Amazon Work Kamping Overview

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.  

For those who are only interested in the summary of our experience at Amazon, we have provided this post.  It is important to say that our experience is a subjective one, and is based on one season, in one fulfillment center.  Many people we met had a different experience so please keep in mind your mileage will certainly vary based upon the job you pick, the hours you work, the fulfillment center you are in, and the season you work in.  If you would like to start at the beginning and read the daily detailed posts of the experience you can start here. So let’s get started!

# of Days in Campbellsville – One of the nice things about Amazon if they have a truly wide variety of start dates (anywhere from late August to early December) and are pretty flexible with when you start.  This year the earliest start date was later than in previous years, which of course had an impact on how much money people made.  Since it was our first season and we had concerns about how much we would like the job we chose to start on October 30th, and with two non-working days on the front end we were there for 56 days.   Most of the people we met started earlier than us so keep that in mind when you look at income potential. 

# of Days Worked – The first week both of us worked a 6 day week, and every week after that we worked a 5 day work week. The good news is we were able to get overtime consistently, because last year we heard from several people that they were only able to get a few hours of overtime throughout the season.  The bad news was the hours were available to work 60 hours a week, but we never felt that we were physically able to do that. We ended up working 40 days which resulted in 377 paid hours each.  Of those hours 64 were overtime and the rest was straight time. 

Income Generated – Our gross income earned (including the extra $1 per regular hour and $1.50 per overtime hour we received as an end of season bonus) was $11,825.  On the surface that is a nice chunk of money, but I want to break that down a little bit.  Taxes in Kentucky are on the high side.  We claimed zero exemptions and between the 1% county tax, 5% state tax, and federal,  they withheld around 25% in taxes, and more on the bonus check.  From a cash flow perspective this was significant. Most our our work has taken place in states with little or no taxes, and we were surprised when our weekly pay checks came in at $495 each for a 50 hour week.   Ultimately our combined net income for the job was $7953.50, which was the number we used to determine whether the job was worth it, in our view. To give you some basis of comparison we netted around $410 per week at our summer camp hosting job and were only working 34 hours per week. So the extra 6 hours of straight time and 10 hours of overtime each week at Amazon, netted us only about $85 per week each. 

Physical Exertion –  The physical exertion of our job as Pickers was pretty intense.  When picking we walked on average 27,240 steps or roughly 12 miles each shift.  Most of that walking was on concrete, which for me caused some major issues.  In order to combat this I invested in new shoes ($64), special pain reliever foot cream ($20), epsom salts ($8), compression socks ($20), several types of sole inserts ($50), and went through an entire bottle of Advil ($18) for a total of around $180.  These items helped me avoid planters fasciitis, but didn’t stop my feet from hurting.  The pain started a couple of days in and didn’t stop until nearly a week after we left, except for the week that we worked solely in pack.  For the record we also walked much less while we worked in pack, averaging roughly 3.25 miles a day.  We also experienced a variety of other pains and minor strains while we were there, but thankfully avoided any injury that required us to miss work.  Those types of injuries were somewhat common though, as the pace of the work was somewhat unrelenting.  In contrast, Lee held up very well physically.  We were concerned about his back, which has given him problems in the past, but aside from a few minor aches and pains he held up very well. There was also an upside to all that activity as Lee lost 8 pounds and I lost 5 while we were there.  My legs (calves in particular) also gained some great definition from all that walking. 

Work Pace – More than any other job we have had the pace of this job was relentless.  Unlike most jobs, where slow periods allow for extra breaks or working slower, this job required near constant movement.  When the pick volume was low, the computer would lengthen your walking routes, actually adding more steps to the day.  There were the occasional slow periods where we could move a little slower, but there never was a time when we received an extra break or were allowed to sit down.  This is in direct contradiction to most work kamping jobs we have had and the 10 solid hours on my feet was tough for me.  The pace was also set by a bar on a hand held scanner.  Although as Camperforce we were only required to do 85% of the productivity of the regular employees our pacing bar did not take that into account.  So you have to deliberately slow yourself down and although many people were successful at doing this, neither Lee nor I seemed to be. We routinely worked at 130% of the daily productivity metrics which resulted in an average of 865 picked items per shift.

In order to really get a feel for the physical toll the job took on me you will need to read the detailed posts, but I consider myself in decent shape and this job kicked my butt! Neither one of us felt capable of working a 60 hour week and aside from a few dinners and one trip to a bourbon distillery, we didn’t have the energy to explore the area.  That was a real disappointment to me.  I was very excited about working a job where we were near friends and had days off to explore the area, but that didn’t happen.  Mammoth Cave National Park was very close by and we had several nice weather days we could have gone, but I couldn’t face any additional walking.

Weather/Campgrounds – Speaking of weather, for the most part we got very lucky there.  Kentucky is a bit of a mixed bag weather-wise this time of year and we had a good season.  Lots of sunshine, minimal rain, and it didn’t get really cold until the very end. Temperatures were below freezing though towards the end and we had a couple of very cold days.  The temperatures inside the facility were mostly good.  The management team tried very hard to regulate temperatures and although there were hot and cold spots in the warehouse it was much better than working outside would have been.  The campgrounds were also very nice.  They had several to choose from and depending on your personal preferences, there seemed to be something for everyone.  Our campground was right across the street from where we worked and had excellent 50 amp electric.  They also did a great job with our mail and the campground was nice and quiet throughout the week.  

Quality of Work – More than any other category this is very subjective so please keep that in mind as you read my thoughts.  I thought the management team was excellent, and liked all of the people we worked with.  Likewise our experiences with the locals was largely positive and we found the small town atmosphere very appealing. The company absolutely understands work kampers and did a nice job of working with our particular constraints throughout the season.  The problem for us was the work itself.  In our particular job, there was a ton of time to think and very little opportunity to socialize.  This is different in the different jobs, but in picking you are largely doing your own thing throughout the 10 hour day.  For some people this was a huge advantage, but for others like Lee is was pretty unpleasant. The atmosphere of micro management can also be a major problem for some people.  I like rules and am fine with them as long as I understand upfront what needs to be done, but I have never worked for a company that was this rigid.  They have reports for almost everything, and any time your stats or behavior deviate from the norm, it’s likely someone will be talking to you about that.  They have a points system for attendance (clocking in and out is regulated by minutes) and daily reports on productivity stats.  Although these rules are relaxed somewhat for Camperforce, the overall atmosphere is one in which you are closely monitored.  Add to that mostly boring job tasks and the physical exertion and this can be a bad combination for some people. Again, some people are totally fine with the atmosphere, but others struggle, and it is not uncommon for people to start the job and then leave prior to the end of the season.  If you leave before the end you generally do not get your bonus, which makes the job much less profitable. 

Safety – This is one area that Amazon does very well in my opinion.  We had daily meetings before our shift and after lunch and they always talked about safety tips.  The facility is well marked with different types of safety tape and there are areas you cannot be in without a safety vest on.  Any time there was a safety issue, they took great pains to discuss the incident with us and more than any company I have ever worked for, seemed committed to providing a safe environment. 

