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America 2.0: Chapter Ten

Christmas was different that year. Not bad, not good, just different. A few years ago, I would have asked for a bike, clothes, hair stuff, shoes, to get my ears pierced, girly stuff. I still want all that, I just want to know where all that stuff is going to come from and how we are going to pay for it.

Now, I am just happy we have a place to live. But boo hoo. My friend Stephanie left school. Her father and mother were moving the whole family to Greenville to live with her grandparents. Steph was so cool and I probably will never see her again.


First, we got to go see my grandparents in San Antonio. It seemed pretty easy to do. "We'll just drive the house down there!" said William.

We could have, but that would have messed up some stuff, so instead, we took mom's Lexus. It was in pretty rough shape by then, so dad put an ad online for a Lexus mechanic and got it looked over.

The guy did not have a shop, but worked out of his "home" - a storage unit. He had most of his shop tools from the Lexus dealership he used to work at before it went out of business. Now he advertised online and could do most repairs.

He got the car up to snuff enough for the drive down to San Antonio. We left on Tuesday and had to be back by Friday because of the restrictions on weekend gas sales.

Gas was till a problem. Dad says we can drill, baby, drill, but most of our gas still came from other places. The Saudi's had a bunch of our debt before the crash and took their debt settlement in military hardware, direct military aid (U.S. soldiers using the new Saudi military hardware) and food. Seems the rest of the world was hoarding their most valuable resources and food prices were going up.

So we sent the Saudis rice, wheat, chicken, beef, sugar and other stuff they can't grow in the desert and they sent us unrefined oil. The military tossed out that the Saudis could not refine the oil for our vehicles correctly and bumped the price down ten percent. That's at least what the guy said on Air Force News at Ten.

End of the day, the U.S. still got oil from Saudi Arabia and Canada, but things were almost always messed up in the supply chain. That's what dad said. He said once the military figures out they can make a heck of a lot more money letting civilians transport goods again, it will get better.

We saw a lot of the military that week. Grandpa and grandma lived on what's called a "refurbed" military base in San Antonio. My Grandpa served in the Air Force for over 25 years before working for the post office. When his government pension went away, he and Grandma were allowed to move a trailer onto the base and live there rent free. They got to see a military doctor whenever they wanted to and got free food, electricity and other stuff.

Grandpa said there about twenty five thousand veterans and their wives living on the base. Unless their kids were underage, adopted or handicapped, they could not live with them.

Grandpa showed us where all the new soldiers lived. The military regularly posted requests for former military service members in good health and under the age of 50 who wanted to return to service. There was a waiting list.

We did not get much from the grandparents that year. No bright shiny toys for William. No fun clothes for me. Not even a Christmas card with a hole in the middle so you could see the money tucked inside.

Grandma made dinner on Thursday, but Christmas was supposed to be on Saturday this year, but we would not be there so we moved it up a few days. Grandpa and Grandma got a whole chicken, a dozen ears of corn, ten pounds of potatoes, fresh cranberries, a pumpkin and a ten pounds of green beans in their Christmas commodity box from Uncle Whiskers (as Grandpa called him). They already had salt, sugar, and other stuff. Dad snuck out and bought a second bird and some marshmallows from another trailer nearby.

We made a big traditional Christmas feast. Dad and Mom gave William and I a bag with oranges, hard candy and a CD of books they burned. William and I gave Mom and Dad a picture of the old house with us in front of it. I took it on my digital camera after my basketball team won the division championship that year. Mom left the room to check on something real quick after that. Dad gave me a hug.

I gave Grandma a package of soap and Grandpa a big bag of socks I bought at the BX that morning. I had my wallet of babysitting money with me and wanted to do something nice for them. The socks were knitted by some spec shop in Pennsylvania called Amish. The soap was made by a co-op in Oregon.

"Do you get to shoot guns, Grandpa?"

"Nope, those days are done for me, William"

"What do you get to do, then?"

"Not much. Your grandmother and I just try and stay busy. They have a shared garden we got a plot on and we can go to the BX and kill time, but there's not a whole lot to do around here"

"Um, Dad, how are you and Mom on money?"

"Well, we had cash hidden in the bread box (my Grandmother's favorite place to hide cash) and we sold some jewelry, but other than that, the rest got wiped out. I was hoping the military would have some sort of pension plan for old GI's like me, but they only got what they do. We don't need much, but Mama and I have both been looking for a part time job around here for cash".

I knew my mom wanted to give Grandna and Grandpa some of the money she and dad had saved up. But that was hard considering how tough we have it. Before we left, I saw my dad slide Grandpa a handful of Wheat and Steel bucks outside.

"Why can't they come live with us?"

