Category Archives: Florida

Timucuan Preserve and Jacksonville

On Tuesday, March 27th, we packed up and began our journey towards Maine and then Michigan.

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It took a little bit, as we had so many ‘see you in the fall’ goodbyes!   We will miss seeing everyone and look forward to next winter. We did manage to hit the road before noon.  🙂

Our first stop was Jacksonville, Florida, to take care of some errands and to do a little sightseeing. Diana tried out her new Moose membership to get us a nice little camping spot for two nights.  Wait…what?  Moose membership???  Let’s back up a step.  On Sunday, we met Diana’s sister Cheryl and her hubby Doug for lunch at the Beach House at Patrick Air Force Base.

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They are also fulltime RVers. Cheryl mentioned to us that she was a Moose member and how Moose International was not only a great fraternal organization, it also allowed RV parking.  We decided to have Diana join first to see if the membership is something we will use.  We met them next night at a local Moose lodge and with Cheryl as a sponsor and $35, she signed up!

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Long story short, we ended up with a last minute overflow spot at a lodge in Jacksonville.  For $15 a night we has access to electricity, water, and a dump station….perfect!

First order of business was to get our mail in Green Cove Springs and head over to the DMV to renew our Escape and trailer plates.  We have always been impressed with our adopted hometown, in that they embrace having thousands of their residents be fulltime RVers, marine cruisers, and military.  Many of those folks never see the town after the first initial contact, but we like making an appearance at least once a year.  Tuesday was our second time through this season, and I have to say they outdid themselves.  We pulled into the parking lot at our mail forwarding service at 4:30 PM and grabbed the mail.  We then drove two miles to the DMV and were in and out by 4:45 PM.  That’s 15 minutes to take care of both items. Impressive, to say the least!

So that left Wednesday free for us to explore the area around Jacksonville. Looking for anything that fell under the National Park Service auspices, Diana found Timucuan  Ecological and Historic Preserve (pronounced tee-moo-kwan). This vast area encompasses several national and state sites, not far from a major city.  It was donated in the 1960’s by a man named Willie Brown.  He was offered millions of dollars by developers, but he wanted it saved as an unspoiled wilderness for future generations. On this particular day, we chose three locations.

First up was Fort Caroline National Memorial.

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This is where the main visitor center for the entire preserve is located. Inside, the story is told of  this place where the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and St. Johns River meet.  There is evidence of over 5000 years of human habitation that has been unearthed in the area.  The first people here were the Timucua, a broad group of several tribes of natives. Sustained by the marine life found in the salt marshes, and also by plants and animals of the land, these people thrived here for centuries.

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This wooden owl was found in the preserve and is estimated to have been carved in the 1400’s.  It is the largest wooden effigy ever discovered from an archaeological site in the Americas.

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This yellow pine dugout was also unearthed here.  These canoes were the mode of transportation used on the St Johns waters by the Timucua.

In 1562, a French expedition, led by Jean Ribault, landed here and claimed the land for France.  Ribault left 50 settlers to establish an outpost and returned to France.  In 1564, the French built a triangular fort and named it ‘le Caroline’.

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The French did not do well in this new land and were facing starvation when Ribault arrived with help from their homeland. The relief increased the population, and also caught the attention of Spain.  The Spaniards soon established a claim to the south at St Augustine, with the intention of dislodging the French to their north.  Ribault sailed south to attack the Spanish post, only to encounter a hurricane that disrupted his ships and he beached too far south.  Admiral Pedro Menendez seized the opportunity and marched north to Fort Caroline.  His men massacred 140 French people, sparing women and children. 40 to 50 French escaped and were able to sail back to France. He then marched south and found the shipwrecked men.  The French pleaded for mercy to no avail.  Menendez killed 350 of them…all but those professing to be Catholics or musicians. That site became known as Matanzas, a Spanish word meaning ‘slaughter‘.  After driving out the French, the Spaniards took over Fort Caroline and renamed it San Mateo.  In 1568, the French returned for the sole purpose of seeking revenge. They killed most of the Spanish at the former French outpost, except for a few who escaped to St Augustine.  After burning the fort, the force returned to France.

From Fort Caroline, we drove northeast to  Kingsley Plantation.

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Along the way, Edsel 2 took his first ferry ride!  As you can see, Diana is sporting her Fort Caroline Junior Ranger badge.  🙂

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Kingsley Plantation was built in 1798 and is the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida.  No small feat, considering it’s exposure to hurricanes, termites, fire, and humidity.  The story is told here of plantation life, with the owners fortunes amassed at the expense of slaves’ labor and freedom.

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Located on the St Johns River, the farm was perfectly situated to transport its goods via water.  Cotton was king here, as was indigo, and sugar cane.

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Near the entrance to the property were the remains of the slave quarters, laid out in a semi-circle.  These 23 structures housed 60 to 80 men, women, and children.  They are made of tabby. This construction material is oyster shells cooked with water and lime, and then mixed with sand to form cement. The horrors of slavery were well portrayed here, serving as a reminder of this disturbing time in American history.

Our last stop was Ribault Club.

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This was a millionaires resort built in the 1920’s.  During the depression, membership declined and the building fell into disrepair.

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The State of Florida acquired the property in 1989, and through a partnership with the National Park Service and the City of Jacksonville, restored the club in 2003.

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The building is used mostly for weddings and events, and is open for the public to view at other times.

We really enjoyed discovering Timucuan Preserve on what turned out to be a beautiful day.  We left several sites to explore at a future time, making sure we thoroughly soaked in the beauty and history the areas we visited.  Be sure to follow along to see our next adventure as we head north along the eastern coast.