So what are my thoughts overall?  I liked the people and the management team very much and spending time with other work kampers was very nice.  I think their Camperforce program is very strong and appreciated all the extras they provided like free T-Shirts, gift cards (we received $70 worth), Amazon logo items, and a couple of free lunches.  At the end of the day though, I just don’t feel we made enough money for the work that we did.  Coming from the west we spent $1,000 in gas to get there and then another $800 to get back to Texas, and we didn’t make enough to cover our monthly bills and pay for the gas, let alone put money back in the bank.  The work was physically hard, it took a mental toll that neither one of us was prepared for, and ultimately we didn’t have the energy to explore the area.  Experiences do vary wildly though. We met people who were returning for their seventh season and we met others who only lasted a few days.    So my recommendation is that if you are on the East Coast already, and you were looking to supplement your income, it might be a good choice for you.  It’s just very important that you are honest with yourself about what you can handle physically and be prepared to move on if it is more than you bargained for.  

Start up meetings

 

Our new home at Heartland Campground

 

Pretty sunsets were pretty common

 

Thanksgiving dinner with our fellow work kampers

 

Joint birthday celebration

 

Visiting the Jim Beam distillery

 

Margarita’s with Bill and Kelly

 

My new shoes which were a lifesaver

 

Picking

 


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 37 – 40…The End

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 37

Before I start I wanted to share some TV we have been watching.  A friend of Lee’s recently participated in a Food Network show called Guy’s Big Project and won the opportunity to have his own show on the Food Network.  The show is called Grill Dads and it’s really really good. Despite my love of cooking I am not a huge fan of cooking shows, but this one is different. The two dads know lots about food but because they aren’t professional chefs, they explain the food in a way I can understand.  Plus they are FUNNY. If you travel, it’s a great way to find unusual restaurants (they are focusing on “out there” food) and if you cook there have been a few items so far even I think I can replicate (hamburger with grilled cheese for the bread anyone!)  Either way it’s a great show and I really recommend you check it out. (There was another contestant on the show that also won his own series, and it’s also very good, called Eat Sleep BBQ. Check them both out! – Lee)

We also took the recommendation of our kids and watched a how called The Marvelous  Mrs. Maisel.  It’s an Amazon show, and available to stream on Prime, and for my money the best written and acted television show I have seen in a long long time.  So glad that they picked it up for another season because it is definitely on our most watched list. The show is set in New York in the 60’s and the details and nuance are spectacular.  Seriously, it is so good, I don’t even have the words to adequately explain it, so try and episode and see for yourself.

OK, back to Amazon.  We are in the home stretch now, and hanging in knowing this is our last week.  We are slowly saying our goodbyes to people (we don’t always see the folks who work other shifts every day) and putting one sore foot in front of the other.  Our morning was pretty normal, with picking, although we found out at the end of the day that Lee won last night’s power hour.  They divided the winners between the three groups (Camperforce, regulars or “blue badges”, and Integrity, the temp employees), which in my mind gave me a fighting chance.  I tried and did 147 that hour which felt pretty good considering my pick paths.  Lee, who didn’t even try and barely knew it was happening, was one of the winners.  Figures!  So that was another $10 gift card which takes us up to $60 all told.  I think it’s really great that they do that, and although we haven’t won any of the larger prizes ($100 gift cards, Kindles, or 50 inch TV’s) we do personally know 4 people who have won them. Personally I appreciate that they are doing the giveaways and the fact that they are spreading the winners out among all the groups and shifts.

For the first time I put my name on the volunteer list (a list to volunteer to work in another area) and was called to go to pack.  They sent me to the Studio (which is an area upstairs I had never been to) and I did singles for the rest of the night.  Singles are much easier from a mental standpoint than multi’s, but the pace is faster and I definitely was feeling it in my back and shoulders.  Still my feet were happy with me for standing on thick rubber and I wished I had signed up sooner.  I am pretty sure you have to be officially cross-trained in an area to be eligible to be moved, but since we are cross-trained in pack that works for us.  It’s also nice to split the day doing something else, although I can definitely see how doing any of the jobs all day would take a toll.

The problem for me is the pace.  It’s pretty relentless, and set for the blue badges, and even though we are allowed to work at 85% of that, it’s hard to make the mental adjustment.  I just don’t have it in me to work slower than those around me, especially when the workload is high, and although I can force myself to slow down for short periods, I just naturally fall into a rhythm that matches those around me. Lee, by the way, is doing much better than I am physically.  He excels at packing and picking and his pace matches or exceeds most of the full time employees, with minimal physical effects.  His problem lies more in the atmosphere of the place and I really should take a moment and explain that.

Lee has never been a corporate guy, and except for a year long stint at a bank when we were kids has always worked for very small companies. And for the past 10 years of our sticks and bricks life he essentially worked for himself, answering only to a board of directors that left him completely alone to do his own thing with no interference. He is also a creative person and hates micro management in any form, so for him the constant oversight is very challenging.  He’s not alone in that by the way.  I met someone at the beet harvest who talked passionately about how much he hated that, and although I like those sorts of things and in an odd way find them comforting, Lee finds the atmosphere “toxic.”  OK, I know that is a strong word, but he has used it several times and I want to be VERY clear that the people are not causing this reaction.  He just doesn’t like working under such tight controls, and this whole season has been a real struggle for him mentally.  I’m going to leave it at that, but if you have a similar personality, please take that into account.  Yes, you can do anything for a short period of time, but don’t be surprised if you have a strong reaction.

Tracy:   17,988 steps ( 7.55 miles) (spent half a day in pack)
Items Picked:  474 due to a half day of picking.  No idea how much I packed. A lot.

Lee:    steps ( miles)
Items Picked: ()

Interesting Item Picked:  I ran across a Vecton hard case for Cards Against Humanity that I thought was cool.  We have all the expansion packs, but all the boxes are loose in our rig since they were purchased separately.  It would be nice to have a place to put all of them and it’s reasonably priced.  But the absolute winner is a Tyrian T-Shirt from Game of Thrones that Says “That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.”  Kelly you absolutely need to buy Bill one of these!!

Day 38

We worked half a day today, used our 5 hours of personal time, which was pretty great.  The most exciting thing was when I learned I had won the power hour from the previous day.  Hooray me!! I also won $10 more dollars in Burger King gift cards so that takes us up to $70.  We clocked out at 5:15pm, which was 5 hours from when we arrived, and then went to grab Kelly and Bill.  They also took half a day off, and after some discussion we all decided to go out and have Mexican food at Garcia’s. For a small town in Kentucky, the food was really good, and reasonably priced and my Margarita was yummy. In case it’s not clear by now, I absolutely adore these people.  They are wonderful friends to us and I feel incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. We are going to miss them terribly when we leave, but will see them at the reunion rally so that’s something. It’s hard leaving friends when you aren’t sure when you will get to see them next.

Bill and Kelly.  We are friends for life!

The margaritas were super yummy and Kelly and I both got a little tipsy but in a fun way 🙂

 

Tracy:   11,720 steps ( 4.89 miles) (half day)
Items Picked:  654 half day of picking.  