"Where are they going to sleep William? On the roof? We don't exactly have a lot of room at Chez Anderson on Wheels do we?"

"Sophie. Put a lid on it. William. If we had the space and if your grandparents would be willing, we would bring your grandparents home today."

We left the last checkpoint outside of San Antonio and hurried up 35 for home.

About halfway home, outside Temple, we came to a big checkpoint.

"Afternoon folks"

"Um, I am armed."

"So am I. What's your point?"

"I read online that when civilians approach a checkpoint, they are to inform the soldiers on duty that they are armed and to be ready to present their weapons."

"Don't believe everything you read online, sir. Besides, I already have a gun and so do all the other soldiers here. We don't want to take yours.

Where are you folks heading?"

"Dallas area, actually just north."

"Are we bad guys mister?"

"Not unless you know something I don't partner. Anyway, bad guys wear black masks, don't they?"

William had nothing to day back at the soldier. He just sat there in the back seat like kids do.

"Say, officer, seargent.."

"Corporal, sir"

"Sorry, corporal, is there any place to fuel up near here. We are down to a quarter of a tank."

"There is an emgergency fuel station setup about a half mile up the road. Five gallons a vehicle. Then there's a real gas station on the other side of town. Two actually. No limit on fuel, just what you can pay for."

"Thanks, you have a good day."

"Do the same."

We made it to the fuel station where two of the oldest soldiers (mom said they were privates) I had ever seen poured five gallons in our car, slapped the trunk to get us moving and sent us down the road.

"What's going on dad? Why are the soldiers out here?"

"They are everywhere kiddo. Just like back in San Antonio. Just doing their job I guess."


America 2.0: Chapter Nine

"What are they?"


"Gamblers? I never heard of them".

"They are made in Alabama, Sophie. I friend of mine just opened a new store which is carrying them"

"I wanted Lucky's. Why can't I have those?"

"Lucky Jeans was part of Liz Claiborn. The Chinese got that company as part of the debt settlement. Luckys are made in China now, so we don't buy them"

"But Gamblers? That's a lame name, mom".

"They are the same as Lucky jeans Sophie. The factory used the same design and materials that Lucky's used to made out of. Only they make them in Alabama at a spec shop and so we can't call them Lucky's. That's the only difference."

"What's a spack shop?"

"Spec shop. It's a small factory that makes things according to specifications. The military gives the specifications to anyone who wants them. Someone downloads the specifications and designs for something. Then they buy the materials and machinery needed to make something. Then they hire people to do the work"

"I look like a dork. 'Here I am in my Gambler pants!'"

"Do you want to go around naked, Sophie? I think I will take them back."

"No, no. I want them. Maybe I can hide the label or something."

"Sometimes you can act like a real brat, Sophie. Be lucky you have anything to wear."

My mom laughed at her little pun and went back to the front of the motorhome and her work table.

General Electric. Pepsi. Johnson and Johnson. Levi Strauss.

The Chinese own every one of these brands. The military traded these and thousands of other brand names and their intellectual property (that's code for "the stuff we own") to the Chinese as our debt settlement. Other countries like the Republic of Britain, Japan and Saudi Arabia got other stuff. But the Chinese made out like bandits.

Or so they thought. The military pulled a fast one once the debts were off the book. They took all the specifications and patents for all of the brands and put them on a website anyone can access.

Want to make your own Johnson and Johnson Baby Shampoo? The formula is up there.
How about a pair of Lucky jeans? It's all there.

And there are no rules. So anyone can start a company, download the plans, make their own and sell it online, in a store or at the flea market.

Even companies like Johnson and Johnson are back in business. After they declared bankruptcy and had their patents and intellectual property bartered off, they simply reformed as The J&J Company and went back to work.

When the Chinese found out, they said we were "pirating stolen materials" and it would cost Chinese jobs. My dad said that was an example of irony at its highest form.

I wore my new Gambler jeans to school the next day and was not the only one. Gamblers became real popular until the next year when the Strauss 606 jeans came out.

The Chinese could not sell anything in the US. They charged too much. A pair of Levi 505 cost twice what a pair of California produced Strauss 606 jeans cost even with the 20% commodity tax to the manufacturer and the 5% finished good tax to the buyer.

The Chinese said that Gambler pants were an infringement on their patents for Lucky Jeans. The military shrugged and went back to watching the border and protecting commodities.

Spec shops were popping up everywhere. Small factories making goods previously made elsewhere, but now made in the US again. The work rules were different. People got paid for work. Spec shops did not have unions, insurance, pensions or set rates. Rather, then put an ad online saying which jobs they had open, how much they paid. More exact jobs like machine work paid more money. Simple assembly jobs paid less.

