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Joel Kitching Engineer and creative mind

Amazon intern day 1: move-in

April 30 2011

I received my housing assignment with Amazon’s corporate housing company, Aboda, on Thursday (a mere two days ago). Amazon subsidizes housing, and offers interns two options: the first is to take $1000 extra on your paycheque each month, with which you may do what you please in finding your own housing. The other option is to use their relocation company, Graebel, which provides you with a fully-assisted move, including housing through Aboda.

Aboda apartment costs

Three types of apartments are available, charged as follows: $500 for a studio, $600 for a two-person apartment, and $900 for a one-person apartment. The first two seemed reasonable, but the last seemed somewhat exhorbitant—especially when you consider that instead of receiving $1000, you are paying $900, which would make the one-person apartment conceivably worth $1900 per month.

Based on the move-in information that was emailed to me, I wasn’t sure if I had been assigned a studio or a one-person apartment (you are able to specify a preference, but no guarantees can be made). I emailed my contact at Aboda and didn’t hear back from her, so I frantically called on Saturday to find out that I was indeed in a one-person apartment.

I had definitely requested a two-person apartment! This was unfortunate on two counts—I thought it could turn out fun to have a roommate, and I also felt like $900 per month was a bit much for rent. Regardless, the weekend-hours person at Aboda with whom I spoke recommended that I just move in and deal with it on Monday during their business hours.

Packing, and a bailing subletter

So, begrudgingly, I packed up all of my things. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is incidentally only a few hours drive north of Seattle. This had the useful side-effect of being able to bring as much as I desired to my new flat. The apartment Aboda provides comes fully-furnished though, which is especially handy for interns who are flying in from afar.

For myself, packing took quite a while, even without any kitchen items. For whatever reason, I have collected a lot of crap over the years! Also, unfortunately in the midst of packing, I discovered that my subletter had just bailed out of taking my room in Vancouver over the summer, which really sucks to find out the day before the first of the month. This caused a significant delay in packing while I tried to figure out the best course of action. But I had to carry on, if I was to move in that day!

Welcome to America

Finally, at around 3 PM, I was ready to drive down. My dad and my step-mom were taking me. We got to the border, declared that I wanted to enter on a J-1 visa, and were asked to go park off to the side and head into their customs building. We went in, waited about fifteen minutes, and after a $6 USD processing fee, we were off, without the customs officer going through any of my things! Woohoo!

One and a half hours later, we had arrived in the outskirts of Seattle (it is definitely closer to the border than I realized). It took us about a half hour to find the place where we needed to pick up my keys, and then about another fifteen minutes to find my actual place.

A note to those new to driving in Seattle—beware the dreaded one-way road! These are everywhere in the downtown area, and you can end up driving in many circles before getting to where you want to go. If you don’t have a native with you, it’s best to look up directions beforehand or use a GPS device.

After arriving at my new place, there was some confusion in the parking garage, since we weren’t sure where where to leave the truck while moving in. But we settled on making use of the handicapped spot, and moved everything upstairs in bulk in only two or three elevator trips.

The place itself is (mostly) gorgeous. First, the bad: right as you walk in the front door, it has a useless den off in the corner to the side, with no windows or light whatsoever! As I very much enjoy natural light, I basically used this area for storage. Next, the better: a very spacious living room/dining area with a fireplace, a tiny half-foot deck looking out towards the water (western exposure, which is good news for getting some after-work rays), a huge bedroom with bay-style windows, a spacious walk-in closet, a nice bathroom, and a fairly typical kitchen with a washer and dryer mashed into it. We left all of my boxes in the den, and I was pretty much unable to unpack anything, since I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be moving again.

Seattle geography

Now, a bit of a geography lesson. Seattle proper is split up into fairly distinct areas, each with its own personality and feel. First, there’s the Commercial District, which is what people would normally think of as the “downtown core.” Just north of that at about a ten-minute walk is Belltown, where I live. It’s sort of seen as the mid-twenties-to-early-thirties-young-up-and-coming-professionals dining/entertainment district. (Belltown just so happened to be where I ended up going out most of the time with other interns, so it turned out to be an ideal place to live.)

Other notables are the South Lake Union District, where the Amazon buildings are located (about a ten-minute walk away from Belltown); Seattle Center, which has the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project, etc. (about a five-minute walk away); the University District (a twenty-minute bus ride away); and the party-goer’s dream, Capitol Hill (often considered the “gay area” of town, at about a ten-minute bus ride away, or a cold 25-minute walk home if the busses have stopped running).

It took me a few weeks to get a very solid feel for the different areas and how to get in between them, but in my opinion Belltown was the ideal location to be while working at Amazon in the South Lake Union area. For reference’s sake, the apartment where I lived is called Sydney, and it is located at 400 Wall St, which is at the intersection of 4th Ave and Wall St.

Dinner and the first sleep

After unpacking, we headed downtown by foot to find some dinner. After wandering around and looking at a few menus, we found this neat bar called Tap House Grill [Yelp with about 150 beers on tap, and excellent food! My dad of course attempted to embarrass me by asking the waitress what a “young twenty-something” could do in Seattle while living in Belltown. She gave a fairly inconclusive response, although gave us the equivalent of Vancouver’s Georgia Strait newspaper (which is typically filled with different events and concerts going on, listings of clubs, etc.) called The Sounder.

We walked back to my parents’ hotel, checked them in, then walked back to mine, and then they left to go home for the night. I had a terrible sleep, tossing and turning to the sound of firetrucks going by apartment (the firehall is just down the street on 4th). I continually struggled with the bedsheets, attempting to make them comfortable, and tried to ignore the large amount of ambient city light streaming in through the blinds.