Lee:  8,100  steps ( 3.57 miles)
Items Picked: 425

Interesting Item Picked:  Once again I saw something new that completely stopped me in the aisle and this time it was a Phillips Home defibrillator machine. After learning about the new ones and how easy they are to use in our first aid class this summer, I can understand why it would be a benefit to have one of these in the house.  I picked three of them, and thought about how often we are in remote areas and with Lee’s medical history (his biological father has had nine heart attacks) would it be a good idea to carry one in the rig.  Then I started wondering about how to keep them charged (would prolonged boondocking have an impact) and where we would store it. I came home though half convinced on having one and then I saw the price tag.  $1200!!!  No disrespect to the makers, I am sure this is a very complicated machine, but this is completely out of our price range. The good news is now that they are out there I am sure they will go down in price eventually, but in the meantime there are many people who could use one of these but simply can’t afford them.  I can envision a day though where they are a common item in every house with people over a certain age, but they definitely need to work on that price point. 

Day 39

We went to bed early and woke up early so that we could meet our friends Georgia and Jim for breakfast.  They are a couple we raised our kids with in Keene, New Hampshire and they have finally taken the plunge, sold everything, and are moving to California.  Georgia’s son lives in California now and she loves the west coast, so they decided to make the move.  It is no small change.  Years of stuff to go through and sell, long time jobs to quit, it is a major move and we were so happy that they were able to route themselves so they could see us along the way.  We met them at Druthers, this little breakfast place we had heard about, and wow was it good.  Paper plates and counter service, but for $4.99 we had a spectacular breakfast and the coffee was very very good.  We sat for over two hours talking and catching up, but finally wished them a safe journey because we had to go into work.  I am sure we will be seeing them again soon.

Jim and Georgia…footloose and fancy free

Druthers even has a drive through and it was busy the whole time we were there

Old school diner counter

Oh my..so so good and perfect over medium eggs.  You know it’s good when I start eating before I take the picture.

When we went into work we found out the the fulfillment center had set all-time records the previous day, and was on pace to set more.  The team had processed a mind-boggling amount of packages and we spent a busy morning in pick.  The one exciting thing that happened was I turned a tight corner and knocked a plastic cover off of one of the conveyor belts.  It made a god awful racket and the day manager quickly came up the stairs.  I told her I had to break something before I left, but she just laughed and had someone call maintenance.  Then she stood there until they arrived to make sure no one hurt themselves.  If I haven’t said it enough before, I really, really like these managers.  I didn’t see any of them lose their patience one time and they really get work kampers.  I made sure I took the time to thank them all individually and I was glad I did because we ended up being in pack the last half of the day.

Tracy:   17,976 steps ( 7.51 miles) (half day)
Items Picked: I don’t know the numbers but we did get our percentages.  I was 173% productivity in pick and $132% in pack.   

Lee:    15,643 steps ( 6.91 miles)
Items Picked: 532. 188% in pick and 192% in pack.  The manager’s eyes widened a little when they read our numbers, which was gratifying. 

Interesting Item Picked/Packed: The weirdest thing I did all day was a very small gas mask repair kit. All I could think was “who has a gas mask?” and why would they need a repair kit for it.  Pretty strange.  My pick of the day though is a robe.  I like robes, and think they are a wonderful gift and throughout the season I have picked tons of them.  I was always pretty picky about the type of robe though so have looked with interest for the “perfect one” throughout the season.  It’s actually kind of funny because I don’t have a robe anymore. Since my bathroom is literally two steps from my bedroom and closet it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but I still like them.  Anyway, I found one today that I liked called Towel Selections. It’s 100% cotton, which is important in a robe, and has pockets, which I personally like.  So that’s my pick for best robe of the season, and I am glad I finally nailed this down before we left.  I have seriously looked at hundreds of robes and this one came to me at the very end. Of course this is based on sight only.  To really choose a robe you need to feel it, but I liked this one. 

Day 40

Kelly and Bill knocked on our door at 8:30am because they had been released early!  Apparently the bottom fell out of the orders (I think once you can’t get the item for Christmas anymore things really flatten out) and they were all released early.  The cool thing is they got paid for the whole day.   We had been told to make sure we said our goodbyes early and I am glad we did, because for them at least it was very sudden.  We aren’t sure when we are going to do our release meeting at this point, because there are only 6 Camperforce on our shift, but are planning for anything at this point. Lots of people must have been ready to go because folks started driving out of the campground less than an hour later.  Kind of a bummer for the night shift folks, since people were pretty loud, but nice for those who got early release.  Kelly and Bill are headed to Florida, so they were packing up and heading out, so we said our goodbyes, knowing we would see them again at the rally in March if nothing else.

On a side note, we weighed ourselves this morning and here are the results.  I started at 139 and now weigh 134 so I lost 5 pounds.  Lee started at 189 and is now at 180 so he lost 9 pounds.  Not bad, but not really the dramatic results we were both hoping for. I also took a few minutes and filled out our exit survey, so I thought I would share some of what I put here.  Our friend Kelly said they made some changes from surveys that were done two years ago, so obviously they read these.

What did we do well?

My Answer: The managers were excellent. They all did a terrific job.  They understand work kampers and were ALWAYS respectful and helpful in their dealings with us.  Big Fan!!  I thought your processes were really strong and liked how detailed the training was in particular our safety training.  I liked the emphasis on safety throughout the season and the fact that we had an opportunity to cross train in packing.  The full time employees we met were very helpful and the overall atmosphere was really good.  We felt welcomed and wanted which is no small thing.

What Can We do Better?

My Answer: There is a ton of information given but the communication could be stronger.  As mid-shift employees we had the opportunity to see all of the shifts and everyone wasn’t always on the same page.  Plus a ton of acronyms were used and as first time Amazon employees we often didn’t understand what people were talking about.  One-on-one communications were very good, but the group communications need some work. My major complaint about this was the lack of follow-up.  If the person I was talking to knew the answer it was fine, but many questions resulted in an “I’ll get back to you” and that often didn’t happen.  It’s important that every interaction results in an answer and this is definitely an area for improvement.

Additional Comments

As relatively  younger work kampers (51 and 49) our productivity stats were pretty good.  We routinely worked at over 130% productivity and as much as possible tried to keep pace with the regular employees in both pack and pick.  We were aware as work kampers that we could slow down and work a little slower, but it is in our nature to contribute as much as possible.  Unfortunately, for me, this led to some long and exhausting days and although I avoided any major injuries I was in pain a lot.  This is one area where I didn’t feel like I could go talk to someone and get some help.  The AmCare folks were very nice and provided bandaids, etc but unless you had a serious injury I felt like I was on my own.  And that’s when I really started to feel like a cog in a wheel.  We had the desire to work, the ability to contribute at a high level, but no ability to make minor job changes to help make the job easier physically or mentally. I see this taking place with your blue badge employees.  Folks are given different jobs (water spider, tote team, etc to change things up), but with work kampers those opportunities are pretty limited. This is where the system broke down for me.  I know we are here for a short time, and I know we need to be placed based upon business needs, but for us a little bit of work variety would have worked wonders.  I definitely think that would have been possible if a little more personal attention was given to the individual workers state of mind and physical well being.

