New truck? Didn’t make my butt look big, but definitely caused a weight problem, plus much crying and swearing.

Warning: I don’t come off well in this story.

I was petulant. I whined. I yelled at my husband (even though it wasn’t his fault). I stomped, swore, shook my fist at the heavens, hyperventilated, and lost sleep.

I considered all kinds of unspeakable acts to try to get out of what I considered a horrifying situation: having to take a written test and an actual driving test in order to get the license I needed to legally tow our 5th wheel.

“Wait. What?” you say. “Emily. Haven’t you been driving that get-up for more than three years already?”

Yes. Yes, I have. I even wrote about what it was like to learn how.

But… our May 2017 upgrade to the new BFT (B is for Big, T is for Truck, and you can figure out the F), a 2017 Dodge Ram 3500, caused us to gain enough combined vehicle weight rating that it bumped us up into a new level of driver’s licensing requirements in our home state of Texas.

Oh hello, Hell. How very unpleasant to encounter you. I am not gonna like this.

If we’d stayed under a 26,000-lb Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) with the truck/5th wheel combo, as we had with the prior BFT, a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500, we could have kept our regular old Class C licenses, and motored on as usual.

But the Ram put us over the limit of 26,000 pounds GCVWR. Thus, Class A non-commercial licenses would be required to keep us legal on the roads. And that meant:

  • Written test
  • Driving test
  • Dammit and FML

Top: under 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Silverado
(Orrrrr… maybe not. See embarrassing update at bottom of page.)
Bottom: over 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Ram

We bought the new truck in Kentucky in May, and registered it in Texas, but then continued to travel out of state until after Christmas. When we returned to the Lone Star State, we started working through the license upgrade process.

In January, we studied the appropriate material from the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook.

Don’t panic.
If you’re doing this for an exempt/ non-commercial license like we did, there’s a lot of material in here you can skip.
(Screen cap of handbook cover from

In February, we took our 20-question multiple choice tests, and both of us passed on the first try.

We then scheduled our driving skills tests for March, and here’s where things go sideways for me.

Since The Toad was all set up and hooked up for our latest work camping gig as the home sweet home it is, we borrowed a friend’s trailer for practicing and testing purposes. Because his trailer is rated in the same weight class as our 5th wheel, we were able to use it legitimately on test day.

The trailer’s class is 14,000 lbs, which put our GCVWR at about 26,000, which is what was required for the test.

But practice didn’t go well for me.

It probably went even worse for my patient, long-suffering husband, who coached me through it, but he never let on. Yes, nominations for his sainthood will be accepted. Maybe not by the folks at the Vatican, but definitely by me.

I hit curbs. I backed in the wrong direction. I couldn’t get the feel of the damn thing. And worst of all? I knew it was my fault.

I know I should have been making myself practice these skills all along — it’s been 3.5 years since we bought the RV — but I haven’t.

On the outside, I swore. A lot.

On the inside, I cried.

But I knew I needed to do this. I could see the benefit of the training. And I drew inspiration from the knowledge that I’m far from the first woman to drive a big-ass contraption like this. I know women who RV solo. Hell, I’ve interviewed three of them.

As stated above, yes, I have been towing our 38′ RV all this time.

And in the limited situations in which I’d take the wheel, I was very good at it. So good that Tim would usually nap or work on his laptop while it was my turn to drive.

I was safe, skilled, and conscientious — at going forward. On highways. And into parking spots in gigantic lots where I had zero likelihood of having to put our 10 tires, 13+ tons, and 60 feet of vehicular insanity in reverse.

In other words, I was a wimp about it, and relied on Tim as a safety net for doing the tricky stuff.

(Go ahead. Close your eyes and shake your head from side to side with an audible sigh of incredulity. I deserve it, and I’ll wait.)

In order to pass the road test for this license upgrade, I’d have to be able to show proficiency in situations that I have almost always effectively avoided: in-town driving, backing up, and parallel parking.

And after our second practice session, I felt so demoralized and incompetent that I rescheduled my test for a later date, because to be quite honest, I would not have passed me. I knew I was unqualified, and I did not want to go through the trauma of failing the test and having to repeat it.

