First Time at Amazon Day 30 – Day 31

Disclaimer:  We  are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017.  I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.  To start at the beginning of our Amazon experience, click here for the first Amazon post. 

Day 30

We weren’t sure what we were doing today, but since it was the end of another 50 hour week, we were both glad to be in pack again.  Our Thursdays are the start of the shifts for what they call back half and we had different managers and mostly different employees we were working with.  One of the benefits of our mid shift is we get to see all the shifts at some point in our week.  One of the bad parts, is all the managers are a bit different and aside from our personal manager (who is spread a little thin covering a small group of packers and pickers) we don’t get to know people as well.  That’s why I was so pleased at the end of the night when the second half night manager came to our area and made it a point to introduce herself.  She took the time to find out a little about us and then sincerely said, “We are happy to have you.”  Those little moments really matter to me, and the Amazon management team does a really nice job of that, especially with us Camperforce folks.

But despite the consistency at the manager level, there is definitely a different “vibe” on the different shifts.  Night shift tends to feel a little looser in my opinion and consequently runs a little less like a well-oiled machine.  Unlike picking, where we see only our small piece of the puzzle, you get a more complete view of what is happening while in pack and I find that a little distracting.  That being said the people are almost always very helpful and last night I had several instances where I needed assistance and it was promptly offered, and in a friendly manner. I also picked up a couple “tricks of the trade” from one helper in particular and those short-cuts will definitely come in handy if we get placed on pack again.

Once again we ran out of work, around 7:30pm, but after break things picked up again and there was plenty to do.  I find apparel the easiest to pack by far, but if I do apparel for too long I start getting some back pain.  The non-apparel items almost always require boxes and for some reason that doesn’t hurt, probably because each box is a different size and requires different muscle movement.  Speaking of which, the magic box size appears to be a 1A9.  When in doubt, I always try that (based on Lee’s recommendation) and 8 out of 10 times it works.  The screen does provide solid recommendations, but on occasion it comes up with Unknown.  That always seems to happen with NFL gear for some reason, and I guess that is because the system doesn’t have the dimensions.

Tracy:  8,273 steps ( 3.48 miles) 
Items Packed: We received our weekly report and I packed 3,070 items this week at a rate of 152% productivity which our supervisor said was a great number even for non-camperforce.  Only one person on our shift beat me that week. Guess who that was!

Lee:     (miles)
Items Packed:  3270 with a rate of 183% productivity.  We don’t call him the Packmaster for nothing!

Interesting Item Packed:  The thing that really caught my interest were two boxes of Trojan Ultra Thin condoms. If you are a person who needs these, going ultra thin just seems like a bad idea lol.  I stopped and showed them to Lee and he made a joke about their slogan should be “living life on the edge” and we shared a laugh. My real pick though today were these really cute  Jon Snow tree ornaments.  If you are a fan of Game of Thrones the likeness is amazing and I love how they said “Let it Snow.”  I liked the double meaning plus the actor is a cutie.

Days Off

We had lots of stuff going on during our days off, but before I start on that I wanted to talk a little about healthcare.  This is a significant challenge on the road for many people, but despite all the ups and downs and concerns, we have signed up for an ACA program out of Florida for 2018.  Our premiums are actually less than last year with the subsidy, and we are going with it although I am still pretty nervous about the whole thing.  We feel really lucky we chose to domicile in Florida, because we have several Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans available, but our friends who are domiciling in North Dakota or Texas are not so lucky.  And in the interest of sharing as much information as possible on the subject, I wanted to pass along a recent post by some friends of ours.

Les and Sue have been full timing longer than us, and we have seen them along our travels in Quartzsite and Texas.  Like us, they work pretty frequently and are not 65, so healthcare is a major concern.  They decided to join one of the faith-based health groups that sprung up in Texas and had reason to use that insurance when Les (who is a very healthy guy) had an unexpected heart attack.  The post details that experience, along with how they were treated by the health care professionals, and is absolutely worth the read.

OK, so our days off.  You may have seen on the comments on one of our blog posts that we were contacted by a show called On The Money on the Canadian Broadcasting network to do an interview.  Since they wanted to do the interview live, we needed to push it until Friday, and then I spent some time pre-interviewing with the producer.  It’s interesting how much mis-information there is out there about our lifestyle, so I spent some time talking to her about the way things were on the road.  I also made it very clear that there is a ton of diversity in the lifestyle, and I couldn’t speak for all of us, but just my own experience.  I hope I at least broadened her perspective, but we will see how that translates to the actual interviewer.  Willing to give it a shot though and we will be skyping with them today, so will let you know how it goes. It’s pretty hard to sum up our story in a 2-3 minute interview.

I also had my final interview with last summer’s employer to discuss the Lead position for next year, which I have been waiting for. The interview went well, and I will find out next week if I was selected, but I do know there was a lot of interest in the job, so I won’t be surprised whatever happens.  I have less direct campground management experience than other candidates, but am hoping that my other work skills and the fact that I did a good job this summer will work to my advantage.  Either way I have a Plan B if it doesn’t work out, and in some respects I feel as if whatever happens is meant to be.  Definitely at a crossroads here and I always feel it’s best to pay attention to the signposts in that situation.

Right after the interview we worked out the technical details with the producer of the show.  She wanted to use Skype instead of Facetime, so it took us awhile to get that connection working.  I looked really tired in the phone camera, but being married to a former TV director has it’s perks.  He put a super bright light on me, which helped with the dark shadows under my eyes and at the end of the day hopefully it is something I can live with.  Afterwards, Kelly and Bill are coming over for a pot roast I fixed and I am definitely indulging in a glass of wine!

The interview started with a technical glitch which threw me, but we managed to fix it in time.  Interviewing with someone you can’t see is challenging, but he did a nice job of leading me through it.  He definitely had some things he wanted me to say though and his questions were very leading, but  I was prepared for that and think I did pretty well.  I certainly don’t speak for all of us to do seasonal work and I needed to be very careful I didn’t speak for Amazon employees, but hopefully I told my truth without over generalizing.  Lee was absolutely pleased by the way it went so that was good and if nothing else the interviewer mentioned the blog a couple of times, so maybe a few more people will learn about us.  If you are interested in watching it for yourself, you can find the video here.

Afterwards, it was back to normal life and we had Kelly and Bill over and ate some pot roast, and as always, conversation flowed.  We talked about Amazon, our kids, life on the road, politics, you name it.  We can cover a lot of topics very quickly. Usually they host, because I was not crazy about how my RV was laid out for entertaining, but with the new couch and having 4 nice chairs for our dining room table it worked out pretty well.  They were my hosting test bunnies and I think it worked!  I know that sounds strange, but one of the downsides of our front living room model is we have three levels in our RV, which works great when it’s just us, but not as great when people come over.  It’s funny because when we bought this model we talked about it, but since we thought people would rarely be in it we didn’t worry about that so much.  Little did we know how many friends we would have and how often we would need an inside place to entertain.  Yes, we prefer being outside when we can, but there are lots of times when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  I can’t tell you how many meals I have cooked and taken into Kelly/Bill, Deb/Steve, or Cori/Greg’s RV’s because I didn’t like our layout.  With the changes we have made it still doesn’t work for six or more, but I think we definitely made 4 people work. You probably think I am making too much of this but let me show you.

 

Lee in our upper living room level laughing at a job Alexa told us. We love our new Echo Dot! We have seats for four on the upper level. More if we make people sit on the floor lol.

 

Kelly sitting down at the table which we pull out into the middle of the kitchen and Bill is walking into the upper level which holds the bathroom and bedroom.

 

We have room for four people and just enough room for one person to finish the dinner, but not two. Lee kicked me out and served!

 

Pretty happy with how the pot roast turned out.

So as you can see, it’s tight, but we can make dinner for 4 work OK, which makes me very happy! Our preference will still be eating outside, but this is nice for those bad weather days.  Speaking of which, the temps here finally got below 32 degrees at night and since our furnace isn’t working consistently Lee came up with an interim solution.  He bought a small ceramic heater, plugged it into the open 30 amp socket at the post, ran the cable through a storage compartment door, and then taped the door shut to the basement.  As much as I don’t like having an electric heater in the basement, it is way better than the alternative of having our pipes freeze up, and it is working well, keeping the underbelly at around 50 degrees. He also got a wireless remote thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. (This is a decent temporary solution, with the added bonus of once the furnace is fixed, we have an additional spare heater, and that remote temperature sensor will come in handy as well. It doesn’t take much, and the heater is probably overkill, but I always say if you’re going to kill something, you might as well overkill it. – Lee) Again not a permanent solution, but it will work in a pinch and help us muddle through until we make it to a warmer climate.  I say that, but I am not sure where a warmer climate is this year.  It snowed in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas this week and several of our friends are dealing with that in their travels. We may get a sprinkling ourselves later this week, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Saturday was cold and snowy so mostly we stayed inside.  I did venture out and got a hair cut and also picked up a pizza for my meals this week for work.  Lee went out and grabbed some food at the grocery store and tried to go to AT&T to get our bill resolved.  Unfortunately there were 12 people in the store and only one employee working so after 1/2 hour waiting he decided to come back another day.  I really don’t understand why we can’t deal with this online or over the phone, but the company does have it’s quirks.  While I was out I went to the Dollar store and bought some gel cling ons, which I put on the window.  Kelly had some on hers and I liked the way they looked and at $1 a sheet couldn’t beat the price.  We also had steak dinner and then watched a movie so it was a nice and cozy day despite the temps outside.  They haven’t cancelled our mandatory OT for Sunday yet so we are planning on going into work, which is a good thing.

Day 31

I was surprised when our Mandatory overtime wasn’t cancelled for Sunday, but since we wanted to work anyway, it actually made things easier.  I did want to mention, for those of you who would like to try Amazon but are not interested in working a mandatory 50 hour week, there are ways around it. One easy way is to take advantage of any voluntary time off that they offer to offset the mandatory time.  To the best of my memory, they have had voluntary time off every week we have worked so we could have worked Sunday (our mandatory day) and then taken time off on Tuesday or Wednesday.  If voluntary time off isn’t offered, the other choice would be to call in and take an attendance point.  You can have up to 5 attendance points without losing your position and since we are here for such a short period of time that gives you lots of days off to play with.  Each call-in is one attendance point (being late to a shift or back from lunch is half a point), and you could definitely use those.  All that being said, you might need to work at least one 50 hour week, depending on their staffing. And if you really want to make some money doing this, working overtime is well mandatory.

The day started off a bit rough, as I strained my left wrist early on and then had to baby it throughout the day. My fitbit also popped out of its holder at some point and despite retracing my steps I couldn’t find it.  I have to say I am not a huge fan of the fit bit.  It has lots of functionality (none of which I use) and is small enough that, for me at least it is easily lost.  Since we only have 9 working days left I am not going to invest in another step counter, but rather estimate my steps based on Lee’s.  I looked back and pretty consistently I take around 85% of Lee’s steps in a day (not really sure why that is), so for these last few days my step counts will be 85% of his.  I apologize to the data purists out there, but I think I have collected enough information at this point to be able to give solid information on our averages which was really the whole point of tracking it.

I settled back into the routine pretty quickly and actually felt my time as a packer made me a better picker.  I found it was easy to pluck the right item out of the drawer and I definitely was having an easier time reading the descriptions.  Lee, of course, settled in quickly as well (with 303 picks in the first quarter), but he was not happy.  He really liked packing, and wanted to be back doing it, but that’s just not how things work here.  It’s important to note that once you are given a job, it’s very difficult to change it.  Two years ago my friend Kelly managed to change from picking to packing, but this was with doctor’s visits and doctor’s notes and even that was not easy.  As they have said time and again, positions are assigned based on business need and although they do ask for personal preferences up front regarding job and shift we have spoken to many people who are doing something completely different than they wanted.  I make this point, because you should know that going in, and because if the job you are assigned to doesn’t work for you, it’s likely you will just need to make the best of it.