Are you Interested in Returning Next Year?

I don’t think so.  We don’t mind hard work, but for us the compensation wasn’t high enough to warrant the physical toll the job took on us.  We worked 50 hours every week we were here, and I was in pain almost all of the time.  The opportunity to work in pack on some days helped quite a bit, but changing our job out was largely based on luck rather than strategy.  If we had the opportunity to cross train early and you offered more variety of jobs for work kampers I would definitely consider it.

We went into work and since we only have 6 work kampers on our shift I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  Our manager, who had been out on paternity leave, came back and we were all glad we got to see him before we left.  He was obviously in catch up mode though and no one was sure when we were leaving.  We worked through first quarter (only picked 63 items per hour) and then worked most of 2nd quarter.  Managers came to talk to both Lee and I and our question was when were we going to get to leave???  It looked like they were going to make us wait until night shift left (probably around 8pm) and that was really bothering both of us.  Then at 4pm we got a call to go to the pick desk and were released from the shift.  That was awesome.  On the way out we were grabbed by our coordinator at the break room and brought in for a quick meeting.  All the department heads were there and even though there were only 6 of us, they took the time to talk to us and thank us.

As much as I appreciated the thanks, I really do feel like they missed an opportunity.  With such a small group they could have asked us a few questions about our experience, but instead we listened to them and then were given candy bars and we left.  It felt pretty routine, but again I did appreciate that they went to the trouble and I really appreciate that we got paid for the remainder of the day.  Lee went and got a haircut and I worked on getting the house buttoned up so we could leave first thing in the morning.  We heard some bad weather is coming in and we wanted to beat the storm.

So this ends my daily posts about Amazon.  We will be with family over the next few days and then heading down to Texas hopefully to get a gate guarding job. I will be writing up a summary as soon as we get our bonus checks, but since that is a significant part of our compensation for this gig I want to make sure I include that in my summary.  I also want to let a few days pass and get some perspective, so I can be as balanced and fair as possible.

Thanks to everyone who followed along and who found our accounts interesting.  We have now finished the “big five” work kamping jobs and I will be writing a summary of those experiences in total as well.  When we started this journey our goal was to try everything and see what we liked.  So we have Camp Hosted, sold Christmas Trees, done the Beet Harvest, Gate Guarded, and now Amazon.  I am glad for those experiences and the opportunity to write about them, but I am also glad to be done with them.  We have gathered enough information to know what works for us and will be focusing in 2018 on finding ways to finance this lifestyle that provide us with some level of professional satisfaction and balance.  Thank you for following along and I hope you stay with us in the next phase.

Tracy:   12,629 steps (5.28 miles) (half day)
Items Picked: 350  

Lee:   13,793 steps (6.09 miles)
Items Picked: 377

 


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 35 – 36

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 35

In case I am not mentioning it enough, by our last day of the 50 hour week, my body is really hurting. I don’t know how those people who are working 60 hours are doing it, because at this point I would give anything to take an extra day off. It’s not just losing the OT money though that keeps me going in, because they are also having an attendance raffle.  If you have perfect attendance the first week, you can win $100. If you have perfect attendance the first and second week, it’s $200. And perfect attendance three weeks in a row is $300. That’s pretty serious money just for clocking in. The first week two work kampers I actually know won it.  It’s a pretty smart way to keep people coming into work in the home stretch. Plus I keep telling myself we are almost done, which does help.  It’s not only us that are stressed though, the pressure is being felt all along the supply chain.  We know someone who has a husband that works full-time at UPS and they are working crazy hours to keep up with Amazon. We also have a friend who is working seasonally for UPS and he just wrote a terrific detailed description of what that job is like.  It’s really good, you should check it out.

My point is that the concept of Amazon Prime and two day shipping sounds great, and usually it is, but the seasonal stress it puts on the distribution system is pretty amazing. It never really occurred to me before doing this.  I just liked getting my stuff by Christmas and was always annoyed when the last minute shipping wasn’t available. I had no idea how much went behind that click of a button, and if nothing else, I am grateful for all I have learned in this job.  I am not kidding about that.  I have learned a ton about process that I am not sure I could have learned any other way, and I am 100% sure I will be a better process analyst going forward because of it. It’s a major silver lining for me.

(When I was in the Air Force I worked for the military version of the postal service. For part of that time I supervised mail transfer between commercial airlines and a military air mail terminal, and for part of it I worked at the air mail terminal itself, about an hour from Heathrow airport near London. I don’t know how it’s done now, it’s been 30 years, but back then all mail between the US and overseas military bases was transported via commercial airlines, and the carrier depended on where it was coming from/going to. So the mail would come into Heathrow from the US via these six or seven airlines, and would be transported by truck to the air mail terminal, where these big 70lb bags of letters and small packages would be sorted according to what base in England it was headed to, then a smaller truck from each base would pick it up, and drop off mail going out, and then those bags would be sorted according to where they were going in the world, and the truck would take it to Heathrow.

Pretty simple process handled almost exclusively by a bunch of kids not even 21 yet. And it happened day after day after day after day. And that was just tiny old England, there were other terminals all over the world, much larger ones. The Frankfort one was legendary for the volume it processed through western Europe. This was still the cold war, after all, and we had lots of bases there. I was always amazed at how smoothly it all worked, and how much volume there was. Every day the equivalent of a 50′ semi trailer would go back and forth. Once it was all sorted out into the various containers for each base, the piles of mail sacks would vary in size based on the size of the military base, anywhere from 1 or 2 bags for a tiny installation, to 30 or 40 for a large base with fighters and bombers. And then I experienced my first Christmas season. For two months, there would be two semi trailers ever day instead of one, going in both directions. Sometimes three. Every day. For weeks. We had scores of temporary help from bases all over the world to handle the volume. The larger bases had piles of mail bags that would literally be stacked 20 feet high in pyramids, and took several people working in a vertical chain gang to pass the sacks from one to another to build these pyramids.

It was mind boggling, a truly staggering amount of mail being moved every day. I would stand there and look at the terminal when it was full and just shake my head in amazement at how a single envelope with a Christmas card in it would multiply to the point where it created a stack that big. I remember thinking how important it was, what we were doing, that every one of those envelopes was something special between two people separated by thousands of miles and multiple time zones, in a time when there was no internet, no email, no texting, and overseas phone calls cost a fortune, and every time I would sling a bag of those envelopes to or from the conveyor belt I was a small part of the chain that brought someone a moment of home, a bit of good news, a picture to be cherished, or a little extra money. It was pretty damn cool. Of course, this is all just leggings and beanies and gift cards, but it’s kind of the same thing. Anyway, Merry Christmas. – Lee)

Our last night of the week started out a little rough.  I felt a bit like I had the flu (tired and achy all over) but it was just being tired.  They had fruit again on break, which was nice, and that and a cup of coffee at lunch really perked me up.  The tight pick paths helped as well, and I spent quite a bit of time in every area I was in.  I also had a stretch where I was going in right after the stowers and not only were my items right on top (love that) but the bins themselves looked really great.  I picked an entire tote of beanies at one point which was pretty easy and fun and in general my whole mood lightened. One thing that happened throughout the day that was interesting was several of the locals came up and talked about when we were leaving.  Then they started talking to me about their long term plans (which usually included leaving the area and going someplace else) and I was happy to listen.  I know from first hand experience how hard it is to leave the place you grew up in, but it’s a big wide world out there and certainly there is more economic opportunity in other areas of the country.  I’m used to people being curious about what we do and how we did it, so it didn’t surprise me that since we are leaving folks wanted to talk about our lifestyle, and like I said I am always happy to talk about it.

