How’s the Path? An exploration of the chaos that happens when warehouse logistics fail

For those of my readers who know me, you may know me from my 15-year-career as a journalist, or from my volunteering or professional experience in nonprofits, or my time as a board member of Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

But my life has led many other unorthodox places— I worked my way through college at McDonalds, served as the box office manager for Moravian College Theatre Company, and did my work-study in admissions where I filled out a lot of postcards, stuffed a lot of informational folders, and rewrote department brochures. My other work-study job was in the English department photocopying things and the duplication department loved my prowess with photocopiers.

My professional career started at Lafayette College in public relations and from there I moved into weekly journalism.

Life as a print journalism made me a more efficient writer, a more captivating storyteller and a better listener. It piqued my curiosity for subjects I have no interest in, and it honed my ability to discern what information is important and understanding how different systems work.

My career as a journalist opened me to the possibilities— I’m less prone to refuse any opportunity. And my current experience at Stitch Fix is one of those opportunities.

Warehousing is a huge industry here in the Lehigh Valley. It is very easy to get just about anywhere from here from a transportation logistics standpoint. I have had an interest in Stitch Fix since they launched as the first subscription box for retail fashion.

My work as a warehouse associate there as part of “midnight society” (second shift) allows me to work on my personal projects during the day, and, when the work assignments line up to have me “picking,” exercise at night. Pickers walk about 25,000 or more steps in a shift.

Last night, management announced mandatory overtime. Every associate had 24 hours to sign up for 14 hours of overtime before Easter. This made a lot of people grumpy and/or angry as we didn’t have much time to figure out our options. I’ll be working 4 hours each Saturday and coming in 2 hours early two days a week.

So this was the backdrop as one of our overseers mentioned that some of the totes set up for our carts had been messed up. Now I don’t know if a person did it, or a computer did it, as this is the week we switched from Gozer to Star.

I don’t want to say much as I don’t know how much of Stitch Fix’s operations are proprietary. But normally each cart of eight fixes being “picked” stays in a certain size area of the warehouse. A medium batch might include medium, size 6 and size 8 and have you roaming the aisles throughout the M section.

Last night, the pickers would start in W/2 XL and have fixes on their cart that included all the sizes which meant more or less picking one fix at a time and zigzagging throughout the warehouse— which from XS to XXXL is about 900 of my steps.

By meal break, most of the bad batches had been picked, and the shift supervisor was asking if the paths had improved. I was very grateful when they had. The ones that weren’t right wasted a lot of time and were very disorienting.

In other news, our three-legged cancer survivor cat Opie has a vet appointment with a new doctor on April 1. I was unhappy with the vet practice who diagnosed his cancer, and the one vet there I liked has left the practice. The vet that actually amputated his leg is an hour away.

He has a lump growing on the back of his neck and I don’t like the look of it. So April 1, I am taking him to Canyon River Run to be checked. Canyon River is one of the vets who works with the cat rescue we foster with, Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.

The crazy, the lazy and the witchy

Today was a typical day in the crazy menagerie of our home. But it was delightful. I’ve come to accept that Saturdays are overscheduled and hectic. Sundays are a rest day.

F. Bean Barker woke at 5:30 am— a normal part of the routine in her old home. No one gets up that early here.

I went to bed around 2:30 am so when Ms. Black Bean woke up and barked/whined/howled for 30 minutes, I texted teenager #1. She went down, covered the dog’s crate with a blanket and laid down on the couch beside the dog to go back to sleep.

After that 45-minute disturbance, I woke at 9:30 am. The teenagers finished picking up the house to prepare for the notary arriving at 1 pm.

We cared for our pets and crated Vesta and Minerva of the FURR Roman Pride for the adoption event at Petsmart.

We then stopped at Dunkin on the way home because I wanted to do something to thank my husband for taking the time to come sign this paperwork and for supporting me in the refinancing of the house. It’s been about 20 months since he’s lived here with me. Neither one of us has filed for divorce. So his name is still on the deed of the house and the current mortgage.

This new mortgage will pay off my car, save me $300 a month, though also extend my term five years. Now instead of the house being paid off by the time I am 55, I will be 60. Mortgage payment alone on the the refinancing will pay off is 50% of my take-home monthly income and that makes me nervous.

My hope is that once the pandemic ends and life shifts, new opportunities and stability will allow me to apply extra money to the principal.