All of that being said, this is temporary for us.  At the end of the night I passed a young woman who I had seen before but never spoken to, and asked her if she had a cold.  She said she wasn’t sick, but rather tired because her baby wasn’t napping.  Turns out she has three kids (ages 6,5, and 1) and she works the night shift then goes home, gets the older ones off to school and then takes care of the baby.  She sleeps when the baby naps and she hadn’t slept much the last few days.  Her story (which was told very matter of factly) reminded me of when our kids were close in that age and I spent a year working nights and doing something very similar. To this day that whole year is a bit of a blur, and just getting through every day was a victory. It gave me instant perspective.  As tough as this experience has been for us some days, it has never been close to her experience, and we get to leave this job and move on pretty soon.  This is her life, at least until the kids get older or her circumstances change, and if she can handle it with a pleasant attitude we certainly should be able to.

Tracy:  23,212  ( 10.25 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked:  960

Lee:    27,309 steps  (12.06 miles)
Items Picked: 901

Interesting Item Picked: It was another day of all clothes, but I did run across an Adult Wolf hat which I thought was pretty weird. It didn’t look very warm and struck me as odd for some reason.  I just didn’t get it.  My favorite though for the day was a baby bib that said “We both know that isn’t an airplane.”  It took me a minute to get it, but then it made me laugh.  


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Time Making a Travel Quilt

When we originally went on the road, I had an idea that I wanted to make a travel quilt out of T-Shirts I collected (I stole the idea from one of the Twilight movies), but after talking to my friends Sue and Jo who quilt I was pretty convinced that I didn’t have the skill level I needed.  Then this year my sister had a T-Shirt quilt made for my niece who was going to college and I loved the look of it so much I called to get the information of the person who made it.  Ruth from Polly Anna Picnic Quilts runs a small business from her home and to be clear I have no business relationship with her.  I just really loved the experience and wanted to take some time to walk through how we got the finished product, which I love!

The places are chronological starting in the top left and going down then up to the next row top again 

 

Ruth is more than happy to just take a bunch of shirts and create a quilt, but we had something specific in mind and she was happy to accommodate us.  I wanted the shirts to be in some sort of chronological order for our first year of travel, but the need to keep the shirts with the raised pictures at the bottom (didn’t want to feel rough stuff on my arms) and Lee’s need to have no two same colors next to each other (that’s just his aesthetic) made that a bit challenging.  We selected the shirts and then spent a couple of hours laying them out on the bed and rearranging them, and when we finally got what we wanted I made a paper map to show what went where and we shipped them off.  Shipping the shirts off, did give me pause because they mattered to me, but I felt very confident in Ruth.

She took the shirts, laid them out, and then sent us a picture to verify.  We also stayed in close contact about the material she was using for the outside edges and backing, and I had choices every step of the way, which was great.  Finally the quilt was done and she shipped it to us, and our total cost was $200 which I felt was very reasonable, especially considering the amount of work involved.  The price varies depending on size and quantity of shirts, so we were definitely on the high end with what we were looking for.  The quilt is wonderful.  It’s very warm (which we wanted) and the stitching is great.  If you are interested in something like this and don’t have the time or skills I highly recommend checking out her Facebook page and getting in contact with her.

I had lots of really great memories and shirts to choose from, so I thought I would spend a minute explaining each one and the memory it evokes for me.  If you are a long-time reader of the blog you will definitely get the references, and for those of you who are new, I’ll link back to some of the relevant posts.  I started with Cathedral of the Pines because it was the first new local site we saw when we stayed in a seasonal site right becoming full timers.  This place was less than 20 minutes from where we lived for 15 years, but we never took the time to visit it.  That’s one of the best parts of RVing, the ability to slow down a bit, and look for the unique places you have never heard of before.

Cathedral of the Pines was in the Swanzey area and near the first campground we stayed in

Next we went to Acadia National Park with our friends Bryan and Susan, and again this was a place we had never been despite it being only about two hours from our house.  We loved the park and the experience of camping with friends, and it was provided us with an idea of what our lives would look like. They were also the first non-family members we told about our plan to go full-time, and their support and interest gave us some much needed encouragement that we were on the right track. At the time we weren’t blogging about our plan, but you can read about the camping trip here.

 

After Acadia and once we went on the road full time, we stayed for 6 weeks at Ebenezer Park

Ebenezer Park is still one of of our favorite campgrounds to this day, and has the added benefit of being very near my sister.  We have gone back to this park several times, and the great staff and beauty never fails to delight.  We have been lucky enough to stay here and experience Thanksgiving, Christmas, and an adoption party for my nephew and have always had a wonderful time. Plus the first time we were there we spent some time here with our RV friends Deb and Steve,  and you can read about us as very new full timers in this post.

Love love Charleston, South Carolina

While we were staying near my sister we took a two day trip to Charleston and fell in love with the city.  We packed so many wonderful things into our days there and you can read about our first experience with the city here.  My daughter actually lives there now with her new husband, and my mother is moving pretty close by, and I am excited we will have more opportunities to spend time in the city in the future. It was a bucket list item for me and definitely did not disappoint.

After Charleston, we moved on in our rig and headed down to Florida, but first we stopped at Jekyll Island in Georgia. While there we went to the Georgia’s Sea Turtle Center and learned about the important work they do with the sea turtle’s in the area.  I loved the center and the shirt more, and this may be my favorite T-Shirt I have bought in all our travels.  It had to make the quilt, because it completely summed up what I wanted our new year to be about.

Oh yes!!

Next up we went back to the top of the quilt and had OBX.  After spending some time in Florida we headed up to the Outer Banks and spent a month with a group of RVing friends.  We had no idea at the time how rare and special that opportunity would be and it solidified the bonds we had with people for many years to come.

Pirates!!  This was Lee’s shirt he donated to the cause

While we were in Outer Banks we had a very special day trip with our friends Kelly and Bill.  We went to Kitty Hawk and as someone born in Ohio I definitely felt an affinity to the story of the Wright Brothers.  Not only was the monument gorgeous, but it truly felt like hallowed ground, and walking along their original flight path gave me goosebumps. You can read about camping with a large group of people and the account of our special day trip here.

After Outer Banks we had to get out of chronological order a bit and put in our T-Shirt for  Voyageurs National Park.  Lee’s desire to not have two of the same colors together was definitely a challenge when it came to dark blue!  I loved this shirt though because it was the first time I saw eagles in the wild (thanks to Linda’s keen eye)

Our next shirt is for Columbus, and even though we grew up there (and technically could have had this shirt first…we talked about it), I chose to put it in the slot where we first stopped back in Columbus for an extended visit with our camper.  Again not 100% chronological, but we wanted to make sure our hometown was represented and Lee has had this shirt forever. I was kind of surprised he was willing to give it up.

At the bottom of this row is my second favorite T-Shirt which I got while white water rafting at the reunion rally.  This happened before Columbus and Voyageur but had a raised design so I definitely wanted it at the bottom.  I love the sentiment, which talks about how you could fall off the couch and die, and since our entire journey started with my desire to get off the couch and do something it really spoke to me.  It was hard giving this one up for the quilt because I wore it all the time, but I definitely wanted the sentiment to be expressed.

This shirt was even on sale because our trip ran a little late and Howard negotiated a discount on purchases while we waited. He’s awesome at that sort of thing. Plus this was the trip where I helped save my friend Rick Raab’s life, and you can read about that little adventure here.

With the next row we are back in chronological order and another one of my favorite shirts is represented.  I love to go to diners and for my birthday we went to a very special one in Minnesota which was a combination bait shop and diner.  I know that sounds kind of weird, but there was a glass wall between the two spaces and I adored the novelty of it. The T-Shirt sleeve had a cool slogan on the sleeve “Eat here and Get Worms” and Ruth took the sleeve portion and added it to the front of the T-Shirt for me.  I wasn’t sure she could make that work, but she did a great job and those little touches are part of what makes this quilt so special.

The Bait N Bite Diner in Kabetogama, Minnesota.

Next up was Glacier National Park and that experience was so special it deserved two T-Shirts.  We spent time with our friends Ellen/Mario and Deb/Steve and had an awesome encounter with grizzly bears, which is still to this day the most extraordinary thing that has happened to us on the road.  The second shirt paid tribute to Huckleberries, which Steve and I share a love for and it absolutely had to make the cut.  Whenever I see this shirt, I smile and think of Steve and Deb.  Plus it’s very pretty and I was glad I added some purple to the quilt!

Bear shirt above and Huckleberry shirt below.

Next up is Lassen Volcanic Park which we visited while volunteering in Susanville, California. We had never heard of Lassen until our friends Howard and Linda recommended it and it definitely did not disappoint. I met my all time favorite rock there and had a wonderful time hanging out with it. And no that is not a misprint..I am a big fan of rocks and definitely had an affinity for this one.  Plus we learned a very important lesson about National Parks.  Sometimes the lesser known ones are actually better.  Smaller crowds, for one thing, and the opportunity to explore a place you don’t know much about.

This volcanic eruption was actually captured on film by a series of 6 photographs which was a complete fluke as no one knew it was going to erupt. That in and of itself made the park extremely interesting.

Next up is Las Vegas and the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.  We have been to Vegas many times in our lives, but never in our RV, which was truly a different experience.  For one we had access to our truck all week and I had more time to use it to explore.  We really looked at Vegas as a town instead of just the strip, and I took the time to visit the place where Pawn Stars was filmed and as an added bonus got to touch an actual Patriots Superbowl ring.  For me that was very special! The trip also drove home the point that we are not on vacation, and was a mental turning point for both of us.  It is one thing to explore new places, but going back to a vacation spot in our new circumstances definitely had an impact on both of us and I wrote about it in this blog post.

 

Finally the last row, and if you are still hanging in with me, thanks for that.  I know this is a weird recap post, but I wanted to capture the meaning in the quilt for me own future benefit if nothing else.  We were forced to jump out of order again (wow we did that more than I thought, but hey, my quilt my rules) and the next square is from the Redwoods.  This was the first time we volunteered and our first visit to the Redwoods and a bucket list item of mine since I was a little kid. Visiting the redwood groves was a truly spiritual experience, and living for a month inside of one was a once in a lifetime experience.  That being said, it also rained for 10 straight days while we were there and we learned quite a bit about ourselves and what we could tolerate in weather while staying there.

Lee loves this one because you can see the stains on the shirt. I wore this one a lot!

 

White Sands National Monument was a long time bucket list item of Lee’s.  Getting to experience it with our friends Cori and Greg and their puppy Hobie made it even more special.

Traveling through Canada to get to Alaska was an epic experience in and of itself. We experienced many firsts, but my favorite was the day we saw so many different animals, including lots and lots of bears.  I picked this T-Shirt to represent that trip, mainly because I loved the campground along this river and it made me laugh.  You can read about our seeing 7 different mammals in the wild in one day here.

 

We saw so many amazing things in Alaska it was hard to pick one shirt to sum up the adventure.  Ultimately I chose this one because this little known national park was very close to where we stayed for the summer and we spent the 100th anniversary of the parks service there.  It also includes a glacier at the top and the copper mine at the bottom, so seemed like the perfect choice. And since it was my least favorite T-shirt to wear from Alaska (it just wasn’t that comfortable and I rarely wear black anymore),  it was the easiest to give up for the cause!