March Wrap-up and Spring Plans

The month of March has ended up being extremely busy for us, as we finished up our ‘to-do‘ list, socialized, and planned our spring and summer travels.  We started out the month with a day trip to Lakeland to watch our friend’s (Jim and Sue) son play baseball.

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Jake pitches for Fontbonne University, and their team was playing at the Central Florida Invitational Tournament. I played catch with him back in 2012 when he was only about 12 years old. Catching his fastball gave me a swollen and numb index finger on my left hand for a long time afterwards. My mitt would crack when the ball hit it; unfortunately, my finger probably cracked also. 🙂 As a college freshman, his pitching arm has only improved since that time.

We also were invited by our new friends Nick and Betty to join in on their weekly lunch get-togethers with other folks in the park.

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From right: Jerry, Linda, Betty, Nick, Ron, Nancy, Diana and me.

 

Here we are at our favorite pizza joint, Oceanside Pizza.  Over the course of time, we got to know several people in the park, which has been really fun!  During one of the meals, I discovered that Nick used to work for the same company in Louisville as our friend and fellow fulltime RVer Bill Murray  Small world.

Our ‘to do’ list is whittled down to a few small items, but not before a couple of things were tacked onto it.  Edsel 2, our new Escape, had an issue to where the clutches in the rear wheels weren’t releasing when we cornered, so our local dealer (Kelly Ford) took care of that.  They found that there was a technical service bulletin issued by Ford for the problem.  We can’t say enough about how great our experience was with Derek, our service adviser.  We also had our RV air conditioner quit on us the other morning, so we have a mobile tech coming tomorrow to replace that.  The general consensus in the park is that we did well by getting 11 years out of our current unit, especially since we exposed it to salt air the past three winters.

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We also were able to attend this years St. Patrick’s Day potluck in our park.  You may recall that we skipped it last year, as I had found out our good friend and my long time colleague Richie had passed the night before.  I wrote a post about it called Reflections in the Rear View Mirror.  Although we miss Richie, we were able to enjoy this year’s party.  After everyone ate, someone broke out their karaoke machine and we all ended up making a day of it!

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Here’s Bonnie and Ted taking their turn.  A few drinks later, I even joined in!  🙂

Our time this year in Melbourne Beach is quickly coming to a close.

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It will be just a few more sunrises and sunsets before we head out on our next adventure. Where will that take us?  Our plans are to head up the East Coast to arrive in Maine by the beginning of June, and then back over to Michigan for a bit.  The trip from here to Michigan is spread over a four month period, so we have a lot planned along the way.  Be sure to stay tuned for that, as well as our new work camping position in Michigan for the months of August and September.  Our plans are to come back to Florida next winter.  As always, we would love to meet up with you, should our paths converge. Feel free to contact us privately at explorvistas@gmail.com, if you would like to try for a get together. Until next time, safe travels!

The ‘To Do’ List

Every fulltime RVer accumulates a list of things that need to be done around their rigs, in hopes of finding a place that they are sitting still long enough to do them.  For us, Florida ends up being our place where we are able to get things done.  The weather in Melbourne Beach is favorable from November through March, and we have plenty of stores in the area to pick up needed supplies.  We usually write our items that need to be done on a 5″ x 8″ lined notepad as we travel, but it quickly became apparent last year that we needed to transfer that to a legal pad.  Granted, the list included clerical items like taxes and budget, most were little things that had either cropped up, were general maintenance,  or that we wanted to upgrade.  The ‘to do’ list grew to 61 items by the time I finished up at UPS after New Years Day.  Clearly, it was time to focus!

A couple of the items on the list were to have the transmission filters and fluid changed in both vehicles.  After we had the truck serviced, we scratched 4 items off the list by simply buying Edsel 2, our new Escape.  (Wash, Wax, Transmission filter, Oil)  Wow…that was easy!  Other items were small jobs like giving our bearing buddies on our new axles a couple shots of grease and replacing the batteries in our tire pressure monitors on our valve stems.  Most jobs were small enough that we were able to do more than one a day.  With that being said, there were two exceptions to that this year.

The biggest job was waxing the rig.  This is an annual job that I prefer to do myself, as the Fiberglas on our 2007 fifth wheel requires the use of oxidation remover before waxing. If it isn’t done carefully, it can leave swirl marks and end up looking worse than if it had been left untouched.  Go ahead, call me persnickety….I will own that.

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As you can see in the photo above, there is a big difference in the part that is done and not done.  That is only the oxidation remover in that photo…no wax had been applied yet.

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Here it is after waxing.  Our neighbors needed sunglasses after that step was completed!  Needless to say, the waxing process was tackled over several days….

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…with trips to the beach interspersed in between.

The other major project we completed was something our neighbors Mark and Val had done two years ago. As you can well imagine, several months at the beach means several months of salt air wreaking havoc on any exposed metal.  Mark and Val leave their rig here year-round, so they really noticed the wear and tear.  They replaced every screw on their rig with stainless steel, and dabbed a shot of clear silicone in the hole before driving the new screw in.

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The white painted screw heads were rusting, and even the threads were beginning to rust on some of them.

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Six hundred screws and three days later, we finished that job!

Back before we went on the road, we had noticed that our black tank would leave an odor in the rig after we had driven all day.  We found a product at Camping World called  Cyclone RV Plumbing Vent, which swivels with the wind and draws the odors out through the vent on the roof.  It worked wonders on the black tank.  We had also noticed a similar problem with our bathroom grey tank, so we purchased an additional Cyclone for that vent also.

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Even sitting still, we’ve noticed a big difference.

Another little upgrade we did was to replace our CH751 locks on our compartments.  Most every rig before the advent of slam latches used the same lock, meaning anyone that wanted to could get into our trunks with their CH751 key.

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A few years ago, Howard and Linda Payne from RV-Dreams replaced theirs with uniquely keyed locks.

