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Amazon Miracle?

I’m not much of a photographer. However, when I decided to go upscale a few years ago and bought an expensive wide-angle zoom lens for our digital SLR, I immediately discovered why photographers get those fancy flash attachments. It’s not just to look cool. If instead one relies on the little built-in pop-up flash, every shot acquires a lens barrel shadow. It’s simple geometry. Protruding lens + flash just above lens = shadow. A day later, I ordered a flash attachment.

At the time, Nikon offered their SB-600 and SB-800 Speedlight flashes. I didn’t know anything other than that I needed one. I figured the cheaper one, the 600, would suffice. And so it has, until I tried to use it two months ago when Jessica was here to celebrate her birthday early, the night before Joel flew back to North Carolina. I attached it to the camera, pushed the on/off button, and nothing happened. I got 4 new AA batteries (these things eat batteries) and tried again. Nothing. I stared inside the battery compartment, saw some sediment on one of the contacts, cleaned it as best I could, and tried again. Nothing. I put on the fast fixed lens I bought last summer (almost the subject of a long post at the time, but I let the matter drop), took a few flashless photos, and left it at that.

Last weekend, thinking ahead to my big birthday this past Wednesday, I remembered that I had a non-functioning flash. I would have to check it out before the birthday dinner party. Before I knew it, Tuesday night had come. I had done nothing, and Gail asked if I planned to bring the camera to Rover’s for the dinner.

I pulled out the flash again and put in still newer batteries, with the same result. Gail got a tool and played around with the battery contact that seemed to be bent. Still no help. I did a search on SB-600s that don’t turn on. Some people posted to forums about the same problem. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy, but there were suggestions that they are repairable, cheaper than buying a new one.

I went to Amazon’s website to see what new ones cost. It seemed that the SB-600 and SB-800 were replaced by the SB-700 and SB-900. I went to a review site and learned that the SB-700 was a significant upgrade to the SB-600. Indeed, it was close to the SB-900, itself a significant upgrade to the SB-800. Buying an SB-700 looked appealing. Not that I had a clue how to take advantage of the upgraded features or imagined I ever would. But it was now 8:57 PM on the eve of my birthday and I needed a working flash in 21 hours.

I looked up the website of our local camera store, saw that they were open until 9:00 PM, and gave them a call. They’re just down the hill from my office. I could pick one up on the way home the next day. But no one answered. Understandable perhaps. Why get stuck talking to someone at closing time?

Back to Amazon. If I ordered a flash immediately, it would ship out the next day, my birthday, with free two-day shipping, arriving two days late. Or for only $3.99 extra, I could get overnight shipping and it would arrive one day late. Then I saw that there was a third option. For the same $3.99, I could get express local same-day delivery. It would go out and be delivered the next day. I took the deal.

Cue up Miracle of Miracles from Fiddler on the Roof.

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles indeed. I got home at 2:00 PM Wednesday and there it was, my brand new Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash. I opened the box, popped four AAs in, attached the Speedlight to the camera, and it worked. We were all set for the party. (If you went to the already-linked post about my birthday dinner, you would have seen an example of the flash’s handiwork already.)

Is this an amazing time to be alive or what?

Alas, on Thursday I discovered that miracles don’t just happen. They come at a price. And I don’t mean $3.99.

That morning’s daily New Yorker To-Do List feature linked to and quoted from Mac McClelland’s piece I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave in the newly available Mother Jones March-April issue. In the evening, I turned to the piece, which makes for nightmarish bedtime reading. McClelland explored work at a third-party warehouse company, one with horrific work conditions, and reports on what she found. She doesn’t say specifically that the warehouse where she worked was used by Amazon, but one imagines it was. And if not, the warehouses they do use are surely much the same.

I hardly know what passage to quote to give a taste of her experience. Any one will do. However, I recommend the cumulative effect of reading the entire article. Perhaps I’ll rely on the New Yorker’s wisdom and quote the same passage they did:

By the fourth morning that I drag myself out of bed long before dawn, my self-pity has turned into actual concern. There’s a screaming pain running across the back of my shoulders. “You need to take 800 milligrams of Advil a day,” a woman in her late 50s or early 60s advised me when we all congregated in the break room before work. When I arrived, I stashed my lunch on a bottom ledge of the cheap metal shelving lining the break room walls, then hesitated before walking away. I cursed myself. I forgot something in the bag, but there was no way to get at it without crouching or bending over, and any extra times of doing that today were times I couldn’t really afford. The unhappy-looking guy I always make a point of smiling at told me, as we were hustling to our stations, that this is actually the second time he’s worked here: A few weeks back he missed some time for doctors’ appointments when his arthritis flared up, and though he had notes for the absences, he was fired; he had to start the application process over again, which cost him an extra week and a half of work. “Zoom zoom! Pick it up! Pickers’ pace, guys!” we were prodded this morning. Since we already felt like we were moving pretty fast, I’m quite dispirited, in fact….

One suggestion for minimizing work-related pain and strain is to get a stepladder to retrieve any items on shelves above your head rather than getting up on your toes and overreaching. But grabbing one of the stepladders stashed few and far between among the rows of merchandise takes time. Another is to alternate the hand you use to hold and wield your cumbersome scanner. “You’ll feel carpal tunnel start to set in,” one of the supervisors told me, “so you’ll want to change hands.” But that, too, he admitted, costs time, since you have to hit the bar code at just the right angle for it to scan, and your dominant hand is way more likely to nail it the first time. Time is not a thing I have to spare. I’m still only at 57 percent of my goal. It’s been 10 years since I was a mover and packer for a moving company, and only slightly less since I worked ridiculously long hours as a waitress and housecleaner. My back and knees were younger then, but I’m only 31 and feel pretty confident that if I were doing those jobs again I’d still wake up with soreness like a person who’d worked out too much, not the soreness of a person whose body was staging a revolt. I can break into goal-meeting suicide pace for short bouts, sure, but I can’t keep it up for 10.5 hours.

I got my Speedlight 700 in time for the party. I’m a happy guy. But talk about Faustian bargains!

Categories: Business, Economy, Shopping
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