BikeTown Chronicles #4

I returned to spin class today.

I’ll wait for the applause and trumpet fanfare to die down.

This isn’t the typical type of cycling that I’d include in a BikeTown post. The reason this is a milestone of note is more the reason for my absence from spin versus the return itself.

Back in late July – maybe early August? – I’d finally pulled the trigger on returning to spin. My original BikeTown efforts had been derailed by the temporary closure of the Springwater Trail, my normal cycling route. The city was upgrading a culvert from the Willamette River to a nearby marsh – which ran under the Springwater – in an effort to provide salmon a more attractive conduit to a spawning area.

Y’know, your basic salmon bom-chika-bom-bom moment brought to you by America’s kinkiest city…everyone is getting their freak on here!

The trail closed in early July, which significantly expedited my not-working-weight-gain. In the three months prior to July, I had put on 20 lbs. Between July 1 and 31, I welcomed another ten pounds into the – ahem – folds.

However, by mid-August, while I was easing back into spin, my diet and weight and overall feeling of well-being had pretty much stagnated.

So…I took a temp job. I know this is redundant information to regular readers, but the important aspect of this job is the to and from and not the job itself.

I rode.

It was just a 3.5-3.7 mile ride each way, but four days a week I was working in the equivalent of a spin class during my “work” commute. That was doubling my spin workouts.

I’m not sure why my ride home was two-tenths of a mile longer than my ride into work…but it’s not like I’m trying to tell you it was uphill both ways. I think that gives me a little latitude on the accuracy of my GPS tracking.

The effort was more significant than spin class, too. I found a range of gears that afforded me a good challenge throughout my ride. This was easier than figuring out my easy-challenging resistance settings on the spin bikes.

And, while not both ways, there was a hill on my commute. During spin classes, I hadn’t found a comfort level rising up out of the seat to simulate a hill climb. My knee was just not having it.

However, my daily ride took me past Montgomery Park

which was the old Montgomery Ward building back in the day.

<pours one out for Montgomery Ward>

There’s an S-shaped hill behind the building that transitions down from Thurman Street and effectively out of the Alphabet District and onto St Helens road, which took me into the industrial part of town. That hill was fine and dandy on the way to work, but ~8 hours later, the uphill was…likely to be a walk.

Except.

I learned there were only a handful of bike commuters working at my Amazon location. A max of six during my temporary assignment’s duration and on a couple of nights, just me.

And then there was Minh…

Me being dirty old me, I immediately registered the fact that two of the regular four riders during my work week were attractive young guys. The other regular rider was an Oldie Hawn, like me.

Ben, one of the two young uns, usually arrived early and left late. He was all about those hours.

Minh was not. He usually beat me out of there at the end of the shift.

I realized this first on my second night of work. Night one, I’d ridden the bus because I was unsure of the bike parking sitch.

I’d ran/walked home the next morning because the shifts end at 430 and the bus came around 5. Who needs to wait around in the dark for a half hour?!?

Well, just for a bus, at any rate.

That second morning, I set off on my bike for home. I pedal at a pretty good clip because I want the workout. However, after having my ass handed to my by about about 1500 boxes during my shift had me wondering if there was a way around that Montgomery Park hill. Mentally, I was assuring myself that when the road forked to go uphill, that other fork surely came out on the other side of the complex.

But why risk getting lost? I’ll just ride up as far as I can and then walk the rest of the way in the protective anonymity of darkness.

Unfortunately for my elderly ego, just ahead of me was Minh. I somehow seemed to be gaining on him…like there was a tractor beam in his butt.

This sent me into a frenzy.

The gaining on him, not the butt. Although…woof.

If I caught up to him and then died on the hill, that would be tragic. Moreso than simply being “that old guy that stares”. Still uncertain of the alternate routes, I dialed back my pace and hoped for the light to change and stop me.

This is me we’re talking about, though, so naturally that didn’t happen.

I cruised up on to the hill as Minh disappeared around the first curve. I rode as far up as I could – about a quarter of the way – before giving up. To my surprise, while I thought I was quitting, my ego was telling my body to rise up off the saddle and keep going.

Ok

It wasn’t pretty, but I actually ended up making it to the top without stopping…and I gained ground on Minh, who had not even stood up while ascending the hill.

Obnoxious punk.

I think what really got me to the top was not the fact that I was gaining on the kid. Rather, I was pretty sure he could hear my labored wheezing behind him and if that stopped he’d either know I’d quit or think I’d died. I couldn’t bear either fate.

So, pedal, did I.

Cycle Yoda-speak!

The next day, I made sure to call out Minh for taking the hill without standing up. He made it sound like no biggie, so I decided that I’d keep riding up the hill versus finding out where that other road led.

I started counting off my pedal strokes. At first it was to drive my pace, to avoid losing momentum up the hill.

One-two, one-two, one-two

There were 50 one-twos going up.

The next week, I just counted pedal strokes. Sure enough, there were 100. At least I was being consistent.

The third week, the other Oldie Hawn told me about the other fork in the road. “Much easier”, he told me.

I think I’m going to take the hill for the whole month, then I’ll think about changing

I thought those were crazy words, certainly not words I would have imagined speaking on Day One.

Do exactly so, I certainly did!

But you better believe that on commute 19, I absolutely sailed right through the light at the bottom of the hill, veering left toward parts unknown instead of right to the hill that I now called my bitch.

