I got underway on my little adventure at about 10:30 a.m. The Amazon warehouse didn't come up on the Google map specifically, but I figured that Whitestown was so small that it would be obvious where it was. I had 15 boxes of DVDs and CDs in the back of my mini-van. I was headed to the town of Whitestown, which is right next to Zionsville, Indiana.
The day was gray and rainy. The snow is mostly melted. The view was sad, a smoggy, foggy, dull slate-colored air and water and sky.
Even still, it's a-day-at-the-spa for me to be able to drive and listen to the radio uninterrupted. That part was great.
What was depressing was how ugly everything was. All the industrial areas south of the city, the old buildings with the windows blown out, the steam or smoke coming from the buildings. I thought about the dark underbelly of our consumer lives, and what a beautiful town I live in and how many other places are so sad and depressing looking. Gary, Indiana was sad, sad, sad. I've driven past this city a few times and never driven in - that is wrong, I will do that someday. But still, the drive was sad. Really, up until I reached Purdue University area, about an hour from my destination, everything was so ugly and blighted with huge billboards for, seemingly, only three things: Christian Churches, Lawyers for industrial accidents, and Casinos. I fell into a funk.
Oh, yeah, then the Indiana license plates. Each one says, "In God We Trust." Wow. I kept thinking, "Yeah, trust in God. Certainly your government isn't doing much for you."
I really seethe when I see how much religion is relied on in poorer, more industrial areas. It's so obvious that religion flourishes in the petrie dish of exploitive business practices, hands-off government policies, and the under-educated and under-opportunized.
And then, on the nigglingly annoying side, there's a lot of toll roads. I had to pay three times. I guess I don't really understand the toll roads well enough to condemn them. But I'm irritated by them. Out west there are not so many toll roads. You can definitely drive from Los Angeles to Spokane and not run into a single toll road.
I was pissy and sad about the whole endeavor. When I got to Whitestown I found that it was a metropolis of mostly warehouses. Warehouses and warehouses and the vast majority of them unmarked. Why unmarked? Military equipment? Poison? Hmmm... As I drove, I noticed many huge, oversized trucks - more trucks than cars. Is Indiana where all the large trucks come from? It's like I ran into a race of large trucks. And no obvious Amazon warehouse.
I couldn't find it. I finally stopped at a Starbucks...
(I was embarrassed to be SO happy to find a Starbucks - god, I'm a... well - in the old says I would say yuppie - what am I now? An urbanite? And yes, I admit it, I was glad to find a well-known chain-store for coffee! In fact, I was hoping to find a little local gem to eat lunch in, but the restaurants I saw were so decrepit, so without customers, so without a new coat of paint in the last fifty years - and not in a good way - that I felt glad to eat a burger from Burger King as I drove. I forgot how great a Whopper tastes. Oh god, I hate myself for writing this paragraph.)
Anyway, I stopped at a Starbucks. I asked if anyone knew where the Amazon warehouse was. I was pointed to another Starbucks employee on a break who was so kind and gentle and sweet. He took ten minutes and found the address and even sent me the instructions on my iphone.
That's when I reached the nadir of my trip. I could not find the place, even with the instructions. It's a veritable NYC of warehouses there. Only many of the roads don't have names. There's a new housing development nearby too: "Anson, Indiana" it's called. There are just a few townhouses, lots of empty planned lots for houses, a school in the middle and three large mega-church sized houses of worship along the outside. One is called Eagle Church, and it too looks like a warehouse. A church that looks like a warehouse! For the people who work in warehouses! So they can spend their days off at another warehouse!
For about ten or fifteen minutes seriously considering that I would not find it and I would have to drive all the way home with all of my stuff.
I saw one warehouse that I figured just had to be it. But there were no signs for Amazon anywhere. However, there was a line of very, very large trucks - mostly Fed-Ex and UPS among many others in line at a booth outside a gated parking and loading area, also filled with trucks. I got my car in line. Me in my mini-van, about to be trampled between two big, gigantic trucks. At the booth, the gate-man was confused by me. I suddenly felt weird and "kooky" and silly. I said I had some boxes to deliver. After much calling back and forth between the booth and someone in the warehouse I was directed to enter and go to loading dock 11. It was hilarious. The loading dock was made for a very large truck. I felt like I had landed on another planet. Everything was oversized, I mean - even in my mini-van, I felt like an ant.
That's when everything changed. I was greeted by this really nice-but-officious woman who was in charge of receivables. First she told me I was completely wrong to just drive in with my stuff. They don't do that. You have to register with them to deliver, and then get assigned a number and then you have to make an appointment. There were dozens of trucks unloading and everything was on a time schedule. You have to print something out before you arrive. That's what the guy at the booth needs. On top of all of that, this is their busiest and mostly scheduled time of year and this day was practically their busiest of the busiest. I felt a like a boob.
Then the woman took my stuff, pointed to another door and asked that I repark my car and meet her there. I was a little afraid I was going to be reprimanded more severely. But that's when I saw the inside! I had to stay behind this fenced-in area but I could see everything, (that's the picture I took with my phone above) and I'm telling you, it was just like I imagined it - no, wait. it was much better. It almost did look like Santa's workshop. There were people emptying boxes and inputing the contents into a computer system and then putting the cardboard on a conveyer belt that takes it off to be recycled. There were people on two higher exposed floors, walking around with little carts - you know, like at the library, filling it up with books and CDs and other smaller stuff to fill orders. There were people zipping around on segway-like contraptions and beeping before entering aisles.
I told this woman how seeing the inside of this place was really a thrill for me and she lit up and smiled. She explained how this part of the warehouse was for smaller items. She pointed to another end where there were people wrapping packages. She told me they work for free and then Amazon donates the money paid by customers to have their packages wrapped to the charity of the person-who's-wrapping's choice. Does that convoluted sentence makes sense? (I wondered how many donations were for churches, but still, what a great policy!) She told me how Amazon's always had this policy. She told me the whole warehouse was "green" - had special lighting that turned off if there were no people in the area, how all the desks and all the aisles with goods were constructed from recycled materials. Then she blushed and said, "I love this place. I love this company. And I've worked for some bad ones, but Amazon is great."
I was blindsided. I did not expect this at all. The people there DID seem really happy. People were smiling, music was playing - oh yes! They had music playing loud, really loud - and it was good. In fact, they were playing that new Sting song... God I can't remember the name but it's from the new album - "If On A Winter's Night." Anyway, the point is, there was music, it wasn't schmatzy Christmas music, it appeared to be a happy work environment.
When I left the man at the booth laughed and we talked for a moment. He is Kenyan, and came to the U.S. only four years ago. He said he loved working for Amazon too. America! What a country!
I had to pinch myself as I was driving off. It seemed almost orchestrated for my benefit. WEIRD.
I drove home feeling so happy. It really was an adventure. I felt a lot better about Amazon. The warehouses didn't depress me as I drove home, I felt optimistic. Even as I got towards Gary again, it was dark and the lights and steam coming from the factories were romantic looking instead of dark and sooty. I know I was enchanted by my Amazon experience, and that it colored everything, but wow. What a day.
And best of all, now it's listed on Amazon as: available now! Yeah! Yippity yah! It took 8 hours and $40 in gas and $10 in tolls and an extra 2000 calories I probably wouldn't have eaten, but still... I would say it was a day well spent.