And teenager #1 will take her drivers exam Tuesday. If she passes, her dad and I will have a massive insurance bill so my solace is that if something should happen to my car, at least it is paid for.

Teenager’s dad loved his new cold foam chocolate stout cold brew. The closing almost went without a hitch, but Fog decided to saunter across the table amid the notary’s pile of papers. Cats are not allowed on the table. Especially when we have guests.

The teenager got ready for work and we watched an episode of Canine Intervention on Netflix. I wish they had more episodes.

I dropped her off at Tic Toc Diner. I then went to get the kittens.

Those adorable tuxedo sisters then went to Petco (Greenwich Township, NJ) for their adoption habitat.

Minerva (left) and Vesta

Vesta, having spent about three weeks in the habitat at the other Petco, sat there and shook in fear.

I came home planning to walk F. Bean Barker with our neighbors, Jan and her Ladyship Sobaka. But Bean only made it a half-block.

She’s just exhausted.

And then Jan and I went to pick up Nan and have dinner at Tic Toc. The teenager was worried about not having a Braille menu for Nan. As if we need a menu.

The teenager told me the founder stuffed with crab looked really good as the cook took a lot of care in its preparation and plating. I ordered it. With coleslaw. And the silly waitress got me french fries instead.

The dish reminded me of a crab cake wrapped in other fish. So good and a ridiculous amount of food for the price.

After dinner, Nan and I hung out at my house until it was time to retrieve our waitress from the diner.

And then when she got home, she unboxed this month’s box from Witch’s Gifts. These items are so carefully curated. To see the unboxing: March Box Witch’s Gifts

These boxes (and my tarot and witchy podcasts) remind me that I need to pay more attention to my spiritual and magical development.

Snowy sillies

The snow started later than anticipated and my day, my bedtime, started with our weekly garbage pick-up happening at 2:30 a.m. I guess they were trying to get ahead of the storm.

And after “picking” last night, my pain and my mood improved drastically. Though I did binge on junk food again. Sigh.

But these last few months— between Covid and the new job— have really made me realize how much pain changes you.

But today… work is closed due to snow. But Joan texted that her Fix came and we opened it together on Zoom.

Photo by Joan

The teens did the shoveling, and we had some omelettes for brunch. Then this afternoon we filmed a video on our silly Valentine’s treats. The impetus of the video was some rose soda I purchased at Lidl. Our reactions: Video of Valentine’s Treats

First we played some Mille Bornes, the car-themed card game.

Final days of mandatory overtime

I have not had much time of late, working 10 hour days and trying to do the items the teenagers need to keep the house running in my absence. I have no fewer than six or so random topics saved as potential blog entries but so far… no time to sit and write.

Teenager #1 fed the cats this morning and made my coffee. Nala is screaming for attention and her breakfast.

At our weekly meeting on Wednesday— the powers that be told us that 75% of the inventory in our warehouse was already styled out by the Stitch Fix stylists. Our mandatory overtime is being used to restock our inventory so we can keep sending fixes to our clients.

Wednesday was the day I ended up doing two hours binning on the “rack project.” We are increasing the capacity of the warehouse by moving from a single tier to a double tier system.

Then I did an eight-hour shift in inbound processing, where I spent the first 90 minutes finishing the hanging of day shift’s work and the rest of the night hanging and tagging three sizes of Just USA black skinny jeans (9” rise if you are interested).

Last night I did all ten hours in women’s returns processing which was fun in multiple capacities.

  1. It didn’t involve folding.
  2. I got to slice open packages.
  3. I saw what people decided to keep and what they sent back.
  4. I studied the differences between day shift and my shift and how the warehouse functions as an assembly line when at peak staffing. Fascinating.

Who knew logistics could be so fun?

My Monday blog post with no decent title written on a Tuesday

It is 1:01 a.m. as I write this. There is a kitten at my left hip fascinated by the bubbles in my gin cocktail (gin and cherry vanilla seltzer), a small cockatoo on my knee and a pile of clean, folded laundry at the end of the bed that I have no intention of moving before I go to sleep.

Clean laundry

I had a really good shift at Stitch Fix’s Bizzy Hizzy. I’m a tad bummed because I had hoped to “pick” 140 or more fixes and I only hit 135.

Working as a picker in the warehouse is like being an athlete training for a marathon— I love the challenge of trying to increase my performance every day.

It’s using muscles in my lower body that haven’t ever experienced activity like this. I spent 10 years on my feet and doing labor at Target, but this doesn’t feel like work.