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I contacted Howard and asked if they were still happy with them and who the supplier was.  He told me the company was called Industrial Lock and Hardware and that they were very satisfied with their locks.  We purchased enough of them from ILH to secure our big compartments.  While not making the door completely theft-proof, the new locks at least keep the honest thieves honest. 🙂

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‘Who are you talking about ….ME???’

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‘Well, he certainly wasn’t referring to me!’

We are currently at 42 of 61 items complete.  Most things will be finished before we leave at the end of the month, but a couple of them can wait until later.  It never hurts to have a few items on there to give the pad of paper a purpose.  😉

When is it that you find the time to tackle your ‘to do’ list?  Any cool upgrades that you’ve done this past year? We would love to hear about it!

 

Rockets and Red Cars

This season is shaping up to be the winter of rockets and red cars for us.  Living on the Space Coast of Florida, we’ve been fortunate to see several launches this winter, as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have been very busy.  As you probably have seen by now, the biggest rocket contained a red Tesla roadster.  While that was beyond cool, it wasn’t the only red vehicle launch for us.  More on that in a bit…

On January 29th, our friends Phyllis and Bernie came up from Fort Pierce for a visit.

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Diana and Phyllis worked together back in West Michigan.  They checked out our park and then we went to Sebastian Beach Inn for a late lunch.  It was great to see them again!

On January 31, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a communications satellite.

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The mission required a full thrust to a high orbit, so the booster wasn’t able to return to the Cape.  I was fortunate to get our Nikon focused enough to get this shot as the spacecraft flew by us.  This is zoomed all the way, plus cropped to make it even bigger.

A mere 7 days later, SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket for the very first time.  Luckily, this coincided with a visit by my sister Judy and her hubby Dale!

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It was a perfect day for a show!

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There were a lot of people watching up and down the beach.

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And it’s liftoff, as viewed from Melbourne Beach!  The Cape is just far enough away that it’s over the horizon.

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This is my best photo of it.  We were viewing it from the side, so it’s hard to see the side boosters.  There is a Tesla in that nose cone!  We did see the boosters separate, then fire side-by-side to begin their return to the Cape.  A minute or so later, they relit and landed in almost perfect unison.

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My cousin Mary was much closer up at Cocoa Beach and posted this photo on Facebook of the boosters coming in. Beyond cool!

After the launch, the four of us went to dinner at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.

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What a fun day!

So what else have we been doing?  Well, between substitute teaching assignments, Diana and I decided to go for a drive in Edsel the Escape yesterday up to Jacksonville.

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Before Edsel knew what happened, his license plate was off and Diana was shaking hands with William the car salesman.  Meet Edsel 2 on the left, our new 2018 Ford Escape!  Now all we need to do is to make sure Elon Musk doesn’t launch it into space. 🙂

We’ve also been planning our summer trip, which we will talk about in a future post.  It’s also maintenance season for our rig and vehicles….uhhhh, well one vehicle.  We sort of took care of any maintenance that needed to be done on the Escape!

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The biggest job of all is waxing the fifth wheel.  It takes me a few weeks to complete the job, as I only tackle a section each morning.  That strategy to be much easier on my body than trying to knock it out in a couple of days.  And that leaves the afternoons free for the beach and the next rocket launch!

Is Substitute Teaching Work Camping?

This post is written by Diana.

As you have read about Jim’s job at UPS this winter, I’m guessing more than a few have wondered if I’m been just sitting around eating Bon Bons and watching soap operas. Well I admit, I did go to the beach a couple of days.

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However, the majority of my time was spent applying to be a substitute teacher. Working with the Junior Ranger Program at Oregon State Parks this summer reminded me of how much I love kids and teaching. Jim and I have often commented about the nice elementary school near us as we have biked by it many times the last couple of years. Why not see if I could substitute teach there?

It took almost two months of work to complete the many requirements to get approved. I had to complete layers of information online, have official copies of my transcripts ($10) sent from the colleges where I earned my degrees, get a recommendation form completed by each of the five places I have worked the last ten years, and apply for the county to accept my Michigan teaching certificate for substitute teaching ($25). Brevard County Schools do not require you to have a certificate, but they do pay more if you have one. The highest rate for substitute teaching goes to retired teachers, so I also had to get a letter from the district I retired from in Michigan. In addition, I had to set up an account for direct deposit of my paychecks. Many times during this process, I wished I had more of my official documentation that is back in our storage room.

Once all of the above was completed, I was cleared to set up an interview with an administrator of our local elementary. This was a full interview with the assistant principal where I was given different classroom and discipline scenarios and asked how I would respond to them. I haven’t taught in 3 1/2 years, so some of my answers referred to my more recent experiences as an interpretive host. Luckily the interview went very well and they forwarded their approval on to the county. The elementary that seemed so nice on the outside, was even warmer and friendlier on the inside. I was getting excited!

The next hoops to jump through were drug testing ($30), finger printing, and a background check ($50). I received official notification that I was approved just before the students went on Christmas break. This gave me time to set up the online program for signing up for open substitute positions, as well as the online portal to see my pay account. In addition, there were many pages of information to read regarding school policy and procedures for substitute teachers. One packet alone was over 35 pages.

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When school resumed January 8th, I was ready to go. The county has an automated program that calls with offers of substitute positions the evening before from 5-8 pm, and again from 5:30 to the start of school in the morning. I can also search online for openings in the four elementary schools that I selected. However, most positions are filled before they are ever available to the general pool of subs. The secretaries and teachers like to assign their favorite subs and only post openings online as a last resort. I get it, I was the same way. Therefore, it takes a while to build up your reputation.