You can read about our visit to the copper mine, which is inside the park, here.

And finally, I had to find a way to end the quilt.  It needed to say our journey wasn’t over with the Alaska shirt, and also sum up our experiences to date.  Quite a tall order for a T-Shirt!  So I selected my very favorite shirt to end the quilt, which I think tied everything together nicely.  To be honest I am not sure if I could have done this if I didn’t have a hole in the shirt, but it worked out great and gave it a purpose past the point I could wear it.  This whole thing may seem silly to some of you..and I totally get that, but I am a sentimental person and this quilt is a representation of that.  So once again I want to thank Ruth from Polly Anna Picnic Quilts who made this possible, and recommend if you are looking to do something similar and don’t have the skill set you reach out to her.  Thanks for following along and I hope you enjoyed reading about this as much as I enjoyed writing about it.

Best shirt ever


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Time at Amazon Day 27 – Day 29

Disclaimer:  We  are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017.  I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.  To start at the beginning of our Amazon experience, click here for the first Amazon post. 

Day 27

We had another full day of packing, and because we are on mid-shift they had a little trouble getting us started, but pretty quickly they sorted us out (no pun intended) and had us trained on multi’s.  Unlike singles (where the items come on a conveyor belt in totes, and each order is only a single item) with multi’s you get a large cart on wheels that has multiple cubbies, and in each cubby is a person’s order, always more than one item. You scan a label on the cart and the computer leads you through, bin by bin, not only knowing the items you should have but recommending a box or bag for the combined size of the items.  That was pretty amazing to me and also generally spot on, although occasionally we would either upgrade or downgrade to a different size to include more packing materials.  The same general rules of which items could go in which types of bags of boxes still applied, and Lee in particular loved the puzzle of determining what would go in each box.

The expected packing rate is different on multi’s, with the expectation you will pack 185-200 in an hour, and although Lee met that target his first day (big shock for any that know him lol) I lagged a bit behind at 160 an hour.  I was OK with that because I deliberately slowed myself down and I had a largely error free day at that rate, which I thought was good for my first multi day.  Speaking of that, we had a nice conversation with the pack manager, who is the first manager we have met who is our age.  Turns out she had been there since the first day, in 1999, and the changes she has seen in process are pretty spectacular.   We chatted a bit about how things used to be and it impressed me even more to realize that Amazon has made so many process improvements in such a relatively short period of time.  The company I worked at for 15 years, for example, had been in business over 100 years and change came to them extremely slowly.

Everywhere I looked in the packing process I saw technological improvements and it was impressive.  My favorite is probably the tape machine, which is a simple idea but has been a game changer.  There is a reservoir of water on what looks like the bottom of an old fashion cash register and you select the “auto” button and not only does the correct amount of tape come out, but it’s also pre-wetted so you can just slap it on.  Yes, if you change box size you need to manually select the button, but all of the buttons are clearly marked by size so this just takes an extra second or so.  Really nifty.

And physically we held up very well, with my back only getting a little stiff in the fourth quarter.  I found that doing lots of apparel in a row made me a little stiff, so I intentionally looked for some carts that had other items to change things up a bit.  Almost all apparel goes in a poly bag, which is super easy, but the motions can get repetitive.  Almost all other items are in a box, which requires different muscles and changes things up a bit.  The tricky part, for me,  is making sure you do enough apparel to keep those numbers up, because apparel goes much faster. It’s just a matter of dropping the clothes in the bag, which is hanging right in front of you, peeling off a plastic strip to expose the glue, and flipping over and sealing the flap. In all fairness that’s mainly because I don’t know all the box sizes yet, and fumble a bit on certain orders.  Even after two days I find myself learning what fits in which box, and I am sure by the end of the week I’ll stop struggling with this so much.  Lee of course has that kind of brain and just “knows” what fits where, which is probably why his numbers are so much higher than mine.  That’s what I am going with anyway!

Oh, and on that note, our pick supervisor came up and found us and let me know my rates last week were 133%, but more importantly I had 100% quality.  I was really glad to hear that, since that was a goal of mine and slowing down definitely seemed to help.  Lee though got some news that was pretty special.  Turns out that after 5 weeks, he was the number one camperforce employee in picking this year, with over 144% productivity and 100% quality five weeks in a row.  I told our supervisor that he would be impossible to live with now, which he laughed at but he seems a little confused by us.  We get that a lot actually, because we are different than many camperforce they see, but that’s mainly because we are younger and tend to be a little competitive. I’m impressed Lee did so well, because for once we are not the youngest people in the camperforce work group.  He is competing with a few kids in their 20’s and 30’s and still rocked it. Anyway, enough bragging on my husband and I am sure many of you are wondering why he worked so hard, but Lee really just has the one speed.  And the quality thing, well if you knew him you would know everything he does he tries to do perfectly.  That’s just how he is hard wired.

So it was another interesting day, and we will be working all week up there so I’ll let you know how things progress.  We like it though, because if nothing else time is going very quickly and we find we are less tired at the end of every day.

Tracy: 6,833 steps ( 2.85 miles) We parked in the back today and used the breakroom near the packers which really saved on steps
Items Packed: I don’t have totals but it was 160 per hour

Lee:    6,003 (2.65 miles)
Items Packed:  191 per hour

Interesting Item Packed: For the person who has everything try the Starfrit Rotate Express.  It is an electric peeler for potatoes, etc and both Lee and I laughed at why someone would need this versus a good old fashioned potato peeler, but hey some people always want the new gadget…Denny!! 

Day 28

I am writing this one directly after our shift, because it was a rough one and I wanted to talk about it while it was fresh in my mind.  Keep in mind this was one day, and experiences do vary, but I think we have learned enough now to point out what we don’t like about packing.  We started the day off and once again, no one knew where to put us.  That worked out OK though because we did multi’s during first break, and then singles until lunch.  Multi’s was interesting because at one point Lee and I were both working off the same cart (they were premiums and needed processed quickly) and not only did the computer know who was doing what, but there were no errors.  Pretty amazing. Singles was actually pretty fun, and since I felt more comfortable I liked how easy it felt compared to multi’s, plus we were flying through it.  Kelly was also in the station right across the conveyor belt from me and she gave me some box suggestions when I got stuck a couple of times, which was really helpful.  Both of us ended up doing pretty well in singles (my rate was 109 and Lee’s was 144 with the goal being 110.) Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention that the day shift manager plays little snippets of songs and gives short pep talks in the loudspeaker which I think is really great.  He seems like a really good guy and Kelly really likes working for him.

For lunch we had hamburgers and hot dogs, which was provided by our supervisor, and it was pretty good.  We had a nice time talking to some folks and then went back for the second half of the shift and were on the schedule.  As good as it was to have set stations, unfortunately these ones were a bit of a mess.  There is a checklist you go through at the beginning of your work session, but since you need that first pack to be within 10 minutes of the shift we usually breeze through that.  It was clear pretty quickly though that was a mistake in this case.  I ran out of water in the auto tape machine, was missing some boxes, and ran out of packing tape in the same hour.  Lee was also missing boxes and he ran out of printer paper.

They have a really great Andon system (signal that let’s someone know you need help), and here you put on a blue light and runners bring you what you need, but on this particular shift that help was slow in coming.  To be fair, those folks have been awesome up to this point, so it was probably just an off night for the guy doing it, but it really slowed us down.  When no one comes your choices are to get it yourself or do without (ie: use other bags and boxes), and we muddled through but it slowed both of us down.  During all of this our supervisor came up and for the first time talked to Lee about a report he was on.  They randomly pulled one of his boxes and opened it and there wasn’t enough bubble wrap in it.  I’ll be honest I was pretty gleeful he ended up on a list for once, but it wasn’t lost on me that he had packed probably 1,000 items yesterday and that came out on a report.  In all fairness he said he was sure there were a lot more of those, and it was good they mentioned it so he could correct it.

Being gleeful though was probably not the best strategy because karma bit me a little and the next couple of hours got worse.  I kept getting carts with weird scenarios on them and ran into more problems with my work station.  I was getting a little frustrated, when I realized that every time I went to pick a cart it was the last one with the earliest time on it. Let me explain that.  Every rebin cart has the time on it when the premium items have to be processed by to get on the truck in time, and it’s a big deal if those items aren’t done.  People start scurrying around close to the time and supervisors start doling out the work.  I thought it would be simpler to make sure all carts were down in the proper order (as we were trained) so intentionally took the earliest cart I could find.

The problem was that at least four times it was the only cart left in it’s time slot and it had lots of difficult things on it.  One time, for example, a cart had 30 shawls that went in one box and 53 shirts that went in another.  Those “Special packs” take extra time, but since I am in training and my numbers don’t really count I kept taking them.  Those carts got worse at the night progressed though and I found myself getting particularly annoyed when I intentionally picked an easier apparel only cart (with a later time)  and after finishing it saw that the hard one with the earlier time frame was still sitting there.

And look, I get it. These rates are no joke, and for regular employees cherry picking makes sense, but so many people working the system like that means the system is flawed.  I started thinking about possible solutions like spreading those items between carts, or forcing it to really be random so the workload was more spread out, and I as I was thinking I kept working on those carts.  Finally at the very end of the night I got a doozy.  It was like every difficult item was on the carts.  Tons of serialized item orders, two lithium battery orders (they require extra stickers), 10 very heavy curtains all in one big box…etc. At this point I started to get really mad, so I walked over to the supervisor’s desk.

The assistant working at the time was someone I had never met and I was really careful to keep my tone as light and friendly as possible.  I explained I was Camperforce and just cross training, but wanted to show him something.  He walked back to my work station with me, while I said I understood why the last cart was always the worst (the regulars can tell pretty quickly which carts will be a problem and at least to my eye avoid those if at all possible), but this cart looked like whoever had stocked it took every problem item and stuck it on one cart.  That was a totally different problem to my mind, and I told him I just wanted him to see it and then I would shut up about it and get it processed.

He walked up to the cart, looked it over and then made the colossal mistake of telling me that was the type of cart he would “go for.”  I looked at him dumbfounded.  It was one thing to commiserate a bit and then say it was what it was, but really?  I started pointing out all the unusual items on it, but he was holding firm, and then I was done. I mentioned that it was statistically improbable that I would get the last cart in a time segment four times in a row, which meant other more experienced people had looked at this cart and passed it up.  If it was that great of a cart, I was sure one of them would have jumped on it as it would have helped with their rates.  He just kept repeating he would have picked it and I ended the conversation as quickly as possible.  That’s the first time I have felt completely dismissed since we have started working there and the experience made me pretty angry.  But I kept working on that cart and when our shift was done pushed it (half unfinished)  back in the aisle where I am sure it will sit until someone absolutely has to do it.

And just to be perfectly clear, I understand that this problem existed well before me.  What bothers me so much is that it forces me to cherry pick as well, or it’s unlikely I will be able to make rate.  Our numbers were much worse today (with Lee being at 177 per hour and mine being only 143 per hour).  The effect on rate of those rough carts does add up, and if they aren’t interspersed with some easier ones the rate is going to show that. For some reason that really bothers me and even more so because when I tried to talk to someone about it I was blown off.  Anyway, that’s what happened.  We only have one more day left in packing and then our training is done and I imagine we will go back to picking.  As much as I enjoy not being in pain every day, I do miss picking some, but I think Lee would be content to stay in packing from here on out. (I don’t miss picking at all. I like everything about packing. – Lee)

Tracy:  9,061 steps ( 3.79 miles) 
Items Packed: I don’t have totals but it was 160 per hour

Lee:   7,445 steps  (3.29 miles)
Items Packed:  191 per hour

Interesting Item Packed:  It’s interesting seeing entire orders together, which you don’t really get to see in pick.  People buy odd combinations of things and on occasion it really gives me pause.  Today someone bought a black sweatshirt and a white generic mask and I packed those together.  Seriously looked like what you would wear in a robbery and I thought it was so strange I showed it to Lee.  But in the box it went and I moved on.  Some things just make you go hmmm.  That aside my interesting item for today was Strathmore Sketch Pads.  I packed quite a few of these and they seemed like a nice gift to give the artist in your life. 