It feels like a game.

My total number of steps for yesterday was around 24,500. It feels good.

Adjustments

As I write this, it is Friday the 13th and after four months of no income, my unemployment has come through as I finish my first week as a warehouse associate at StitchFix. I also have three fluffy kittens on my lap and a Nala bird on my shoulder.

I’d like to find my pretty socks before I go to work tonight, where I will be working in inbound processing.

And I need to head down to the teenager’s room to visit the tuxedo kittens.

But let me tell you a little bit about life at the Bizzy Hizzy. The people are nice, and helpful. I had my first fall— I tripped over am empty pallet at the time clock. A colleague helped me up.

I’ve always enjoyed working second shift— because it allows me to start my day with what I want to do and then go to work and collapse in bed when I get home. No alarm clocks. No getting out of bed at 5 or earlier. Empty roads at night.

I don’t want to share too many specifics on the warehouse— or hizzy in StitchFix terms. We are the Bizzy Hizzy and our mascot is the busy bee.

Second shift at our warehouse is smaller than first so we tend to move into different jobs as needed. Tonight we will all be working on inbound processing as there is a lot of sweaters that need to make it onto the floor.

I don’t want to say too much and infringe upon any proprietary information, but I’ll give you a glimpse of my day.

We all clock in at 3:30 and as I typically work as a picker, my job is to run around the warehouse gathering the clothes the stylist has picked for each client. The best pickers hit the 180 fixes (or each client shipment) in a night.

The first night I picked 80 fixes. The second night I picked 88. Last night I picked 48, and then I went to inbound processing for half my shift.

The warehouse is filled with Z racks of clothes, each rack has five sections, and each row has at least 40 racks. The rows start at AA and then AB etc; then BA, BB, BC etc, through the alphabet. There is a break in the row every ten numbers. So it’s very orderly and the computer maps your path.

At 5:30, the entire population goes into the break room (maximum occupancy pre-Covid was 492) where there are free snacks and drinks. Snacks include yogurt, chips, cookies, Kraft Mac and cheese cups, oatmeal, cereal, hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, muffins, fruit, pop tarts, cup of noodles, trail mix, string cheese, pudding, etc.

At 7:30 everyone takes their 30-minute meal. At 10 pm we have our final break.

My last full shift as a picker I walked 17,000 steps. I’ve lost two pounds already.

There is a company store where everything is $5 or $10. I’d like some of those shoes, and I like the look of Judy Blue jeans. I would love to score some jumpsuits or a Karl Lagerfeld blouse.

My body is getting used to being active again.

And the animals swarm me when I get home.

As I zip through the warehouse I feel like PacMan.

How to Survive During a Pandemic

This one might be hard to write.

First, let’s publicize the good news. The Mighty published my “how to go to the doctor during Covid” essay that they accepted in June: What to expect. The Mighty is a social media site for people with disabilities and their caregivers.

Last night, I interviewed for a position in my local Stitch Fix warehouse. I was told I could expect an offer in coming days.

Stitch Fix would be less grueling than any of the other warehouse opportunities (Chewy, Amazon, FedEx, UPS) and less irritating than retail since we never have to interact with the customers.

I am very grateful for the opportunity, and if nothing else comes along in the next few days, I will accept it— and I asked for second shift in hopes of continuing to build Thrive Public Relations and fulfill my volunteer commitments (ASPIRE to Autonomy, Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab, Mary Meuser Memorial Library and the county Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board).

I don’t know if I can physically handle the job as I am a forty-something with issues in her S1 joint thanks to decades of life with cerebral palsy. But if I get the position I want, I’ll be walking more than 10 miles a day so I’ll lose weight.

I’ll be talking to my doctor (already had a talk with my chiropractor) about what might happen to my body.

And I have to admit that I’m annoyed and frustrated that I lost my job about 15 weeks ago and unemployment hasn’t even looked at my case yet do to the backlog. The wage at StitchFix will be almost exactly what unemployment would have paid me.

And that, my friends, is about 65% of my former salary.

So this “good news” is scary. But that is life as it stands in this body, in this region, in this country, in this world right now.

June 2020 Universal Yums box—a Great Britain birthday

So as part of her birthday extravaganza I took the teenager’s mail and packages, compiled it into a box and gave it to her with her birthday cake during a small birthday dinner with her paternal grandparents.

In the box was her June 2020 Universal Yums box.