Mom also had a new line of work. With the change, a bunch of government programs and funding went away. If you were a zoo, an art museum or charity, you could not longer get grants from the government.

At the time, mom still worked banquets downtown. There were fewer these days because there were fewer rich people to go to them. But a fair number of rich people survived the change because they got their money out early, had a bunch of cash and had no debt. Some rich people took advantage of the rule changes to figure out big ways to make more money.

Long story short, mom was working a banquet for some charity. The turn out was not great and the woman running it only raised a few thousand NuBux. Mom went up to her afterwards.

"I used to plan social and charity events for a large telecom company here in town."

"I am sorry, but I am not hiring anyone. Thanks."

"That's nice, umm, Heidi, but I am not looking for a job. I still have my list. If you are interested, I will be happy to help plan and coordinate your next event. By the looks of the turnout and donations, you need the help."

"Why don't you give me a copy of your list and we can work something out?"

"Yeah, I have tables to bus. Toodles."

"OK, ok. What do you charge?"

"Ten percent of the take at the end of the night. Donations only, I take nothing at the door. Deal?"

"Deal. Here's my contact information."

Mom spent the next month organizing and contacting people on her list. About a third were off the radar which means they were broke or left the country. The rest were good to go.

The event was a success. The charity raised over fifteen thousand NuBux in donations. Mom had found a lawyer online who wrote a professional bill and invoice to the Heidi the charity lady. Heidi called my mom for a meeting and to pick up her check.

"Barbara, that was a huge success! I am so glad we were able to put our heads together and make it work!"

"Sure, keep me in mind the next time you have something going on. Do you have my payment?"

"Of course, dear. Now here is my check.."

"Um, my invoice requested guranteed funds. That would be a cashiers check, money order or cash. Did you want to run by your bank?"

"Oh, I didn't realize you were going to be that way. Let me see if I have all of it in cash.. I only have about half, let me get my purse."

"Hold on. I will take half of my money and one more thing and we call it even."

"Really? What did you want?"

"Your list of donors from previous events and a list of how much each donor gave. Give me that and half my payment and we wil call it even. Deal?"

"Deal. Here's the money, let me get the list together..."

America 2.0: Chapter Eight

The Wheat Dollar. The Gold Dollar. The Steel Dollar. They had lots of names for money, but everyone called them NewBucks or NuBux.

A week after the General came on tv, the new money came out. You had to bring in your old dollars, the green ones, and you would get some of the new money. It was different colors so there would be no confusion. Wheat Dollars were this really pretty shade of yellow. Steel Dollars were blue.

You got so many NuBux for old money. Ten green dollars got you one NuBux. Dad was mad about it, but he didn't understand how things worked at first. William and I learned about it when the schools reopened. It was the first thing they told us about.

The second thing they told us at school was how we were supposed to pay for our education. The teacher (who was new) said that parents had to pay for school directly now. There was not a tax base to support all of the public schools so if you went to school, you paid for it. Also, our parents had mandatory hours they had to work at the school. Lunch room duty, library duty, clean up and so on.

Old people and those who did not have kids in school did not have to pay for it anymore. If you did not want to pay for school or couldn't you could home school, but you had to register. A bunch of people got mad the the government would not teach their kids or that the government made them work at their kids school. They pulled their kids and tried to homeschool them, but most gave up after a month or so.

Mom and dad also have to come to the school once a month for a one on one talk with our teachers. If we are falling behind in school, there is a work plan all of us have to agree to follow. Its in the contract parents, kids and schools have to sign now.

If a kid fails out, the parents have to find another school that will take them. It's not too hard because every school is independent now. William's and my school has a manager who runs the place. The teachers are hired by her and get paid for doing their jobs. If the teacher is not doing his or her job they get the boot.

NuBux are stronger than the old dollars. That is what we learned on day one. NuBux are based upon commodities. That is the word for real stuff the United States produces. The top commodity is food. The United States could feed the world with one hand behind its back if it wanted to and I am pretty proud about that fact. I never knew that before. I thought all we made were music videos and cell phones.

The value of a NuBux depends upon the value of a commodity on any given day. Right now, our money is pretty strong because of the world demand for food, energy and refined goods like steel and gasoline. The rest of the world is still limping along using money that their government tells them is worth something when actually it is worth nothing.

Dad said people wanted money based upon gold like they used to. I explained to him that there was not enough gold in the world to finance our economy, not unless we wanted an ounce of gold to be worth a million dollars or something. Instead, we use all of our nation's real assets to value our money. Everyone is part of the process.

The rest of the world was worse off than we were. Some of them got really mad at the US for changing the rules and breaking everything. The Chinese were really angry at the US.

We fixed them.