Lee had an interesting day, because for some reason he was moved to the A building.  No idea why, but after weeks in the E mods he was suddenly in a new section and it took him a while to get acclimated.  Probably a good thing, since he had something else to focus on and he got to pick some non-apparel items he had never seen before which is always fun.  Speaking of that, I am enjoying my time with non-apparel but it is definitely taking a toll on my body.  More concrete floors, poorer lighting, and lots more stairs, but overall I am willing to pay that price for the variety.  I was on one floor though where at least 15 light bulbs were out and I felt strongly enough about it that I felt I needed to say something.  The fulfillment center is having a large capital project to replace lighting next year, but in the interim some sections are really dark.  I talked to the shift manager first, but when I was told an outside company replaced the bulbs I felt I needed to do more.  I was on my way to the Voice of the Associate board, where you can write down concerns, when I happened across the operations manager.  I was surprised he was there so late, but when I asked to speak to him he immediately stopped what he was doing and came over.

I made my case that poor lighting was both a quality and a safety issue and he took notes while I was speaking to him.  I used my best professional tone, which seemed to get his attention, and ended with the statement that I could live with issues caused by bad ballasts (they would be upgraded with the project), but if it was just a burned out bulb, “For God’s sake just replace the light bulb.” He smiled when I said that and repeated it with me, and I felt pretty good about saying something and being heard.  Once again I will say the management team here is really great about that and I had his undivided attention while I was talking to him. Hopefully he will follow up the conversation with some action, but if nothing else I tried and expressed my concerns in a constructive way. So things ended up good, but I am really glad we have a couple of days off and then one more week and we are done!!

Tracy:   20,108 steps ( 8.88 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked:  839

Lee:    23,657 steps ( 10.45 miles)
Items Picked: 753

Interesting Item Picked:  The funniest thing I picked was a Belly Stuffer. It was a large fake belly and the box said good for “beer bellies, Santa suits, and fake pregnancies.”  What an odd combination lol.  That’s not my winner for the day, it is definitely a beanie.  I picked a tote full of this particular kind and I have to say they are really cute. I seriously think that for the rest of my life whenever I see a beanie I will think of Amazon so it’s only fair that they made it into my top picks. 

Days Off

We spent Friday going to the Jim Beam Distillery with Kelly and Bill (which I wrote a separate post on), but Lee also squeezed in some time to start packing up.  Towards the end of the day we all learned our last day would be Thursday, which was great for us because it was a regular day.  It meant one more 50 hour week, but we were fine with that especially when we learned we had earned 5 hours of paid time off.  After 320 hours you get 5 and we needed to make sure that we took it prior to our very last day.  We must have just squeaked in, because we didn’t think we were going to earn it, and I decided I wanted to take it Tuesday evening, because it would break up the week.  One of the nice things about paid time off is you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.  You just schedule it on the HR hub and then write it on a board when you go in (if you are leaving early one day) and that’s it. I like this method very much because it takes the supervisors personal preferences out of it.  You earn the time and you take it when you want.  In a company this size that is the way it should be.

Saturday we got our mail in the morning and I had a present from my oldest daughter Kyrston. It was a hard copy of Eat Real Vietnamese Food Cookbook, that I mentioned in an earlier post.  Not only did she read my post, but immediately sent me the cookbook for Christmas.  I really am a very lucky Mom and was so touched by her thoughtfulness. And I plan on trying every single recipe in that book and NOT cutting it up!  Love you sweetie!

Lee spent the rest of the morning packing things up and then 3pm we met up with Karen and Al at Brothers BBQ.  They are longtime friends of Bill and Nancy’s but since they work night shift we have not been able to see them outside of work.  They suggested this time for lunch/dinner and the restaurant because they think it is the best restaurant in town.  I’ll be honest I had my doubts, especially since I am not a hug fan of BBQ to begin with,  but was I pleasantly surprised.  I had The Dude (a mixture of pulled pork and brisket in a sweet sauce and it was really really good.  Plus the conversation was fantastic.  Al and Karen have been working RVers for 7 years and we spent lots of time talking to them about their experiences.  They gave us lots of great information on how they have been traveling and we absolutely learned a lot from them.  And since our friend Nancy really wanted us to spend time with them (as much as possible I try to do what Nancy tells me to do), I was so glad we managed to spend time with them before we left.

Lee (who is always annoyed when I make him wait to eat to take a picture), Al, Karen, Bill, and Kelly

My sandwich was really really good

Day 36

The day started off really great.  I was feeling very peppy, mainly because the end was in site, and with two days off I felt pretty good.  And two really nice things happened. First off, I was passing by one of the managers and noticed someone had left a tote with items in it on the bottom of a cart.  I stopped and put the tote on the conveyor belt and the manager called me over.  He thanked me for doing that and said he really appreciated how positive my attitude was  and then gave me a $10 gift card.  It was very sweet of him and I appreciated his taking the time to do that.  As I’ve said before, I think being a nice and positive person is important regardless of how my day is going and it was really touching that he recognized that.  Not that long later we were buying our items with our Cambellsville cash and unfortunately they were out of the coffee mug I wanted.  I went outside on break, but when I came back in one of the HR people caught me and told me she had found a few mugs in the back.  Not only did she remember that I wanted one, but personally went back and grabbed them for us and we got the last two with handles.  Again very sweet, and it was so nice of her to go to that kind of trouble,

With those two experiences fresh in my head I really wanted to take a moment and answer the question I have been getting from most of the full time employees I have met.  They all want to know if we are coming back, and although I will answer this question fully in my recap and summary, my short answer is: probably not.  I like the people here very much and I am impressed by the managers in particular.  I like the overall atmosphere, the way we are treated, and the campground is just fine.  I don’t even mind the work most days and appreciate all the little things they do to try and keep it as fresh as possible.  What I can’t handle is the pain.

I’m not a completely stoic person when it comes to pain, but I have had three children (one of which was with no drugs at all), so it’s not like I am not familiar with it. But every day we have worked (and most of our off days) my feet have hurt pretty bad.  I expected some level of discomfort.  I have done my stretches, taken Advil, and paid particular attention to any area that is bothering me and changed my work habits to help.  So I have avoided the strains and sprains that many people have experienced.  What I haven’t been able to do anything about is my feet.  They just hurt.  And since the pain is not muscular there isn’t much I can do it about it.  At this point I understand what is causing it, but walking on concrete is part of the deal, and even on those days that I am mainly on upper floors they still hurt.  Most days I start the day with them hurting, end the day with me hobbling along, and I go to bed hurting to the point where it frequently wakes me up at night.

