We’re Going to Work at Amazon

After 20 months in California, I fire the mothership’s V10 engine back to life. We have spent the last weeks severing the roots that just magically seem to appear when a nomadic life becomes more sedimentary in nature. It is just a reality that the stationary life style produces more possessions. An important step in reviving our nomadic life is the shedding of those anchors.  We lose weight and plot an eastward course.

Jude’s youngest son, Chance graduated to heaven in July.  It was a hard fought 20 months with alternative and standardized treatments but in the end, the seemingly alien cancerous life form in his left temporal lobe finally conquered his and those around him will to keep him on the face of the planet. Jude had waged an all-out assault with everyday commutes to his Oakland home, transportation to and from appointments, and placing him into spiritual development situations.  Our little HHR Chevy tow car has weathered nearly 80 thousand miles.  It was costly and depleted our nomad travel savings. We look for solutions.

When the spirit is willing, the universe will answer.  Suddenly, we became aware of an opportunity to help replenish our savings.  Everyone knows how Amazon dominates the online purchasing market, but we learned that they use RVers as a labor source for their holiday seasonal high demand periods. On investigation of their Camper Force program, we found it to be a perfect fit for us to help generate some savings recovery.  Amazon hires seasonally until December 24th. They are very appreciative for a labor force that is punctual, dedicated, and mobile to their site locations where they cannot fill their labor needs locally.  We apply. Since we are still able to walk and talk, we are hired on the spot!

We are going to Campbellsville, Kentucky. Looking at the map, we discover it is located directly in the heart of the state.  It is an hour and a half from both Lexington and Louisville and while near both metropolises, it is touted in the Amazon brochure as being rural.  We like the exploration opportunities as it nears many recreational areas and Mammoth National Park. We accept the employment offer and turn onto Interstate 40 for a 2200 mile trip.

Leaving California is a steady climb. It continues nearly through the entire area of Northern Arizona and New Mexico. Only when entering Oklahoma did Interstate 40 cease to be a steady uphill grind. Now the route features more and more farming fields edged by old growth Oak and Cottonwood trees still cloaked in their summer coats despite the late September time frame. The driving is easier and we enjoy the open landscape capped with soft billowing cumulus clouds.  We enjoy a magnificent sunset completely engulfed in soft pinks; purplish hews that frame the western deep red and oranges of the retiring sun. We surrender to the beauty.

The openness of Oklahoma disappears into the tree-lined highways of Arkansas and Tennessee.  It is similar to byways of New England, only the names of the trees have changed.  Farmlands only become a glimpse and a brief opening to the lands that lay beyond the walled Interstate.  We travel on seeking our Amazon adventure.

We arrive in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  It is connected to the outside world by curved winding highways that pass through the foothills adjacent to sporadic outcroppings of the Ozarks Mountains. The small town is spread-out over the landscape with its main commercial area separate from the older red brick downtown buildings.  Its supportive residents are tucked back away from the town’s byways almost out of sight.

Their homes are a mixture of columned porches with similar downtown brick construction to aluminum sided homes or just wood.   One thing they all have in common is the lawns surrounding these homes are all mowed. Throw in the white rail fencing and it gives the whole community a sense of a Thomas Kincaid portrait.  Mixed in that portrait are a noticeable number of churches.

They range from minuscule one room cabin types to multi-storied large red brick structures. Although different is size but they all flourished white steeples and adjacent graveyards. This is the first time in our travels that we have noticed that churches having graveyards surrounding them.  In our western American experience, graveyards are distinctly separate from any church dominion.  Viewing these, visions of “Eleanor Rigby” and Father Mackenzie leap to mind!

There are a number of Baptist churches but they proudly shout their names as “Primitive, Separate, or First” and I silently wonder the difference besides the size of the graveyard or the parking lot supporting them. Regardless, the local paper has a whole page dedicated to their respective times of functions and services. I conclude we are immersed within the Kentucky contingent of the “Bible Belt.”

Exploring the surrounding country, it is easy to know when you approach a different community.  All are distinguished by their hundred foot towers that are the heart and soul of the communities’ water system.  Each water tank has the name of the city in a fifty foot font and some even have their individual high school mascot emblazoned on them.  You can see them on the Kentucky skyline miles away. Kentuckians have a heightened pitch southern accent and are very friendly. They wear an equal number of supportive jerseys, hats and shirts pledging their allegiances to the Universities of Kentucky Wildcats or Louisville Cardinals.  Most loudly tout their support to their favorite university and while they love all sports their university initiates, make no mistake; this is basketball country. Both universities produce National Champions and have Hall of Fame Coaches!