America 2.0: Chapter Seven

"My fellow Americans. My name is General Andrew Preston of the United States Army. At 5PM, East Coast Time, the combined military services of the United States, assumed command of all government operations within our borders.

Our domestic financial situation has deteriorated enough to make this temporary emergency action necessary to maintain the security of our nation and its people.

The previous civilian leadership has been asked to step down and the United States Congress suspended for the time being. I am happy to report that both have agreed to cooperate entirely with this request.

You are probably asking, "What does this mean?"

First, your country is still functioning. The water and electricity will remain on regardless of the ability to pay. Phone service will still work. The roads and mass transportation will be safe to use.

(The word Infrastructure appeared on the screen below General Preston)

Second, basic necessities will remain available at your local stores and markets. Food and other goods will be securely transported from their point of origin to where they will be made available in the normal manner we have all been accustomed to.

(The words Food and Necessities appeared on the screen).

Third, our society and our country will remain safe. The laws on the books along with other new temporary security measures will be enforced. The random lawlessness, rioting, looting and other destruction which has occurred lately will no longer be tolerated in any way. Members of the military have been authorized to use deadly force to end any domestic disturbances.

(The word Security appeared on the screen).

In order to centralize activity, by executive order, all law enforcement, at the city, county and state level will now be under the direct command of the United States military. All first responders and correction facilities are also under military control. Civilian leadership for other city and state functions will remain, however, there will be some reorganization during this period of crisis.

Courts will suspend activities for 30 days until new military tribunal oversight can be put in place.

The borders of the United States are now closed to incoming traffic with the exception of returning U.S. civilians and government employees. All foreign originating air and sea traffic will be rerouted through six central locations for the duration. All domestic air travel, with the exception of approved military flights, are suspended.

Three weeks ago, the United States military began a coordinated return of our military forces overseas. All returning forces will be deployed for domestic duty and border security.

A number of federal functions American citizens have grown accustomed to will be altered and others ended in the coming months. You will be kept apprised of these developments as they occur.

Martial law and curfews will not be put in place except for scattered areas where lawlessness demands strict response. Citizens have no reason to fear or avoid the military as we are here to ensure your safety.

The banks will remain closed for the next five days and will then reopen for withdrawals and other banking functions available as before.

All foreclosures of business and personal property are hereby suspended for 90 days. All collections activities on unsecured debts will be suspended for 90 days.

A new stable form of currency will go into effect next week when the banks reopen. Do not be alarmed. You cash in hand will be redeemed and balances in savings and checking accounts automatically transferred.

A new system of emergency aid is going into effect this week. If you need food or medication, these things will be available, in certain amounts, free of charge to American citizens until the new banking system is in place. Local broadcasters will provide locations in your area. Legal identification is required to receive assistance.

To all foreign citizens, both legal and illegally, in our country. The United States government will not hinder your ability to return home. Please call the toll free number at the bottom of this screen or visit the website address displayed for more information.

The border of the United States will be strictly enforced by the US military.

To our international friends. The United States is going through an long overdue period of internal assessment and transformation. We will remain the shining light of liberty and democracy. However, during this time, please understand that the needs and security of our own nation come first. Afterwards, the United States will return stronger and more responsible than before.

To those in the world who wish to do harm to this nation and its people. Be on notice. Your days are numbered. The United States military will respond, with haste, to any threat with extreme prejudice.

I ask that all Americans please put aside their differences and previous affiliations and join together now as we repair the damage to our great nation. The future will be better and brighter than before and it starts today.

Thank you and God bless you and God bless the United States of America".

"What does that mean?" I asked.


America 2.0: Chapter Six

The President resigned. He did not even appear on television or anything. He just quit. The vice president was made the new president and came on television and said everything was going to be great. He said we needed to work together and if everyone paid their fair share, America would be fine.

That lasted about week, then someone else came on tv and said the President, who used to be the vice President, was resigning. Some other guy who worked for both of them became President. A bunch of people in Congress quit as well. The guy who ran the banks for the government was arrested and some other people like him went to jail as well.

Things got really ugly around then. I mean scary. People could not go to work and there were demonstrations and people fighting in the streets. We drove out to some people's house that dad knew who lived in a really nice neighborhood. They let us park in the driveway and hook up to their house utilities. They told the neighbors my dad was Cousin Bob.

Mom and dad did not let us go to school. Dad would take mom's car and go to his customers. Mom found a bunch of stuff online for math and English and made us do homework. It stunk.

Dad went to the store with grocery lists mom would give him. She wanted big piles of food. Cans, bags, boxes, all sorts of stuff. We ended up storing some in the trunk of my mom's car and under every seat in the motorhome. It was crazy.