So with Tim’s help, I dug back in, because I know I need to be able to do these things on my own, without coaching, even though I hate all of it, and I don’t want to do it.

I decided to approach the parking and backing skills like I did yoga.


Hear me out.

When I started doing yoga, there were poses I couldn’t access (yoga-speak for “pretzel myself into”). After regularly practicing the same maneuvers over and over again, I could then perform them correctly, and with ease, almost every time — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And on those occasions when I messed up a yoga position? I knew how to make a series of tiny corrections to get myself back on track without damaging anything  — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And power to the namaste, y’all. That’s what worked! I’m still not what anyone would call great at parking and backing up, but I’ve progressed enough to know how and when to pull forward and fix it — which is what I had to do during the parallel parking portion of my test, and it’s the only “bad” mark I got. I passed!

Tim’s report card is on the left, with perfect marks.
Mine’s on the right, with that one ding for parallel parking control, but I am thrilled beyond coherent speech that it took me only two tries.

So now we’ve completed the whole process, we’re legally licensed just in time to roll out of Texas again, and wow, I hope we never have to repeat that. Our next home state may be determined in part by whether or not we’d have to!

Practice makes perfect-ish.
It also occasionally crushes safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones. I never meant to hurt you.

Important note: I intentionally did not try to tell you whether or not you might be required to upgrade your license or how to go about doing it, because this story is about me. But someone I am lucky to know, an ever reliable source of information and recommendations, has already done those first two things. If you are a Texas RV’er, you’ll find all the information you need in this very thorough FAQ by my friend, David, of Landmark Adventures.

Embarrassing update: Tim read this post, and said, “Um… I guess maybe I didn’t make it clear, or didn’t even tell you, but… we were over the weight limit with the Silverado too.”

Ack! Just not as much??? Meaning we went from somewhat illegal to even more illegal, which is all really just plain illegal? Oy. Back to hyperventilating…

Work camping, Take II: This time, everybody wins

We’re doing more work camping!

No, no. Not for Amazon again. That was… memorable… but not worthy of a repeat. Here’s why.

This time, some friends who live and work in Kerrville, TX, made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, and to make a long story short, we’re spending 2 months helping with spring maintenance at one of our favorite parks in Texas.

It’s a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with the acreage, trails, riverfront and wildlife to show for it.
We think it’s a perfect camping destination for those who want the feel of a state park while exploring the Texas Hill Country. Yes, longer RVs can fit here (I’ve seen several with 3 AC units on top, which is a big clue), but spots that big are limited, as are spots with full hook-ups. Call the park to check availability.

Our camping fees are waived, in exchange for volunteering our time for various maintenance and upkeep tasks. The park did do background checks on each one of us, but there’s been no strict accounting of our hours. Rather, we’ve proven by example that we are willing to do what needs to be done, and to complete jobs as assigned.

Those jobs have been very reasonable in the level of effort and skill required, and we find it exceptionally rewarding that our work has offered immediately visible results. Plus, it’s a great feeling to know that everything we do improves visitors’ experiences at the park.

We usually work together, but there have been a few blocks of time that Tim has gone out on his own. Both of us have battled upper respiratory crud over the past month, and the weather has often been wet and uncooperative, so unfortunately, there have been stretches of several days when we were unable to work at all.

We hope that the tasks we have completed make up in quality and value for those missed days, if not in actual accrued hours. Here’s a quick photo essay of some of the jobs we’ve done.

We spent our first couple of weeks replacing picnic table tops and benches.
See what I mean about immediately visible results?
What a difference!

And hey, look at the view we had from our “office.”
Hello, Guadalupe River.

We have access to the park’s maintenance compound for tools, supplies, and equipment, including golf carts, so that we don’t have to use our truck.
No cats were harmed in the use of this golf cart. That’s one of the park’s many feral kitties under there.

We’ve swept out cabins, to make sure they’re free of bugs, grit, and cobwebs for incoming guests.

We’ve helped clean out fire rings, which are used depressingly often as trash receptacles, and in the process of doing that one day, we encountered a mysterious ring of raw broccoli.
I have no explanation.