To net $10 an hour I am not OK with that. Many people are.  Many people are older than me and seem to be handling it just fine, and the full time employees all say that “you get used to it.”  Maybe so, but it’s been over a month now, and I’m not used to it.  I’ve taken some flack in the comment section about how we take these jobs and then complain about them and that’s really been bothering me. First I wanted to say, I’m doing everything I can to not let my attitude spill over onto the people I work with, and it appears to be successful as you can see from above.  But more importantly, you as readers should know that this experience has been colored by that pain.  I try to break things down as objectively as I can, and as much as possible provide a balanced view, but it’s hard for me  to focus on the positive when I am hurting.

So let me summarize my thought process.  Lots of people like it here and come back year after year.  I like the people, especially the managers.  Almost everyone has been very nice to us.   The work is OK and there are opportunities to try different things.  The money we make will barely cover our expenses and will not cover our costs to get here.  My feet hurt all the time.  For me, most days, the last item trumps everything else.  If we were making more money I would probably feel differently. If the work was more interesting I would probably feel differently. But on balance that is where I am at.  Simply put (and the short answer I have given people who ask) it isn’t enough money for how hard the work is.  I feel slightly embarrassed saying that to people who do this day in and day out for a living and I always add (and mean it) that I have an incredible amount of respect for those people who do this for a living.  But I am too old for this.  And again feel slightly embarrassed because there are many work kampers much older than me doing this. So I start to think I am a big wus and then I stand up to get some more coffee, wince in pain, hobble to the coffe pot, and think no…for me it’s not worth it.  So to the critics out there I don’t know what to else to tell you.  As my kids say, “You do you, boo.”

Tracy:   27,909 steps ( 11.65 miles) (Lee found my fitbit…hooray…it was actually in the truck)
Items Picked: 856

Lee:    17,807 steps ( 7.86 miles)  Lee got to go to pack in the fourth quarter
Items Picked: 812

Interesting Item Picked:  I ran across an item that I know everyone has someone in their life that needs this.  It was a windup poop emoji toy that poops out little pieces of candy.  I know, it’s silly, but it made me laugh and seriously you know someone who would love this. 


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 32 – Day 34

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 32

One of my favorite parts of our mornings is chatting with our kids on Instant Messenger.  We have a five person private message group (us and our three kids) and around 9am est everyone is usually awake.  This is no small thing, as one lives in Minneapolis, one in Charleston, SC, and one in Korea, so finding a time when everyone is awake and not working is difficult.  The conversations are exactly like the ones around our dining room table when they were little kids (although the language is a bit more adult!) and they flow from topic to topic.  It’s a wonderful thing, when your grown kids have a relationship with each other, and to be included in that is very special.  Depending on the morning though, it does take some time, so there are days when it feels like we just got up and are heading out the door to work.  Overall I really like the swing shift and am happy we are on it, but I do wish I could bring myself to wake up earlier in the morning.  Both of us have always been early risers, but we are consistently sleeping until 9am.  (I’m sorry, did she just type that we were BOTH early risers? Now, THAT’S funny. – Lee) The body just needs what the body needs, and sleep is a big part of that.  We leave here at 11:45am to head in for our 12:15 shift, so those two hours are spent blogging, showering, eating lunch and making our dinner for the night.  The time goes by quickly, and it’s hard to squeeze anything else in although on occasion we do find time to watch a TV show.

It turned out to be a really slow day and after the first quarter I decided to walk down and check out what was going on with my route.  I’ve been in one building for over two weeks now and I really miss the other buildings.  Turns out I was “locked” in one building, but when I talked to the day shift supervisor he opened me back up again.  He said that 45% of the work was coming out of that building, but I explained while I didn’t mind doing my fair share I liked the variety.  Once he opened me up I started hitting some other areas, which was really great, although it did mean I had more stairs.  I know from past experience the steps are roughly the same, but in order to get to the non-apparel items I needed to add back in steps.  At the end of the night, my feet were once again sore, but I was definitely happier as the variety matters to me.

Lee on the other hand is perfectly content being locked in the new building.  He likes the lighting and temperatures and the consistency those areas provide.  It just goes to show how different people are, and why it’s important to think about that before signing up for this job.  One thing in particular that I can’t stress enough is if you are a person who isn’t OK having a ton of time with their own thoughts, this definitely isn’t the job for you.  It is hours and hours of largely being by yourself and if your thoughts take a “dark turn” only you can get yourself out of that head space.  In general I like to keep my mind as neutral as possible and just let the random thoughts flow, but that’s not always possible, and I have spent several days here spending too much time mulling things over.  I tend to be an introspective person by nature, but trust me, too much introspection is not always a good thing.  And even if you find a way to use that time constructively (our friend Bill solves all kinds of technical problems while he is picking), it’s still a ton of time to mentally fill.  So, to give you an idea of the kind of random thoughts that come into my head on a picking day, I wrote a few down so you can see. It’s kind of funny how all over the place these are, but for me at least, this sort of free association is relaxing. Keep in mind these are random thoughts so try not to judge me too harshly lol.

  • Lots more people wear hats than I thought.
  • Who knew pocket handkerchiefs were still a thing.  Is that sanitary?
  • Is there a correlation between teams winning games and the amount of team apparel they sell?  There must be.
  • Who puts skulls on little kids clothes?  Why tempt fate that way?
  • I think it’s cool they went in a totally different direction when casting the new Aquaman in the Justice League movie.
  • I really don’t get Ugly Christmas sweaters. Why spend that much money on something you can only wear once a year?  Plus, ugly.  If I had to buy one though the Pimping Elf version isn’t totally horrendous. No, it’s still ridiculous.
  • I am picking a ton of Ugly Christmas beanies.  Who wears all these beanies? Do the lights in them work all through Christmas?  A beanie is better than a sweater, but still.
  • How does the system know how to put items together in a multi-pick scenario where I pick an item and someone else picks the other part of the order?  How do they make sure the items get to pack at the same time?  I’d love to get a look at that logic.

As you can see it’s not all random thoughts, but there are lots of them and these all came in the first 2-1/2 hours of our shift.  If you are a person who can control those thoughts, I really admire you, my mind tends to be all over the place when I am not super focused on a task.  And like I said, if something is bothering me I tend to really look at the scenario in multiple ways, but it’s not a great way to spend a work day.  One of the locals I have become close to is into meditation and she uses those skills to help keep her mind clear and focused, which those of you who are into yoga may be able to use those techniques here.

