Confronting Amazon: Adventures in Moral Cowardice

I admit it: Amazon’s got me right where they want me, and I’ve been mostly loving it. And no, it’s not just ’cause I live on an island where you can’t always get what you want. I’ve slid into loving the whole experience, from the one-click purchase to the insanely speedy arrival of that smiley package at my door.

As an author and a loyal supporter of indie bookstores, of course, I rarely buy books from Amazon. (Irony! Remember when they called themselves “Earth’s Largest Bookstore?” Me neither.) For example, if you want to buy my books, I ask that you request your favorite Indie bookstore to order them.*Click on the link to see how: The Flying Burgowski.

*This shameless self-promotion brought to you by #supportyourlocalauthor

But my own books are published through Createspace, an Amazon company. And I was given a Kindle. Don’t use it much, but when I do–hello, Amazon. And did I mention how much I love finding packages at my door?

So of course I signed up for Amazon Prime. Ooh, free movies and music too! Got a little grumpy when they raised the price, but still–ooh, shiny free shipping. Which just encourages me to one-click more often.

I do support my local stationery/office supplies/gift shop, and my hardware store. I do send most of my loved ones homemade granola for Christmas, and what clothes I don’t buy at our Thrift Shop I buy at REI.

But oh wow, I can get six pairs of garden gloves for the price of one here on-island? And they’ll be here tomorrow?

Lately I’ve become disturbed by my own rampant acquisitiveness, but not enough to slow myself down much. But now, two additional considerations are doing just that.

First, I began hearing and reading news stores about Amazon using unmarked vehicles to ship, and calling the drivers “independent contractors.” Because Prime speed is the ultimate goal, these drivers are not given routes which avoid dangerous left turns (which UPS drivers do avoid). And if an “independent” Amazon driver does hurt or kill someone, Amazon dodges legal responsibility.

Second–and this was the biggie–I learned that Amazon has been making its cloud storage available to Palantir, the data-mining company that ICE uses to target people for arrest and deportation.

According to Karen Hao of MIT Technology Review,

a new investigation, published today, sheds more light on the web of tech companies involved in supporting ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, commissioned by activist organizations Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project, found that Amazon has played as central a role as Palantir in providing the backbone infrastructure for many of ICE’s, and DHS’s, key programs. Amazon has also enjoyed a cozy relationship with the federal government that has helped it secure an outsize number of government contracts.

Hold up. Amazon is helping La Migra do its dirty work? THESE people?

ICE’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

That one hit me right where I live–or try to live. Because my first thought was, Wow, I need to join that Amazon boycott–and not just on Prime Day

And my second thought? I can’t quit Amazon! I just…can’t.

Stop selling my books? Ditch my Kindle? This is where the rubber of social activism meets the road of sacrifice. And I failed the test big time.

To salvage a few ounces of moral authority, I made two decisions.

  1. I quit Amazon Prime. At the very least, they won’t be getting an automatic $120 from me every year. And between my new efforts to avoid Amazon, and the very real costs of shipping, they won’t be getting as much of my money.
  2. I signed up for Amazon Smile, which allows you to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice. And I designated Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest as my recipient.

But I’m still not very happy about my dependence on this giant company which I’ve loved so dearly and so long. Can I get an Amen? 😦

Road Trip VIII, Days 1-4, Tacoma to Oakland: Making The Familiar Strange

“Poetry is making the familiar strange.” That’s an unattributed quote I used to give my students, and it came to my mind as the Mate and I began the first leg of this, our eighth cross-country sojourn to North Carolina. It’s true that even though February travel argues for a quick race to the south, we have multiple routes available to us for that purpose. We don’t have to go Tacoma-Eugene-Redwood Coast-Oakland-Los Angeles. Yet we’ve taken that route six out of eight years.

That raises two questions. The first, Why? is easy: people. Specifically, dear very young people who are changing so rapidly that missing a year is like missing three, and dear older people whose health we never want to take for granted. We WILL go where they are, while we can.

…like these guys😍

The second question is tougher: how do we keep fresh our enthusiasm for this well-traveled route? And that’s where that quote comes in. In this first, familiar leg of our journey, I am giving my Noticing Muscles a workout, determined to keep the familiar strange.

So, walking in Tacoma’s beautiful Point Defiance Park, I ignored the shining trunks of the madrona trees to capture this bright red Oregon Grape.

Nothing like Christmas in February!

Then, instead of taking a classic picture of Mt. Rainier in all her fresh-snow glory, I focused on this cloud flexing its muscle.

We can do it!

In Eugene, walking with friends along the Coast Fork of the Willamette, I substituted a shot of moss-draped oaks for this intriguingly blank sign.

For when you’re feeling especially self-directed…

Not pictured: flock of wild turkeys.