I’m proud of my cycling accomplishment during my regular two months of work at Amazon. However, I am also aware of several opportunities during that time where my BikeTown blog crossed over into Red Shirt Diary territory.

First off, (mom, stop reading) since it was only three and a half miles each way, I didn’t wear my helmet. Bad, old Xtopher, I know! However, only one of the regular four actually did…so, somehow that makes it better, right?

Then there was the whole, riding at night without a head or tail light. Yeah, pretty suicidal. But, I did follow fairly well lit roads. There were a few dark areas where I could safely assume homeless people had taken out the street lights in order to give them better darkness for sleeping. Or whatever they were doing under that cardboard. Fortunately, there were only a couple of near miss swerves to avoid large sticks or…shoes. Why are there so many discarded shoes on Portland streets?!? Oddly, the only direct impacts I suffered sounded like license plate frames.

But I never fell. Hooray for my short clad legs and helmet-less brain bucket.

My practice had been wearing my reflective safety vest during my ride. However, in the middle of my assignment, my family took off for the Oregon high desert. When I dropped my bag in my room, I discovered an optic orange Nike vest that my sister had brought along for me.

Yay, substitute mom!

The trip coincided with my nephew checking into college in Bend. I’d already been watching as my sister inched closer toward an empty nest. By watching, I mean receiving random care packages over the course of the summer countdown to college.

A Captain America tee shirt she picked up for me at the Costco.

Some cookies.

Shorts and another couple of shirts. I suspect these were a result not only of her frustrated mom gene, but also self defense for her eyes since they were having to watch me trundle around in clothes that hadn’t fit in a good 15 pounds.

So the vest was not a huge surprise, but that it was also my favorite color was all the more “aw” for me. Of course, I laughed pretty hard at myself when I learned the vest was originally for my brother in law, but hadn’t fit his meatier, mor muscular frame.

Then I thought, “How dare she buy him a vest in my favorite color!”, like I somehow had reserved rights to all things orange.

Don’t I, though?

Nevertheless, the episode afforded me a more fashionable alternative to night time visibility than my tattered old safety vest.

The most strange of my Darwin-esque Red Shirt moments involved those damned e-scooters. Yeah, there was more than one.

The first was simply me mistaking an oncoming headlight for another cyclist. I was fairly nonplussed at the fact that the oncoming light was on my side of the road. Ascribing the poor behavior to the overt asshole-ness of Portland cyclists, I moved to give the bastard a wide berth. Psychotically, the headlight started weaving. As it whizzed by me at about 15 mph, I realized it was a scooter and not a bike. This was as I was also making a last desperate swerve to avoid a collision with the oncoming erratic swerving maniac.

The second instance was also a case of vehicular mistaken identity. There were two scooters traveling side by side, I mistook them for a car. I was pretty surprised when the driver’s side of the car split off from the rest to swerve into my lane. Realizing my mistake, I hugged the parked cars as tightly as I could to remain out of the way of the scooter, which was now traveling toward me in my lane.

Asshole

was the most affable salutation I could muster for this jag as he passed within inches of my handle bars.

Helmets, scooters, hills and poor visibility aside, I survived my two months of bike commuting four times a week to work and back! It was a great way to get amped up for a night of work, but also a surprisingly welcome cool down on the way home. I’d been anticipating hating the ride home after work and expected myself to take it easy along the way.

I didn’t.

I’d arrive home each morning; panting and sweating, leg muscles twitching. Also surprising was logging some of my best commute times on the longer ride home. Those are results I can take!

The end result was returning to my spin class today, 20 pounds lighter than I’d been on the last class I’d attended. I’ll take it!

But what I appreciated most about those morning rides wasn’t chasing Minh most of the way. No, it was leaving work with a stiff back and sore shoulders and arriving home feeling like I’d worked those kinks out.

Not a bad way to end a couple of months of long day’s nights! Of course, neither was chasing Minh…story of my life, right there. <shrugs>

BikeTown Chronicles #4

Dating Into Oblivion ep7

Bachelor #11: The Transplant.

I know! I’m so behind. Episode 5 & 6 are stuck in draft limbo, but whuddyagunnado?

You could call this one the “Fresh Off the Boat” episode or even the “When It Rains” edition given recent events. Honestly, I think either way you argue it, it comes down to me: I just feel better, and I think the universe is picking up on that and…showering me with rewards.

Or – and this seems likely – I’m still stuck in the dating desert that is Portland and this is all a mirage.

“But, just what is it?”, you ask.

Well, Bachelor #4 from way back in January is back on the radar. He’s the “when it rains” part of this story. Over the year, as we are still connected on actual social versus asocial media, he’ll ping my radar. This has led to occasional text-a-paloozas over the last 9 months or so.

Right meow, it looks like this last ping has some staying power for my radar. And after last night, I’d really like to ping him.

😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈

But, that remains to be seen. He’s still in Vantucky and based on some recent events, logistically unavailable.

That’s different than geographically unavailable, which is one of the factors working against us back in January. He lives in Vantucky, I’m in Portland and don’t drive.

Another thing working against us?

My neurotic self.

I feel like entering into a situation where the expectation is that he haul ass to Portland every time we want to hang out is inequitable. For me, that was a poor start to a dating relationship.

For those and a few other flags – er…reasons – I let it fizzle.

But the sexy lil bastard just. keeps. pinging.

So…stand by. We’ll see what happens.

But, back to The Transplant.