The scourge of Texas: fire ants.
For those unfamiliar, this is a fire ant hill, and if you’ve ever experienced fire ant bites, you know to steer clear.
Which is why…

… one of Tim’s jobs was to sprinkle killer crystals on as many fire ant hills as he could find. And there were lots.
See all those little pests running for their lives?
We are not sad.

We’ve also swept and mopped the rec hall between rentals.

Swept off the porch too…

… and wiped down the kitchen and serving areas.

And yes, we’ve done this too.
Cleaning public bath houses is not my top choice of tasks, but it needed to be done, and we were available, so we pulled on rubber gloves, and we did it.

Oh, and did I mention that our work is often closely monitored?
Our supervisors tend to show up for a drink at happy hour, and they never tell us we’re doing a poor job, so I guess it ain’t so bad.

And now that spring has arrived in the Hill Country, we are starting to make plans for our next move. We’ve been in Texas for nearly 3 months, which was about 2 months longer than planned. No regrets, but we’re feeling a little twitchy…

So where to next?

Nothing’s firm yet, but after spending so much time here in Texas, near our younger son and my side of the family, we’re thinking it’s time to make our way toward Washington, to hang out with our older son and Tim’s side of the family. So convenient of all of them to confine themselves to only two states, yes?

We expect to be rolling again by the end of this month.

He ain’t heavy, but his new shed is: helping my brother with a build, after Hurricane Harvey

Let me start by telling you what we didn’t do.

I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea: We did not go rolling into Port Aransas like white knights on horseback to help rebuild the town — although that was kind of my original intent in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. See?

What's next for us? This screen cap of a text I sent back in August helps tell the story. In short: More hard work, but it'll be more personally meaningful. In long: It's now been just over four months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast. My brother's family lives in one of those coastal towns. Their house sustained minor damage. Their business, quite a bit. Their hometown of Port Aransas was devastated and faces many more months of recovery. So in lieu of a traditional Christmas celebration, we're gathering the family — including our two sons who are both skilled in construction — for a New Year's working party in Port Aransas. Our caravan of 7 departs San Antonio tomorrow, and we'll spend a week building a replacement fence and shed at my brother's house, and might be able to help some other folks out if time allows. We did not exchange traditional wrapped-in-a-box gifts this year. We chose to spend our money on this experience. And that's how we like to roll. #thebestgiftscantbewrapped #familyworkparty #bestchristmasgiftever #hurricaneharvey #harveyrelief #portaransas #portastrong #ownlessdomore

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We didn’t even rebuild anything at my brother’s house, which survived comparatively unscathed after the Category 4 hurricane came through on August 25, 2017, leaving 75-85% of the town’s homes damaged or destroyed. (Source: Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan, in this article from

Although we thought we were going to be rebuilding his fence, which had been damaged by the hurricane, needs dictated a storage shed as top priority. While he and my sister-in-law continue to search for a new location for their shop, some of the shop’s contents are taking up a significant chunk of their garage space — space they need for supplies to rebuild the fence and fix other damage. Make sense now?

So here’s what we did do.

We cleaned and repainted some siding on the house, which looked pretty dinged up after having who-knows-what-all hurled at it during Harvey’s 110-132 mph winds.

And with the help of several construction/renovation experts in the family — including our 20-year-old son who drove down from Austin, and our 22-year-old son who flew in from Washington — we built a shed over four days, to the point that my brother and sister-in-law can handle the finishing touches themselves.

It was our family Christmas Vacation, just delayed to January because of our jobs at Amazon.

It was the first time all of us had been together in more than two years.

(And by “all” I mean the two of us, our older son and his girlfriend, our younger son, my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, my sister-in-law’s mom and her husband, and the 9 cats, 2 Great Danes, 1 bearded dragon, and handful of exotic fish that rule my brother’s house.)

And it was exactly what we wanted.

For those who’ve never heard of Port Aransas, Texas, it’s a quirky little beach town just east of Corpus Christi, on a barrier island along the Gulf coast.

Population of Port Aransas: about 3400 (before the hurricane, anyway)

RV parks in town have reopened, and seemed to be doing booming business, with what we surmised to be a combination of regular Winter Texans, temporarily displaced Port A residents, and workers who have been hired or are volunteering for rebuilding efforts.

And what do I mean by quirky?

Well, scenes like this weren’t unusual even before the hurricane.