I have worked three days so far. Of course we took off one week to go to the Tampa RV show, so this is only the beginning of the third week I have been available. The first day I subbed was a blast! I was called by the secretary the night before, so it was nice that it wasn’t the morning of. It was a sixth grade position and I taught science and social studies. I was nervous that morning, but with 30-plus years of experience it all came back to me rather quickly. I was able to teach the level and subjects that I love, and then go home at the end of the day. I felt a little guilty watching the other teachers stay to grade papers, make lesson plans, and contact parents. Well not that guilty, I paid my dues. 🙂  The other two days were more supervision than teaching, which is fine but not nearly as much fun. It’s still a treat to be around the kids though. They do have a way of keeping you young and up on the latest trends.

A general definition of work camping is any job you are doing while camping. So yes, I consider substitute teaching work camping. As a retired teacher the rate of $16.25 per hour is on the high end of work camping jobs, but of course they don’t pay for our campsite. I like that it allows you to be flexible and block out days when you may have other plans. Being ready early every morning for a call that might not come, is definitely one of the down sides. I am also concerned about staying healthy, especially with the flu that is currently going around. I will let you know how things go. One nice thing is if I sub five days this school year, I do not have to reapply for next year.

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If anyone has a good gluten-free recipe for Bon Bons, I’ve got some free time for baking. – Jim

Mid-winter Road Trip

With the arrival of our halfway point in Florida, we decided to give the fifth wheel a mid-winter spin this past week.  As fulltime RVer’s, it’s a good thing to move down the road on occasion, if nothing more that to remember how it’s done.  After all, we are getting older.

With that being said, we set out to visit relatives and friends last Sunday, and to take in the RV show in Tampa.  The latter actually involved us boondocking at the Florida State Fairgrounds for a few nights, which we will talk about in more detail below.  We left the Escape on our site in Melbourne Beach, along with our carpet and our solar yard lights.  Even with that presence, we were the talk of the park when we left.  One of the residents waited for us to pass by his rig and asked, “Are you coming back?”  People tend not to move, once they are here…and most leave their rigs onsite all year long.  We are the anomaly in the fact that we actually use the wheels that are attached to our rig.  We have to remind ourselves that, even though we are surrounded by RVers, most people in the park are not fulltiming in their rigs.  Either way, we all are having fun…and that’s all that matters.

Our first stop was at Southern Oaks RV Resort in Summerfield, Florida, between Ocala and Leesburg.  We spent one night there to see Diana’s brother and his family.  We went out for pizza at Stavros in Lady Lake, which was very tasty!

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From left.  Our niece Danielle, Diana, Danielle’s children: Sarah, Dalton, (cute but not related neighbor boy in the green jacket), and Caydon. Diana’s sister-in-law Carla, Diana’s brother Dan, and me.  It was really fun being able to see them again!

The next morning, we headed further west to the town of Beverly Hills, Florida, to see our friends Rod and Mary.  You may recall that they work camped with us for two seasons at Wild Cherry Resort in Michigan, and they also owned a home in Melbourne Beach.  They were the ones who found our park for us.  They recently bought a brand new home further inland on one acre of land, which gives them a lot more breathing room than they had on their 5700 square foot lot here by the beach.  The only other time we had been to the area was many years ago when Diana’s dad was the construction superintendent on a community college in neighboring Lecanto.  We were pleasantly surprised by the area, as it features more hills and oak trees than anywhere else we had visited in Florida.  We set up camp at Sandy Oaks Resort, which we thought was nice.  That evening, they treated us to a wonderful Filet Mignon dinner at their home. And we got to see Gracie girl, their wonderful English Shepard.

The next day, the four of us headed to the Withlacoochee State Trail, which is a 46 mile long asphalt rail trail between the towns of Dunnellon and Dade City.

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Even though it was a brisk morning, the sun warmed us up pretty quickly.  The vegetation surrounding the path reminded us of late fall on the Leelanau Trail in northern Michigan.  We rode 5 miles north from Lecanto Highway to the northern terminus and back.

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What a great morning for a ride with friends!

That afternoon, we headed a few miles over to the town of Crystal River.  Rod and Mary rented a kayak and we put Ketchup and Mustard in Florida waters for the first time ever.

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Our destination was Three Sisters Spring, as the manatees like to congregate there.

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Mary was able to capture this gentle giant coming up under their boat.  We saw several manatees along the route, which was really fun!

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When we were done kayaking, we headed to dinner at Crackers in Crystal River, then said our farewells for a bit.  We hope to see Rod and Mary again before we leave Florida in April.  We had a wonderful time with them, as we always do!

4 AM Wednesday morning came early, as we packed up the rig and headed south to Tampa for the Florida RV Supershow.  Our goal was to get their early enough to set up the rig in the parking lot without the hoards of people who come in their cars for the event.  We actually did rather well, considering it was foggy in places, and the fact there was heavy traffic along the route.  The usual traffic jam by the show had not materialized yet, so navigating the parking lot was fairly easy.   This was the first time we had attempted to bring the RV.  Our logic was that the show is so large it usually takes two days to see it.  They even ticket the event that way, giving attendees the second day free.  It cost $12 (one time) to park the RV and truck, along with $20 for each night we stayed.  No hookups are provided, so we were sure to come with a full water tank and empty grey and black tanks.  We also brought our new generator, which we looked forward to trying out.  The one thing we failed to do was to fill the one propane tank that ran out the previous night.  With the Wednesday night temperature forecast to drop to a low of 29 degrees, we knew we would need to make a propane run after the show closed on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, the U-Haul dealer we went to for a fill-up had a broken pump, and the other stations in the area either didn’t carry propane or were unwilling to sell to us at night.  We did fine that night, but I was sure to be at another U-Haul dealer in Brandon at 7 AM when they opened.  I needed to be back to the rig before the masses started pouring into the show at 9 AM.

