Meeting Ernie

Red Cross volunteers are asked to play many different rolls. Our fearless leaders like to keep life interesting here at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter. I don’t know if it’s the same at other chapters but WE are “on our toes!”

Yesterday, our toes took the rest of us down to the small parking area under our building for an important 11 AM meeting with Mr. Tyrone Johnson. We had no idea what to expect. The day before, we were informed of the meeting with a wink and secret smile and were told to contact Mr. Johnson 10-15 minutes ahead of our arrival. We found him lifting a large covered object down a short flight of concrete stairs and placing it in the parking area among several Red Cross mini-vans and other rescue vehicles. Mildly intimidated, we stepped back and watched Tyrone unveil an ERV in miniature, but not so miniature that it wasn’t capable of running over some toes if not controlled properly.

It quickly became clear that proper control and handing of Ernie was to be the focus of the next 45 minutes. We were thrilled. We were charmed. We laughed. Ernie was darn cute. He had eyelids that moved up and down separately and together. He had flashing lights. He had a siren and horn. Best of all, he had his own soundtrack of super cool songs about staying safe around fires, strangers and bullies! He drove straight or around and around in circles depending on the skill of his remote control operator and he moved pretty fast if you pushed the throttle down all the way. (I couldn’t help but perform this small test.)

It turns out, Ernie operators don a head set with a microphone that makes their ”Alvin the Chipmunk” altered voice sound like it’s emanating from Ernie, himself. That, way, our cute little ERV can charm or alarm small fry by addressing them himself!

Tyrone is sweetly protective of Ernie. He says that when he inherited the enormous toy a few years back, he was in poor condition and barely operational. He cleaned him up, replaced some parts and the little ERV thrives under his care. He says that kids go crazy when they meet Ernie for the first time. They try to climb on him, ride him, touch him, hug him, open his back door and generally treat him to the same level of extreme abuse inflicted on all beloved toys.

Apparently, it is essential for operators to power on the remote control before flicking the power switch inside Ernie. Otherwise, Ernie could pick up another remote signal in his vicinity and take off for parts unknown at an unfortunate speed. “Please be careful,” says Tyrone. “If he runs away, I’ll miss him.”

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