Yes, you can drive on the beach, and also camp overnight in an RV or a tent.
But don’t just show up. An inexpensive permit is required, and there are restrictions on location and length of stay.
You can find all that information right here.

How bad was the damage from Harvey?

Here are some numbers from the Island Moon, in an issue published just over a month after the hurricane hit.

Further statistics, including a staggering amount of debris removed from the island, are in Mayor Bujan’s Facebook post dated October 2, 2017.

What’s Port A like now?

It is a town with an already strong identity, in the process of repairing itself. The sights and sounds of renovation, regrowth, and rebuilding were unmistakeable, unavoidable — and encouraging. Some of our old favorite places like the San Juan Restaurant, Gratitude, Irie’s, Stingray’s, and Winton’s Island Candy have reopened, and more businesses will reopen as repairs are completed.

But as mentioned in the graphic above, some will not return at all. We have no doubt that new friends — and just about everyone in Port A is your friend — will bring fresh ideas and establishments to take their place, and we look forward to our next visit!

Scenes like this are still common on sidewalks, although my brother assures me that this is nothing compared to the debris piles that lined the streets in September.

And if the town didn’t have an official flag before, it does now, at least temporarily: the blue tarp.
They’re festooning buildings all over town, because as you might imagine, roofers are in high demand and hard to find at the moment.

But you’ll also be greeted by scenes like this in Port A…

… and this …

… and this.

What can you do to help?

Visit, and spend money. Many hotels, RV parks, restaurants, and shops have reopened, and Port Aransas needs your business!

Or use your internet search skills to find ways to donate your time, skills, money, and/or supplies. As ever, research any charitable entity before you commit your dough, although I will help get you started by pointing you toward the Rebuild Port Aransas Facebook Page, which seems to be a locally run clearinghouse for relief efforts.

And finally, watch this 3-minute video. It shows the extent of Harvey’s destruction, and says a lot about the strength of the people who call Port Aransas home.

Author’s note: This post was unsolicited, and I was not compensated in any way by any entities mentioned above. I do not represent Rebuild Port Aransas or (appears at end of video in link above), nor should my mention of them be considered endorsements. All opinions are my own.

Work camping for Amazon, Part III: Boy, did we ever Do More!

A lot More. More than we’d even expected. It was just… not really the type of More we’d had in mind.

(New here? Click to review Part I and/or Part II.)

On the plus side, this post conveniently doubles as our 4th quarter update, because we stayed in Tennessee for these jobs, from mid-September all the way until December 24. Other 2017 quarterly reviews are at 1, 2, and 3.

December in middle Tennessee: it didn’t snow, but we endured several frosty windshields and overnight lows below freezing.

I am now typing at you from our frequent home base of San Antonio, TX, where we are looking forward to a delayed holiday celebration with my side of the family and both of our boys next week. Both of them!

Heh. And look at what we found, just three miles from where we’re parked.

But back to my Amazon Camperforce wrap-up. I’ll start you off with some statistics.

  • Where we worked: Amazon’s BNA-3 Fulfillment Center in Murfreesboro, TN
  • Department: picking
  • Weeks on the job: 13 (starting dates are flexible; we chose a 3-month window)
  • Number of days we reported to work (most, but not all, were full 10-hour shifts): 57 for Tim, 56 for Emily. I took one unpaid day off for my annual girlfriends’ weekend, which they conveniently held in Nashville so that I could maximize my escape/drinking time.
  • Number of hours worked: 562 for Tim, 552 for Emily. For each of us, 47 of those hours were overtime, for which we were compensated at time and a half. We also earned 5 hours each of paid time off, which we took on one gloriously lazy Thursday morning.
  • Gross pay at $11.50/hour (wage varies by Camperforce location and shift, so do your homework): about $6700 each
  • Completion bonus: about $575 each
  • Total combined gross earnings: about $14,550
  • Additional compensation: As part of the program, Amazon paid our campground rent for the duration, saving us about $1500.
  • Miles walked: 660 for Tim, 463 for Emily (average was about 8 miles/day), and yes, I literally walked my butt off. Had to buy all new pants!
  • Number of items picked: Maybe 800/day each? I’d love to be able to give you a specific total for each of us, but our numbers varied widely depending on which part of the warehouse we were working in, and neither one of us kept daily track of the amounts shown on our scanners. I can give you a range though: a “slow” day would be about 600 items over 10 hours. If we were really hot and got lots of multi-picks, we could handle upwards of 1000 items per day, each.
  • Most frequently-picked item: socks

But as Tim pointed out, there is a less labor-intensive way to do this. It just requires having a large chunk of cash lying around. “If someone had invested $50K in Amazon stock in mid-September, and sold it the day our jobs ended, they would have made as much money as Emily and I earned, combined.”