Stores only took cash and credit cards were next to useless. Checks were a joke too. Dad tapped into the money he hid in the motorhome and kept the tanks full. He bought a couple of more guns and made my mom keep a shotgun ready in the motorhome when he was not home.

The nice neighborhood as like a ghost town. Half the houses were empty and the others had extra people living in them like grown up children or relatives. But everyone went about their business like everything was hunky dory. They had bar-b-ques, mowed their lawns, drank wine on their back decks and went to play golf. La-la land.

Eventually, we had to leave dad's friend's driveway cause the neighbor's complained. Said we were riff-raff. Nice place.

We were parked at the lot of the nicest mall in town one evening when a special alert came on the tv. Every station on satellite carried the same show so we watched it.

A man in a uniform was sitting at a desk. He was some sort of soldier and the words at the bottom said he was in Colorado.

Dad said that was the day "American rebooted".

America 2.0: Chapter Five

The furniture we could not take with us went to some friends of dad's. Mom made sure we took all the pictures and photo albums. They sold my bed.

We cleaned out everything and my mom mopped and vacuumed. Dad left all the garbage in the garage. Dad had hooked my mom's Lexus to a tow bar on the back of the motorhome and off we went. Mom said "Don't look out the window" as drove past the neighbors many of whom lined up in front of their homes. I did anyway. I wanted to see their faces.

We weren't alone that year. Most of the block lost their homes unless they were paid off.

The motorhome was called a Class A and was made before I was born. Dad said to pretend I was Hannah Montana and this was my tour bus. I know he was trying to make things better, but the bus did not look like a rockstar's bus. It had blue ducks painted on the cabinets and smelled like potpouri.

"Where did you get the motorhome from, dad?"

"One of the car lots I sell to."

"Did a rockstar own it?"

"No, William"

"Some rich guy?"

"No. You ever hear the term snow bird before?"


"They are retired people who live in mobile homes and spend their summers in the north and the winters down south"

"Is that who you bought this thing from?"

"No. I bought it from a car lot they sold it to"

"Where did the snow people go?"

"I don't know, William. Maybe they moved in with someone else."

A lot of old people lost everything back then. No pension, no investments, no retirement savings, and soon no Social Security.

Dad spent some of his retirement money on the motorhome. Mom told me last year he had bought it for less than 30,000.00. I thought that was a lot, but mom said that a new one could cost over 200,000.00. People were selling anything for what they could get. The people who bought my bed got it for 50.00. I saw them give mom the money.

We drove around town for a few weeks after that. We'd stay at different trailer parks but a lot of those places were scary. Dad kept his gun on all the time and we weren't allowed outside unless mom or dad was with us.

Dad and mom had cell phones and kept finding work. Dad would sell tracker things and deliver them himself. The car lots would pay him cash or he would cash the check right after he got paid. He sometimes used banks, but mainly went to check cashing places. Those places were really popular back then.

Mom got a job with a temp service working banquets at hotels downtown. In spite of the economy, some people still had money. Some people had a lot of it. Mom would serve plated dinners and fill ice tea glasses. She would work four or five hours and make about fifty to sixty bucks. Almost always it was in cash.

Mom spent her money right away on food and gas. Mom was obsessed that we would run out of gas on the side of the road and our house would get towed away. William and I laughed about that when she wasn't around. She bought tons of canned and packaged food like Ramen noodles and filled every cabinet in the motorhome. I stayed out of her way.

Dad kept in touch with several of his trucking company customers and figured out creative ways to make money. He sold them new equipment when they needed it and anything else he could figure out. Cell phones. Office supplies. Gas cards. He would setup websites with names like "Assured Communications" and would resell "pay as you go" cell phone plans. His customers either thought he was a big company or they did not care.

Most big companies were going under anyway. We had satellite tv in the motorhome back then and it still worked. The news ran a crawl at the bottom of the screen with local company names which would not be opening the next day. There were lots of lines at banks as people tried to get their money out. Dad had closed all of his accounts months ago and kept our money in his pocket or hidden in the motorhome.

Mom would drive her Lexus to hotels when she had a banquet job. Dad would drive it in the morning and take us to school. We often would park the motorhome in the Walmart parking lot and dad would unhitch the car and drop us off. I told my friends we had a new house and things were going great.

Somehow, we made it. Then things got worse.

American 2.0: Chapter Four

The couch in the den was my favorite. It was a big leather sofa you could lay on while watching TV or reading a book. When mom and dad were at work, I spent hours on that couch watching all my favorite shows.

A guy bought that couch before summer came around that year. He also picked up the end tables and a couple of lamps. Our house was getting real empty that year. We sold the furniture to keep the house which was empty because we sold all the furniture. It was goofy.