Day 29

Well our last day of training went much better.  We were on the schedule, back in multi’s, and because it was a relatively slow day the carts were more fairly distributed.  Several times we were waiting for the next cart to be ready and in that scenario cherry picking is practically eliminated.  The work I received was a nice mix of apparel with a few non-apparel carts and I felt like I was doing much better from a speed perspective.  The stations were also well stocked on both half of our shifts and we got to be stationed near Kelly again in the morning, which was nice.  One thing that I enjoy about packing (versus picking) is you do have time for longer conversations with people.  You still are working of course, but people stop by and talk a bit who are on other tasks and you can talk to the person next to you a bit between the stations.

During one of the down times, one of the assistants asked me if I wanted to do a safety audit, and this time we did them on the re binning stations. We watched people take items from big rolling bins and put them on the segregated carts and that process was also pretty interesting.  I learned the computer tells them what slot to put which item in, and the people doing it are working on two carts simultaneously.  So they don’t control what goes on the rebin carts either, which sort of proves the point from last night that the “bad carts” are not deliberately made.  Very interesting.  The coolest thing was because the big blue carts are pretty deep I wondered how folks got to the stuff in the bottom without having to bend way over and reach to the bottom to dig into them, but it turns out Amazon has a solution for that as well.  The bottom of each one is spring loaded and as the weight decreases the bottom actually rises.  Pure genius.  Seriously I don’t know what engineer thought that up, but they deserve a medal or something, because instead of bending way over and possibly missing things in the bottom corner the person can stay mostly level.  Very, very cool.

I was able to find this picture on wikipedia. In the foreground is a full rebin cart. That’s what we pack from, one slot at a time, and behind it is an empty one

 

This is the “rebin” truck, the image shows the spring mechanism that allows weight to push down the floor , and as things are removed, it rises so you don’t have to bend way over and reach into the bottom. Pure genius.

 

Anyway, it was a pretty good day and I’m really glad we had the opportunity to cross train. We aren’t 100% sure which job we are doing tomorrow, so we will find out when we go in.  All Camperforce got a message from the General Manager stating they would let us know our release date no later than December 15th “so people could plan travel” and we are curious to see if they will be having early release like they did last year. We did get a call from a gate guarding company earlier this week, so if we are released early we will have to talk about what makes the most sense for when to head to Texas. For right now though, we are just plodding right along and looking forward to having some time off this weekend.

Oh one last thing.  It’s been much colder here this week, with temps close to freezing at night and although our furnace is starting now it is not consistently firing.  Lee has had mixed luck with getting it to start when we get home (it was 45 degrees in the RV last night when we got back from work) and obviously this is a concern because the underneath could freeze.  We called the RV company who worked on it, but the service department is closed until December 27th, so once again we are on our own trying to figure this out. Frustrating.

Tracy:  steps 8,683 ( 3.62 miles) 
Items Packed: We couldn’t get our totals today because when we leave everyone else is on break.

Lee:    ( miles)
Items Packed:  We couldn’t get our totals today because when we leave everyone else is on break.

Interesting Item Packed:  I packed several books today and I got really excited when I saw Eat Real Vietnamese Food a Step by Step Guide. I couldn’t help but take a quick peek and the step by step instructions with pictures were really amazing.  Vietnamese food is my absolute favorite and I am definitely putting this on my list of future birthday presents.  My pick of the day for most people though was an Electronic Luggage Scale. The concept is you can attach it to your luggage and quickly check your rate.  For those people who travel a lot this would definitely come in handy as heavy luggage can result in some stiff fees.  No clue how it works in practice, but it made me stop and think about it and it would have been handy at one point in my life. And if you don’t have a need for that how about these Oreo Candy Canes. No idea how they taste, but if you like oreos and like candy canes, well why not combine the two!


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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Time at Amazon Day 25 – Day 26

Disclaimer:  We  are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017.  I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.  To start at the beginning of our Amazon experience, click here for the first Amazon post. 

Day 25 

Although I was really sore in the morning, a long hot shower really helped, and I felt pretty good when we started out the day.  This feeling was helped along when I saw the day shift supervisor and went up to him to share my ideas about the power hour.  He not only listened, but liked what I had to say, and after talking it through decided to change the next power hour to a random drawing for anyone who was in the top 25 % of the picks that hour. He seemed to appreciate that this approach would be more inclusive and agreed that this might improve the pick numbers overall.  He’s going to give it a try next week, and we will see how it goes, but either way it was nice to be heard.

I was particularly grateful for that conversation, because not too long after that my supervisor came up and found me.  I was hoping I would get through a week without showing up on a report, but that was not to be.  This time it was for leaving drawers partially open (my name showed up 7 times on a QA audit) and although I appreciate the constructive feedback and the manner it is being delivered, I dug my heels in on this one.  I said that I wasn’t allowed to use the “amnesty” bins and wasn’t strong enough to push in all of the overstuffed drawers, so what exactly did he want me to do in that situation???  To his credit he really talked the situation through with me and was trying to find an answer to the problem, but ultimately I made it clear I didn’t feel I was the source of the problem.  He promised to pass along the feedback to his manager in the report and we landed on me calling a problem solver if I found a drawer I couldn’t close.

Calling a problem solver seems to be sort of a catch-all solution, but really isn’t one that works very well.  Yes, there are radios on every floor, but they are generally not close by and while you are reporting the problem the seconds tick away. Theoretically you are supposed to notify them of the issue and perhaps wait until they arrive to solve the problem, but frankly it is rarely done.  I am sure too many problem solver calls would raise a red flag as well, and the lost time hurts your numbers.  Plus, if they really wanted it done frequently they would have an easier way to do it on the scanner.  Almost everything else can be done simply on the scanner, but calling a problem solver and flagging an issue requires multiple steps, and often can’t be done at all. Plus, it really isn’t solving the core problem (over stuffed bins in this case), and I am going to take a minute and talk about that.

First off, let me say many Camperforce people are stowers and after talking to them I have no doubt it is a difficult job.  They are moved to a floor of a building, given boxes and boxes of stuff, and turned loose to find a place it will fit.  I’ve watched them do it, and talked to my friend Harry, and it’s a tough job, so I want to make that clear.  That being said, the pickers are the internal customer of the stowers’ process, and we have no way to provide feedback.  In general, what we have been seeing is the middle drawers are being overstuffed and the ends of rows and bottom drawers have openings.  In all fairness though, the stowers have no easy way of knowing which bins have capacity and are walking up and down aisles opening drawers and looking for spots.  They have time pressure as well to get X amount of items stowed in an hour, so I can see the temptation to shove it in where they can. (We might get more detailed information of a stower’s perspective from Harry that we can share after this post. – Lee)

They are also using ladders, and I think that is where I have a problem.  When you are on a ladder you can push the clothing down and the drawer in, but when we try to pull it open from ground level it gets stuck. Yes, we have access to ladders as well, but it would absolutely kill our ratings to pull them out on every single high pick.  So we are pulling and yanking, and clothes go flying and pushing it all back in is a mess.  (When you open a drawer you can usually tell if you’re the fist person to get to it after a stower has been there, because everything is all neat and tidy and separated (there are always several different items in a drawers, sometimes five or six different types of things) and things are pretty easy to find. But because everything is in plastic bags, as soon as you put your hand in it all starts to slide around and the orderliness is gone. Bill calls it “bin churn”, which is a very appropriate description. – Lee)

And in case you think this is all much ado about nothing, we heard from regular full time staff that there have been a high number of injuries this year from overstuffed bins.  Anecdotally we heard one person got a bloody lip from hitting herself in the mouth with a stuck drawer that broke free and there have been numerous muscle strains.  (When I first heard about the “injuries” I was honestly puzzled about how injured you get could get from having a bra or a knit sweater fall on your head from 18 inches above you. Then I ripped most of a fingernail off pulling on a drawer that stuck, and another time I pulled too hard without a good grip, expecting the drawer to pop right out, and when it didn’t, my hand popped right off and I smacked myself right in the face. Considering some of the stuff I say out loud, and all of the stuff I think but don’t say, I probably deserved being smacked in the face that day, but I didn’t like it. – Lee) I personally can attest to the cumulative effect of overstuffed bins as my shoulders were killing me the two days things were at it’s worst. And not just me, one of the long term employees mentioned she was having problems as well, so I know it’s just not newbie aches and pains. (Another issue is that some stowers put heavier than appropriate things in the high drawers. When you pull out a drawer that’s full of belts or wallets, you’re usually doing it one–handed, and a drawer that you’re holding above your head with one hand that should weigh a few pounds but actually weighs 10 or more can come down a lot faster than you expect. And a drawer full of boxes of wallets is going to hurt more than a drawer full of bras. – Lee)

So in case any of you are ever stowers in an Amazon facility, I took a few notes and thought I would pass along some “Voice of the Internal Customer” from us pickers.  Here’s a few things that make us pickers crazy, and if you can avoid doing them that would be awesome.  I know it isn’t always possible, and I totally respect how hard you are working, but please, do what you can.

  • Storing heavy items in a high bin.  Keep in mind we hardly ever use ladders and when I reach up and grab a box that is heavy it almost falls on my head.  Anything with metal (luggage tags, bra extenders, belts) can have a cumulative weight effect and are much better in lower storage bins.
  • Please don’t put one extra small G-String in a large bin full of other stuff.  Rooting through bins takes time and really slows us down, so when there is one tiny item among larger items it can get lost in there. I know it’s tempting, but these are much better off in one of the smaller drawers where they are easier to find.
  • Bins full of socks are particularly challenging, but it is much easier for us if they are all the same brand.  Placing one “oddball” sock in a bin full of like socks essentially means we have to touch every single item to find the right one.  And Murphy’s Law says, it’s the last one we touch, so this takes a ton of time.
  • Along these same lines having lots of similar items and one or two items that look the same but are different is a challenge. For example I was looking for a bracelet in a large bin one day that was full of compression sleeves.  Turns out the bracelet was in a small black pouch that looked almost identical to the compression sleeves and I have to root through 30 or so of those before I found the bracelet pouches.  That extra minute or two may not seem like a big deal, but the time has to come from somewhere and in order to stay on track for our picks per hour we need to make it up somewhere.  Plus in that particular case I had to wonder if someone did it on purpose.  It seemed way too hard of a find to happen by accident.
  • Finally, even with big items when there are many of them and they are all the same size that is great, but when only one is a different size that can be a real pain. I see this all the time where there are 10 shirts and they are all small and somewhere in there is one medium shirt.  It would be so much easier to place the one medium in a different drawer where it would be an easy pick to find.
  • On the plus side, Jeans are almost always done perfectly.  They are grouped by size, at the bottom of the bin, and I never mind picking jeans as it is super quick.

Just a few thoughts to pass along, and who knows, someone may read this and every great stow does equal a great pick!