As far as the show goes, Diana and I covered the main indoor building on Wednesday morning and started looking at rigs in the outdoor area in the afternoon.  A raw north wind rolled in after lunch, and made being in the rigs much more desirable than being outside!  We did see one layout that caught our eye, but we really aren’t ready to move in that direction just yet.  Still it was fun to see what’s out there.

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On Thursday, we checked out more of the show before lunch, then we headed back to the rig.  We made plans to have our friends Kelly and Bill from BK American Odyssey over for chili.  It was great to see them again!  Afterwards, the four of us checked out the show for a few more hours, which is always fun.  We ran into fellow RV-Dreamers Guy and Sue from Our ‘Rovin’ Journey, who attended the same Spring 2014 RV-Dreams rally that Kelly and Bill attended.  It was the first time we had met.  Hopefully we will get to see them again down the road!  Midway through the afternoon, Bill and Kelly had to head out for a dinner date, so we finished up the show on our own.  Afterwards, we both realized that we had forgotten to take photos.  At 6 PM, we headed back to our rig as the vendors were all closing up for the night, so we definitely put in a full day!

Friday morning, we packed up the rig early and exited the fairgrounds before the crowds showed up.  We chose a different route back to Melbourne Beach, taking State Route 60 all the way across to Vero Beach, then north on A-1-A to our park.  Despite some traffic lights and suburban congestion near Tampa, the route was much easier than trying to navigate Orlando on the way back.  As a bonus, the Thursday night Atlas V launch from Kennedy Space Center was delayed until Friday evening, so we were fortunate to be able to watch it streak by as it headed southeast past us over the Atlantic.

 

All in all, it was a great week with friends and family, and a great little getaway!  Tune in next time to see what we’ve been up to.  As always, thanks for following along with exploRVistas!

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PASSPORT AMERICA NEWS!!!

If you join Passport America between now and January 31 and use us as a referral, you receive 6 months free.  That’s 18 months of half price camping for just $44.  We’ve been members for several years and have saved way more than the membership fee.

If you would, go to https://passportamerica.com/joins/signup and enter the following number in the member referral section near the top of the page:

C-643950

We certainly appreciate using us as a referral!

 

 

UPS Wrap-up and a Visit from Rick

Friday dawned like so many other days had the past few months….completing my morning routine, followed by packing a lunch, gathering my scanner and cellphone and getting ready to head out to my pod to deliver more packages.  After a post Christmas lull, volume this past week had actually increased to a point where I delivered  100 packages to 76 homes on Thursday.  The word coming from the office was that all pods were going to be pulled at the end of the workday on January 12.  As I prepared to step out the door, I heard a ‘DINNNNG’  come from my phone.  A group text had just come in stating that all pods were being pulled and that we were all done for the year.  Seeing that the temperature was only going to be in the 40’s and I was going to be zipping around on a golf cart without a windshield that day, I was pretty darned happy to read that little piece of information.  🙂

So, as promised, here is a quick wrap-up of my time as a UPS Seasonal Helper.  I worked a total of 7 weeks, plus the time they paid me for to train and fill out paperwork.  Four of those weeks included Saturdays, which were time-and-a-half for the complete shift.  The entire time logged came in at 198 hours, so most of the workdays were fairly short.  Even with the overtime, the job grossed just a little over $2100.  Was that worth it?  Well, given that I was able to accomplish a few things in the morning before I headed in and after I got home, I’d say yes.  The job more than covered our camping cost over the time I worked, and that’s at Florida beachfront rates.  Diana took care of most everything at home, so there was no pressure to do any of that when I got back from work.  I never felt rushed while on my route; with that being said, it is in my nature to hustle, so UPS definitely got their money’s worth.  Including time for sorting and just plain waiting for my truck to arrive (a couple of times over 2 hours, but most times my packages were there when I got there), I averaged around 20 parcels delivered an hour. So, as Amazon would say, I delivered 4000 smiles. 🙂  Every single customer I came in contact with was happy to see me, except one: the gentleman that received a case of wine.  Even though he was my second stop that particular run, he was very upset that his wine case had been subject to Florida sunlight in my open-topped trailer.  He accepted delivery and signed for it, but boy did he whine about his wine.  As I drove away, I pondered the fact that the winery shipped its product in a jet-black box, so they must not be too worried about heat affecting their product.  Even if he had purchased his wine at a local store, what conditions might that case have been subjected to, prior to him receiving it?  I smiled and continued on my way, knowing full well that I’m not going to be able to complete this gig with 100% satisfied customers.  🙂

Some of you may be wondering if this job was physically demanding.  From a lifting standpoint, I would probably answer that with “at times”.  I’m a fairly big guy, so at no time did I require assistance from another driver…which is an option, should something be too heavy.  The largest and heaviest item was the huge box containing a Schwinn Airdyne mentioned in an earlier post that I slid and tipped into and out of my trailer.  In most cases where a big parcel was involved, I was able to drive the cart and trailer right up the driveway to the house.  The thing that probably tired me out the most was getting on and off a golf cart in the vicinity of 80 times a shift.  The body part that hurt the most ended up not being my back, but my hands.  I had a tendency to carry smaller boxes in a similar fashion as palming a basketball.  Once I realized that I was doing it…and it hurt…I adjusted the way I held the packages.  It may sound silly, but I also had a sore ‘texting’ thumb from all of the work I had to do on the phone/scanner.  With all this being said, I rarely felt totally spent at the end on my shift…either physically or mentally.

The other thing that I should mention is the weather conditions.  Being halfway down the Atlantic coast of Florida, most days were perfect.  I did have one day that was a torrential downpour, two days that were steady rain, and one day that was just wet enough to require me to tarp the load.  I never had lightning to contend with, but my friend Rod did the year before, so I knew it was a possibility.  There were several days that were downright cold.  But, we have a saying in our family, courtesy of my cousin Sue’s husband John:  “There is no such thing as bad weather…only poor gear choices.”  John, except for the time my rain pants failed (which I replaced with a great pair from REI), I was in the proper gear and came through the job dry and warm.  I even found a use for my fleece texting gloves!