Mom was busy for awhile helping that guy from the communications company. He tried to start up some kind of consulting company and paid her money under the table to do all the work while he played golf. "Networking" he called it.

When his gold plated credit cards quit working and the electricity was shut off at his house, he stopped taking my mom's calls. Mom wrote him a nice email and said she loved working for him and not to be embarrassed. We got a Christmas card from him. He was living in Wisconsin with his parents.

The trucking dispatch service company shut down and dad did not get his quarterly check. He was still selling those tracking devices to car lots, so were weren't starving. But that money was hit and miss and was not enough to cover the mortgage and everything else. Mom applied for unemployment, but that only lasted for a few months. Then it ended because the government had to shut it down. Too many people getting checks and not enough paying in.

William and I gave up anything else we used to do extra. My clothes got small and Mom patched them up or bought me some stuff from second hand stores, at close out sales or garage sales. Naturally, I was mortified.

We ate a lot of rice then. I hate rice and I remember eating it every day for dinner. Rice and beans. Rice and vegetables. Rice and hot dogs. I felt like I lived in China. At least we weren't down to eating rice and rice. Not yet.

The government stopped giving money to people that needed it. There was no more money to give. They tried lots of things called stimulus and spent all that was left. Nobody was stimulated. More companies closed, more people lost their jobs, more houses got taken by the banks.

Some of the banks started closing too. My dad pulled money out of his and my mom's IRA's, his 401K and the savings account. The government sent him a bunch of tax forms and told him he had to pay penalties or they would put a lien on the house.

The bank sent us letter too saying they were "accelerating our loan". Dad said "We can't pay any faster". So the bank started foreclosure on us. They put the sign in the yard.

William snuck out one night and put the sign in the alley behind our house. He got yelled at for that, but I saw my dad laughing about it later.

Our neighbors stopped waving to us when they saw us outside. It was like we had a disease and were contagious.

"Don't talk to the Andersons or you will get the Foreclosure Flu" they seemed to say. I hated everyone of them.

A woman from the bank came by our house and took pictures of the inside. She asked where all the furniture was and my dad said some was at our summer house on the coast and the rest at the condo in Colorado. The woman did not think it was funny. She took her pictures and said she would be back in a few days to complete the "process". William told dad to kick her in the bottom.

Dad went out a few days before we had to move out and came back later in someone else's car which dropped him off out front.

"Where's the car, Dad?"

"I sold it."

"What are you going to drive?"

"Your mother and I will share the Lexus. Besides, I used my car as part of the trade in."

"Trade in? For what?"

"Our new house. You will see it tomorrow."

The next day we met the motorhome. I cried.

America 2.0: Chapter Three

"Mom lost her job".

That was William talking.

"She got some neat stuff. They gave her an extra computer for us to use. Wanna see it?" he added.

"Is Dad home? Does he know?" I said in a whisper as if he was standing behind us.

"Nope, but Mom was talking to him on her cell when she came in."

Mom went to the office that morning and half the cubicles were empty and the lights were out in several offices. The security guards let her in the office because she worked for that guy upstairs and he needed her help cleaning out his stuff.

The boss told my mom the company was going to declare bankruptcy in New York that afternoon. They had over 100,000 employees across the country and were going to reduce the staff to less than 10,000 within the next 30 days. Only the essential technical and accounting people would be left because they had so many customers and phone service to maintain.

We all know that did not work out and the company and the service went dark a couple of months later. My mom said the network is still there in most places waiting for someone to come along and turn it on again, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

My mom did two smart things that day she told me later. First, she downloaded all of her contacts (and her boss's) in Outlook. That included the hundreds of big wigs, their wives and their personal contact information.

Second was she asked her boss if she could continue to help him with any projects he may have for her to do. And she was willing to do it for whatever he was willing and able to pay. "Think of me as your Girl Friday" she told the guy. Being the arrogant, (and blissfully in denial unemployed guy he was), naturally he took her up on it.

My mom snagged some other good stuff from the office that day including a couple of laptops, a digital fax printer, a trunk load of copy paper, a box of USB dongles and a whole lot of other office stuff. Her boss said it was part of her separation pay. Mom even cleaned out the break room of all the snack food and sodas. Later, she wished she had come to work in a U-Haul and cleaned the place out including the toilet paper in the restrooms. Oh well, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

My mom got her last check in the mail from that company a week later. It didn't bounce. We were lucky.

The next month, our health insurance ran out. My dad could not add us onto his because of some new law on insurance. We tried to get on something called COBRA which let you keep your insurance (for a lot of money), but the insurance company went out of business. The government had that Care thingee named after the president back then, but it was too expensive and there was only one company that sold insurance in our town. We couldn't afford it because my dad's income went up and down like a roller coaster.

