Thursday, October 27, 2016

Taking on Amazon


I know I've got a couple of blogs to go to get caught up with our travels - we're working on them - but I'm going to jump ahead here and get right into the whole Amazon thing. I think it's important to document our experience in a timely manner so I can reread this next year in case we're tempted to return. :)  Jk. 

There are a number of Amazon fulfillment centers around the country, three of which hire RVers for seasonal work in the 3-4 months leading up to Christmas. The program is called CamperForce. Each of these centers are really gigantic warehouses and the kinds of jobs hired for include picking, stowing, receiving and packing. We have lots of RV friends who have done it so we decided to give it a try ourselves. We originally applied to work in Haslet, Texas, but they had already hired to capacity, so we decided on the fulfillment center in Campbellsville, Kentucky. 

We arrived in Campbellsville two weeks ago, giving ourselves a few days to get settled in and learn our way around before starting work. Our first week at Amazon consisted of a day-long orientation and safety school, then four half-days of learning the ropes and "hardening" our bodies for the ten-hour days ahead.

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Our fulfillment center in Campbellsville.

Both Steven and I are pickers and that means just what it sounds like. We literally pick items off a shelf, or from a drawer, so that an order can be fulfilled and shipped. We carry a hand-held scanner which tells us what items to pick, and we basically do that for hours on end. 

In the first week we learned how to navigate the huge warehouse, or part of it, as we're still being held to buildings A, B & C. There are apparently many more, but we won't see them for about another week or so. That's probably a good thing, because us newbies can really wreak havoc with our scanners. Before we learned how to properly search for or "reject" an item, we learned how to send an ANDON. That's basically sending out a message to management that there's a problem much more serious than "I can't find that red bowtie." In our first days, Steven and I sent about six ANDON messages. LOL. They should probably not teach us ANDONs on the first day.

This is what the apparel sections typically look like. Each aisle has an ID that appears on the scanner.
(photo borrowed from Business Insider)

As each half-day passed we started feeling a bit more confident, both in our navigation of the building and picking. We had only one day off before jumping right in to ten-hour days. The first day I walked over 24,000 steps while Steven did over 26,000. That's a lot of walking! Of course, we knew pickers really racked up the miles, and that's why we requested the position. I would much rather walk all day than stand in one spot.

The Campbellsville FC (fulfillment center) is about 75% clothes and 25% other stuff. My least favorite thing to pick is clothes, naturally.  At the start of each shift and following our lunch break we have a stand-up meeting with other pickers and our area manager. He barks out announcements while we all do stretching exercises. Then we fire up our scanners to see where the computer is sending us to begin our picking. At first, both Steven and I would find a trolley and get ourselves set up with everything we carry around with us - water, box cutter, gloves, etc. But sure as we had our trolleys completely kitted out, the computer would send us to another floor. We are not allowed to take our carts from floor to floor, so we have to abandon it and go find another one on the floor to which we’ve been assigned.  We tend to get attached to our scanners and trolleys, and it took us a while to realize that we had to use several different ones throughout the day. That's hard for us OCDers. :) Thank goodness there are a zillion containers of handi-wipes laying around.

In the weeks to come I'll write more about the kinds of stuff we pick, but suffice it to say there are a lot of crotchless, backless, rubbery, thong-y kinds of things. Hey, I don't judge, but I am learning. I did not know there was such a thing as a Man's Padded Dance Thong (Prime eligible!). I guess I just never thought about it before. It will be interesting to see if we're still picking Adult Onsies after Halloween. And speaking of Halloween, now we know where those scary clowns are getting their stuff!

As for our accommodations, there are several campgrounds in the area, with Heartland being the closest. In fact, it's right across the street, which means we walk to and from work most days. As of now we are enjoying the last of our three days off. Tomorrow is the first of four ten-hour days. They say we'll get used to it. I think "they" are lying.

All tucked away in our campsite at Heartland with the obligatory Seahawks flag.

UP NEXT: I don't even know!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Repositioning - Eugene to Teton Valley

Now, where did I leave off prior to posting our two Alaska recaps? Oh, yes. Our route from Eugene to the Teton Valley and the five - count 'em - five Elk Lodges we settled into over just three days.