Part One

Part Two

I explained to the grandparents what this was all about— a monthly themed box of snacks from a certain region of the world.

I didn’t expect that after a mountain of meat loaf she could keep eating.

Best of the box:

  • The teenager loved the banana toffee.
  • We both liked the intense pickled onion rings.
  • The teenager enjoyed the shortbread.

Worst of the box:

  • The honey mustard potato chips were dull by my standards and too much for the teen. [after a while, the Mackie’s if Scotland crisps starting growing on me— the flavor and texture was perfect.)
  • We were all rather confused by the lamb and mint chips. They were weird. And not in a good way.

May 2020 Ipsy Glam Bag

So today my May 2020 Ipsy Glam Bag arrived— and I have to say that the special add-on I purchased for the teenager was more exciting than my goodies.

Huda Beauty Sapphire Obessions

This eye shadow palette came with a full set of make-brushes. The colors are fairly true to what you see on the cover. The teenager’s school colors are blue and gold, plus who doesn’t love a good splash of glitter.

But the glam bag… I’m not impressed with the color scheme of the actual bag. The brush from FARAH is a blending brush and has a lovely soft texture.

The Benefit Roller Lash mascara I’m not going to open right now because I recently ordered black mascara that came with my last bag.

Same story with the AutoBalm Day2Night eye shadow — the color is fairly identical to not just one but two of the recent colors sent. So I will also save this until I use the earlier product. Good news is, it’s one of my favorite eye shadow colors, a neutral bright beige with some shimmer. Hides my tired eyes.

The Moroccan Magic Maruka Honey Lip Balm will also remain sealed as I’ve gotten lip product in every Ipsy bag and don’t leave the house enough to need an extra in my purse. I’m not even sure where my purse is.

So that leaves the Soroci Spot-Light Eye Cream. Which I am actually excited about trying. I’m old— my under eyes could use some firming.

I put some on and it feels good. Only time will tell if it makes me any younger.

Here’s the video the teenager took of me unboxing my treasures: Unboxing May 2020 Glam Bag

And I decided to use this month’s bag to store unopened cosmetics and store it in our cupboard so that if the teenager and I need something we have it in reserve.

Friday Funday

Today had some elements of greatness among the toil of a long work day in the midst of a pandemic.

  • We had a lovely walk.
  • We had pizza.
  • I got a free doughnut.
  • We got a Yum box.
  • We went to Family Dollar for school supplies and found some other surprises.
  • My truck is only $5,000. Maybe I can really buy it.
  • I got a new plunger.
  • I helped my blind friend Nancy open a Twitter account.

If none of that sounds interesting just skip this entry, but you might enjoy this “a day in the life.”

I had to go to the local Goin Postal to print and mail a grant for work. I brought the teenager along so she could grab some Little Caesars pizza and school supplies from Family Dollar as I figured I’d be in the shop for an hour.

The dollar store had clearance jelly beans for 75% off! I got three bags for $1!!! The teenager got lead for her favorite mechanical pencils and pens for my home office. We also got two really big cans of cat food. Because four cats.

The teenager procured some food items too— though some may not qualify as food. Lemon sugar wagers, pickles, blueberry muffins, beef ramen, generic pop tarts, sour freeze pops and Slim Jim’s.

We came home and she did school work while I did office work. At 2 pm, I took my meal break to go to the local hardware store. We needed caulk, wood patch, drain unclogger, a plunger, and items for a floor in the mud room.

I’ll have to take some photos of the nice laminate plank flooring the teen picked out for her floor. I even got wasp killer and some keys made.

Spent $180. But that includes 60 square feet of flooring.

That was also when I noticed my old aging truck was only $5,000.

I want this truck.

So we then stopped at Dunkin because it’s Free Doughnut Friday and since I only leave the house about once a week might as well make it exciting.

I worked late. Went straight to a telephone meeting with Nancy, my blind friend who I do computer stuff for. Long story short— we ended up putting her on Twitter and she followed a whole bunch of NASA stuff. Try explaining Twitter to a blind person. Just try.

Then once we finished, the teenager and I had her Universal Yums box for dinner. It was amazing! Scandinavian goodies for the win!

Unboxing and tasting video here: April 2020 Scandinavia Universal Yum Box

And then I tried the new plunger. It worked so well the gunk was coming out that little hole in the drain circle where the flipper for the tub plug goes. Under the spigot.

And that was my exciting day. Everyone even hung out with me.