While my old friend, DP, is fond of embracing the relationship philosophy of “Either you go on a date and never see each other again or you go on a date and he never leaves”, I have another notion. It’s not a criteria, which is a designation worth making, so much as maybe that’s just a potentially positive attribute of his.

Rib was a FOB. He’d been in Shittatle for a couple months from LA when we met. I think my ROI on the four years we spent together is pretty solid: I see he and I being friends for the rest of my life.

Maybe catching them fresh off the boat before they get caught up in the tidal wave of lost boys is a strategy with some legs?

The Transplant has been here in PDX for a couple months, having relocated from Chicago.

He hit me up on OKStupid a couple weeks ago.

We’re a ninety-friggin-six percent match.

That 4% intrigues me. He’s a vegetarian, which I want to say is the entire 4%.

Alas.

He’s also as much as stated that his personal style is distinctly designed without and fucks given to making other people comfortable.

Admittedly, my style is kind of the same. However, my Zero Fucks Given fashion manifests itself in me wearing tee shirts that have been in the dryer for three days and wearing clothes that “used to fit” but I don’t have to look at it, so screw it.

His Zero Fucks Given style is less apathy and more expression. He’s prone to inconsistent color in his hair and aggressively ripped clothing versus pathetically burst clothing.

Who knows, though?

If that’s the sum total of of our 4%, I’d say Vegetarian = 3.5 and Very Alt Style = .5 of those percentage points.

Interestingly, that he also ends up working for…Amazon is a complete fit of What Could Possibly Go Wrongness. Fortunately, he’s a third party employee – which is the group of “Amazon” employees that really gets the severest of Rogerings since Jeff – we are not on a first name basis – has very little control over their fate aside from renewing their employer’s contract.

Or, not.

Those third party employees largely tend to be delivery drivers and this is the…third? Yeah, let’s say third such employee I have known personally.

So, there he is texting – because our last message on OKStupid was, “Here’s my number, shoot me a text” – me how much he hates his Amazon job. I try congratulating him on his recent raise to $15/hr. He counters with the fact that that did not trickle down to the most Rogered of “Amazon” employees and six hours later, he texts me that he got a new job.

In a vegan restaurant.

So, I’m guessing this 4% isn’t a passing phase.

Sad face.

But, still…for all the guys I’ve known without jobs or prospects, this guy moves to town, takes any job he can get a paycheck from and then finds another job when it turns out to be 12 hours of this

I’m totally taking credit for being the impetus for him finding vocational satisfaction, because I can.

Neverthemess, we’ll see what happens when we meet face to face. He seems like a responsible and nice young dude, a 96% match and just…pleasant.

How fucked up is it that pleasant is not a given in this dating world?

Wait.

Never mind.

I just remembered who I am.

We’re meeting up Sunday afternoon, so we’ll see.

And I’ll likely report back.

For now, just talking to a guy who is living his life with intention and drive is…nice.n

Dating Into Oblivion ep7

Oh, Bother…

I think being bothered is a good thing. Keeps you present.

That just fell out of my mouth earlier this week while The Fox and I were at coffee.

The cafe manager had stopped by to talk while he grabbed a quick break. We always have enjoyable chats when he can take a moment like that with one or both of us. He and The Fox have actually had beers together a few times, too. When I get the download from those conversations, I’m not jealous of them…but I can appreciate that I missed something good.

But, to be clear, my bother in this particular conversation isn’t the same as our childhood pal

…and while I have friends and colleagues who have referred to me as Pooh’s human friend, I think over the years we’ve known each other that has congenially morphed into Grumpy Old Xtopher.

Since that moniker doesn’t lend itself to Pooh’s famously mild expletive, you can call me Whiny the Pooh for this post.

Because that’s more my style!

While I think my state of botheredness fluctuates depending on my real or perceived infraction, these moments really do keep me present. Both in my surroundings, but also in my own behaviors.

Who knew being the non-violent version of Hannibal Lecter would actually not only help me be a better person personally but also hopefully help me to be a better part of my community? Hopefully, if I’m bothered by someone else’s behavior, I don’t go on to become guilty of the same thing.

Sadly, as low a bar as that statement represents, I think more often than not, that’s actually what enables others to validate their own poor behaviors. Welcome to the United States of Kindergarten.

Yesterday I went to the Apple Store with my parents to get help with my mom’s new iPhone. They had an appointment for 2:10 and we showed up around quarter to 2:00 to check in. The associate checking us in told us that their appointment was actually 2:20…but said we were welcome to wait. We asked if that would end in us being seen sooner and when getting an uncertain reply, decided to go across the street for coffee and come back.

For as smooth as the process of checking us in and getting us staged went – maybe we just didn’t really care since we had coffee – we ended up at the Genius Bar just about on time.

I guess not so for the woman next to me. I heard her complaining to an employee she shanghaied about their wait, and “how much longer it would be?” The associate checked his iPad and said, “Looks like your appointment was at 2:30, and we’re only a little behind, so it shouldn’t be too much longer!”

I checked my phone.

It was 2:35.

Really, lady?!?

“Ok, well my son has another appointment across the river at 3:00, so the sooner the better!”

Nonono.

This is not ok. Now, we were only about seven blocks from the river, but our evening rush hour starts as early as 2:00 and we were smack dab in the middle of downtown. Even if her son’s appointment was literally just on the other side of the water, the bridges become a pinch point during the evening commute.

A half hour drive time would not be unreasonable.

What was she thinking?!?

