All for Dave: Behind the pack-n-ship scenes



Dec. 16: Call me a behind-the-scenes worker for the Dave Matthews Band. Call me a roadie for Madonna.

All right, I've got a temp job at a big company that ships fan material for the Dave and other rock celebrities. (My deal with the temp agency won't let me name the company.)

How'd I get here? Call me a writer without a day job.

Or call me an out-of-work academic. At least until the New Year, when my university work begins, my Ph.D. stands for Packing, Handling, and Delivery.

My first night, a woman named Ronnie leads me to my workstation, a four-foot square filled with packing materials and bins of orders. Outside each bin, or tote, is a sticker with a number on it. My job is first to scan the sticker, which sends the printer a command to print out the packing list.

"Then you take the sticker off the front of the tote and put it on the box or envelope," Ronnie explains, taking out a large order for me to pack.

"You might want to cut this box down," she says, handing me an x-acto knife.

I slice away. Ronnie jumps.

"Oh! You're not afraid to use a knife! Most women are."

"I'm okay if my victim is a cardboard box."

If this were a kids' game, my progress might read: pack one envelope correctly. Go ahead one space. Left out packing list. Learn to put packing list in clear envelope on side of package. Do not advance. Get tape gummed up in dispenser. Go back two spaces.

There is a break at 8pm, and I desperately need it.

Dec. 19: No more training. I'm on my own now. Find a workstation, pack till break time. Take a coffee break, then pack more.

It's slow going at first. I have to take my glasses off to read the order numbers, since my eyes are middle-aged, like the rest of me.

I have a Ph.D. in German literature. But because I've stayed in Charlottesville and not gone after a "traditional" academic job, sometimes I get work in my field and sometimes I don't.

Next semester I have two jobs: a teaching stint at the University and a temporary job as a reader for the Admissions Office. But as my husband says, that won't help pay the bills now. Or should I say, now!

So I'm here.


Dec. 20: I'm slowly getting to know my fellow workers. Questions or problem orders go to Al, who seems to know everything. Jane is helpful, too. She's a UVA undergrad who works here year-round to put herself through school. James makes our coffee, which is delicious, from Greenberry's.

I like this job. No one bothers me; it's quiet. I do my packing and go home.


Dec. 21: Tonight I get the BFH: box from hell. There are 20 items in the order, ranging from giant posters, which require a long box, to vinyl records and a Dave Matthews calendar, which need a wide box. It takes forever to find one that fits the bill. Then I put in too many peanuts, so the thing keeps popping open, spewing peanuts everywhere. Then the tape roll gets twisted.

When I finally get the stuff packed, I'm sweating. Put the thing on the conveyor belt: good riddance!

I pack two easy orders, then look down at my desk: there sits the box of Grateful Dead shot glasses that belongs inside the BFH.

Panicked, I run down to the middle of the conveyor belt, and, heavens be praised, it's still there. I wield my x-acto, stuff the shot glasses inside, seal the box again, and pray "Please let it be gone this time."

A few minutes later, hey, where's my x-acto knife? It must be in that infernal box. (Thankfully, it's just fallen on the floor, but if I ever get a package containing an x-acto knife, I'll know how it got there.)

Dec. 23: This afternoon, at home, we get a package in the mail. My son Gabriel exclaims, "I love packing peanuts!"

"Where I work," I tell him, "there are bags of peanuts taller than you!"

He's impressed. So am I. I've discovered the supply room, stacked to the ceiling with piles of boxes, cartons of envelopes, huge rolls of bubble wrap, not to mention the Gabriel-sized peanut bags. Wow!

I do not covet this merchandise. I'd never recognize a Dave Matthews riff, and I'm amazed what people pay good money for.

One guy orders a Jerry Garcia baby onesie. It's kind of sweet, with a moon design on it. But in the same box is an illuminated hideous skeleton head. Go figure.

People order CDs by a group called Death Byrd, as well as Death Byrd calendars and key chains. But my all-time favorites are the Madonna nested dolls– you know, those Russian doll-within-a-doll things? Only these are Madonna dolls. They're $35 a set, and some sucker ordered two!

I'll take an endless supply of bubble wrap any day. And I love the tiny padded envelopes, just the right size for packing a CD. Can you buy them? They're so cute. I'm fascinated by the clear plastic envelopes we use to adhere packing lists to the outside of packages: you attach them by peeling off the removable backing– what could be cleverer?

We get the long weekend off, for Christmas.

Dec. 27: There are just four of us here tonight; everyone else is taking the week off. I'm processing international orders. These need a green sticker on the outside of the box or envelope, with a detailed listing of the contents. I wonder what customs officials in London, Seoul, and Auckland will think of "Two Madonna nested dolls"?

Dec. 28. The guys who compile the merchandise must be exhausted. Every other tote has at least one error: an order for a Phish CD contains DMB stickers and buttons. Another customer wants three Brian Regan DVDs, but the order contains only two. Still another fan ends up with an XXL Smashing Pumpkins hoodie instead of the small one he ordered. I keep bringing the problem orders up to the front. Poor guys.

Dec. 29: The lady from my temp agency calls to say the pack and ship company has caught up with its holiday rush and no longer needs temps. She says I did a good job, and so I'll get a bonus.

On Monday, I start at UVA Admissions; my German class will begin two weeks later. These jobs are more in line with my training, and pay better, too. But there are things I'll miss, like the friendly work atmosphere, the cool stuff from the supply room, and the chance to say I work behind the scenes for Dave Matthews.