One positive thing about the conversation with my supervisor was it did give me something to think about throughout the day, which passed pretty quickly.  Plus something really nice happened towards the end of the day that was the highlight of my week.  This is my supervisor’s first experience with Camperforce and since he was interested I shared a little bit of my background with him one day.  Turns out my career path of Six Sigma Black Belt and project manager was the career path he was interested in.  So when he needed to select an employee to help with his first 5S safety audit he chose me.  Not only did I get a break from picking, but as we were walking around with the safety supervisor he shared my background with him.  In the Amazon world, a Six Sigma Blackbelt is a big deal, and since I am passionate about the subject it was a lot of fun to be able to use that skill set, even in a limited way.  They were genuinely interested in my thoughts about the areas we looked at and  it’s been a long time since anyone has listened to me that way.  It’s one thing working a line level job in a place where my skills aren’t understood or needed, but quite another doing it in a place where my skill set is an integral part of the operation.  All I can say is it reminded me of who I used to be (in a work environment) and it had an impact on me. Let’s leave it at that.

Tracy: 24,691 steps ( 10.31 miles)
Items Picked: 771

Lee:    27,521 ( 12.16 miles)
Items Picked:   784

Interesting Item Picked:  I don’t have young kids anymore but Paw Patrol must be super popular because I am picking a ton of that clothing.  I also saw Sleepytime Bamboo pajamas which help with hot flashes, according to their packaging.  That was interesting to me, but they are a little out of my price range, still I will keep an eye out for some on sale and maybe give them a try. My favorite item was another T-Shirt made by Panoware. It said “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone” which I really liked. 

 

Days Off

We were both very excited about having a couple of days off and although we briefly discussed going and doing some exploring neither of us really had the energy.  Instead we talked to several family members (it’s tough squeezing in the time on our days off) and had both lunch and dinner at the nearby college.  We had bought a 10 punch card for meals when we first arrived, but with our shift we are limited in the days we can go.  So Lee and I went together for lunch and then we took Kelly and Bill with us for dinner.  Both meals were really good, and they do have an excellent dessert selection, but I had forgotten how loud college cafeterias can be.  It’s a really nice option to have, especially on those days you don’t feel like cooking, but personally I don’t think we would do it again.

Saturday, Bill, Kelly, Linda, and Steve went to Maker’s Mark but again Lee and I stayed home.  We do plan on visiting at least one bourbon manufacturer before we leave, really have to do that when you are in Kentucky, but other errands took precedence.  Plus, we were having combination birthday celebration for Steve and Kelly that night and I wanted to try out some new appetizers. I am still picking away at new recipes for my second recipe book and certain ones really are best prepared for a group so I prepared Mini Beef Wellingtons (cool concept but I overdid the horseradish), crab puffs (turned out OK, but not quite good enough to make the cut, and a large loaf of cheesy bread.  The best thing about the bread was Linda had a better recipe she shared, so next time I will try it her way and hopefully will have a winner.  It was all fine, but the star of the show was Grandma Murray’s carrot cake (which Kelly ended up making), which is literally the best carrot cake any of us have ever had.  That recipe is in my existing recipe book and never fails. We had a wonderful time with spirited conversation and as always it was wonderful celebrating fellow RVers birthdays.  We are with our friends on their special days more often than I ever thought we would be, but this is the first time we were able to celebrate Kelly’s with her.

Grandma Murray’s carrot cake

Lee checking out the appetizers

Linda and Steve

Joint birthday candle blowout which was really funny

Steve and Linda are actually leaving Amazon to head back to Texas to be with family for the holidays, so we won’t be seeing them for a while.  It was nice spending more time with them and getting to know them better, and if nothing else we will be seeing them at the reunion rally.  Speaking of that, so many of our group are able to make it to the RV-Dreams reunion rally and we are pretty excited about that.  It’s rare our schedules all come together like that, but almost everyone is making a point to be there. It will be the first time we have had so many of us in one place in years and everyone is super excited about it.

Day 26

Our mandatory overtime was cancelled for Sunday, but after a few anxious hours they finally posted voluntary overtime, which we successfully signed up for.  At this point many people would be thrilled to just work a 40 hour week, but for us the overtime pay is what makes this even close to being financially worthwhile.  The good news is for those of you who would like the experience and care less about the money, so far there have been many opportunities to work a shorter week.  Voluntary time off has been offered every week so far, and it’s much easier to just work a four day schedule.  It’s a shame we can’t take advantage of that, because we would definitely have more energy to explore the area with that third day, but we are here to make as much money as possible and working that fifth day is definitely a part of that.

When we went into work, Lee walked up to the pick desk to ask the daytime supervisor a question and he asked Lee if he would like to learn to pack.  Lee’s response was an instantaneous yes and then he said he was sure I would like to do it as well.  So Lee and I were both sent up to pack for training (and given $10 Dunkin Donuts gift cards for agreeing to learn!) and we walked upstairs to the pack area.  This is the area our friend Kelly works in, so we knew a little bit about it, but we both were pretty fuzzy on how exactly it worked.  Thankfully we had an excellent trainer, who did a great job of simplifying the process while giving us the information we needed to do the job.  First she walked us through it, then she showed us, and finally we were allowed to try it under her supervision.

Learning something new and different is always fun for us, and once the training was over the time just flew by as we packed individual items.  Our experience in picking definitely helped us identify the items, but I at least had some trouble figuring out what type of box or bag each item would go in.  Turns out the system was pretty automated though and almost every item has a recommended package.  You are allowed to override it, using common sense, which I liked. There were a variety of simple rules which were pretty interesting, mainly because it never would have occurred to me.  I’ll share some of these below, which found particularly interesting because it explained why sometimes when you place an Amazon order you get a relatively small item in a box that clearly too big.  We never understood that before.

  • Magnets have to go in a box because if they are in a bag they could “stick” to the metal on the conveyor belts (never would have thought of that)
  • Round pill bottles have to go in a padded envelope or a box because if they are in a loose poly bag they can “roll” on the conveyor belts and not actually move along the line.  Again makes perfect sense but I never would have though of it
  • Anything “crushable” including baseball hats goes in a box versus bag
  • Any clothing items with wire (underwire bras, corsets, etc) need to go in a padded envelope because the wires can be bent or poke out of the bags
  • All liquids have to go in boxes
  • Any items with a lithium battery gets special handling stickers on them.

We spent a ton of time talking about this last one because there is a pretty high fine for forgetting these, but the system thankfully prompts you.  I was really impressed by the whole setup, especially the tape machine.  Each box has a corresponding button on the tape machine and the tape comes out (pre-wet) and cut to the proper size.  Wow!! So much better than the old days of tape guns and according to what we have heard saves the company millions of dollars.  Really cool.  Most items though (and almost all apparel) goes into poly bags, which are those slippery white plastic bags that have a “zipper” tab to pull to open (If you’ve never seen one, order an apparel item from Amazon and will almost certainly come in one. But wait until we’re done, we have enough to do already. – Lee) and those bags already have the stickers you need on them.  So basically you scan the item, place it in the bag, close it, and scan the SPOO label (like a routing number) on the bag.  Easy peasy, although I did find that if I get interrupted or was mentally focused I would sometimes forget which step I was in.

(Interestingly, nothing in this process tells us who ordered the item or where it’s going. The SPOO label gets read a few feet down the conveyor by a shower of laser beams that covers every part of the package except the bottom, and a few feet after that a robot prints out the address label and applies it. It’s called the Slammer, even though it’s very gentle, because it looks like it’s slamming the label on, and it’s amazing to watch. So the only way it would be possible to know where or to whom something is going would be to pack it, then walk down the line following it after it gets “slammed” and then read the label, but it’s not on the line for very long at all after being slammed, it just disappears downhill towards the shipping area.  – Lee) 

My biggest complaint was the sound when your SPOO didn’t scan wasn’t very distinguishable so it was easy to not get that final scan and then put the item on the belt, which causes an error.  I did several of those.  In picking, when you make a mistake, it makes a very obnoxious noise, which really gets your attention.  This noise is too close to the “did it right noise” and I did struggle with this final step.  Overall though putting things in bags was pretty easy and since we were doing single items (one per bag or box) doubly so.

Boxes are a little tougher, although the system does makes recommendations, mainly because you are supposed to put the pillow stuffing in each one as well and sometimes it didn’t all fit.  In general though if you trusted the screen it all worked out well, but definitely took longer than an apparel bag. We both had a great time and felt really good when we went to lunch but since we are mid-shift we weren’t sure what to do.  After lunch we talked to the night shift picking manager though and she sent us back upstairs to packing.  At first the scheduler wasn’t sure what to do with us, but since we wanted to be there and they had plenty of work they assigned us stations and then gave us a different trainer for the evening portion of our shift.

Our second trainer was just as nice as our first one and really seemed to like us.  They appreciated that we were serious about learning the process and both expressed to us that it was nice we didn’t “act like we knew it all.”  That’s just not our way of doing things, usually we tend to ask too many questions, but in both our training sessions that was appreciated.  And both trainers loved Lee, because no surprise he took right to it.  I was a lot more tentative and know I made some mistakes, but he jumped right in and was generating 115 packages an hour (the target is 110) in no time.  I didn’t do too bad at 92 an hour, but as I said I know I made some mistakes.

I wasn’t surprised at all he did so well, because Lee has always been a great packer.  The kids and I called him “the packmaster” back in the day, because he could always fit more stuff in any space than anyone we ever met.  Car trunks, boxes, closets, you name it, he could fit tons of stuff into other stuff.  And he’s always been a container guy.  Loves boxes and putting things in boxes, since he was a little kid, so truly this may be the perfect job for him.  (It’s absolute heaven. Sorting, categorizing, and putting things correctly into correct containers is literally my favorite thing in the world. If you’ve never seen me walk through the Container Store, you’ve never seen true bliss. They have boxes inside boxes in that place. – Lee) We knew it was going well, when they had several items that needed to get on the truck by 10pm and our trainer told the supervisor to give them to Lee “because that guy is really fast.”  He ended up with 40 Echo Dots (each one needs to go into a custom built box) and of course he processed them with plenty of time to spare.  Even I was impressed by that.  I was given a box of 8 priority items to do, and did OK, but the added pressure of a time crunch made me a bit nervous.  Still overall I think it went OK, and again the time went by much faster.

I will say though that I started to get a little sore towards the evening.  We get to stand on thick rubber mats, which is nice, but I have to lean forward a bit to reach the bags and my back and knees started bothering me a little bit towards the end.  I have no doubt there is a cumulative effect on that as time goes by, but we will be finding out as they want us to come back for the next three days.  Lee was very excited about that, and I certainly am glad to get to learn about another process in the building, but we will see how it holds up over time.  I am fully aware everything is easier when there is a novelty factor. More details to follow as we learn about it, but at this point we are both very happy about the ability to do something else.

(I also like that for the most part the pack stations are laid out pretty well and ergonomically. After a few hours I saw a bunch of ways it could be tweaked just a little to make it even better, but nothing that kept me from falling asleep. Most of it had to do with being able to move things an inch or two here and there to speed up the process even more. Each person is a little different, and the ability to change things to fit each person perfectly makes a HUGE difference without much investment. The back soreness Tracy is experiencing is likely due to the fact that she has to reach a few inches farther for the bags. Getting her or them closer would solve that. I’m not complaining, I’m just pointing out that on this scale, the time and energy spent to travel even a few inches adds up over time to big money, but for me it’s more about refining as close as possible to perfection than money. What I particularly liked was that as we worked there was a small unit of people they call “water spiders” (probably because they keep the water reservoirs on the tape machine filled, and also probably because of the way water spiders skitter around really fast on the surface of water, getting things done) that were constantly emptying our trash cans, and refilling our supplies so we never ran out. Very efficient. – Lee) 

Tracy: 7,631 steps ( 3.22 miles)  Oh yeah that’s a big difference!
Items Packed in the second half of our shift: 424  (92/hour)

Lee:  8,036   ( 3.5  miles)
Items Packed in second half of shift:  524 (115/hour) Showoff!!