I don’t know, it probably sounded a lot like “me, me, me”, though. Now what she was doing was making this someone else’s problem when it was completely her own doing. Even worse, in taking an appointment slot that was unworkable for her, she took a slot that could have worked for someone else.

Now she was trying to manipulate this poor guy into jockeying around the customers so she could go first. To his credit, he held firm with, “Well, it looks like there’s just one iPhone ahead of yours, so it shouldn’t take too much longer!” in a cheerier voice than I would have given her.

At least mentally.

This reminded me of another instance from earlier in the week. It actually made me take a picture as it came hot on the heals of my quote at the beginning of this blog post.

This basic is demonstrating what it is to be not present.

Which, in turn, bothered me.

The sign she is standing right next to says, “Please Wait Here…” as I’d been watching her, two people had walked up and asked her if she was waiting – one of them was the Silver Fox, who was excitedly awaiting his flu shot – and I’d only been watching her for a couple of minutes. Now, she could have certainly chosen to sit in the waiting area while she waits for her Rx to be filled. She knows the chairs are there, she set her tablet and handbag in one of them.

Having chosen to stand in line instead, you’d think after enough people asked if she was in line, perhaps – just maybe – she’d think to herself, “Self, I think I should get out of the way”.

No…not our girl.

She’s so unpresent that she didn’t even notice me overtly taking her picture from about 5 feet away.

This seems like a good moment to check in with my Drag Queen Spirit Animal.

Now you know why she’s my Spirit Animal. Every other homo – of a certain age – remembers her infamous cameo/quote from the pre-turn of the century gay film festival darling, Trick. She shared her wisdom with us there, giving that entire generation of gays the 411 on the perils of getting semen in your eye…

So, yeah…that’s good to know if you’re some run of the mill Stupid American. But this gay guy didn’t need to be told that was an experience best skipped.

What can I say? I have uncommon knowledge as it turns out.

So, as entertaining as Coco is, whether in a cameo in Trick or Will & Grace or even my beloved Arrested Development…my love for her was cinched the first time I saw her “That bothers me” schtick on stage. There was a mental click when she stated it, so simple. It’s when it hit me that shit is gonna bother me, but screaming and yelling about it – tilting, if you will – is just gonna make me look like a crazy Don Quixote type. I can be bothered and still lead a relatively normal life.

Shut up, Everyone That Knows Me.

Moving on…

Oh, look! A story about the least present people on the planet! One whose headline tells me that basically, I already know everything that story has to offer.

I’ve long lamented the influence those people have over American culture and the direct influence they have in making our culture an increasingly frivolous and anonymous one.

They have simultaneously taught us to be vacuous while managing to keep us incessantly keeping up with them.

Not me, just to be clear.

I wouldn’t watch them hold hands and jump off a cliff…because, they bother me and could even prove annoying to me while doing something that was inherently a net positive for the world.

But, an unexpected side effect of the bother they add to my life is that they keep me present in not ignoring the things that matter in life like they seem to as a family. When I say “the things that matter”, I mean everything beyond their “me, me, me” behavior.

Meanwhile, back in WordPress Land, I just barf these amusing yet niggling annoyances of mine into the void and walk away. And it’s not like them there Kardashians…for me, it’s not about “the likes” here. WordPress is a group of people that want to write for the sake of creating, or educating, or entertaining…or, yeah, like me: therapy.

That said, I do like the likes and comments because they enhance the experience of writing for me. I tend to try – how noncommittal was that? I need a Yoda, “There is no ‘tend to try’ only tend or not tend” – to participate and interact with other writers that I follow to show them the same support and encouragement they show me. But since I follow about five dozen other writers, I often get behind and visit my half dozen favorites more than the rest.

Which is why seeing this today on one of my favorite writer’s blog posts kind of bothered me.

What’s missing in that red circle was the feedback buttons. This is another recent entry from her that demonstrates the usual set up:

This woman is a funny writer. She has a great voice and style and usually spells everything correctly. Isn’t it nice of me to blank out her name so you can’t go follow her?

What’s great to me is that she writes about being a mom and living in suburbia – two things that are far afield from my life experience – in a manner that draws me in and amuses me. She makes me understand and sympathize with her struggles…and chuckle along with her as she does her own screaming into the WordPress void.

The post that she turned off feedback buttons for was one of her funniest yet, in my opinion. It involved an improperly stored “lady’s little helper” that her son discovered next to her as she woke up.

Ok, we haven’t all been there, clearly. But just imagine the shargrin that people could have contributed in the comments. Because there’s for sure plenty of fun anecdotes out there, this I know.

Also, shargrin = Share + chagrin = Chrisism. It’s like the opposite of schadenfreude. Instead of enjoying someone else’s embarrassment, you empathize with them and share a similarly embarrassing moment.

Since shargrin is – basically – most of my life, I’m bothered to not be able to participate in this post. But also, it bothers me that she deprived herself of the opportunity to salvage her parental dignity by closing off comments. It’s like she tossed her story into the void and walked away from it.

That’s not very present.

But I still liked the post…I just think that the feeling of forgiveness she cost herself by not hearing her readers’ shargrin ultimately sold herself short. For the record, though, she was present where it counted most: helping her son understand his feelings about what he witnessed.

I guess, ultimately, that makes her a lot like me: not perfect, but present and accountable enough to bother trying to be better. The kids I had coffee with today gave me something that was an unexpected gift.

Try to be 1% better today than you were yesterday.

“Like…every day?”, I asked.