Just before the California border, heading toward Cave Junction on beautiful US 199, we passed this sign (admittedly not our first glimpse, but I finally got the Mate to slow down so I could take its picture):

Apparently fully intentional—hey, let’s celebrate veggies AND dyslexia!

In the redwoods—oh, I have so many pictures of redwoods!—I forced myself away from the big trees…

OK, just ONE MORE big tree picture…!

ahem, I say, I forced myself to look down instead of up sometimes, and found…

British Soldier lichen!


Tiny tree doing yoga!

Finally arriving in the Bay Area, the Mate and I went for a bike ride along the top of Tilden Park in Berkeley. And there…well, it’s not so much that my noticing muscles gave out, as that bikes aren’t the best mode of transport for photography.

So I had to settle for this fairly obvious shot:

Good ol’ Golden Gate in the distance

Not pictured: a pair of the glossiest ravens I’ve ever seen.

But no worries—most of the “view” I’m seeing in these well-travelled parts of the West are memories…and I haven’t found a way to capture those with my smartphone yet.

Home Is Where The Maki Is: When Sushi = Family

The Mate and I love sushi. Whenever we’re in our former city of Tacoma, we look forward to visiting our favorite restaurant, Fujiya, owned by Masahiro Endo. The food is close-your-eyes-in-ecstasy wonderful. But truthfully, we’re there for the people.

The first thing we see when we walk into Fujiya is our family holiday picture on the wall, along with a select few others. We know we’re home. It’s been home for 26 years.

We first met Endo-san back in 1990 when we first moved to Washington. Our new house had been built on an unstable slope, and that rainy autumn, some of that slope slid down to the yard of the neighbor at the bottom, breaking through his retaining wall. Endo-san is so proper and polite, he probably never would have complained, but his next-door neighbor intervened on his behalf, demanding that we fix the situation.

Of course we did. The Mate took Endo-san out to lunch at his own restaurant, where they agreed on a plan to pay for repairs. We had already discovered the restaurant, but that day we also discovered a friend.

Sushi is an expensive habit. We rationalized our frequent visits this way: ounce for ounce, it’s about the healthiest protein-fix you can get, especially when supplemented with the veggies that Endo-san would inevitably include in the free dishes he sent to our table. We always left not only full, but carrying leftovers (best breakfast ever!).

Thanks to Fujiya, it’s safe to say we raised our kids on sushi. You’re welcome, boys.

Open you mouth and your eyes...(courtesy Fujiya)

Open you mouth and your eyes…(courtesy Fujiya)

Over the years, we got pretty close to the staff and they to us–after all, they were helping to raise our children. We went to the ballet to see our favorite waitress, Izumi, perform. We attended the wedding of Endo-san’s amazing sous-chef, Juan. (Yes, some of the best sushi in the west is now made by Mexicans. I love it.) And when sweet, funny Annie was tragically killed, we all went to her funeral. (That was when I got my first hug from Endo-san, who in his grief finally got past his Japanese reserve. I’ve been hugging him ever since.)

It’s hard to describe sushi as soul food, pricey and not-for-everyone as it is. But Fujiya feeds our souls as much as our bellies. It’s our Soul Restaurant.

What’s yours? Can you share the story?

Thanks, Endo-san.

Thanks, Endo-san.





Into the Teeth of Love: Why I’m Not Giving Up My Faraway Dentist

Anyone else out there love going to the dentist? 

For me, it’s not about that silky clean-teeth sensation (that lasts all of about 36 hours), nor the goody-bag of miniature tooth care products that still makes me feel like a kid at a birthday party. Oh, I do love those things. I even love the excuse to lie there in a fancy recliner and shut my eyes, responsible for nothing but staying still and keeping my mouth wide. But not as much as I love my dentist.

Dr. Norooz is a total sweetie, from Iran. We share stories about our kids (since he’s fluent not only in English but in Say-Ah-Speak). He gives me tea from Iran–which stains my teeth, but then he cleans them again–and sweet dates his mother sends him, and inspiration about hard work and achievement in America.

His office is full of total sweetie hygienists from exotic places like the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Seattle. They’ve known me and The Mate and our kids for twenty years, and honestly, I feel like I know some of their kids too, even though we’ve never met, just from the stories and the pictures.


I know from several friends that we have a very nice, very competent dentist right here on Lopez Island. But I’m not ready to give up Dr. Norooz. So, twice a year, The Mate and I make the 4-hour trek via ferry and freeway down to Tacoma to check into our happy place…the dentist’s office.

How weird are we? Anyone else make stupidly long treks to visit professionals just because they’re special to you?

