And the road goes on forever...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When Life Gets Down To Elements

Very early on, I hear the birds starting to chirp in the tree directly behind my bedroom through the open window. I never need an alarm. I am used to rising very early. I always leave the window open here, regardless of season. It puts me to sleep or grounds me to hear the ocean roar in the background of traffic noise and later when the highway is quiet, the whistle buoy. On damp mornings I even smell the ocean, while cozied under my covers.

By 5 a.m. I can tell if it is going to be foggy, rainy, or the rarity, sunny for the dawn, since I can see out my clerestory window to the distant eastern sky. I smell the coffee that has gone off a little earlier on automatic deployment, thank God. I trudge to the bathroom and my cat comes running from the front room to rub my legs and talk to me about how he wants his breakfast NOW, not when his automatic feeder goes off nearer to 6 a.m. He always sleeps with me but gets up even earlier about 4:30 a.m.

Blinky-eyed, I get the vanilla creamer packets and dump two into my cup and pour the coffee. Sometimes I hit the heater button but lately don’t have to. I jump up onto the step stool ottoman to flip on the cable internet modem and fire up my computer. While I wait for it to get online I change the cat water and pet him. With coffee in hand and computer running I settle back into the recliner and turn the heating pad on to warm up my sore back while I check email then go on to check Yahoo for news and weather and then onto several newspapers and fleetingly, blogs I try and follow. I write some emails and delay till the last minute rising from the chair to go to the bathroom for my shower and get-ready routine.

Usually, everyday, I try and vacuum and sweep; after all, I only have 400 square feet, how tough is that for a housekeeping routine? The cat is losing lots of hair lately and if I don’t vacuum daily it seems to build up in tufts throughout our domain. I make my lunch and clean out and replace the coffee stuff for its next automatic disgorgement. I water my deck plants; I make the bed; I shower and dress in my WalMart uniform (navy shirt, tan or denim pants). I take special care with my feet, delaying until the last second putting them into their shoe corral for the day. On the way out, I empty the garbage and am sure to grab my book for lunchtime reading.

I drive only about two miles down the highway, gazing at the bay all the time I can to see the nature of the water (tide out? tide in? winds blowing whitecaps already? how many boats? cloud cover? and mostly “why can’t I be out there right now on a boat?”) before I approach the final short quick turn to head eastwards towards WalMart where the bay drops away behind me. I pull over at the 7-Eleven to pick up E, the in-your-face-woman from L.A. that I now take to work every day. I found out she was walking over a mile as she doesn’t have a car and since I pass right by there I offered to bring her with me. Typical of her generation or her heritage as a tough Latina from L.A. she has yet to ever offer me a thank you for this service and savings to her feet. But it’s OK. I know my karma feels better for it. It gives me a connection to people I normally would have no connection to. I would not want her life.

We park way out in the North 40 employee area and walk into the grind together, where in minutes I will clock in like some automaton. My daytime life now is ruled by this time clock, which after swiping my bar coded name tag, gives me options to think for it since it doesn’t have quite as developed brain as myself: am I clocking in, am I clocking out; am I going to meal; am I back from meal? Meanwhile, someone has crossed some wires on all us new hires and we appear on the screen as “You are not scheduled to work today” which causes each of us to have to do numerous other steps including choosing a manager’s name for an override of the system, then typing in how long that mysterious manager has required us to work when we are not scheduled and ad infinitum. When it finally spits out its message “Badge accepted” we can breathe a smile of relief. By then I have also placed my fanny pack inside my locker, grabbed my back brace and wrapped it around myself and am off with the others to our morning meeting.