Yup!

“But that’s – like – a 400% improvement over the course of the year”, I whined.

Yup!

These two cheery motherfuc…I don’t need that type of positivity in my life. Do you know the damage that could do to old Whiny the Pooh?!? Later, they set me back in balance by sending me this

I got a good chuckle out of that. And that’s what motivated me to sit down and tap this out. We don’t have to be perfect or put on a show of false happiness to be good people. We just need to be aware enough of our own shit to be able to know the difference between how our actions affect others and the world around us.

Are you the shit or a shit?

Oh, Bother…

*Not* Sleeping With The Enemy

Well, I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of months now.

Not that I’m pals with Julia Roberts, that would not be news I kept to myself. I’m totally that guy who would have a celebrity friend and always refer to them by their full name just to make sure no one forgot.

But let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this movie grossed $175 million back in 1991…on a film about escaping domestic abuse! That’s not Gone Girl money, but it’s about half of Gone Girl’s box office and I’m really not sure how you adjust that for inflation over almost a quarter century.

Anyhoo…that was quite a sidebar.

So, in August, I took a part time/seasonal job to get my ass off the couch. This was after watching all of the Marvel movies – except the Captain America movies – that I could get my hands on on Amazon over the course of two days.

This was after packing on 20 lbs in three months.

This was after my crisis of confidence that I’d ever be comfortable or capable of returning to work in retail management after trying – and largely failing – to cope with the feeling of betrayal my last job left me with for four months. I really think that this disease I carried with me when discussing my last job was a bigger part of why I kept finishing second in interviews than I’d been admitting to myself.

Maybe I was imagining that.

Maybe it was actually happening.

Who knows?

But what I did know was that something had to change. Doubting I would succeed in finding a company I trusted enough to risk going to work again, I opened up craigslist and just started scrolling through the jobs page.

No filters.

Everything.

Hell, anything.

I needed to change things up. Occupy my time. Jump start my confidence in myself and a future employer so I could let go of these feelings of distrust and worthlessness.

That’s the first connection that this experience had to Sleeping With The Enemy. I felt abused and devalued by my last job. Like Julia, I was going to have to overcome my fear in order to succeed – unlike her, I’d already escaped, but couldn’t let go of the trauma. She only had to learn how to swim – well, and then hide forever – I wasn’t entirely sure that I knew or could articulate exactly what I needed to overcome.

The second…correlation? Sure, let’s go with that – that this entry has to Sleeping With The Enemy is that I went to work for Amazon.

Escandoloso!

Literally, the company that has been the feared enemy of my brick and mortar retail career.

But, in reading the craigslist post, this was a seemingly win/win situation for old Xtopher:

There was no interview at all. Take a few aptitude tests on line, pick a schedule, go to work.

In.

Sane.

The job was at night. I took the 9-430 shift Friday night through Monday night. Why is this a win? Because it took me out of commission for the prime drinking days…something I needed to get away from.

Lastly, the job is crazy physical. It’s fast paced, too. Well, it’s set your own damn pace because there’s very little oversight…I choose fast because I expect myself to exceed expectations, so Bob’s your uncle.

Oh, here…

Anyway, I anticipated riding my bike to work since the busses don’t run until 5-ish in the morning and waiting a half hour when I could be home and in the shower in 15 minutes seemed stupid. So there’s basically four lunchtime spin classes a week just in the commute, which was a good start. But this job just kicks my ass on the daily whether I ride the bike or the bus.

And I’ve dropped at least 20 pounds since I started work there.

Technically, I guess this is a win/win/win…and I’ll take it!

Ok, so how does this job kick my ass?

I’m glad you aksed.

(Is it racist if I type in Ebonics? I’m going with “nope” because I friggin’ love that word.)

Its a warehouse job. This particular warehouse is a Sort Center, which is where the Fulfillment Centers route locally bound packages to be sorted for delivery. There’s three basic functions my role can be assigned to:

Unload: semis come into this Sort Center from Fulfillment Centers throughout the PNW and California. Hell, maybe even from other regions, too. No one tells me anything until 3 seconds after I need to know it. Trucks either need to be manually unloaded onto a belt or come palletized, then my job is to move the boxes from the pallets to the belt.

Puller: boxes travel down the belt, past 68 aisles on either side. Pullers look at each label as it goes by and pull packages for their assigned aisles – usually a group of 3, if we’re staffed up and we usually aren’t – and put it on a shelf.

Sorter: each Sorter is assigned two aisles – same caveat as above – that are about 21 feet long and are separated into six sections on each side, each section has three shelves. Four of these sections are divided into six totes representing different delivery areas, the other two are just shelves for oversized packages. The Sorter looks at each package and then scans it to log it into the correct delivery bin.

It sounds pretty easy until you think about how many semis it takes to deliver the 40-50k packages to our Sort Center each night.

There’s generally 8-10 people on Unload, so figure each of them will touch 5000 packages per night, that’s a lot of bending, twisting and lifting.

Pullers are the area that seems to get the least amount of compromising, it is a job that runs short as a last resort, so figure there’s about 45 people doing this job during a shift.

Then there’s the Sorters. Ideally, there are 34 in order to keep it manageable.

What usually happens is not that. If there aren’t enough Sorters, a set of aisles will be allowed to build up until its shelves reach critical mass. At that point someone will be pulled from their aisles and conscripted to put out the fire.