So to summarize the job, I’d have to say I really enjoyed it.  I plan on doing it again next year, so that says a lot in itself.  I was fortunate to have a good route, although I would like one a little closer to our park.  Like anything, if you come in knowing that there could be pitfalls to the job, it makes it easier to roll with it when things don’t go well.  For the most part, they did go well, so I plan on being behind the wheel again next November!

In other news, our friend Rick (On the Road with Maxine and Me) paid us a visit on the Saturday before New Years Day!

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He had come down from his work camping gig at Hamburg State Park in Georgia to visit us and his friend Patty, who lives south of us in Sebastian.  We drove him up to show him our park, grabbed some lunch on the deck at Sebastian Beach Inn, and checked out the Barrier Island Turtle Sanctuary.

Afterwards, Patty had made arrangements for the four of us to go on an airboat ride in Fellsmere, just west of Vero Beach.  She chose Capt. Bob’s Airboat Adventure Tours, which was a great choice.  Our pilot, Captain John, gave a very professional and fun-filled tour.  The headsets allowed everyone to communicate with each other, which really enhanced the experience.

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We had a fantastic time!  We saw a couple of alligators and all sorts of birds.  It was really fun getting to meet Patty and being able to spend time with Rick again!

So what’s next on our agenda?  We have a few things coming up, plus we are beginning to pull our spring and summer plans together.  Be sure to stay tuned for that.  We did want to mention that we are planning on going to the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa on Wednesday and Thursday, January 17 and 18.  We are going to be bringing the rig and hanging out for a few days, so feel free to contact us if you are going to be attending the show.  We’d love to meet up and say hi!

Happy Holidays!

It is that time of year when many of us celebrate the holidays with our loved ones!  Here in the United States, the season focuses mostly on Christmas…but let’s not forget that many of us have other traditions.  On my rounds through the neighborhoods delivering packages for UPS, I’ve also noticed several Happy Hanukkah signs.  Still others celebrate Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, St. Lucia Day, and Omisoka this time of year.

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Most of them involve gifts!  The streets are filled with not only our UPS golf carts, but also FedEx and USPS trucks.  I was even surprised to see a plain white cargo van pull up to a house filled to the roof with Amazon boxes!  I found out later that Amazon is delivering some (but not all) of their packages themselves.  With that said, here’s a quick update on the delivery gig:  Since our last post, the routes have pretty much been covered with employees who chose to stick with the job.  That’s a good thing, as it meant I was able to work just at my pod and help out on the pod next to mine.  The amount of packages settled down until the Wednesday before Christmas, when things ramped up.  This last Friday was my busiest day, with 149 stops and 197 packages delivered.  That happened in 7 hours and 22 minutes (including sorting and loading) for an average of one package every two-and-a-half minutes!  The step count on my Fitbit came in at a little over 15,000 steps that day.  Several of those stops involved adult signatures, as wine is a popular thing to ship this time of year.  The very next day…Saturday…the volume dropped way off.

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I covered BOTH pods in one load.  But while it doesn’t seem like much, it represents 38 very happy households who were able to get their last minute gifts in time for their celebrations.  Notice that someone even shipped Graeter’s ice cream from Ohio!  It was rock-solid, so it must work to do that.  I will be providing a wrap-up of the job, once it ends in mid-January…so be sure to stay tuned.

Lots of other things have been happening in our area!  On December 9th, we got together for dinner with our friends Bob and Pat from Michigan Traveler.

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They were staying at Wickham Park for a few weeks, and are ultimately hoping to head for their spot in the Keys…which is still in recovery mode from Hurricane Irma.  It was great to see them again!

We also had an unexpected visit from our friends Dave and Lois from Wild Cherry.  Unfortunately, their visit was rushed, as they were travelling with their dog Darby.  Within two minutes of them arriving, the park owner rolled up on his golf cart to remind us of the ‘no pet’ rule in the park.  It’s the only rule in our annual Letter of Intent that is in bold type, so he’s adamant about it.  As animal lovers, it’s not our favorite thing…but the park works well for us otherwise.  As we said, we would love for people to stop by and visit; just remember that the puppies and kitties have to stay home.  😦

This past week has also seen many of the park residents head back north for the holidays.  It’s a little quiet around here.  They will all be back next week, plus many more.  The park should be hopping soon!

Diana and I saw another SpaceX launch.  She was at our park and I was loading up my golf cart at the time.

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My pod is a little over 10 miles from the launch pad.  The exhaust flames were clearly visible going up, followed by the low rumble of the rocket several seconds later.  The entire scene was played back in reverse a couple minutes later, as the first stage descended back to the Cape and landed upright on an adjacent landing pad.  Absolutely amazing to be able to see that.  SpaceX is hoping to launch their Falcon Heavy for the first time in January, which is three of these rockets strapped together.  The payload will be Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla, which will hopefully end up in the same orbit around the sun as Mars.  A red roadster and a red planet.  We are hoping to get tickets for that launch, so we will be sure to let you know how that goes!

And Christmas in Florida wouldn’t be complete without Surfing Santas!

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Once again, Cocoa Beach was packed with elves on surfboards on Christmas Eve!

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Thousands of people were there to have a good time, listen to various bands and watch the hula dancers.  Even though the ocean was flat, an occasional wave would come in to provide some surfing entertainment.

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With that, Diana and I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year, Boxing Day, Festivus, or whatever you may celebrate.  Stay safe and enjoy!

