Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

We have cabin fever so bad that some days we just get in the car and drive around. I suppose we shouldn’t, but we don’t come in contact with anybody, so what’s the harm? The traffic is negligible to non-existent. Gas prices are rock bottom. We paid $1.87/gallon yesterday, and Oregon has just about the most expensive gas in the country.

Driving around, it struck me that many people are going to come out of this pandemic healthier than they have been in a long time, maybe healthier than they have ever been. Why? Because they are walking, jogging, and running more than they ever have before. They’re everywhere, now that the weather is nice, or at least not cold. People who used to have to squeeze in time for their exercise are finding they can run two, three, four times a day. Gyms are closed, but guess what? Walking/jogging/running is free! You don’t need a mechanical running track.

Add to that the fact that restaurants and bars are closed, so people aren’t eating the too-large portions that most places serve. They’re cooking at home. What an idea.

You know who else is certainly enjoying the pause in the rat race? Dogs! Everywhere, people are out walking their dogs, all times of the day. Pooches who were accustomed to getting once around the block once a day when their masters got home are getting multiple walks. And other than food, there is nothing dogs enjoy more than getting out of the house. All I ever had to say to my beloved Sheltie Cirocco (1979-1999) was “Wanna get in the car? Wanna go to the park?” to see her jump up and down and bark in delight.

People are also getting a lot of spring cleaning done. A few days ago we had to take some stuff to the dump, stuff too big to put in the bin. The line of cars waiting to dispose of their junk was a block long. We waited twenty minutes for our turn.

Another thing people have said is they now have time to get some reading done. They’d been too busy to take a book off the stack of “one of these days” books. It’s also been a good time to order books, and that’s what I’d like to write about here.

Your first thought when buying books is probably “Let’s see if Amazon has it.” We used to think that way, too. But we haven’t bought anything from Amazon for a few years now, and it’s simply because of one thing: Jeff Bezos. We despise him. I saw an article alleging that he had made around twenty billion dollars from the COVID-19 crisis in just a few weeks.

Are you old enough to remember when Amazon sold just … books? Now they sell everything. Small bookstores were the first to go. There are still a few around, but how long can that last? People were opting for shopping online even before this all started. Now it is so convenient that there is a real danger that Amazon will kill … well, everything. Do we really want a society where no one ever visits actual stores anymore? Where the richest man in the world so utterly dominates the economy that, soon, we may have very little alternative to the Amazon behemoth? We are very near that already.

I don’t want to see that world come about.

All this is happening while Amazon is ignoring the health concerns of the people who work in the gigantic, automated “fulfillment centers.” Not only that, but they are firing workers who speak out. A leaked memo from a high exec at Amazon exposed their plan to assassinate the character of a man, Chris Smalls, who organized a very small strike. Here’s what general counsel David Zapolsky had to say about him:

“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers.”

Bullshit! Utter bullshit! But what did you expect? They fired him. What they did was probably illegal. Will anyone do anything about it? Unlikely.

The idea that what you or I can do will affect Amazon in any way is, of course, ridiculous. But what you can do is what we have done. Don’t shop there, and at least feel good about yourself. Is that so silly?

NPR recently ran a story about Powell’s Books here in Portland. The lead was interesting. They said that Powell’s was the “Eiffel Tower of Portland.” Sounds odd, but then they explained. When you go to Paris, the first thing you want to do is ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I sure did. And when you come to Portland, if you are literate, the first thing you want to do is drop in at Powell’s.

I’ve been visiting since it was an untidy, long and narrow store a few blocks away from where it is now. Books were stacked on the floor, books were falling off tables and shelves. You were likely to encounter Michael Powell himself, getting grubby handling old books and magazines. From its founding in 1971 the store expanded exponentially into its new location, until it now covers an entire city block. The main store is called the City of Books. There are 1.6 acres of floor space, divided into nine color-coded rooms, with 3,500 different sections. There are two other stores, all quite large. In the stores and in warehouses there are four million books.

I’m urging you all to buy at Powell’s online if you can. Now, clearly this isn’t a hole-in-the-wall mom and pop operation. In terms of selling books, Powell’s is probably behind only Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and I’m not even sure about B&N. So why should you shop there, even though the price might be a few dollars more than Bezos would charge you?

Because at Powell’s, they love books. Jeff Bezos loves nothing at all except money. Think about that the next time you order, and the fact that Bezos is able to offer prices that low because he literally holds the entire publishing world hostage, and because he squeezes every drop of sweat from the brows of his workers.

And then there’s the famous next-day delivery. Do you know what that costs Bezos? Very little. Those drivers are “independent contractors,” like Uber drivers, or strippers in topless bars. That means that he doesn’t have to pay for health insurance, or any other kind of benefits. Drivers are assigned an insane quota of deliveries per hour, more than any human could reasonably be expected to achieve.

That same NPR story pointed out that Powell’s is in trouble. They have laid off most of their workers, having no other choice, and retained only those people needed to pack and ship books bought online. Large as it is, Emily Powell says she has to shift money from one pocket to another simply to stay in business. This COVID-19 shutdown could kill them.

Which brings me to my final point: The United States Postal Service. Sure, we all gripe about how bad it can be, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Congress has starved the USPS for years. Now The Goon, in one of his rambling, incoherent slobberings, has hinted that he is in line with Republican Congress creatures who want to abolish the post office and “privatize” it, like they have done to large portions of the military. At least that’s what it sounded like, if you managed to wade through his scrambled babblings of sentence fragments, bad syntax, psychotic exaggeration, idiotic proposals, and the usual quota of lies.

I have been a stamp collector (I’m on too small a scale to call myself a philatelist, I collect only mint US stamps) since I bought a Big Bag o’ 1,000 Stamps!! for a few bucks from the back of a Donald Duck comic book when I was in the second grade, and spent a pleasant several days soaking them off the torn envelopes and pasting them in an album. Those little squares of paper were from all over the world, places like Sverige, Helvetia, Nippon, Poczta, and Suomi. (Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Finland.) Some of them showed Adolf Hitler’s horrible face! Exciting! So I guess you could call me prejudiced in favor of the institution. But do you really want it to go away? Do you really want to be at the mercy of UPS, FEDEX, Bezos Prime, and whatever travesty of a delivery service Congress can fashion from the looted and dismembered corpse of the Postal Service and hand out to the highest briber? Which could very well be Jeff Bezos? Please say you don’t.

So … in the end … you do what you want to. Do what you have to do if your budget is tight. I know how attractive it is to get the lowest price, it’s not like I am able to shop at high-end stores, either at malls or online. But please consider visiting Powell’s when you are shopping for a book, and ask yourself if it’s worth it, supporting this ravenous Amazonian Bezosian beast just to save two or three dollars. Are you really okay with helping to put another twenty or thirty or forty billion dollars into the pocket of this creepy motherfucker?

Vancouver, WA
April 26, 2020