You can probably see where the disadvantage of having too little supervision and allowing people to set their own pace. Likewise, the extreme disadvantage of being a fast worker. Frequently, I’ll be asked to go take care of one of these orphan aisles, only to return to my own to find them in chaos.

Sorting is what I do most nights, and it’s a lot of fast paced walking, lifting, carrying, squatting and then more of all that. The aisles are about 20 feet long and I usually walk between 8-10 miles per shift, wearing a rut in the concrete floor.

Carrying stuff.

The pace goal for Sorters is to scan ~170 packages per hour into their respective delivery totes. That’s three packages a minute, which sounds easy enough.

Then you have to factor in things like scanner issues – believe me, holding the scan button tighter does not make it more likely to read a barcode – and replacing full totes with empty ones throughout the night.

I’m usually in the mid to high 200/hr range. That number will go up dramatically on nights where I hear things like, “We only have 5 Sorters on this side of the belt!”

FML.

There should be 16.

But somehow, at 430 in the morning, things still seem to have gotten done. Whether that’s because we managed to actually finish everything because we were staffed up or because the managers decided to pause the Unload team and push packages to the following day – which is never a good option – is not always clear to me. But at some point in the night – for whatever reason – the Unloaders will become Sorters, which always helps us get to the finish line.

Or close.

The culture of minimal supervision means that at 430, people walk away from their assigned areas and just leave.

I’ll cross the finish line in my aisles – clothes completely soaked through with sweat – and head toward the front to turn in my scanning equipment only to realize the silence coming from the aisles around me didn’t mean the aisles were done, just that the Sorters were gone.

Nice teamwork, right?

The latest I’ve ever had to stay is about 515, and that’s only been a few times. Generally, I’m on the road by 445, pedaling toward home.

But, what’s with all this minimal supervision, you ask?

Well…to run a shift, we need about 85 people, right? Call it 10 Unloaders, 45 Pullers and 34 Sorters.

We feel lucky if 75 people show up.

There’s days when you look around at the start of shift meeting – called a Stand Up – and it doesn’t look like there’s even 50 people there.

So, Amazon basically falls into the same staffing terror trap that my airport employer experienced. And they kind of deal with it the same way: unenforced expectations.

The only real hardline I hear people talk about is attendance, which at least puts them a step ahead of the airport. That’s pretty much out of their control, since points automatically accrue with missed shifts and tardiness. You hit the point threshold and you’re out. Beyond anyone’s control beside the individual.

I love systems like that.

But for the rest of the rules, enforcement is phoned in.

I hate systems like that.

There’s usually two shift managers who have maybe a dozen junior managers – called Ambassadors – to help keep things running in the different zones of the warehouse. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of expectations on the Ambassadors other than get the packages ready to deliver. Nor is there much development that I can see. I rarely see the shift managers away from their station at the front desk. Occasionally, I’ll see them with the Unload team or at the front of the belt, helping. Anything beyond that is pretty much run by Ambassadors.

The sad thing is that with the Ambassadors usually being self-directed, if someone doesn’t pull their weight, everyone else just has to work harder. Most of the time, I see Ambassadors strolling around in pairs, talking. Since most Ambassadors started as Sorters, they will occasionally hang out with their Sorting buddies from before they were promoted and talk.

I think the main criteria for being an Ambassador is “just be there longest” when an opening comes up. Fine, if that’s how you wanna do it, but it would be a lot better if there was a formal or better yet, executed training program for these junior managers.

But, remember what I said about my own development…it’s usually three seconds too late. My first night on the job was spent being shown safe working habits and how to Sort. Every role I’ve learned since then has been learned in the moment. Not optimal, but I can roll with it, I’ll care enough to figure it out. It’s just difficult to do what’s encouraged if I have a question – “ask an Ambassador” – since the vast majority of them rarely make eye contact and usually offer barely a grunt in response if you greet them.

Despite those obstacles and bad people habits, there’s still about a half dozen Ambassadors that I would call good. They got good because of their own drive and luck I’d guess.

Luck is never a good quality in a workplace…it always runs out.

If there was more of a drive to manage performance versus simply achieve results, night’s where we have fewer than 75 associates would be nights where we had everything we need rather than a crisis.

However, with the balance of the Ambassadors demonstrating bad habits to the associates, it’s no wonder we have the results we do. I’ve seen people just walk away from their aisles and be gone for 20-30 minutes. I’ve seen Pullers have an Ambassador cover their zone so they can go to the bathroom five minutes after returning from break. There is more than one associate who moves at a pace that suggests they are terrified their shoes will burst into flames if they walk too fast.

I’ve witnessed conversations that are completely not appropriate for work taking place. I thought long and hard about saying something about them – the favorite topic is speculating whether a small, heavy box has a dildo or other sex toy in it. Ultimately, I decided to just keep my head down and my focus on my work…this is a good strategy, since people’s hands move rather slowly while their jaws are flapping.

Anyway, it’s unfortunate that these issues are not addressed simply because people might quit. The adverse effect here is that the bad behaviors travel up the chain of command like a contagion, just lowering the performance bar. I even overheard one of our Shift Managers engaging in a dildo conversation with four other people. I was working across the belt from the other Shift Manager, a woman, and I looked up at her and her face registered absolutely no offense.

This bothered me…

The hell with that.

I sold myself on taking a job – any job – just to get off my couch. The emotional/mental benefits I mentioned above. The physical aspect of the job that I simply love…even though I feel broken for days after my four day work week ends.