We had to work on Thanksgiving Day, but everyone was released a few hours early. These are our “pardoned turkey” faces.

So how’d I do with my three predictions from Part I?

  1. We will be using our time off for little other than subsistence chores and recuperation: cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, eating and rest. TRUE. We did all those things on our days off, and very little else. We broke with our usual travel tradition/preference and did no exploring of the area beyond running essential errands. Not only that, but our work evenings took on a very set routine of setting out the next day’s clothes, packing lunches, and doing everything possible to minimize morning trauma before our 30-minute commute and 0730 clock-in time.

    It’s harder for me to do this than you might think, but I managed to pull it off a few times.

  2. Social media and overall computer use will decline. Markedly. TRUE. OwnLessDoMore’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram dropped to 2-3 posts/week, instead of my usual goal of 1/day. Not only did I not have that kind of time, I also lacked resources on my camera roll, and photos are necessary to grab social media interest. We hardly went anywhere but Amazon, and we were not allowed to carry phones/cameras into the work areas, so I relied heavily on throwback posts and memories.

    When we did go out, we did our best to patronize locally-owned restaurants. One day it was a cute little cash-only BBQ shack.

  3. We will complete this deployment. By comparison to the ones Tim made during his military career, this is a short one! TRUE. We did it. We performed well, exceeding minimum requirements by far, and we stuck it out until the final clock-out at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 23. We’re proud of what we did, and we have no regrets.

    Also? I won a thing!
    There were raffles, contests, games and other incentives to keep employees motivated during Peak. Yay me!

That said, we also have no intentions of doing this again. I discussed a few reasons why in  Part II. Here are a few more.

  • This job is not a good fit for someone like me, who tends to hate all the things everyone else just loves and thinks are so amazing (I even hate the word “amazing”) and must have because they are trendy. Like tutus for grown women. Seriously? I guess those were a thing back in the fall, and I picked dozens and dozens, each one making me twitch a little more than the last. Actually, I’m not a big fan of things, period, and being surrounded for so long by so much evidence of consumerism took a mental toll.
  • On a related note, it didn’t even feel like we were helping deliver Christmas joy for the season, by picking things like children’s toys, winter coats, the year’s hottest electronics and games, etc. There were some of those to be sure, but mostly we picked socks (have I mentioned all the socks?), underwear, items for overindulged pets, and an occasional sex toy. Not that we’re opposed to sex toys — you do you, and have a very Merry Christmas while you’re at it  — but I’m pretty sure that was not in the proverbial brochure.
  • And finally, the way Amazon crams merchandise items randomly into overstuffed bins might keep their company-wide productivity and efficiency levels high, but it’s very difficult on the individual worker, worrying about making quotas, and knowing how much easier it would be if things were organized in a better manner. Many times, I became so frustrated, I had to mentally repeat the following mantra until I calmed the hell back down: It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to understand it. I just. Have. To do it.

    Been there.
    Done that.
    Got the t-shirts.

I won’t end on a negative note, though. Here are some things we liked:

  • The Camperforce program makes it easy for couples to work the same schedule — a great perk for RV-dwellers, most of whom share only one vehicle.
  • Being on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, we were able to leave work at work. All the pressure we felt to make quota disappeared the second we clocked out for the day.
  • The entire application process was handled online, and we were able to have our mandatory pre-employment drug testing done quickly and conveniently, where we were parked at the time in August.
  • Neither one of us got injured or fired, and Tim’s the only one of us who got sick, with a minor head cold during the very last week.
  • We made some great friends!