 

Golf Cart Delivery – The Scoop

A few posts ago, I mentioned that UPS had taken me on as a seasonal delivery driver.  You may recall that I use a golf cart to distribute packages that are brought to a central pod that is located on the edge of my route.  Today I am going to detail the job as it has unfolded, as some of you may be considering doing this in the future as a way to bring in some holiday cash.

On the surface, driving around a gated community on a golf cart and bringing parcels to homes sounds easy, right?  Well, for the most part, it is…

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…except when you are zipping along at 20 mph on a 50 degree rainy day.

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On days like this, I am reminded of the U.S. Postal Service motto:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

That motto applies to UPS and FedEx also.  But most days are sunny and warm here in Florida, and weather has not been a major factor.  What has been interesting is the reactionary nature of this business.  By that, I mean that UPS has to react to whatever is thrown at them, which means that they need to be flexible.  That ability to switch gears at a moment’s notice occurs at all levels of the company, including my job.

When I started out, they had me deliver packages from my pod only, which is designated by a three letter code.  (For security purposes, the codes I use are not the real codes.)  My pod is ABC and the pod next to mine is AB-2.  I would deliver my packages and finish up by around 1 PM, depending on the day.  On a weekday, a route is somewhere in the vicinity of 85 stops, with some houses getting multiple packages.  The package count is right around 130. AB-2’s driver also works nights at the terminal, so he shows up at noon.  If he has a lot of deliveries and requests the help, I can log onto his manifest and help him out.  That has worked extremely well.  On occasion, I’ll get a call from either my trainer or the terminal, requesting me to go to another pod after I’ve finished mine.  I’ve always accepted the challenge, as the variety keeps it interesting.  The first time I did this, I was beachside (as in, I was on the barrier island, instead of the mainland where ABC is located).  The neighborhood was not gated, and could best be described as ‘beach funky’.  The previous driver had quit. Coming in cold without knowing the neighborhood wasn’t a huge problem, as it was 5 east/west streets with 7 cul-de-sacs descending off of the southern road.  We will call this pod BCD.  There is a GPS map feature on the phone they gave me to use…which works well…but I also like to print myself a map for quicker reference. That way, I can pre-sort my packages into the order I am going to deliver them.  That is actually faster than fumbling with the phone on the route, as we are told to put the phone down when the cart is moving.  Going to a new route mid-day doesn’t allow me to print that map, but I have learned to print one if I know I’m going ahead of time. Also, my friend Rod taught me an invaluable trick that he used last year.  With all of the writing on a label, it is sometimes hard to find the address quickly.  What he did was to write the address on the top of the box with a Sharpie, using the first two letters from the street.  For example:  2180 Maple Street would be written as ‘2180 MA’.  That makes finding the correct box a breeze, especially when you are peering under a tarp in the rain.

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Approximately 50 stops worth of parcels.

On Saturday, December 2, they had us come in to deliver any parcels that were in the pipeline for Monday.  That amounted to two cart-and-trailers worth of stuff for ABC (around 30 stops), and I was done in less than two hours. AB-2’s driver texted me and asked what his pod looked like, so I stated it was light….25 stops.  He asked if I would run it for him…which I agreed to, just to make my trip to the pod worth it.  I finished his and then got a call from my trainer, asking if I would go to another pod (CDE), as the person working there also quit on them.

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CDE was a really nice neighborhood.   The homes were older than ABC’s and the community wasn’t gated.  Also, the landscaping was more established, offering me plenty of welcomed shade.  The downside was, it was a huge route with 55 stops…a LOT for a Saturday.  The roads were twisty-turny, and there were a lot of small cul-de-sacs interspersed throughout.  Remember, I came in cold without a map.  Luckily, the cart was extremely fast, as someone must have removed the governor.  About 4:30, I received a call from the terminal asking if I was going to get the job done…as I think they lose a lot of people at the end of the day.  “Don’t worry, I’ve got this!” I said.  The last package was delivered as the sun hit the horizon.  🙂  I ended up logging 7.25 hours that day…which is all time-and-a-half, regardless of how many hours you have during the week.

This last week, I returned to BCD on Tuesday, then was sent to another new route, DEF.  That route required patience.  Again, a person had quit…and this time, I sympathized with them.  The neighborhood was decent, but it involved a busy two lane connector road with no cart path…and it was under construction.  The pod door was facing south, and it was 85 degrees.  Needless to say, sorting was a cooker!  Also, it was located at the back of an apartment complex in a storage area, so it was not very convenient.  While the cart was fast like CDE’s, it had a major issue getting started.  Every time I pushed on the gas to take off, it would squeal for 10 seconds before the engine would start and I could begin to move.  That cut into my time a lot.  I informed the terminal and they sent a driver out to take some of the work off my hands, but there wasn’t any way of fixing the cart yet that day.  To be fair, if the cart would have worked well and the connector road had been fully opened, the route would have been somewhat decent.  I even stopped for a minute to compliment one of the homeowners on her landscaping, which she was busy draping Christmas light on.  After all, I was getting paid to ride around on a golf cart. 🙂  As far as all the folks quitting; I guess they would rather receive packages than deliver them!

On Wednesday, the terminal texted me before work and asked me to start at BCD, then head over to ABC.  10 minutes later, they switched me from BCD to a new route, EFG.  This route could be best described as ‘funky…without the beach’.  Luckily, I was still at home, so I printed a map.  I got there and saw I only had 45 stops…which for a weekday, was very light.  I sorted the pod, loaded the first run and took off.  Two stops into the run, my trainer called and said they had a glut of drivers that day, and that I needed to take the cart back to the pod and let someone else complete it.  So that is what I did.  I went to my ABC pod and completed that in my normal amount of time and called it a day.  Of course, my rate of packages was really low for the amount of time I was clocked in, so I was called on it by the afternoon dispatch.  I explained what happened, and that whoever was fortunate enough to run EFG, probably had a great rate, as I had completely sorted it for them.  Once dispatch realized what had happened, she breathed a sigh of relief.  🙂

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Since then, there has been enough drivers to cover all the routes.  The driver at AB-2 and me have been doing our trade-offs, but that’s been it.  I get to enjoy the Christmas decorations on the ABC route and….

