The Stranger has left zillions of voice mails over the years at Amazon's media-relations hotline seeking more information about the company's labor practices and its spats with book publishers. Amazon doesn't call us back. Amazon doesn't call anyone back. "Does Amazon's Spokesperson Have the World's Easiest Job? (All He Says Is 'No Comment')" was the headline on a jimromenesko.com blog post last summer. James Marcus, a former early Amazon employee and now the executive editor of Harper's magazine, told the New York Times: "Every story you ever see about Amazon, it has that sentence: 'An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.'"
But Amazon's headquarters in South Lake Union are not far from The Stranger's headquarters, so I took the five-minute bike ride last week to see if I could get some employees to talk to me. About anything. I walked on spotless sidewalks past modern high-rises, a packed yoga studio, a garish sushi restaurant, and a store offering designer bathtubs and sinks. I walked past a red Porsche as the owner of it was paying for parking. I asked if I could take a photo of it, and he said sure. He said he was an Amazon employee, but he had no time to talk.
I walked past sharply dressed workers, many with headphones on. The few who weren't talking or typing into their phones and were up for chatting were nice and personable. I told them I was a reporter for The Stranger. I learned to identify them as Amazon employees by the sky-blue Amazon ID cards bobbling on their waists. All of them told me they didn't want to be named.