In an effort to avoid Bend and the mind-numbing drive across Oregon on Highway 20, at Sisters we diverted to Highway 26 to Prineville and the first of our Elks Lodge stays. This route is somewhat north of 20, but the drive might as well be on a different planet. At least, it seemed so to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive into Prineville, home of Les Schwab Tires.

The word in my mind while descending into Prineville was "oasis". It was beautifully green, blooming and manicured. Prineville is the epitome of small town America with the Elks lodge located just a couple of blocks from downtown. We headed that way and parked in one of the designated spots. Because we didn't use the electric outlet provided, the bartender told us "no charge". How awesome is that?

Our “campground” at the Prineville Elks Lodge.

Morning lattes at the Hub Coffee Shop, owned by Kara, the sister of our Portland friend Chris.

After a coffee run the next morning we continued our drive on Highway 26 toward John Day. Our intent was to visit the Painted Hills, but things didn't quite work out that way. As we were driving, I asked Steven if he was sure the Painted Hills were near John Day, the actual town, and he assured me they were. He was wrong. By the time we had set up at the Elks Lodge in town, Steven sat down to map our outing only to find out that we had passed the Painted Hills 32 miles earlier and the better place to stop would have been Dayville, which we had driven through about 40 minutes prior.

I don't like to backtrack and Steven mostly doesn't like to photograph landscapes at high noon on a cloudless day, so we were in agreement that we'd just close up and head on down the road to the Caldwell, ID Elks Lodge, number three in a 24-hour period. The Painted Hills would have to wait for another trip, hopefully with better planning and a few more clouds in the sky.

We spent an uneventful night in Caldwell and hit the road early the next morning. Our destination was the Elks Lodge in Pocatello. Just as in Prineville, the lodge was located in the downtown area, but instead of cute, small-town USA, we got busy, loud, kind-of-trashy downtown right-next-to-the-railroad USA. We nonetheless got ourselves squeezed into the parking lot right next to the highway and after an uneasy hour or so, decided this was not the place for us.


The non-scenic view during our very brief visit to the Pocatello Elks Lodge.

We once again packed up and headed out toward Idaho Falls, where the Elks Lodge looked to be in a more suburban setting. We did not get very far. The first turn I made to get from downtown to I-15 landed us squarely in front of a tunnel with a clearance of 12' 2". Uh, oh.

12’ 2”, otherwise known as an RV can-opener.

Waiting for the POPO to arrive.

I don't know about you, but I've been expecting this. At some point in our travels, it was bound to happen. Given that we were already tired and a bit rattled, I'm surprised we handled it as well as we did. Steven unhooked Toadie and moved her out of the way while I called 911 to explain our situation and request assistance. Before long Pocatello's finest showed up and held traffic as I reversed and turned away from the tunnel.

At this point, we decided to just drive separately to Idaho Falls. I jokingly said to Steven, "if I pull over it's because the front door has swung open!" I was doing probably 60-65 on I-15 when the door did just that! I couldn't believe it! It has NEVER happened before! Thankfully, nothing flew out and the force of traveling kept the door somewhat under control, as it didn't swing completely open until I had slowed significantly and was coming to a stop.

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Let’s drive separately, we said. It’ll be an easy trip, we said. And then the door swung open.

Needless to say, after we rolled into the Elks Lodge in Idaho Falls, our fifth one in three days, we enjoyed a well-deserved Happy Hour!

Once again we did a quick overnight and the next morning drove to our destination in the Teton Valley. We have been coming here for more than a decade, ever since we decided to purchase property in the area. There is a great campground in Tetonia, which we have stayed in several times over the years. Unfortunately, this year they raised their rates to over $65 a day and we said "no thanks!" 

We did some investigating and found The Big Eddy, a free boondocking place with public-access to the Teton River. It was just a few miles from our property, so we thought this would be perfect! What we didn't know was the best route to get there. We decided to just follow our non-RV GPS, which took us down five miles of dusty, washboard dirt roads. We got there, but only after shaking so hard the electric shade above my head fell right into my lap! Over the next few days we would search out a less hazardous route, but there was no getting around the deep craters in the road at the campground.

The light and colors in the Teton Valley are always breathtaking.

The road leading down to our campsite at the Big Eddy.

Sandhill cranes greeted us as we arrived at the Big Eddy.

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The four peaks of the Teton mountain range revealed themselves on the first evening of our arrival.

NEXT UP: Our Beloved Teton Valley, Henry's Lake & Yellowstone