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…the wildlife!  These two Sandhill cranes were standing a few feet from where I needed to walk, so I calmly talked to them and they let me pass by.  🙂

A few other things I wanted to mention:

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Amazon boxes hold up extremely well, while…

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…a particular competitor’s boxes do not.  I see it time and again.  The competitor uses much lower quality cardboard and tape.  Also, delivering packages is a dirty job.  By the time those pretty boxes come from the packers at Amazon and make their way to Florida, they’ve picked up a fair amount of dirt, which transfers to me and my clothes.  In addition, some of these boxes are quite heavy.  I delivered a Schwinn Airdyne and a Total Gym, both of which were too heavy to lift.  I slid them to the edge of the pod and tipped them into my trailer, then reversed the process at the home.  My hands and low back definitely let me know they are hurting after a day’s worth of deliveries.

So there you have a rough idea of what’s involved in my fun little job with UPS.  Will I do it again?  Most definitely.  Any job I’ve ever done has had its pitfalls, and this one has had a few of its own.  But the people I am working with are dedicated and very nice, and like I said two posts ago, the people receiving the parcels are happy to see me at their door.  That makes for a very fun day, indeed.  🙂

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Life at the Speed of Prime

“You want it when???”

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Back in the 1970’s, this jewel of a cartoon began appearing in workplaces all over the world. As lead times have decreased since then, many people have looked at this drawing at their work stations and smiled, after customers placed unrealistic delivery dates for them to meet. In my management career with a hotel furniture manufacturer, I’ve felt the stress of demanding customers pushing me to get them their product quickly. In turn, my vendors and our manufacturing team had that pressure transferred from my shoulders to theirs. I’m sure many of them hung up the phone, looked at this image and laughed at me.

Back in those days, my world view was focused between our company’s vendors, workers, and customers from my desk in Holland, Michigan. Sure, I’d think about how my demands affected their personal lives, but the constant pressure on me never allowed me to look much further than that. Retirement to lives as fulltime RVers has expanded Diana’s and my views to help us understand the bigger picture of how our world is speeding up. Two post-retirement jobs in particular have really driven that point home: packing boxes for Amazon and delivering packages for UPS.

When the two of us first walked into Amazon’s fulfillment center in Campbellsville, Kentucky last year, I literally had to fight back tears of joy. To totally understand why that is, you have to go back to my upbringing in the neighborhood that surrounds the Ford Rouge plant in suburban Detroit. I was one of the fortunate few who took the old tour of the facility in which I saw the iron ore being unloaded from a ship at one end of the plant and a finished Mustang being driven off the line at the other end. That was a pivotal day in my life in which I saw what an efficient process could do in getting product to the consumer quicker. I would spend my career striving to streamline everything I did, often keeping Henry Ford’s beloved Rouge complex in the back of my mind. When we toured Amazon during our orientation, everything I dreamed of achieving…and more…was happening before our eyes! Orders that hadn’t even been placed yet when we ate breakfast, were being packaged and sent to waiting trucks before we sat down to eat our lunches. The concept that is Amazon Prime…where an item ordered online will be delivered in two days…had become our daily duty.  Clearly, Jeff Bezos & Company had built upon Mr. Ford’s dream and had polished it to such a model of efficiency that even Henry would be awestruck.

Fast forward to this holiday season and my job delivering packages for UPS. I’m seeing how the Amazon Prime culture is affecting the shipping business. Melbourne’s little UPS distribution center…while quiet most of the year…sees not only a huge population increase as the snowbirds arrive in town, but also in the amount of items those people are buying online during the holidays. FedEx and the US Postal Service sees the same thing. Imagine trying to run a business within those parameters. On a system-wide scale, more airplanes and semis are needed this time of year…not to mention the increases needed at the local level. While I haven’t seen it with the other shippers, the seasonal golf carts is how UPS has addressed the onslaught of Christmas deliveries. Evidently, they use them throughout the U.S. in places where snow isn’t an issue. For the price of a golf cart, trailer, safety vest, gasoline, smartphone, temporary driver’s wages and a rental pod, they can cover a residential area of a half square mile or more. Also factor in the hiring, training and supervision of the temporary employees. For trainers/supervisors, they are using senior and retired drivers to fill those positions. For hiring, they are advertising on indeed.com and using county employment agencies to physically handle the amount of people applying for these jobs. All of these resources are tangible and can be relied upon year after year. For a worker like me looking to pick up some extra cash, the job is a good deal. And for a young person wanting a career, its an outstanding opportunity to get a foot in the door.

Change is happening in places other than the shipping industry, because of Amazon.  Since Prime was introduced in 2005, retailers have either closed their doors or adapted to the change.  Malls stand empty across the country, as do many big box stores.  Walmart has accepted the challenge online by offering free two day shipping without the subscription fee that Amazon charges for Prime.  Target, Kohls and many other brick-and-mortar retailers are also stepping up their online presence.  They have to in order to survive.  Groceries will no doubt be next, with Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods.  What comes next is anybody’s guess; it could be a pharmacy retailer, a home improvement chain or any number of things.

I have faith that solutions will be found for companies like UPS to adapt to life at the speed of Prime. Being able to observe them pull it off fascinates me to no end. I look forward to see the next big innovation and the changes it will bring to our world.

What ways have you seen that Amazon Prime has changed your world?


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