(This is one of the things I don’t like about the gig. 10 hours a day in my head is too much. I tend to burn through the good stuff pretty fast, because good isn’t complicated, and then the ugly dark stuff creeps in, and stays while my head just turns it over and over and zips off on a million paths. It’s very, very difficult to spend that much time in negative head space. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with me. I’ve tried and tried to get it under control, but there just isn’t enough brain work in the job to distract me. If you know your ABCs and can count, you can do it completely on auto pilot. And focusing on pushing pack the ugly stuff apparently takes enough of the part of my brain that tracks letters and numbers that I make mistakes, and there’s really no point in doing this if at the end of the day you aren’t 100% error free. I can’t wait for this to be over. – Lee)

Anyway, I came home pretty sore, but had a decent day and adding those additional sections really helped the day pass quicker.  Lee did NOT have a good day, but he managed to get through it and we came home , read a little and went to bed. Still haven’t heard about when our last day will be, I’ll let you know when we find out.

Tracy:   21,564 steps (9.52 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked:  742

Lee:    25,370 steps (11.21 miles)
Items Picked: 977

Interesting Item Picked: I picked over 14 BeatsPill wireless speakers these seem to be very popular this year.  But my absolute favorite item of the night came pretty late in the day and really made me laugh.  It was a large Pink Squid Hat and it totally cracked me up.  The eyes were googly and awesome and it seemed like it was made decently well.  Instead of an Ugly Christmas hat why not try one of these lol. 

Day 33

One of the cool things about working our shift is we get to see almost everyone picking sooner or later.  We cross over the day and night shift and also see people on front half or back half shifts.  It’s funny though because you won’t see people for a few days and then you keep running into the same person over and over again in the aisles.  If I see a person enough I’ll kid them to stop stalking me, and there may even be some time to have several mini-conversations with a person and get to know them a little better.  Last night was probably the first “real” conversation I have had with another work kamper (one that I didn’t know before coming here) and I was surprised by how much ground we covered in a relatively short period of time.

It helped that we were both on one of those small floors in D and since we were essentially circling each other for an hour there was lots of opportunity to talk. The whole thing started off because she had won the daily clock in contest and I was thrilled that someone I recognized one the $100.  There are lots of prizes being given out every day, but mainly the winners are full time employees and people I didn’t know.  This was the first person I recognized (they post their badge picture on the screens every day) and I was just happy that one of us won the prize.  Plus I knew from talking to her and her wife on breaks that they are working campers like us and I can’t pass up on opportunity to find our more about the person in those situations.

Even here most people we meet are working to supplement rather than for income so I always love getting the stories of folks like us.  Turns out she worked in retail for many years and full time RVing was always her dream.  It took a little time to talk her wife into it (not that different from Lee and I), but they seem to have taken to the lifestyle very well.  It helps that even though they are our age they seem to be in fantastic physical shape.  Where we are struggling to work our 50 every week, they have been consistently working 60 hours (the maximum allowed) and seem to be handling the physical challenges with relative ease.  I base that on the fact that I see them zipping around the aisles, and it’s pretty clear who is struggling and who is handling the job well.  That extra 10 hours of OT probably makes a huge difference in wages and they like the job and plan on returning.

What was interesting though about the conversation was why she left her old life. Aside from wanting to travel, she also was seeing the workforce change in her field and didn’t like where it was heading.  She enjoys not being a manager anymore and although she can’t turn off that part of her brain finds it incredibly relaxing not to have to do anything about it. It was a really important reminder for me of one of the benefits of working these line level positions and we both agreed that the relative lack of stress in our lives was pretty amazing.  The longer I am out of the traditional workforce I tend to remember what I liked and forget about what I didn’t, so these reminders are important.  I still feel like we are not being paid enough for what we are doing, but that is certainly not a problem that exists only in this little part of Kentucky.

I really felt connected to her in those few minutes that we spoke and thought it was pretty cool that I got to know her a little better.  It’s a shame we are working different shifts so can’t spend time outside of work hanging out, but I am planning on sharing my blog information with her so we can stay in contact if she would like. There is something really special about this lifestyle that opens you up to meeting new people.  I don’t know if it’s the shared circumstances or the fact that those of us who do this tend to have similar personality traits, but those connections do happen more frequently than they ever did in my old life and we are not even actively seeking them out.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the lifestyle.

Other than that it was a pretty basic day.  Things are busy, but not too busy, and word on the “street” is we will not be getting done early.  Lots of rumors are flying around, but all we really know is now they will tell us our final date on Dec 18th.  Since we were committed to working until no later than the 23rd, it’s likely we will be here until the end.  Lee did check with our Camperforce coordinator about our last day though, because it turns out we have to go in for a “release” meeting or we don’t get paid our bonus.  Since that meeting usually falls on a Friday (our day off) we weren’t sure how we should handle that.  Not surprisingly we got some vague responses about coming in and working a 4 hour day, the day of the meeting, but hopefully we get something a little more concrete soon.  The bonus is probably the only thing that will put us in the black, so we need to make sure that follow whatever procedures are necessary to collect it.

Oh and I should definitely say it was freezing today.  It was 24 degrees and very windy, and the wind had a serious bite to it. The temperature was fine inside the warehouse, but when we went outside on our breaks it was COLD.  They have shelters to smoke in that have overhead heaters, which I appreciate, but the wind comes through them and we were all huddled together under those few heaters.  I just don’t like the damp cold and this definitely qualified.  Thankfully our heaters are working well (we are now leaving them on when we go to work) so the rig isn’t freezing when we get back to it. And I do want to say that the electric at our campground is fantastic.  It is supporting 4 electric heaters with no issue and the water pressure is great, and the water is clean.  It might not have the pretty views of the state park, but I love the utilities Heartland Campground provides. Plus you can’t beat the three minute (by car) commute.

Tracy:  21,696 steps (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Picked: 930

Lee:   25,525 steps
Items Picked: 917

Interesting Item Picked: One thing I have been wanting to mention is we often see bags of real human hair extensions.  Usually these are in covered bags, but occasionally they are in clear packaging and you can see the hair inside.  That’s kind of weird for me, although the hair extensions must come from somewhere, and although most are from China I have also seen hair from Brazil.  One of the things that makes it hard to pick are the super long descriptions and different types.  It has lengths, curly or straight, and of course different colors although brown is by far the most common.  It makes me think about where this hair comes from, who is selling their hair, and how much they are making.  How fast does it grow and since there is so much of it, how many people are doing this. I have no moral objection to a person selling their hair, but I know how slow mine grows, so how much money is in it for them? I did a little bit of research and there are marketplaces for hair, and apparently “virgin” hair is the most expensive. The Amazon variety though is much cheaper than this, and according to the internet there are over 60,000 “manufacturers” in China alone.  Here’s an article about it and not surprisingly if you are buying human hair be careful about who you are buying it from. Apparently Hindu pilgrims donate their hair to temples and some of that gets sold. And some of the companies put products in it which are gone after the first washing.  Fascinating stuff. That’s not my pick of the day though. I pick a lot of socks and keep running into these socks from Foot Traffic called Alien Abduction.  The UFO beaming up the cows cracks me up for some reason, so if you like an unusual sock these may be for you. 