There we all gather with our supervisors and have roll call, a safety talk, a pep talk, a general talk of what’s about to be accomplished that day and divvying up of all us worker bees to each particular supervisor and then we do stretching exercises and finally the WalMart safety pledge followed by the WalMart cheer. I have heard tales that one can refuse to do the cheer but no one so far has done so. I often wonder if I could step outside my body what I would look like doing this so early in the morning—an aging woman, still tired to start her day, being asked to jump and throw up her arms like I am some 16 year old at a football game. I wonder what we must look like to the general public that passes by. I wonder if this is somehow part of the publicity problem WalMart has with the general public about its cult-like atmosphere? Frankly, the cheer sucks and I wish I could garner the balls to skip it. But in good WalMart fashion, wanting to keep my job, I cheer as one of the the loudest. (to be continued).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Friends Make Our Days

That’s the way I feel about this couple, a former workmate partner and dear friends, who happen to be visiting up the highway at Winchester Bay in their motorhome so stopped by Saturday.

We went to a small cafĂ© lunch of fish and chips in (our favorite) Charleston and talked of all the changes in each of our lives. The visit was short but just what the doctor ordered for me; a respite from work and a connection with a past that was memorable for good times—much better times than what I’ve endured recently, that’ s for sure.

Our weather has improved on the coast; it’s been warmer, sunnier, but windy. I’m still very worn out from my work week so not doing much beyond resting on weekends for the upcoming arduous forty hours which certainly take their toll on this older body. I just try hard to take it a day at a time.

Marc’s news is that he may be able to return in the RV to Bend by the second week in July. I hope so. Because after that, he comes here.

Despite the wind, I packed a picnic lunch, loaded the folding chair into the car and sought a beach area. The wind was howling so badly at Charleston, the sand blew into my eyes so I headed west into Sunset Bay SP. Due to the sheltering cliffs and trees helping to block the north wind, this beach was the perfect location for a little R & R as I people watched and had my picnic. The tide was way out and families were busy enjoying the sand and water with their little ones and dogs. The weekend has been too short but the break has been nice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Low Tide

No, not my state of mind, but on the Oregon coast! Unfortunately, working as I am I didn’t get the chance to explore the opportunity for tide-pooling and gaping except for a quick photo trip to the Empire boat launch on my way to work this morning. Low tide actually wasn’t due to hit until about 9:30 a.m. two hours after I took these photos. The mid coast of Oregon was experiencing minus 3 feet tides, as low as it’s possible to get.

Along the coast a vast array became visual, from sea creatures to sunken ships to the infamous Devil’s Punchbowl which allowed visitors to walk inside its slimy cauldron. Also visible was the ghostly forest of 2000 year old tree stumps usually under the sea in Nescowin, inundated with a sea level rise centuries ago. Scuttlebutt said the tides were as low as they might be for the next ten years. Wow, too bad Marc has to miss the clamming!
Despite it all, some adventurous boaters were still trying to launch.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Beyond that long word there is really not a lot to report on lately. I am enjoying the tasks I have at WalMart but not the toll it takes on my body. I awake, get ready for work, go to work, work in pain all day, hobble home, and try and take it easy to get ready to wake up and do the same thing again the next day. Weekends are a relief but not something I can squander using to do any running around because if my feet don’t have a chance to rest I know I won’t be able to make the week on them. I’m watching in horror as I see all the capillaries bursting in my ankles and this huge red callous forming on my big toe. So, I blissfully bury myself in the computer or books all weekend with my feet up sitting in my recliner and stinking of BenGay. Such is life….

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Tirade: This Fucking Economy

Yeah, I know my English probably leaves a little to be desired. But right now I am dog tired; dog tired from being on my sore feet for eight hours a day; dog tired of my aching back from moving huge fixtures all day that’s requiring me to gobble aspirin; dog tired of making the paltry amount of money paid to do so; dog tired after hearing story after story of those of my new workmates.

WalMart is doing an interior store remodel, which doesn’t actually involve any actual construction except for replacing flooring and remodeling bathrooms. The rest involves building new fixtures, moving departments to other parts of the store and generally projecting a rejuvenated look. For this undertaking they have been hiring 70 of us to work three shifts. I will say a lot in WalMart’s defense about their willingness to hire, without discrimination, probably the broadest spectrum of people I have ever worked with. We have the young, the really young; old, really old; all colors, all nationalities that exist within this small coastal community; all sexual orientations (since they seem really forthright to proclaim it) and those with what is normally thought of as handicap. Actually, WalMart in this town, is likely the area’s largest employer.