Road Trip VI, Days 1-3: Tacoma to Oakland: Pitcher Plants and Sticky-fingered Hugs

Two year-olds have their own gravitational pull. Two year-old TWINS have a pull exponentially stronger. That explains why, for the second year in a row, our road trip brings us first to Oakland. That’s where these cuties live–our pseudo-grandkids. (They’re actually some sort of cousin, but who looks at anthropological charts when they can look at these guys?)

These guys.

These guys.

But much as we’ve looked forward to being hugged with little sticky fingers, The Mate and I have not rushed headlong to Oakland. There are too many pretty places in between. After a short visit with vibrant old friends in Eugene, we zipped off the interstate and headed for the California redwoods, which exert a pull of their own. And that meant…

Oh boy! Highway 199! We love this road. From the bowl of Grants Pass (“Grass Pants,” to our family), it winds up through mixed-forest hills to the high valley of the Illinois River, near Cave Junction. Acting on a tip from a friend who grew up here, we turned off on Eight Dollar Mountain Road and went for a bike ride and then a hike-picnic in a very unusual ecosystem.

This place.

This place.

Pine trees + manzanita = Dry. Moss + pitcher plants (tall, insectivorous swamp-denizens) = Wet. This little mountain features both of them together. How weird is that?

These guys.

These guys.

Another cool feature of our outing: serpentinite. Yes, I did read the info kiosk that told me exactly what makes this glossy green stone so green and glossy–and no, I don’t remember what it said. All I know is, I picnicked sitting on something we dubbed “the emerald throne.”

This stuff.

This stuff.

And then, yes…off we drove to our happy place among the redwood giants, about whom I’ve written before. And from there along the crashing coast, back up and over the hills, moving through fog from redwoods to oaks to vineyards to the Bay. And the babies. Feeling gratitude for all creatures great and small.

Yeah, You Kinda-Sorta Can Go Home Again: Tacoma Tribute Edition

I’m not sure I believe in reincarnation, but I do believe in past lives. I have several, and I like to keep in touch with them. After all, to misuse Faulker’s famous line, the past isn’t even past.

This past weekend The Mate and I headed down to Tacoma, where I had scheduled a reading of The Flying Burgowski at King’s Bookstore. Tacoma is also where we moved in 1990, became Northwesterners for good, raised our kids, and spent the bulk of our professional careers.


Although we moved away four years ago when our youngest graduated from high school and The Mate retired, Tacoma is our most recent and vibrant past life. And I do mean VIBRANT.

Need an example? Here’s a shot of said high school from which our boys graduated:

I KNOW, right?!

I KNOW, right?!

Tacoma also has its very own zoo and aquarium, at Pt. Defiance, which just happens to be within walking distance of our old house. Seattle’s zoo and aquarium might be bigger and snazzier, but OURS has a walrus (actually 3 at this moment). A WALRUS. ‘Nuff said.

(orig. image courtesy Partner Pages)

(orig. image courtesy Partner Pages)

I could go on indefinitely with this Tacoma boosterism: the Bridge of Glass (where I used to stop with my students on our History Museum field trips); the Antique Sandwich Company, which serves killer espresso cheesecake, lets you sit all day on their mismatched furniture, grading essays and drinking tea, and is working on its 50th anniversary; Pt. Defiance Park with its giant firs and twittering eagles, right there in the ‘burbs.


But what really draws me back to my latest past life is people.

Despite having moved away four years ago, I still see…

…my same dentist. He’s from Iran, and he gives me tea, even though we both know it stains my teeth. I ADORE my dentist. My favorite hygienist is from the Philippines; we compare notes on our boys. I adore her too. I actually look forward to my dentist appointments like little reunions!

…my same doctor, for annual physicals. He’s a distance runner like me, and doesn’t get freaked out by my resting pulse of 40. I even forgive him for making me do things like get colonoscopies and mammograms.

…my same book club (now starting its 15th year). True, I only make about half the meetings now, and I’ve even skyped in, but I read the books even when I can’t make it off the island. Brownie points!

…my same musical potluck group of former neighbors & forever friends, affectionately known as the WingSing. (Come @ 5 to sing, @6 to eat…except these days it’s pretty much a free-for-all since we only see each other quarterly instead of monthly as we used to.)

I know that someday I will start seeing a dentist and a doctor on Lopez Island. I already have friends there to discuss books with and sing and potluck with, and I suppose it’s possible that someday I will stop leaving the island to discuss books and sing and potluck.

But no time real soon!

Our previous Past Life, in North Carolina, is also still very much with us, and the focus of our annual Cross-Country ACC Basketball (and BBQ) Pilgrimage. But Tacoma, bless its aromatic little heart, is a little easier to get to.

How about you? How many places do you count as really having LIVED there? How well–or how–do you stay in touch? Is it the place, the people…or both?