Interesting Item Packed: When you are packing you get to see all kinds of interesting things as they go by, but today’s pick is definitely the Echo Dot. It’s on sale for only $29.99 and we packed a lot of these.  Not only did it require a special box, but you also had to scan them twice, once for the item and once for the serial number, so they definitely took a bit longer.  Essentially they are a smaller version of Alexa which people can put in any room and then network them.  For an RV this may be all we need and we are very tempted to buy one as our friends Cori and Greg have it and it’s pretty cool that you can just ask for information or they can play music for you.  Again this is the little version so has less power, but at this price it’s hard to say no! 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

November 2017 Budget (with Revenue)

Well this month turned out about as we expected, and we basically broke even.  Which is a bummer because we are working pretty hard.  Our total expenses were $2783.67 and our earned revenue was $2553.49 (this was not quite a full months worth of wages).   I say we broke even because I splurged and spent $200 on a personalized travel quilt (I will be doing a separate blog post on that) and Lee discovered that despite paying cash for my Iphone this summer we were being charged a monthly fee for it.  He needs to take a printed copy of the bill to the nearest AT&T store to get the credit so if you take those expenses out our costs were about $100 less than we spent.  Even so, that’s not great.  It doesn’t cover our gas costs to get here or the gas costs to get to the next place, and doesn’t even come close to covering the money we spent on our month off. We will have a small bonus from both our summer job and Amazon coming some time in December, which will help, but there is no doubt we will end up in the hole.  What that looks like for the whole year, we will see at the end of this month, but it is not promising.  The important lesson here though, is despite the amount of physical labor we are expending, the compensation (for us) really isn’t worth it.  If you are a person with another source of income and just looking to add some money for a special expense I think this might be attractive, but as a means of covering annual costs not so much. Of course, that also depends on what your monthly burn rate is. If you are getting by spending $1000 per month, then you’ll do great, but that’s not us.

And we are not alone in feeling that way.  We are working with some folks who clearly need the money, and even they seem somewhat disappointed in the end result. As one guy I work with said “I can make this much in three days back home” which matters when you are trying to cover a budget. Yes, we could radically change the way we live, and make these type of jobs work, but we also know what that looks like.  At this point neither of us is particularly interested in going down that path, although it is obvious to both of us that some things will need to change in year 4.  But we will talk more about that in my calendar end budget post.  For now, I’ll just go through the numbers in more detail below.

 

Groceries – With our schedule we don’t really have the ability to make meals, so we have been eating lots of prepackaged meals.  Sometimes that is actually cheaper for us, and this month it turned out OK. We spent exactly our budget this month on food and alchohol, which is a bit of a victory, especially when we are with friends.  Sometimes we go a little crazy on alchohol when we are in large groups.

Dining Out – We went a little bit over this month largely because we splurged on one expensive steak dinner for our “road-a-versary” with Harry and Ruth. It could have been a lot worse, as the temptation to eat out when we are working this hard is pretty strong, but our second shift schedule worked to our advantage in this area.

Entertainment – We spent next to nothing on entertainment and the only major cost was pre-paying for the upcoming RV-Dreams reunion rally.

Cell and Internet – As I mentioned we are actually being overcharged, so hopefully we will see the credit in this area in December.

Truck Fuel – Truck fuel is great because we are hardly driving anywhere.  We could actually walk to work everyday, but choose to drive instead, mainly because neither one of us wants to walk home in the dark, cold, and/or rain. (Also because while it’s OK to walk 12 miles every day on the clock, I’m not walking that last half mile for free. – Lee)

Clothing – I had to buy a new pair of shoes which wasn’t cheap (but totally worth it) and Lee had to buy a new belt.  He has lost so much weight he had to punch two new holes and finally bought a new one at Walmart.  I didn’t mind that expense at all, because yeah, him losing weight, plus that belt was old.

Miscellaneous – As I said earlier this money was for a travel quilt that a friend of my sisters made for us from T-Shirts from our travels.  I am going to do a separate blog post on that, but essentially this was our joint Christmas present.

So that’s it for this month.  I’ll do a post in December and then a year end post so look forward to seeing those soon!


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

First Time at Amazon Day 22 – Day 24

Disclaimer:  We  are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017.  I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.

Day 22 – Cyber Monday

Our morning started off pretty much like any other day, but they did have something new and interesting about an hour after we started.  We got a message on our picker that said a “power hour” was scheduled between 1pm -2pm and since I had never heard of that before I found someone who had been around for a while and asked them what it was.  For one hour they monitor the picks and folks who have the highest number of them when a prize. This was the first time I had seen any prizes based on productivity, but since I like any sort of competition (and it was early in my shift) I thought it would be fun to try.

There is certainly an amount of luck involved in winning this, along with hard work, because certain types of routes just are easier and have higher volume.  Still, it seemed fun and I was interested in how many items I could pick in an hour if I was super focused, but 20 minutes into it my scanner got a “fatal error” and booted me out to the main screen.  That was really a bummer, because I not only lost my count up until that moment, but it also sent me to another floor and there was a delay in getting the screen back and starting again, so needless to say I didn’t win.

I was talking to my friend Bill about it and he just looked at me and quietly said we were working too hard.  This is Bill’s second year as a picker and he really seems to have found his stride.  He picks at a speed that always puts him right around 100% productivity, but also doesn’t stress his body too much.  He’s never taken an Advil, and never had any kind of a major pain issue, so that’s definitely working for him.  And since no one I have talked to has ever heard of a Camperforce person being let go (I am sure it has happened, but I am equally certain the offenses to merit it were major), so his approach makes a ton of sense.  Plus, it’s not like there is anything extra in it for us seasonal folks to have higher rates, and I know that because Lee was once again over 140% productivity with 100% quality this week, and all that earned him was $1 in Cambellsville cash.

The Cambellsville cash program is an account where supervisors can put money in your account and you can buy Amazon branded items.  I am sure the money adds up over time (I have $5 for example, and Lee has $7), but you aren’t always sure why you got the money.  It’s a nice idea, and a great way for someone to see you did something positive and give you a little something for it, but there isn’t always a note explaining why. They really should put a note every single time, to reinforce the behavior.  Anyway, as much as they focus on quality, the fact that Lee has been mistake free for four weeks running seems to merit something more than $1.  He does show up on a report every week for the high quality numbers, and gets a visit from our supervisor to thank him, but it seems a bit perfunctory, which takes me back to Bill’s original point, and it’s an important one:  You don’t have to work this hard to meet expectations here during peak, especially if you are Camperforce.  Our required rates are 80% of the regular employees and there is nothing wrong with just meeting those expectations and nothing more.

The afternoon was much more interesting than the morning as they had tons of staff to handle Cyber Monday orders.  Despite the fact that we were getting over 12K orders an hour, nothing felt rushed or hurried.  We had plenty of carts and plenty of totes and our routes were actually a little on the long side.  This was my first day ever only picking clothing and although I appreciated the fact that I was in the nice and pretty E mods all day, I did miss spending time picking non-clothing items for the variety.  No one is sure why, but you seem to be in a particular area for a few days in a row and then suddenly you are moved to a new area.  It’s hard to tell exactly how complex this routing algorithm is, but man would I love to get a look at the code.  It would be cool to find out how many things we do every day are intentional versus accidental.  Overall it was another very nice day and an excellent job by the managers.  Curious what will happen now that the peak is over, but they handled the 4 peak days beautifully. Quick note: It was the busiest Cyber Monday in Amazon history. 

Tracy:  26,535 (11.1 miles)
Items Picked: 781

Lee:     25,152 ( 11.11 miles)
Items Picked:   1,019 His second highest picking day

Interesting Item Picked: I only had clothes to pick from today, but really stopped and admired a Satin Lined Smoking Jacket.  I know several men who would rock this look (Stevie M I am talking about you!) and had a smile picturing the guys wearing these.  Perfect gift for the guy that has absolutely everything lol.

Day 23

Once again Lee and I were in E mods, and the volume of orders still seemed pretty high.  Lots of people were working and the night shift was once again on a twelve hour shift.  Our mid shift wasn’t required to work any extra hours (not even the full time employees), but nights have been working some pretty long days.  As Camperforce we wouldn’t have been required to work longer than ten hours anyway, but if we wanted to work longer we probably could have.  I did talk to one Camperforce person who have been working Amazon for 5 years and she said that she was working the 12 hours.  I was pretty amazed by this, because I couldn’t imagine having an extra two hours in me, but she explained that she stopped eating all sugar this year and has found she has a ton more energy than in previous years.   It was one of those interesting “mini-conversations” I have in the aisles throughout the day and I thought I would mention it because the physical experience of this job seems to vary widely from person to person, with returning campers doing much better than us newbies.

Today for the first time though tempers did seem to be getting a little frayed.  Carts were missing in some places and folks were a little testy about it on the radios where you ask for help, plus I was surprised to see everyone out working on the floor.  I passed our HR person pushing a pick cart and heard that the Camperforce coordinator was working in packing.  It’s kind of cool that everyone pitches in when things are busy, but from our perspective things seemed just the same. And that sameness can be a little boring.  Lee would be perfectly content to stay in E mod day after day, because of the good lighting and nice floors, but I like a little more variety.  So I was excited when they did another power hour pick, because I wanted to see how much I could do.

This time I didn’t have any sort of computer issue and better yet had a nice path, with lots of picks close together.  I really focused and ended up picking 157 item in that hour.  Later, I went and talked to the day shift supervisor to get a feel for how close I was and he said that the winner (with an identical type of pick route) had picked over 200 items.  WOW!  I wasn’t even in the ball park.  I understand that there is a certain amount of luck in the path you get, and that the full time employees are much better at this than we are, but not that they were that much better.  It makes sense because they can pluck an item out of a full bin much quicker than we can, which is a skill that only comes from years of practice.  Unfortunately, with that level of disparity I have no intention of participating in the power hours in the future, unless I am in one of the non-apparel mods. It’s a lot of extra work, and if I don’t have even a chance of winning, why play?

Plus it slowed me down for the rest of the day, and I felt extra tired.  Actually both Lee and I have been tired all week, which may be because our days off weren’t back to back. Despite the additional volume our pick routes have been on the long side, and both of us have been doing more walking this week.  The bins are also stuffed very full and my upper body was getting quite the work out leaving me stiff and sore all over.  I wasn’t alone in that, one of the long term employees I am friendly with was feeling the same thing, and the repetitive movement of pulling out heavy bins and pulling them down impacts the shoulders.  That’s one of the nice things about moving to different mods.  Some of those bins are totally open and don’t require pulling anything out.  It’s hard to explain so here’s a pic. The bins are actually cardboard drawers with a partially open front, but they’re stacked up into something like a chest of drawers. The first pic is exactly what the drawers look like and the second is the closest pic we could find on the internet of what they look like as an assembly, the difference being that instead of 6, as shown in the pic, there are 13 that go from the ground up to about 6’5″.