    Penni & Chip were our next door neighbors at the campground, and we all worked the same shift.
    What started out as the convenience of a daily carpool turned into a lasting friendship, and we look forward to crossing paths with each other again.

And hey, we now have a never-ending source of campfire stories. “Oh. You ordered something from Amazon today? Let me tell you a little bit about the time we worked there…”


This is the “After” installment in my trilogy chronicling our 3-month gig with Amazon’s Camperforce. Other chapters quite logically include the “Before” and “During.” All should be linked to each other now; let me know if I missed one.

For more information, feel free to dig around on the Camperforce web site, and to check out this exposé that appeared on Wired, or these articles from The Guardian, Marketplace, and Ozarks First. And if you search Google for “Camperforce,” you’ll also find a lot of personal blogs written by other RV’ers about their experiences. Mine is definitely not the only voice in the chorus!

Work camping for Amazon, Part II: Whooooaaaah, we’re halfway there!

Here’s the Halfway Q&A.

I’ve interviewed myself for you. Seemed like a good format for breaking up the text a bit, since I’ve got no photos to accompany this post. We can’t take our phones anywhere in the building other than the one lunch room that’s located outside the security check point, so my camera roll is suffering from neglect.

(To review Part I first, click here.)

Do you like your jobs?


Tell me again what you’re doing there?

The job we chose is picking, meaning we walk all over the cavernous fulfillment center — up to 12 miles/day — pulling items off shelves and out of cardboard bins.

We’re pretty sure that most items we pick are for pending orders, but sometimes we get requests for such large batches of a single item that we suspect we’re just pulling non-sellers off the floor in order to make room for newer merchandise.

We see no customer information whatsoever, so we can’t use that as a clue.

(Note: there are other positions available to Camperforce associates; please keep in mind as you read that I’m speaking only about picking.)

Are you going to quit?


We believe in honoring our commitments. We are not being mistreated, and we do not feel unappreciated. We just don’t enjoy the work, and that’s not a good enough reason for us to bail.

This is a temporary situation, and the end is in sight. We will continue to do our jobs, and to do them well. We are both consistently meeting or exceeding our weekly quotas, and we feel good about that.

So what would you consider “good enough” reasons to quit?

Hmmmm. Accident, injury, serious illness. Family emergency. Unsafe or intolerable working conditions.

Look. We knew going in that these would be tedious, clock-punching, entry level jobs involving repetitive physical motions that might cause stress and/or pain. What we did not know was what it would be like to do that kind of work for 40-60 hours/week. Now we do, and we don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t stick with it.

What are some of the good things that have come out of this so far?

We’ve made new friends.

We’ve learned a lot about our own strengths, and the bonding that’s built by sharing the same work experience with one’s spouse — which is new to us.

We have a deeper appreciation for the hourly blue collar workers of the world, who come home after a physically demanding day to the even further physical stresses of cooking, cleaning, laundry, household repairs, grocery shopping, kids’ school and extracurricular commitments, etc. We thought we had a clue as to what that might be like. We did not.

We’ve also learned a lot about how this one small part of a very complex global corporate operation works. It’s really kind of neat to be an insider, and when we look back on it later, we will harbor no regrets about accomplishing this task. We just probably won’t repeat it.

Is it worth it?

Financially, not so much. As I mentioned in Part I, we took these jobs for the experience, not the income, and we know we are privileged to be able to make that choice.

Without divulging specific numbers, I can tell you that Tim’s military retirement pension pays more per month for him to sit on his ass, than these jobs do for both of us to work our asses off, full time, at $11.50/hour.

However, as part of the Camperforce program, Amazon also pays our campground fees, so we are living rent-free for three months, and that’s a valuable perk! Also, we’ll both be eligible for a completion bonus of $1/hour worked when we’re done.

So what’s it really like to be a picker?

Well, it’s kind of like being a personal shopper. We push carts up and down aisles filled with merchandise, and we get a list, but our list comes to us one item at a time, on the screen of a hand-held bar code scanner. We don’t see the next item until we’ve correctly picked the current one.

The scanner also tells us where to go to get the item, in a numerical code that gives us the specific building section, floor level, row, aisle, shelf, and bin — kind of like going to find a book in a library. But unlike a library, where all the books in section are going to have something in common (topic, author, genre, etc.), merchandise bins are a hot mess.

