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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.