 

 

The apparel bins look sort of like this except there are rows and rows of them and there are smaller ones that are on the higher rows.  Many of them are over my head, so I need to pull them out, then lower them down to set them on the cart.  Most of them are light, but the overstuffed ones can be quite heavy, and in any event the repetitive motion can be tiring.  We have a step stool, but taking it out every single time would really slow the process down, so you just reach up, pull out the bin, bring it down, find your item, put everything back, lift it up, and put it back in.  Over and over again. If you find this description boring, try doing it for ten hours a day lol.

Lee’s Addition, bit not in italics, to make it easier to read:  I’m going to jump in and explain in a little more detail what this place is like physically, for anyone who wants a better mental picture, and for people who are stats/data junkies, it might be interesting. Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to know.

Everyone carries a handheld wireless scanner all day (some of us bought a holster so we don’t have to carry it, and also, it’s cool to have a holster.)

When we log into our scanner, it tells us where to go, and once we get there, and grab a cart and a couple of totes, and scan the tote, it starts giving us “addresses” of items to pick, one at a time. The address consists of a level number, a mod letter, an aisle, and a bin. Every address starts with a P, but nobody can tell me why, and you know damn well I have asked more than one person. Here’s a cart, and a tote (ours are yellow, and there are many thousands of them in the building) and each cart has a little step stool on it. Some of the carts have wheels that  squeak, and those are awful.

The building is broken into three sections, and are called A, B, and C building, even though they’re all under one roof. There are areas for unloading trucks, and sorting and packing and shipping, but I’m only going to talk about the picking areas, which are called “mods”. Each mod is a little different, and has it’s own personality. Some are brand new, some are really old, and you can see from one mod to another what they have changed to improve the process. Some have better lighting than others, and some have better airflow than others, and some have better layouts than others. There are 14 of these mods, and I am going to talk about “E mod” in detail, because it’s the easiest to explain, and it’s also the nicest, and the newest.

Think of each mod as a “neighborhood”, and some mods have multiple floors, so the first part of the address is the floor number, and then the mod letter. So, we go to “P-1-E“, the 1 being first floor of E Mod. Inside the mod there are parallel aisles (streets), and “E” has 57 of them, each numbered, in this case . Each aisle is wide enough for two cars to fit side by side, and just wide enough to spin a cart around to change direction if you need to.

Each of the 57 aisles consists of 276 rows of stacked heavy duty cardboard chests of drawers, stacked up in towers, like buildings, with floors. Each tower consists of a stack of drawers, and in E mod each tower is 13 drawers high, labelled from the ground up from A to M, and as you go down the aisle, they are numbered from 1 to 276. So there’s an A-1 through A-276, etc. Each aisle is broken up into sections of about 20 or so rows, so there are “cross streets” that allow you to take shortcuts to get from aisle to aisle, just like a city street grid. And in the main middle cross street is the conveyor belt, so once your tote is full, you have to go to the conveyor from wherever you are to drop it off. In the case of E mod there is a conveyor that comes in from another mod on the ground floor, goes about 1/3 of the way across the mod, then goes up to the second floor, then comes back down, then back up again, so there’s a little piece of it twice on the ground floor and the second floor. Another belt does the same thing on floor 3 and 4, and there’s a great story I’ll tell you about that, another day.

So, once you get to the mod, your first item might be P-1-E-3-A14. So you push the cart to the 3rd aisle, row 14, and drawer A, which is the drawer at the bottom. You open it, find the item that is described on the scanner screen, scan the bar code, and then it gives you another address. Maybe P-1-E-3-D18. So you move down 4 rows in that aisle, and up 3 drawers to D, and repeat. Doing a lot of them that are close together like that, just working your way up and down the aisle, and from one aisle to the next is called a “tight pick” and it’s pretty rare. Mostly it’s moving from that first one at P-1-E-3-A14, to P-1-E-48-D265. That’s all the way from aisle 3 to aisle 48 (about 300 feet) and up from row 14 to row 48, about 220 feet. Now, imagine you’ve done that walk, and the next item after that is P-1-E-5-B10. That’s right. All the way back to where you started, for the next item. Over, and over, and over, and over. And over. And that’s how you end up walking 12 miles and only picking 700 or 800 items. I’ve had tight picks for 30 minutes where I pick over 100 items and don’t feel tired at all, then 90 minutes of “loose” picks where I cover 5 times the distance and pick well under 100 items. It can get to you after several weeks of 10 hours of that. Sometimes I get mad, and look at the scanner and say, out loud, “NO.” and log out and go to the bathroom, whether I need to or not, just to teach it a lesson. It’s not a fast learner.

Soooo, all of this brings me to what I truly love, which is hard data. Although there are two different sizes of drawers throughout the mod, the large ones are exactly twice the size of the small ones, (width only, the depth and height of all drawers are the same) any time there is a double wide drawer, they skip a row number, so the numbers work out in the end. Going back to the numbers, there are:

57 aisles of
276 rows of
13 drawers, totaling:

204,516 drawers.

Let that sink in. 204,516 drawers on the first floor of E mod. And there are 4 floors of E mod, so that’s 818,064 drawers in E mod alone. There might be some slight variation, because there are small areas that don’t have drawers to make room for stairs, and there might be one more or less stack on one floor or another, but when the numbers get that big I can round down a little and the differences are statistically insignificant. I was going to go floor by floor and actually get an accurate count, but then I didn’t, because I’m crazy but I’m not insane. Anyway, just for fun I calculated the average drawer has an average of around 20 items in it. So each floor in E mod has about 4 million items in it. For more fun I measured a drawer to get volume capacity, and each drawer has a volume of 900 cubic inches, or just under one half cubic foot. Per floor, that’s 102,000 cubic feet. To give you an idea of how big that is, if you imagine an RV that’s 9 feet wide and 12 feet high, this RV would be 925 feet long. Or, 25 40′ fifth wheels all lined up in a row. That’s one floor of E mod. And remember, there are 14 mods, although not all of them are that big, and not all of them have 4 floors. But it’s a crap ton (cubed) of stuff. And here’s the kicker: Every day we pick, and every day stowers come in and put stuff back in the drawers. The turnover is astounding. And it’s at this point that I start thinking about how all of this stuff is in little plastic bags, and there’s 70 of these fulfillment centers globally, and that those bags have to go somewhere, and the scale of it starts to get a little distressing, and I have to stop, because the obvious message at the end is one we all already know, but largely ignore, and has to do with sustainability. If you don’t have a data problem, and you have 20 minutes later in the day, watch this video, it’s very well made and interesting.

And some time in the next week or so I will tell you the exciting tale of the conveyor belt, and how you maintain a level of 100% error free, even when you make a huge mistake.

racy:  25,046 ( 10.46 miles)
Items Picked: 838

Lee:  26,767   (11.82 miles)
Items Picked:   876

Interesting Item Picked: Not much of interest today, but I did get a couple of picks in hanging clothes and saw this absolutely beautiful Belle Badgley Mischka camel colored winter coat. I have absolutely no need for a winter coat, thankfully, but it was beautifully made and for a moment I just stopped and looked at it.  I never was much of a clothes person, but I do appreciate a well made item and this was really pretty in person, much better than the picture on the website.

I continue to enjoy the never ending collection of Ugly Christmas sweaters, and this one I saw for the first time today. It lights up! – Lee

Day 24

I had written down lots of notes on things I might write about this morning, but I have to start with the fact that I hurt everywhere.  It’s not just me either, Lee is very sore as well and we are both really surprised by it.  I intentionally slowed my pace yesterday, which resulted in an under 10 mile day (which is usually a good sign) and we were in E mod again with the nicer floors.  The routes were mostly fine, really everything was OK, so I am not sure why I feel so beat up.  We are guessing that it is just a cumulative effect from working so many days, but if that is the case it doesn’t bode well for finishing this out. Then again, maybe we are just hitting a plateau of some kind and will push through this and feel better on the other side, I hope so.

They even had another Power Hour yesterday, but I didn’t participate.  I just walked my normal pace and instead of the 157 items in that hour the day before I only did 100.  Which got me thinking about the program and what could be done to improve participation.  I had some thoughts I thought I might share with the day time supervisor, so I’ll share them here first.  It seems to me that if they set a target goal that most people could reasonably reach if they pushed a bit (maybe 20% above the average) and then put those people in a random drawing, the overall participation would be higher, which would drive up the number of picks overall.  Yes, you wouldn’t have the crazy high spikes from a few people, but the totals would be higher overall, because many more people would be playing.  Plus it might help morale overall, because everyone would have a chance to play.  Anyway, just some things rattling around in my head, and if the day manager seems receptive I will pass it along.  The company states frequently that they are interested in feedback, so I will test that out. (I also didn’t participate in the power hour. I think it would be a much better solution to have two separate categories, regular employees and Camperforce/Temps. There’s just no point in trying to compete when you’re so completely outclassed. I also noticed that a LOT of the regular employees were breaking rules to bump up their numbers. We’re only allowed to have two totes on the cart at one time, and I saw quite a few with 4, 5, and one even had 6. And I almost got knocked over coming around corners several times. The plan needs tweaking. – Lee) 

Speaking of feedback, I keep meaning to mention the surveys.  Almost every day we get a question or two on our scanner, and although our answer choices are limited, it’s interesting the types of things they poll us about.  And we know these surveys matter, because the supervisors mention them in our start up meetings on a semi-regular basis.  Those scores must be part of the way they are being judged, which gives the employees some level of power (at least as a group) in the relationship.  I like the concept, and really like how easy it is to participate, but as Lee pointed out the limited answer choices can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions.  There definitely could be some improvement there, but again great concept. (I don’t like the polls because my answers rarely match my three choices, and there is no way to opt out. So I am forced to give an inaccurate answer. What’s the point of that? – Lee) 

On a completely different subject, it was Kelly’s birthday yesterday and I got to see her on our first break.  Her team had all signed a card for her and sang Happy Birthday to her at start-up which was really nice.  Then they offered VTO and she got to go home the second half of the day which makes for a nice birthday.  With us being on second shift and her being on first, we haven’t gotten to see as much of them as we thought we would, so I was glad to squeeze in a quick hug for her birthday.  We are all getting together Saturday to celebrate, but it was a nice bonus getting to see her on the day itself, even if it was only for a few minutes.

I know I am all over the place with this section, by the way, but I write them in the mornings while Lee is taking his shower and I am sore enough today that my mind is all over the place.  I write a small page full of notes throughout the shift and then whatever sticks in the morning is generally what makes it here.  I try not to take to much time up as we only have a few hours to shower, pack lunches, handle daily business, etc, so I end up condensing my thoughts as best I can.  Some days that works better than others.  On last thing I should definitely mention and then one cute story.  The weather here has been really great the last few days.  Sunny and in the 60’s, which is really awesome.  I’ve talked to enough locals to know this is unusually nice weather and I am grateful for it as that little bit of extra sunshine in the morning is really nice.  OK, here’s my sort of funny story.

I had about 20 minutes left in the shift and was in F mod, which has some very high bins that require a step stool for me, when I got a multiple item pick.  I generally like those, because I get multiple items in one place except this time it was six Rubie’s Flannel Santa Suits.  I was wondering why anyone would need so many Santa Suits when I pulled one from the highest bin and the entire stack rained down on me.  It didn’t hurt or anything, and it was kind of funny as it was raining Santa suits, but I was also like…”Seriously!”  I picked them all up and then it sent me to another floor and up some stairs where I picked one Mrs. Santa Suit. At this point the mental image of one Mrs. Santa with six Santa’s was a bit much (I get pretty loopy towards the end of the night) and thankfully that was the end of my shift.  Hopefully my thoughts will be in a little more coherent next time, but thanks for following along.