The fact that it was a job at Amazon was an added benefit, maybe the exposure would allow me to stand out and be promoted or help out if another job I was qualified opened up. I think I’m at that level, now. I hear my name come up in positive sidebars. However, I don’t want to be an Ambassador if it means most of my peers suck at their job. I’ve been there and done that. Ain’t for me.

But the last benefit is likely going to be the most useful for me. When I left my last job, it was with what I considered good reason. The State of Oregon disagreed, so I’ve been denied unemployment benefits, which were part of my financial planning for my time off and job search. That disqualification is lifted once I’ve earned 4x my weekly unemployment benefit and then I can begin drawing unemployment bennies.

Well, when I took this temporary seasonal job, I didn’t know how long my assignment would last, because: no interview. What I found out is that I could be a seasonal employee for up to 11 months.

That’s a lot of seasons.

But if I quit once I reach my disqualification threshold, I’d be right back at square one with the great state again ruling that I quit for no good reason.

Oooh, conundrum.

I knew after a month that this job, four nights a week was too physically demanding for me to do long term. I wasn’t as sore as I’d been my first week, but my soreness was in my joints – from my fingers to my knees – and not in my muscles.

That’s no bueno.

Fortune smiled upon me when corporate decided to standardize work shifts. Instead of our station’s four day/9-430 shift, we were being moved to a three day/815-515 shift.

Three days…I could do three days.

Or…

We would be moved into a four hour shift, five days a week. There was going to be an 815-1215 shift and a 115-515 shift.

Out of those three possibilities, I got the absolute worst possible shift for me: 815-1215.

This was bad for me because, why?

Because we are always short staffed. I could easily see the, “Hey, can you extend to a full shift today?” conversation happening every. damn. shift.

This shift was also bad for mine, truly because I didn’t see getting home at 1230 as a benefit. A) I’d probably stop and close a dive bar at least once a week, which is counterproductive to my fitness goals; but, B) I also knew that I’d still need a shower before going to bed and that’s gonna put my bedtime closer to 2 in the morning after letting my hair dry. Two hours of prep time – between my 40 minute round trip bike commute and pre-bedtime shower – was half of the time I’d actually be getting paid to work.

Bad ROI.

Icing this scheduling cake was that it wasn’t sustainable when I return to work, which – despite my plotting against the fine folks at the unemployment office – I was/am hoping to do sooner, rather than later.

So, I told my dildo-talking boss that I couldn’t do the new schedule, even though I was taking the choice of shift assignment as a compliment.

He asked if I could do the three day rotation.

No.

How about on-call?

Hmmm…maybe!

I liked that idea. As summer weather gave way to less bike commuter friendly fall and winter weather, I could pick up as few as one shift a month and still remain on-call. That could work.

Added bonus, I can re-open my unemployment claim from the world of the underemployed versus unemployed. Also a good thing.

So, I decided to do that. My goal was to try and pick up three shifts a week until I go back to working full time and then at least two shifts per month after that.

We’ll see how it goes. And quickly, too…my last two days as a seasonal associate are this Friday and Saturday, then I switch to on-call.

If anyone wants to go play Sunday, let me know…I’ll have a weekend day off again!

And maybe – just maybe – I’ll be in the mood to celebrate a new job. I was one of only three people interviewed last weekend for a job with Columbia Sportswear. Here’s hoping that I finally break my Second Place streak.

I’ll know before Friday. Fingers crossed that I can celebrate a new job, successful transition to on-call at Amazon and not even needing my Machiavelli-esque earned unemployment.

Another win/win/win!

*Not* Sleeping With The Enemy

The Red Shirt Diaries #23

I got this completely random email today:

An unsolicited job offer.

In a protectorate that Britain has probably even forgotten is in its realm?

What could possibly go wrong?

I should totally do this. It’s only a few years and Luke says its great money.

Y’know, my survival instincts being what they are, instead of telling all of my friends and family, “See ya again…never” and disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle; I think I’ll just sit in my couch and laugh at Luke’s last name.

Dingledine.

Ok. Yeah. That’s unfortunate.

The Red Shirt Diaries #23

Oh, Wordpress…

Sometimes I’m surprised by what I encounter online, it’s why I refer to social media as asocial media.

Still, I consider WordPress a fairly safe haven from the general online weirdness. But every now and again, I get a surprise.

Usually, it’s a reader from a far off land reading my blog.

Sometimes, that reader is reading something truly unexpected like my blogs on kinks and fetishes or gay dating. I mean, when it’s a reader where homosexuals still face the death penalty, having this blog in your browser history could prove fatal.

But this search term really made me chuckle.

Oh, Wordpress…

Free Money = Best Money

The Silver Fox started my day off with an email about National Coffee Day and I was off to the races. Like I needed an excuse. But, having slept a full eight hours off just one Mellie last night, my options were dwindling as far as execution on drinking coffee at 4 pm was concerned: f&b, my normal neighborhood outlet for coffee was closing at 4 and I’m low grade mad at most of the other coffeehouses for a variety of manufactured offenses…so Nossa Familia was the only option.

An option I’m not even upset with. Somehow, they moved two blocks further from me – literally from Johnson to Lovejoy in the Alphabet District – without raising my hackles. Credit their awesome coffee and baristas that are largely either tolerably hipster, cute Portland guys or brash and sassy young women. I’m ok with all of those things.