With such an array of representative Americans, I have started talking to my fellow workmates since I was hearing smatterings of conversation alluding to “layoffs.” I would venture to say out of our 70, probably at least 3/4s of the workers here have recently, or not so recently, been laid off by other employers. So yeah Media, tell us about how this recovery is doing so great and we’re going to pull out of this mess soon.

There’s J, who just moved from Vancouver, WA with an unemployed husband, a 3 year old, and an 8 month old; home to be closer to family so her parents could help watch the kids after she was laid off in January after 7 years with a car dealership making twice the money with benefits. There’s K; probably about my age who worked real estate and property management for years when the company he was working for went out of business and changed hands. Given the economy he decided to bail rather than work for a Broker he didn’t care for. There is a gal who is turning 40 this week with a personality brash, bigger-than-life-in-your-face, who has worked retail for twenty years in southern CA but more recently debt consolidation, who has moved here to bunk with friends as her last resort. There are several from the local call center, who as an employer has beat these poor souls into a pulp and tossed them out because they weren’t able to make their time number when answering all you who call in on Sprint to complain about tech problems or questions. The attrition there is numbered in just months. There is K, a computer tech, who has a physical disability which makes walking very difficult, laid off without notice a few months ago. When I noted that there probably wasn’t much opportunity in a town like this for computer tech he nodded acknowledgement. Then in the very next breath, he added he didn’t have money to move, anywhere. He can’t leave town so is now stuck with what he can find. He’s young and a big bear of a man and it broke my heart to watch him admit in effect, that right now, there is no future for him.

For those of you reading this, I want you to think for a moment about what that means. Here is someone so broke, depending literally on paycheck to paycheck to eat, that he has no options. This is a bright young man; America’s future. How many of you have ever been in that position? I’m talking NO OPTIONS.

I guess I was always lucky; if I didn’t have it myself, I admittedly and unabashedly, used my parents for a bank. When I had a job I just couldn’t stand and told a boss off and said “I quit” I didn’t suffer the consequences. I borrowed money, moved on, got a better job usually within days, and paid my parents back. The mantra my dad always taught me: “Never let an employer know how much you are hurting Kid; then they have power over you. ALWAYS be able to walk away.” The young people I am surrounded with now don’t have that option; their parents don’t have money either.

These people have spouses, they have children, they have (some of them) homes with mortgages or else are trying to own their own home—in effect, they all have stories that will wring your heart one way or another. And they all have been laid off within the past year. Believe me, unlike me, these are not adventure-seekers who quit a job at the drop of a hat because another position or another state seems “greener”. These are salt of the earth, would probably be here forever type average workers, struggling to make sense of all this and just survive.

Most don’t leave anywhere for lunch. I know because every day I walk out to the employee parking lot and sit in my car, put my seat back, take my shoes off and read. I see them sitting in the lunch room using the vending machines for chips and candy bars for lunch. Some don’t even have cars to leave; they depend upon others for rides home or walk. To a one, they are all thankful to have this job; all are hopeful they will be one of the chosen ones to remain at Walmart for the vaunted full time permanent employment that management has dangled in front of all of us new hires as a possibility.

What have we come to?

I’m part of them now. My feet hurt; my back kills me, yet I am hopeful to maybe be one of the chosen too. My husband remains unemployed for nearly ten months now; our savings account dwindles by the day and this blessed job will bring in a net of $1000/month. So, don't bash WalMart. They are saving many lives right now, literally.

Count your blessings please, if you do better than this. Hey Dad, about that loan….

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Spring in My Step

Very recently I decided to try and crawl out of my state of inertia and apply for a job at WalMart when I saw a sign saying they needed store remodel help. After a fairly arduous interview process, which took an hour and a half and involved three different managers, I was told I could immediately go out and see the lab for the drug screening and after that and a background check returned, they would be in touch. Obviously, all that went well during the week I was in Bend and I received the call last Friday to report to work Tuesday.