Dad refused to put William and I on Medicare saying it was welfare and said we would use doc-in-the-box clinics and take our vitamins instead. I was scared to death I was going to get sick and have to go to the emergency room. How embarrassing.

Dad's company held on a while longer. Partly because it was a small business and because the trucking companies, especially the small ones, were still running. Dad did not sell many new systems, and money got even tighter. He ended up signing up for part time work with a company which tracked cars. Car lots put these tracking devices in cars and if the buyer did not pay their note, the lot could find it on the internet and go get it.

They sold a lot of those devices.

"What are those things?"

"Tracking devices.. they call them NoteTags."

"What do they do?"

"If the customer does not pay their car note on time, the car dealer can track the car on the internet and go pick it up. They can even turn off the ignition so the buyer can't drive away."

"That doesn't sound very nice, Dad."

"A lot of people are not paying their bills, Sophie. This car belongs to the car dealer until the customer pays it off. It's not fair if they take something that is not theirs is it?"

"What if the person has to get to work or is having a baby and has to get to the hospital?"

"I don't know. That's something they have to figure out I guess."

Dad made enough part time selling Note Tags that he spent less time on the trucking business and more time driving around to car lots making his pitch.

The lots dad visited were in rough parts of town. But then, the economy was getting worse and there were more rough parts of town than before. Dad started carrying a gun around then. Mom kind of freaked, but she knew dad would take care of himself and get out of any trouble before he would use a gun.

It had been six months since Dad had the talk with William and I. Two months ago, I gave up basketball and William soccer, both for good. Of course Grace Finley also gave me a hard time about the recital, but then her father lost his job. In fact, she transferred to a different school after her parents moved into an apartment when they could no longer afford their house. I don't know if Grace stayed in dance either.

My dad's job with the truck stuff slowed down and while he was looking for another job, he ran into an old friend of his online who was working for the company selling those Note Tags things. He told my dad there was an open territory in our area and to apply if he was interested. Note Tags didn't pay you unless you sold something, but the money was good and dad found out it was pretty easy to earn if you were willing to put in the time.

Of course, dad was gone more, and until my mom lost her job, that meant William and I were at home alone after school. My mom worried but there wasn't anything we could do about it. Normally, we could go to the neighbors, but on our street neighbors were getting scarce. There were three or four houses for sale on our street and nobody lived in them.

It was really scary back then. It got worse.

America 2.0: Chapter Two

One night, two years ago, before we lived in a motor home on a golf course, my dad came home from work. He asked me and my brother to go into the den and watch TV. We had the house then and I knew he wanted to talk to my mom about something without us being nosy. Of course it had to be something bad.

My brother Will was nervous and had the same jitters lots of kids like us had back then. The whispers in the hallway like "Did you hear? So and so's dad lost his job" or "There's a foreclosure sign in front of the Smith's house". You know, the same stuff you heard every morning but tried to pretend not to listen to much less think about. Times were scary tough.

I tried not to listen because it's not nice and if it was money talk, I didn't want to because money talk was boring. And I was scared. My dad and mom both worked and harped on us about money night and day. I was afraid to mention anything having to do with money like my shoes or clothes that were getting small fearing that they would go ballistic on me like it was all my fault I grew or something.

Back then, my mom worked as a full time admin for a communications company. My dad was in sales ("he was always in sales") for a tech company which made stuff for truck companies. It was hard to explain, but he sold things they used to communicate with trucks and track their loads back then.  He had to take business trips and when he came home, complained about the cost of hotels, planes and food. Lately, Dad had not been travelling as much and we all know why. The economy stupid. We heard that enough.

Mom worked part time after having William, but two years ago, when she got the chance to go full time and get health insurance cheaper than my dad's job, she jumped on it. She started as a receptionist and then moved to chief admin for one of the big wig vice presidents. She spent most of her time planning his social life and business trips. A lot of fundraisers and dinners with big money people. The company had like a million people working for it or something.

Dad came and told William and I that he needed to talk to us so we sat down at the table in the dining room.

"You two are big enough to understand what I am going to tell you and how it will affect you. Sophie. Do you want to play basketball or volleyball? You can only pick one".


"Good. William. Soccer or baseball?"

"Why? I like both."

"Because I said so. Which one? Or do you want me to pick?".

"I hate the soccer socks, they itch. But half my baseball team is going to quit next season. They can't play anymore. So I will stick with soccer 'cause most of my friends will still be there"

"Good. Sophie, we can't afford dance any longer. I know you have a recital in May, but I am afraid we can't afford the extra classes or the costumes. I am very sorry."