I’d showered at 5 when I got home and then watched the disappointing Wrinkle In Time movie while my hair dried, which was a fine way to end my work day. Still, my quasi urgent need for coffee to end my melatonin induced zombie walking fog meant a courtesy brushing of the teeth and a ball hat to hide my bedhead was the maximum effort I was willing to expend in getting presentable.

Even with that minimal prep time, I arrived at the cafe three seconds after the family of three trundled in the door to Nossa. I could have not picked up that penny I saw on the street to give myself the edge, but my grandmother taught me better than that! I could have also sped up in order to beat them in the door, but I hate for my competitive streak to be obvious.

I ended up slowing down for them to complete their entry maneuvers and silently – I think – groaned.

I stood back and waited for the inevitable “expresso” as two things became immediately clear:

First, this family of three had never ordered coffee in Portland before. Triangulating the cafes location compared to any nearby hotels – the closest is probably either the Residence Inn at 9th and Overton or the Canopy At 9th and Glisan…6 or 8 blocks, respectively – I decided that these people had just gotten off the streetcar that stops outside the cafe on Lovejoy.

A Canopy guest would just inherently know how to order coffee and something told me that the ~$100/night difference in room cost between the ResInn and a hotel five blocks away, across the river and by the Convention Center was a reasonable trade off for a family from – I’m guessing – a flyover state.

Forgive me, the caffeine hasn’t fully kicked in yet – I’m only about two shots into my quad- shot mocha – and I’m still grumbly from the Kavanaugh shenanigans on Cap Hill this past week…for which flyover state folk get a lot of credit. Nonetheless, I have no problem imagining why someone casually passing by this cafe would want to come in. It’s adorable and serves great bean juice.

But these people were not casually strolling by.

The cute appropriately hipster barista was giving me some serious empathy from behind his La Marzocco as the sassy young woman taking orders tried to not be sassy to these folk who would not get it.

Second – you thought I’d forget I was enumerating, didn’t ya? – the Dad was driving this trip to the cafe because he had to take a whiz.

He ordered a 16 ounce drip and then quickly started looking around for the bathroom while his wife and son ordered. It’s upstairs and through the shared vestibule, but I wasn’t going to volunteer that information.

This was about the time the cute, appropriately hipster barista decided to recreationally fuck with these people. Dad had ordered a drip and pretty much ran off, returning and trying not to look desperate about the time mom finished ordering a decaf iced mocha for their son and starting in on her own struggle of a coffee drink, so he missed out on the being fucked with.

There’s a sign at chest level telling you the current bean offerings for drip and espresso.

Poor mom was fixated on the drink menu above and missed this detail.

She ordered a light roast latte and our bored bean slinger asked her which bean she wanted since they don’t stop at light, medium or dark roast here in Portland. Shade grown or farm altitude can affect how beans taste, so can overall region or continent on which the farm is located, then the roasting enhances – or obliterates, in the case of Charbucks – the bean’s natural flavor.

This poor thing gave up and desperately decided to just get a drip, probably mentally chastising her husband for not going before they left the motor inn. Still, there’s two drip options, so the cashier got in on the fun and asked which she wanted. And, this does make a difference, especially with drip. If I’m getting drip, I want nutty and chocolatey notes over fruity in my cup.

I imagined I could see her skull pulsating as it built up to a regular old explosion – blindly picked a bean, from the espresso assortment.

I questioned whether that penny was really worth this experience.

“That’s the decaf, do you want decaf?”, the barista clarified.

Oh, no…I’ll take the Guatemala Timoteo.

Good job, mom! You picked the “light roast” that you originally wanted on your second guess. Unfortunately…it wasn’t a drip option.

I was actually beginning to feel bad for this woman as the barista offered to make her an Americano – which she would have loved. The hubby helpfully pointed out the two drip offerings as she picked the third espresso option. When the barista – I think feeling a little guilty now – offered to make that an Americano, too, she just collapsed and said, “Just give me what he had”, utterly defeated.

While this was spiraling, the barista had gotten my 16 ounce iced quad-shot hazelnut latte order and was starting it as he presented the son’s iced decaf mocha. I decided to throw her a bone and said, “Oooh, the chocolate whipped cream here is so good!”, providing her and her son with a nice shared tasting moment to take the sting out of what had just happened.

“Do you want some on yours?”, the barista attentively asked me.

I declined, excitedly declaring that that would be like a Nutella latte while mentally warming the boy about the dangers of paying me too much attention.

I’m old, I get confused.

So, what does all this have to do with free money?

Well, while finding the penny on the way over was a net zero experience – since in my idle time watching this coffee house drama unfold I was lamenting the good old days in Shittatle when I would find random $20s blowing across the street – I was getting a free drink today. On my last visit, our appropriately hipster, cute barista had “punched me up” on my punch card for no reason, so my next – this – drink was free.

Oh, no! I accidentally made you a mocha!

Earned me this

I can re-pull the shots!

“No worries”, I told my cute little barista, “as long as it’s a quad-shot, everything else is just a delivery system!” I don’t know why I was so chipper.

Oh, yeah…a cute boy was paying me attention. That is apparently better than any number of espresso shots.

Finally tally – and the day has just begun for me: one cent, a free coffee and two tokens for free drinks in the future. It’s not a $20, but at $18.01, including tip, that’s as close as I’ve gotten in Portland. A penny is still better than nothing, right?

Somewhere on the web is a post from my original blog called Rolling Twenties detailing my lucrative wanderings in Seattle.

Good luck finding it.

Free Money = Best Money