Day 34

I have almost written this post several times, but it keeps getting pushed out by other topics, but today I am absolutely going to cover it. There is a concept in scheduling called “drip feed” and this is particularly interesting to me, because I worked on a scheduling project once and we had to decide whether or not to go this route with our technicians.  Essentially drip feed is only telling the person you are scheduling what their next task is, and absolutely nothing else. They don’t know the entire workload or the entire schedule which prevents the employee from making many decisions.  We talked at length with experts about using this method when we developed a scheduling program, but not surprisingly there was significant push back from our workforce when we piloted it.  The benefits to the company are pretty obvious.  Since the schedule is determined 100% by the computer system, the idea is that the employee will work with the most efficiency.  Unfortunately most employees don’t like being kept in the dark about what their day looks like and since our technicians were highly skilled (and difficult to replace) ultimately we eliminated that feature of the system.

(I completely disagree that this system makes things more efficient, because there is no way a computer can take into account what it is to be human. There are an infinite number of subtle differences between people, and those variations themselves vary based on another infinite set of criteria and factors, and each person knows themselves better than any other person, and certainly better than a computer. Also, any strict or fanatical adherence to any preset system fails to learn from new information, and is inherently flawed. And failing to learn is the most inefficient thing there is. – Lee)

Which takes me to Amazon, where drip feed (in the picking process) is being used.  I don’t know as a picker anything other than the pick I am currently working on.  I have no idea how many items are in a batch or when that batch will end.  I have no idea when it will move me to another area or how many orders are out there.  I am told the backlog at the beginning and middle of my shift, but have no idea throughout the day how we are performing to the backlog. I do get a feel for how things are going by how long the pick paths are, but even though I make assumptions on how much work there is, it isn’t really accurate.  So since I am on the other end of this scheduling technique how do I feel about it?

Well, on the one hand it makes my life easier.  I tend to not worry about production levels or items waiting, and since I can’t see that information I don’t get stressed about it.  The managers are monitoring it very closely, and more than any other job in my life, those sorts of things are definitely their problems and not mine.  It does have some negative consequences throughout the work day, but I am not sure these outweigh being stress free.  One of the things that bugs me is closing out a tote and putting it on a belt and then getting a new tote just to pick one or two more items and the batch is ended.  That extra work could have been avoided if I would have known and could “squeeze in” those extra couple of items and the inefficiency of that bugs me.  I also hate not knowing how many items I am going to pick.  For example, I walked up four flight of stairs yesterday to pick one pair of socks and then walked down those flights and up three more to start a longer run.  If I knew I could have opted out of the sock pick (probably why they don’t tell us) but either way all that extra walking is annoying.  And for me it’s kind of hard to know when to go to the bathroom.  I like stopping when it is along my walking path, but since I don’t know what that path will be, sometimes I have to stop what I am doing, go to the bathroom and then go back to work.  Again less efficient. (For me, it makes me crazy that they are moving us around in groups. Frequently there will be 20 of us on a floor, and another floor has two pickers. And when they move me, they move 15 other people. It also makes NO sense to have pickers and stowers working in the same area. – Lee)

All of those little moments aside though, I just like having some level of control over what I am doing.  Like most people, I think my brain is smarter than a computer, and would like a bit more autonomy.  That’s one of the reasons I preferred packing to picking, because we were allowed to choose our own cart, and in some respects control our destiny.  I don’t get to decide whether I am picking apparel or non-apparel items, or what section of the building I am in (although they do allow us to pick some preferences at least at a high level.)  All that being said, I can see why they use this method.  All of those individual decisions would probably slow things down overall, and I can definitely see where they would cause conflicts.  The way the scheduling system works is probably the most efficient overall, but does require almost zero autonomy from the employees.  So again keep that in mind if you sign up for the job.  If you are fine with letting someone else drive, this probably won’t be an issue for you, but if you absolutely need to control your own workflow, you are not going to like this.

All that being said we were actually in pack for the first part of the say. Our supervisor totally stepped up and had an assistant dig into why we weren’t being selected.  Turns out the fact that our training was done was never put in the system, but he fixed that which was very nice of him.  Lee was VERY happy and I was happy that it all came back to me pretty quickly.  Unfortunately we were back to picking for the second half of the day and it was busy.  Lots of tight picks, which I love, and I even spent lots of time in my favorite mod (which is Q by the way), but even I got tired of pick after pick after I hit 427.  Thankfully at that point I was moved into one of the newer mods and I had some long pick paths.  Never thought I would say this, but I did appreciate the walking because it gave my shoulders and arms a break. The way I see it is if the system wants me to pick fast it will put my picks close to each other. If it wants me to pick slower and makes me walk more I will oblige. I’ve gotten pretty philosophical about it at this point and just follow the computer’s lead.  Which really ties into the stuff I wrote at the beginning of this. The nicest part of the day was around 4:30 when the local high school band came in and played Christmas music in the lobby.  The kids were pretty decent and it was nice to hear the music although you could really only hear it in the front lobby area.  It made me smile.

Oh, and the absolute best part of my day yesterday was I found out I got the summer Lead job I wanted.  We will be headed back to Oregon and I am so excited to be working with those folks again.  Because it is a lead role, I am hoping it will contain the best parts of my old and new lives, and the fact that they are creating a custom job for Lee is really special. Fair warning, I will not be writing about that job in this level of detail.  In my mind Amazon is fair game because I am the lowest level employee and it’s a common work kamper job.  This new position will be different and this will probably read more like a travel blog this summer.  Still working it out in my head, but enjoy the details while they last.  Or maybe you might enjoy less work stuff and more life stuff.  I know I would certainly like more balance in what I am writing about. Heck I would like more balance in my life, which is heavily slanted towards working right now.

Tracy:  16,303 steps (7.19 miles) (estimated based on 85% of Lee)
Items Packed: 577* estimated based on 70 items per cart and number of carts 

Items Picked: 545 (I did 297 in the third quarter which is a lot of for me…tight pick paths)

Lee:  19,180 steps (8.47 miles)
Items Packed: Lee did 1 carts and then they put him on singles.  It was a lot, frankly I don’t understand why they would have him do anything else.

Items Picked: 468 (All I do is walk back and forth, incredibly loose pick path. Getting really tired of the pointless walking.)

Interesting Item Picked:  So many today.  That’s why I love Q mod so much.  One was a Cozmo Robot, which was in a very heavy duty box and did NOT look like a toy.  According to the box it has a complex artificial intelligence.  I don’t know what the deal with this thing is, but my brain felt it was important and at $200 it is not cheap.  I also picked tons of these SEDY magnetic wrist bands that allow someone working on cars, etc to put screws, nuts  right on their wrist.  It was touted as the perfect Christmas for Dad and I will say I thought it was pretty genius when I looked at it.  That being said I have no idea if something like this actually works, so I will let Lee jump in and give his thoughts. (Looks very handy to have. You should get me one. – Lee) But the absolute 100% winner, the thing that stopped me in the aisle and made me exclaim “COOL” is the Kong Wobbler. It was a large, heavy rubber treat dispenser for dogs and it looked like it would hold up to even Hurley’s chewing.  I know many puppies who might need this for Christmas! I’m not kidding this thing looked really cool and is a steal online for $15


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 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 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! 


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