I felt the tears burn in the eyes. I don't know if it was the thought of not being in the recital or how embarrassed I would be. My friends would know it would be about money. It always was.

"Did you lose your job?"

"No. But my job is going to pay less or different than it did before. Remember how I explained about commissions and draws? Well, the draw is going away. Instead I will get a single check once every three months after the customers have all paid. We have to make each of those checks stretch. You understand?"

I nodded. But the tears came out anyway.

"What about mom's job? Is she not going to get paid anymore?"

"Your mom still has her job, but the health insurance is going to get more expensive so she will bring home less money. Right now, we'll have to depend upon her regular checks to pay the mortgage and bills. There won't be much left afterward or until I get paid so we have to cut back on the extras like sports and dance."

"What about you and Mom? What are you guys giving up?" I asked

My father squirmed in his seat and later, I realized what a brat I was being that day. My parents had stopped buying anything for themselves long before that day. The beer he used to enjoy after work, playing golf, my mom going out with her friends, even extra clothes. My mother washed dad's nice dress shirts by hand and ironed them herself rather than sending them to the dry cleaners. I was such a jerk.

"We've already tightened our belt, Sophie. Look, I don't want to pull you from the things you love, but right now, we have to think about the things that really matter. When things get better, we'll get you back in dance or any other activity you want to do. But not until things get better, okay?" he said.  

"Are we going to have to move? Are we going to get foreclosed?" asked my brother.

"Not right now, William. We will cross that bridge if it comes to it but as long as we are all together we will be fine"

I left the table and went to my room and cried. I was looking forward to the recital in May and had four different dances I was part of. Now that horrible Grace Finley was going to get my spots and she was sure to rub it in my face at school. I hate money.

Mom called us to dinner, but I don't remember what we had that night.

America 2.0: Chapter One

My mother has an orange tree on the front porch. The porch is really not a porch, but is actually the edge of the concrete pad the motorhome sits on and where Mom put two lawn chairs. She likes to pretend its a front porch and on nice evenings, she sits outside, next to her orange tree waiting for my dad to come home.

We live off Parker Road in Bob Norman's Lifestyle Links Luxury Home Sites ("The golf lifestyle you deserve!"). If you have lived here more than five years, you know it used to be Mira Point Country Club. The Country Club signs are still up around the golf course and clubhouse, but Mr. Norman makes it clear that the new name is sticking.

My father is out selling. He may be at a used car lot or at trucking company or maybe looking over some spec work at a SpecShop somewhere, but whatever, he is always selling. "Seven days a week somebody wants to get rid of some money and I want to be there when it happens" my dad always says.

My mother is not by her orange tree but inside at her "office" - the fold out table where we eat dinner. She has papers and address books spread out next to her laptop and she is trying to put together some type of function. If she can get enough bodies in a room, she can get a good percentage of whatever goes on. Hey, it pays the bills. I hope she takes me shopping this weekend I want to get some new Strauss Jeans. Everyone who is anyone will be wearing them this year.

My brother and I go to Lakeside, I'm in the eighth grade and he's in sixth, but acts like he's still in first grade. It's my last year before I apply for high school. West is closest, but I really want to go to JP, short for John Pearce High School, because my two best friends, Maddie and Lauren, are going there. My dad says the tuition will decide where I go and how much business he can bring in to pay it. He heard the teachers at JP have a higher customer service rating and they back it up with a 60 day money back guarantee. Parents are such dorks.

Mr. Breslin next door just pulled up in the pickup he shares with my dad and Mr. Daughtry. The back is full of white boxes sealed with heavy tape. I know he has been bragging about a big spec job he has been working on for the past month. Something about Jen-Lo or La-Lo perfume. Like I would want to buy that stinky stuff. They pump that stuff out on the east side and their schools stink.

Sometimes, I miss my old house. Having my own room and not having to listen to Mr. Breslin yelling on his phone like he does every morning. I liked taking my laundry downstairs to wash it rather than having to haul it across the 17th to the club house laundromat. I miss being able to turn on a television and watch nothing for four hours before dinner.

Oh well. It's not coming back and who wants it anyway. We are free and clear. And living at Bob Norman's sure beats a tent at Wally World. A girl in my biology class lived there until everyone found out. She left sometime after that. It was too bad, she seemed really nice.

I hate it when I read online about a goofy teen age girl like me who whines about how the world has changed. Girls are such drama queens. It's not like we are covering our heads with sheets in living in mud huts. Get over yourself.

Dad is home. I heard the breaks on that noisy bus thing he takes with a bunch of other dads and moms that drops them off on Parker. I hope he got a big deal today and got the Swip refilled. I really want to get some of those Strauss jeans.