In a single bin, we might find four cell phone cases, a multipack of toddler socks, two women’s high-lo swing tunics in turquoise, a handbag, a pair of flip flops, a pair of leggings, a set of false eyelashes, 2 boxes of granola bars, an 8-pack of AAA batteries, and a bottle of shampoo. Imagine a Costco filled with kitchen junk drawers. Multiply its size by at least ten. That’s our workplace.

If you’re picturing the final warehouse scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’re in the ballpark. In fact, I hum the theme song in my head fairly often while I work.

And then? Realize that this. never. stops. This process goes on around the clock at this single Amazon fulfillment center, which is but one of many around the globe.

Here. This video will show you.

So are you just in daily, miserable pain?

For the first week or two, yes. Yes, we were. Lots of ibuprofen went down, and we really regretted not having a bath tub to soak in.

We invested in good shoes (Asics gels for me, and a pair of Brooks runners for Tim), so foot pain has not been much of an issue.

However, it took several days to get our forearms and wrists used to holding scanners — which are surprisingly heavy — for several hours at a time. The key for me has been to switch my scanner hand from right to left several times throughout the 10-hour shift.

Most days, we come home with tired legs and sore necks/shoulders. I can usually cure mine with some stretching, and be pain-free and ready to go at it again the next morning. I take ibuprofen only at work, and only if I feel I can’t make it through the rest of my shift without it.

Can you take overtime or time off?

Yes, but we haven’t. We have chosen thus far not to take voluntary overtime or time off, although both have been offered at various points during the 6 weeks we’ve put in so far. For this experience to be worth it to us, we plan to work our guaranteed minimum 40 hours/week; and for it to be bearable for us, we plan to work no more than that unless we have to.

As Christmas approaches, we do expect overtime to become mandatory, and we will of course put in those extra hours as required.

Would you recommend this job to others?


Understand that you’ll work hard, that you’ll be on the B-team, that you will have to obey strict rules with regard to scheduling and quotas, that you may not feel like your work has value or meaning — and that it’s temporary.

That said, we do feel valued and appreciated by the management team. They seem genuinely happy to have CamperForce workers onboard to help them through the holiday shopping season, known on the inside as Peak.

And Amazon does offer some onsite niceties that make these jobs easier to handle:

  • Free coffee and cocoa in the break rooms
  • Free feminine hygiene products in the ladies rooms (when you’ve got only a 15-minute break, and your purse is in a locker nearly a quarter mile away, this is really helpful)
  • Water dispensers throughout the warehouse
  • A health center with a small selection of free OTC medicines, and certified EMTs on duty for more serious needs
  • Rows of microwaves and fridges, plus napkins and plasticware in the break rooms
  • Free PPE (personal protection equipment) machines, containing belts, compression sleeves, gloves, utility knives, reflective safety vests, and even ponytail holders
  • Sanitizing hand gel dispensers throughout the building
  • A food truck in the parking lot at lunch time on weekdays
  • And we were able to get free flu shots there too!

What’s the most memorable item you’ve picked?

A red iPhone home button sticker.

Talk about a needle in a haystack! Imagine trying to find that little circle, measuring 3/8” in diameter, in a teensy clear plastic pouch, in your deepest, most chaotic kitchen junk drawer. I’ll wait.

Honorable mentions:

  • gladiator sandals for a toddler
  • a corset in size 5XL
  • a multipack of men’s thongs in XL
  • a box of tissues
  • various ummm… battery operated marital aids
  • a pair of spats
  • a harmonica
  • a 5-lb bag of plain white all-purpose flour
  • and lots and lots of tutus, bras, and underwear

Got more questions? Ask below, and I’ll do my best!


This is the “During” installment in my trilogy chronicling our 3-month gig with Amazon’s Camperforce. Other chapters quite logically include the “Before” and  “After.”

For more information, feel free to dig around on the Camperforce web site, and to check out this exposé that appeared on Wired, or these articles from The Guardian, Marketplace, and Ozarks First. And if you search Google for “Camperforce,” you’ll also find a lot of personal blogs written by other RV’ers about their experiences. Mine is definitely not the only voice in the chorus!