath. the ‘test’ is that he must travel from the firestation to a point along the highway and back again to the station, all in 30 mins. it is not possible to do this by walking, so he must be inventive and use any means of transportation other than his own and if he does not complete this task in under 30 minutes, he will die from lack of oxygen…
just to make things a little more interesting, they inflate his suit slightly, so he’s doing a decent imitation of the michelin man, as the 16 year-old waddles out of the firestation to begin his quest. unbeknown to greg, they have also lifted his wallet, so he has no money or identification. they see him trying to flag a lift from passing motorists as he makes his way along the busy highway. eventually, a car pulls along side him and winds its windows down. it’s a police patrol car. they quite naturally ask him what he’s doing in a full chemical fire-fighting suit walking down a busy highway in the middle of the day. he explains that he’s on a test to become a fireman from the local company 7 volunteer fire fighting dept. the police officer asks him his age and for identification when greg tells him that he’s 16 years old. of course, he can’t find his wallet containing his ID, so the police officer removes the helmet and asks him to sit in the back of the patrol car after he calls in to the company 7 fire dept. martin answers the telephone. “who?, no, we don’t know a greg……how old you say he is, 16? you have to 21 to be a fireman”. “thought as much”, replies the police officer and informs martin that they are bringing him to the fire station so he can return the suit. martin and the rest of the crew now pretend to be all fast asleep as the hapless greg is dropped off at the firestation by the police officer who waits while greg goes inside to explain himself. greg doesn’t say a word as he walks in, removes his fire-fighting suit, picks up his stuff and exits quietly. the fire dept dosesn’t see greg again for a full two weeks…….”of course” martin adds, “the police officer was in on it”
at this point, i look at my cell phone to see what time it is we’ve been there for nearly 3 hours! i explain that we have to go, as i’m dj’ing at an outdoor event later on that afternoon. we shake hands with everyone and thank them for a great time and then head outside, get in the boiling hot car, crank the a/c for all it’s worth and start to head back tdc. It has to the most surreal buying experience of my life. the return journey has us laughing and looking at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief at what has just transpired.
we get back to dc around 3:15pm, ordering pizza from my cell phone as soon as we get back in the city.
it’s like a sauna. no time to get any rest, but at least the pizza is good. grab the records and head out to rosslyn,
i play my set for about an hour and a half and soon it’s getting dark. one more dj comes on to close everything down and i eat a couple of much -needed hamburgers. rebecca’s tired. so am i, as we say our thank-yous and goodbyes and lug the records back to the car.
it’s been a very eventful day. a big one, no doubt. it’s not every day that i get to order a 'rea'l telescope and play my best records outside on a quality sound system.