Our first look at the Amazon Fulfillment Center does not impress. It appeared modest is size when viewed from the front.  Even the cars parked in the newly asphalted parking lot seem few in number.  I was wondering what was beyond the front door and how this modest building was a superstar with the online giant.  We park the mothership at the Heartland RV campground that is located across the street from the fulfillment center. We are anxious making the short walk to the front door. We open the door and step inside to our Amazon adventure!

This is not a modest building.  It is actually four buildings. They are four stories high with giant circulating fans with blades as long as our RV in constant motion.  It has docks where the trucks come in, receiving lines where the items are coded and robotic trains which ferry coded merchandise to the different floors where it is scanned and put in bins.  Pickers then come and take the coded item when it sells, place it on one of conveyers and it travels to the place where the item is packaged and sent to outbound trucks.  The conveyers themselves are 12 miles long and there are 12 million items stored in the warehouse bins! It takes a full 10-12 minutes of brisk walking to cover the warehouse from end to end.  This is a major industrial operation.

After a day of orientation, we are assigned to stow positions. We will join an already constructed stow team.  They are the ones who take the received coded merchandise and place in cardboard bins. This fulfillment center is 70% apparel with the rest being called “Tech” but actually consists of everything else from baking pans, Oakley sunglasses and Wrestling Mania action figures.

We will work evenings from 5pm to 3:30 am. Our four work days are 10 hours from Sunday through Wednesday and we will receive $11.50 per hour each. There is ample demand for extra work which will pay time and a half.  Our season will be from September through peak ordering time of Black Friday to Christmas Eve.  We will also receive a dollar bonus for every hour we work after we complete the season.  They also pay our parking space at the campground.  We happily sign the dotted line.

We undergo a shortened week of training and what they call “hardening.”  This refers to conditioning the legs and feet to the constant exposure of working on their concrete floors.  We are told that our positions can expect to walk six to eight miles a day. This means Amazon has become our personal fitness trainer for the coming months.

Anticipating this ordeal, Jude and I have purchased a full body massage pad for a zero-gravity chair we already own, then partnered it with an Isqueeze machine that treats the lower calf and feet. We are silently confident that these mechanical massage additions will help us weather the difficult hardening process.  After a few weeks of daily exposure to the concrete and our massage partners, we know we made a great choice and are extremely happy with the ease our bodies adapt! We walk with ease and recover quickly!

As the weeks go by, we began to understand the sheer magnitude of physical exertion that the position entails.  Often we are required to lift heavy boxes.  There is a 49-pound weight lifting limit, but many boxes are 48 pounds.  This with the additional breaking down boxes and the constant repetition of scanning and stowing items, we are exhausted at the end of every shift.  I make a mental note that I have not worked so hard since I was a beer distributor, but that was when I was a lot younger.  We really understand why these positions are hard to fill from the local labor pool.

The Campbellsville Amazon Fulfillment center is basically new and as we approach the peak seasons of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it becomes really apparent that the center is not receiving their anticipated order levels. That meant they had a labor force that was far beyond the work they had.  The stowing team was asked to take voluntary time off.  Then suddenly they asked if any CamperForce Members would like to end their season early and still receive their season-end bonus.  Faced with decreasing cold temperatures from Polar air masses sliding into the mid-west states, we jumped at a chance to make the trip back to Arizona and the promise of more benign temperatures.

We leave Campbellsville, Kentucky in early December and slide into Tennessee all against a backdrop leaf-stripped trees stretching towards cold gray skies.  It looked like scenes straight out of a Tim Burton Halloween movie. Our course is not the more northerly Interstate 40 but a longer more southern sojourn across I-10 hoping to avoid any approaching cold fronts. This means a total traverse across Texas rather than a glancing trip across the panhandle.

We burst on the Texas spaciousness with the similar confidence MacArthur had when he waded ashore in the Philippines.  The mothership with its V-10 engine is cruising seemingly without effort but I see we are headed directly into threatening lowering clouds.

Our luck runs out near Big Springs, Texas and we run into a four letter world most RVers cringe to experience. SNOW!  And when that is accompanied with its evil twin sisters, Cold and Windy, I turn up the defroster, nestle into truck conveys and push on towards El Paso.

Texas coats their roads with chemicals that slow the icing of the highways.  It also provides a sticky coating on both our tow vehicle and the Mother ship.  When we burst into the sunshine near Las Cruces, we look like two dirt clods moving steadily back to Arizona!

After a nine hundred mile Texas, we make short work of New Mexico and enter Arizona.  Its welcoming signs fill us with a sense of accomplishment.  It holds the promise of re-acquainting ourselves with friends and a long well deserved rest in beautiful Lake Havasu.

On the way to our lakeside resort, we receive word from Tamarac Wildlife Refuge that we are accepted to become their volunteers for the upcoming summer season.  We see wonderful adventures ahead.