Tracy: 23,880  ( 9.97 miles)
Items Picked: 838  Update:  I checked my stats the next day and even with a more reasonable pace I was still at 131% productivity.  So that’s good. 

Lee:    28,220 (12.47 miles)
Items Picked:   883

Interesting Item Picked:  One thing I wanted to mention was there are some pretty strange clothing choices out there, and no I am not talking about the sexy stuff.  There are clothing items with logos and sayings that I can’t imagine ever wearing.  I think I found the worst one ever though yesterday when I picked an Ugly Christmas Sweater that had a picture of Santa and an Elf and said “When I think of you I touch my Elf.”  Seriously?  In today’s climate I can’t imagine anyone wearing one of these, but I actually picked two of them yesterday.  And one of the picks had me also picking a Creepy Bunny mask directly after. So all I could picture was someone in the creepy sweater with the scary mask on.  Yikes, what kind of Christmas parties is this guy going to???  Needless to say, neither of these was my favorite pic, but I did find a really interesting T-Shirt that had My Spirit Animal on it and then had a really cool charcoal drawing of a sloth.  It made me chuckle, so it won my pick of the day. 

(I haven’t had a lot of interesting stuff lately, either, but this one caught my eye yesterday. It would go great with the Santa Tuxedo. – Lee) 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

First Time at Amazon Day 20 – Day 21

Disclaimer:  We  are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017.  I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.

Thanksgiving

It was nice having Thanksgiving off, and our friend Kelly (who recently wrote another great description of her packing job you can find here) gathered a group of full timers together to eat at a local restaurant called Creek Side. They had a wonderful buffet for only $10.99 which included turkey, ham, homemade mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, stuffing and desert.  It was really good and I ate two platefuls, and had a wonderful conversation with people we knew, and met some folks that were new to us. All of the local campgrounds here also offered a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, so no one went without some sort of community on the holiday, which was great.  A couple I met, Andy and Sandy, (who have been coming back for several years) also volunteered at a local church and they served over 600 meals to the local community.  I must say I really like Cambellsville as a small town. Folks definitely seem to look out for each other, and people are very welcoming to us outsiders who come in every year. A great example of that is when we were at the restaurant the other night and Lee and I both had a drink.  I said to Lee in front of the waitress that one of us had to drive home, and when he asked if they had Uber in Cambellsville she said , “I don’t know about that, but we’ll find someone to drive you home.”  Gotta love small towns!

Good home cooking and reasonably priced!

 

Day 20 – Black Friday 

The next day our schedule was slightly different because the regular employees all worked an 11 hour shift.  As Camperforce we were given the option to stay or leave after 10 hours, which was nice, because I wasn’t sure if I could do 11.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and it turned out to be a really great day.  We had lots of people in the morning (over 200 pickers), but it didn’t feel crowded at all.  That was a major concern of mine, people tripping over each other, but aside from occasionally having difficulty finding a cart, it really wasn’t that different from other days.  And more importantly there was enough work so the pick routes didn’t have us running all over the place.  I got on some great runs and picked my all time highs (358 or 199/hr first quarter and 391 or 143/hr the second quarter) which, for me, was a lot of fun.

I like those pick paths where you pick huge quantities of items that are really close together because I really feel like I am accomplishing something and my numbers are high with less steps.  Win/Win.  The only unusual part of the morning was I got a Frakke order (which is an item that is being returned to the vendor) and ended up picking 168 bags of potato chips.  Since I could only fit 9 bags in a tote, this took me awhile, and ultimately I ended up opening 14 boxes of the chips and sending them down the conveyor belt.  What was odd to me about that scenario was since they were already boxed and on a pallet, I wasn’t sure what the benefit was to opening them, just so they could go down and be re-boxed and shipped out, but since I don’t understand that part of the process very well, there may have been a good reason for it.

It was also great packing potato chips because they were so light.  I can definitely feel the difference in my arms and shoulders with light versus heavier items, and between the potato chips and over 100 small boxes of facial cream I picked, I had awesome numbers with minimal heavy lifting.  Not that many of the items are really heavy in this distribution center.  That’s one of the major advantages of working in a place that is mostly clothes, because no individual item is too heavy.

The managers and assistants were also very high energy and had lots of presence.  There was a guy in a banana suit giving out free fruit on the breaks and another assistant dressed as a turkey walking around and handing out Jolly Ranchers.  Really sweet, and added a little something to the day.  My favorite part though was that all the managers formed a gauntlet at the front entrance when second shift arrived and they welcomed everyone to Black Friday and gave out lots of high fives.  I know it sounds a little hokey, but their energy was infectious and I thought it was really a great way for people to start the shift. And it all really worked, as the first shift picked over 100,000 items and from my view the labor planning seemed about perfect, which is no small thing.

They also are starting the free giveaways during the peak season and we all got a free T-Shirt along with drawings (for anyone that clocks in on time) for other items including $100 gift cards, Kindles, and even a couple free TV’s.  During my fourth period, I got a message on my computer to come to the pick desk for a “special treat” and walked down to discover I had won a $10 gift card.  That was a nice surprise and I had the choice of Kroger, Subway, Papa John’s etc, and I picked the Dunkin Donuts gift card because I thought Lee would like that.  It was definitely the best day I have personally had so far and I really appreciated all the trouble the managers went to.  Plus I only had to walk 9 miles to pick 1165 items which is definitely my kind of day! And isn’t it funny I said that 9 miles was a good day.  We are both impressed by how we have acclimated to these long walking days.  And speaking of that, I have lost 3 pounds and Lee has lost 11 pounds so far!! If nothing else this job is a great paid workout plan, and it’s definitely having a positive impact on our health.

And we had a beautiful sunset that night

Tracy:  22,035 (9.19 miles)
Items Picked: 1165

Lee:     27,439(12.12 miles)
Items Picked: 966

Interesting Item Picked:  I picked a ton of vinyl throughout the day (at least 20 records of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) but the coolest thing I saw were these slippers that had shoestrings on them.  They were funny overstuffed slippers and come in a variety of sports teams (including Ohio State!) and are made by Comfy Feet. I thought they were really cute and was surprised I have never seen them before. They got my attention because they looked like slippers a guy might wear and seemed very well made. 

Saturday

I have to say our schedule for this peak weekend was just about perfect.  We had Thanksgiving off, worked Black Friday, then had Saturday off.  This special schedule for us, is similar to the regular “donut shift” that our friends Linda and Steve, are on.  They work two days,  have a day off and then work two more days, which they like very much.  It definitely has benefits as it gives your body time to recover mid-week.  That fifth day in a row can be rough, and I think splitting days off really helps with that.  I’m just mentioning it, because there are lots of work kampers here working lots of different shifts.  We are two of only six work kampers on mid shift this year (we got really, really lucky) but work kampers are working days, nights, and weekends and all have different preferences.

Saturday was our normal day off though, and the only one we have with Bill, Kelly, Steve, and Linda so Linda decided she wanted to cook dinner for everyone.  That was incredibly nice of her, and we spent the morning just relaxing and lazing around. Bill did stop by and gave Lee some special Long Island Ice Tea mix he had made for Lee though which was so sweet and Kelly and I went to the grocery store together.

So nice being with our own personal bartender!!

Around 4:30pm we went to Linda and Steve’s and I was really excited to see the inside of their rig. We have been with them several times, but always somewhere else and  I had never taken the tour of their rig.  They bought the Class A used, but it had only been used previously by another full timer  and had lots of special touches that made it into a really nice home.  Plus it’s  obviously  well  cared  for  and I  really enjoyed taking  the tour. Their rig shows less wear and tear than mine does after only three years!

Linda had her Christmas decorations up

I loved this spice rack door next to the refrigerator they added.

And she showed us this really Fancy Panz cool serving tray she saw at Amazon and went and bought.   She was Vanna White displaying it for us.

Here’s Kelly trying out a custom cocktail

Bill waiting for his cocktail

And Linda and Steve cooking dinner

They made grilled potatoes and green beans tossed in blue cheese (shown here in the new serving dish)

And an amazing roast. So so tender and yummy

Linda even made Buckeye’s from scratch for us since we are from Columbus and again really really good!

There were even presents to take home at the end of the night. A tin of candies and a calendar of some of their favorite  pictures from last year which I though was a wonderful gift idea.

It was really a fun night and so generous of them to host.  Next week we are celebrating Kelly and Steve’s birthday’s and I am hoping to return the favor, although she set the bar pretty high 🙂 We called it an early night though, because the four of them are on day shift and needed to get up early and tomorrow it’s back to our regular schedule. Interested to see what the rest of this weekend holds.

Day 21 – Sunday

After the excitement of Black Friday, coming in Sunday was a little anti-climatic.  The morning was just a regular day shift and I think everyone was a little tired.  Things did perk up when the evening shift came in.  They were working a twelve hour shift (because that shift spilled into Cyber Monday) and the workload did pick up a little bit.  I actually had a near perfect third quarter as the system sent me to Q (which is one of my favorites), then M, and finally I got to go back to E.  It had been over a week since I worked in E and that’s the newest section with great lighting and nice wooden floors so that was fun.  Plus the temperature was nice and cool up there.  It was pretty hot earlier in the day and the stuffiness made me feel more tired.  Temps cooled down in the second half and the energy level was much higher which is kind of contagious.

We also found out that the fulfillment center set a Black Friday record, with hundreds of thousands of customer smiles processes.   That’s how they talk about the individual items in the meetings and  it’s important to remember that is totally true.  Our friend Jim is working a temp job for UPS and he talked in his latest blog post  about delivering these packages and the looks on people’s faces.  Since he worked at Amazon last year he has a unique perspective now on the end-to-end process and it was an important reminder that we are helping people get something special.  Oh, and Adidas must have had a sale or something this weekend, because I picked a ton of Adidas shorts and shirts.  I did think about all the kids playing soccer in those as I was picking them, which made me think of my nephews and made me smile.  It’s a long day and your mind does tend to wander.

Towards the very end of the night though they offered VTO (voluntary time off) and I was tired enough I decided to go see how I could take it.  I walked up to the picking desk and talked to one of the night shift managers, and she explained how it worked.  I had received a message on my scanner, and I could actually take the VTO right from there.  That was pretty cool.  I did ask her about how to get a hold of Lee though, because he was my ride and I had no idea where he was.  She said she was happy to send him a message on his scanner and right on the spot sent him a note to come down to the pick desk.  When he came down, I asked if he minded and he said that was fine, so we both went through the process and left about 45 minutes early.  It’s tempting to take VTO, especially at the end of the night, and as we found out it is really easy, but we really need the money so we are trying to be good about it.  Still, I am glad we did it at least once and was again impressed by how streamlined  the process was.  There is a lot of stuff Amazon does right and this was a great example of that.  Next up is Cyber Monday, but I will be saving that for the next blog post.

Tracy:  20,575 (8.58 miles)
Items Picked: 867

Lee:    27,446  (12.12 miles)
Items Picked: 791

Interesting Item Picked:  Lots of interesting stuff today, so it is hard to pick just one.  One thing that really made me stop and look were Conductive Gloves. They caught my attention because they had wires coming from them and I didn’t understand why.  Turns out that they are used for arthritis for tens machines.  But the gloves I actually liked were called Sili Safehands Gloves. I’m not a big fan of pot holders, mainly because when I start cooking I move very fast and have burned myself many times when they slip.  The big mitts are OK, but I don’t have much dexterity in them, and eventually they all seem to get holes in them or burn.  These gloves were cool, because they are like regular gloves, heat resistant, and you get all five fingers.  Seemed like I would like them for cooking or barbecuing.  


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.