So, what’s with the goofy shoes you ask? Given that my walking shoes have seen quite a few miles up and down Charleston’s quay, I figured it was time to look for something lightweight, yet springy, for my eight hour shift on my feet at WalMart. So…these are what I ended up with. I have yet to wear them so can’t comment on how they will do to maintain spring in my step, but I hold out high hopes.

This week has involved extensive training, computer based and lecture, and we shall all be set free on the floor starting next week. These are all temporary positions that will run until approximately August 19th. I can’t believe my luck in snagging a good schedule however; I work M-F, 8 to 5. It might have had something to do with the begging whine in my voice when I mentioned to personnel that us older gals would have a very hard time staying up all night for graveyard shift…so please God, don’t give that one to me!

I’m still not quite certain what my tasks will entail but I figure it will likely involve a lot of stocking and moving of inventory. So far, there are two things that have been really hard for me to get used to: working eight hours under bright florescent lighting which leaves me with red, burning eyes and no glimpse of the day outside; and not being able to drink all the water I am used to having in a day. I know; it’s a silly thing, but I normally drink lots of water and now that I am not allowed to do so out on the floor I find I am suffering from thirst of the worst sort!

If nothing else I figure this experience should be very humbling. I have been so fortunate in my previous careers to be a fairly autonomous and independent employee, working for the most part with extremely minimal supervision and a great degree of latitude in the makeup of my day. How different it is being in the rule-driven corporate belly of the world’s largest employer; (bigger now than even our federal government, the world’s second largest employer) and knowing that for many people, this is all they will ever know their entire working lives. Kind of like the bird that never gets uncaged to truly fly. Of course, birds of that feather, having never experienced freedom, may not know the difference. How sad is that?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Family Time

It was time to get out of town last week to see my folks in Bend. In addition, Rachael and her new husband Brandon were planning on visiting his folks and friends as well, so it made for a nice family get-together. The drive from the coast through the very green Willamette Valley and over the Cascades was very pleasant, sunny, and full of springtime flowering plants. The snow had gone from the mountain road sides and I made good driving time in about five hours.

Since Bend has a Costco and some other favorite stores like Trader Joe’s, I spent the second day stocking up and shopping with Rachael. She accompanied me to my hair appointment and we went to lunch in downtown Bend. Thursday my mom made a great chicken dinner for my entire family and having all of us together was very special. Since the day was so warm, at nearly 90, we spent some time out on the front porch getting caught up and after dinner the kids headed off in my father’s ATV for some back country rambling. My parent’s property abuts huge swaths of undeveloped Juniper-filled high desert great for exploring.

Saturday arrived and Brandon’s parents, Becky and Peter, were gracious enough to invite me, son Neil and wife Hillary and other friends over for a fresh halibut dinner. The halibut was compliments of Peter’s recent fishing trip to Alaska so was fresh off the boat and excellently baked by Peter! They have a lovely home half way up the butte overlooking killer views of the Deschutes River, Smith Rocks, and on east to the distant mountains past Prineville. The evening had developed thunder storms so a haze filled the air making it difficult to fully capture the view on camera. I neglected to get any pictures of our hosts but I did have an interesting conversation with Letha and Bill, who have just adopted a beautiful three and a half year old girl from Vladivostok, Russia. Leeza came to them from an orphanage having been abandoned by her mother at birth, so spoke no English just a few weeks ago. Now she is beginning to babble in both languages and has an engaging and very sweet disposition. The adoption process was quite arduous, requiring their presence twice in Russia, and the last time took a month.

Upon the evening’s ending, it was bittersweet saying goodbye to my kids. Brandon doesn’t expect to leave Washington again until he deploys to Afghanistan in July and they were leaving early Sunday as was I. Thank you Peter and Becky for a marvelous evening; it was a wonderful send-off for Brandon and we all wish him Godspeed and a safe return in a year.