Excerpt: Book 2 – Profit, Chapter 24

Chapter 24

The Road to Profit — 2070

Gil was walking with the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and he felt so awkward that he remained silent. She didn’t want to talk either, so they made good time in silence, traveling on what was once a wide highway. Now, except for the center two lanes that were worn black by tire tracks, the rest of the concrete road was cracked and broken; a sparsely traveled road overgrown with dirt, weeds and grass. They were each concerned, separately, with oncoming traffic, hiding from the regular truck convoys that passed by. It was easy because the sound of the engines could be heard for miles. They were more circumspect as they scanned the skies for surveillance drones even though neither knew why the other was concerned. They decided–actually, she decided–to follow road signs directing them to the town of Mayfield Heights, which lay east and south. The mile markers and the appearance of street after street of empty buildings confirmed they were getting closer.

          When they came upon an exit ramp, Gil read a green metal sign proclaiming that it was the Mayfield Heights exit, though the town’s name had been defaced by buckshot fired at close range. Above the obliterated words on the sign, he read a new name, Profit, neatly painted in white letters.

          “Looks like it’s not Mayfield Heights anymore,” he announced.

          He pointed to a winding cloverleaf ramp that spiraled down to a local road below and began to follow it around, not noticing that the girl wasn’t with him until he heard her yell.

          “That’s the long way,” she shouted as she jumped over a small metal barrier and ran, stumbled down the grassy slope to the bottom. Tired of following her, Gil continued his way, a long, winding trek around the exit ramp.


She sprinted down the hill to beat him by the greatest possible margin, but at the bottom, she tripped and almost slammed into a concrete road support and fell as the slope leveled off. Breathless, happy and free, she staggered, but laughed in triumph when she saw that her annoying but cute companion wasn’t even in sight. She looked back up the slope, admiring its degree of difficulty and thus distracted, she failed to notice two people approaching from the nearby underpass. When they were closer, she finally took notice, and watched them warily. It was an older woman and a young man-possibly the woman’s son-she had guessed by the shared features on their dirty, travel-worn faces. The woman was pushing a shopping cart topped full with scavenged junk. The boy was merely staring, malevolently. As she eyed their approach, she backed away and up against the concrete support.

          “Say little honey,” the woman called out, her squeaky, shrill voice unnerving. “It’s not safe traveling these parts alone.”

          “My friend’s coming; he’ll be here in a minute.” She pointed back towards the exit ramp.

          They looked in the direction she pointed, but saw no one. “Well, your friend’s sure taking his good old time,” the young man said. “You should be more careful. Independent socialist road terrorist cooperatives hang out in these parts preying on travelers.”

          “I’m not—”

          The woman pushed the junk-filled shopping cart over to her. “My son and I are unlicensed independent toll collectors. If you wish to go on, sweetheart, you need to contribute.”

“I can’t help you,” she explained. “I have nothing of value. I’m sorry.”

          The young man walked up to her and put his arms on her shoulders pressing her back against the concrete. He might have been good looking except for his pimply, pock-marked face, and a smile that seemed to hide something sinister along with a few missing teeth. Those that remained had a greenish yellow cast, which was probably why his breath was repellent. She pushed him away and assumed a defensive stance.

          “Hey, Mama, look at her,” the young man said. “She’s feisty, Mama, but I think we can take her.” Each pulled a knife from pockets in their oversized woolen coats.

          “I don’t want any problems,” she said, “I’m just passing through,” all the while scanning the road futilely for signs of her traveling companion. “I don’t have anything. What value can I possibly be to you?”

          They moved closer, knives at the ready.

          “Relax,” the old woman said, eyeing her warily. “Herbie is at that age where he needs to collect interpersonal experiences, deary, and, as you can imagine, they are difficult to come by out here in Wasterland. He’s learning, though, and he’ll be gentle, won’t you Herbie dear?”

          “I will, Mama, if she takes off her clothes, real slow, and she doesn’t struggle much.”

          “I’m not—” The girl started to protest, but Herbie raised his knife and pointed it toward her so she shut up.

          They closed on her, carefully, knives in hand. The young man lurched forward just as she noticed a small, thick metal chain in the old woman’s shopping cart, the kind of chain she had once used to lock up her possessions when she was a little girl. She dodged Herbie’s grasp, avoided the old lady, and grabbed the chain. Herbie cut her off but didn’t approach as she swung it menacingly overhead. When she stepped toward them, swinging it in a wide arc, the boy stayed beyond its reach. Then, when the chain whizzed by him, he leapt inside the arc and caught her arm, twisting it and grabbing her by the shoulder. He put his knife to her throat and she surrendered.

          “That was exciting, little lady,” the old woman cackled. “But you’ll have to be a whole lot quicker than that to stop my boy.”

           In a panic, she glanced up the ramp, searching in vain for help. Her travel companion was nowhere in sight.

           Herbie tossed the chain far out of her reach and, while pressing his knife to her throat, walked her into the shadows, under the concrete overpass.

         “Sweetie,” the old woman said, pointing to her shopping cart. “We need your clothes in our inventory. You won’t be needing them anyway cause my Herbie needs access. We’ll have your Pid data too, but that can wait until Herbie’s done practicing. Knowing Herbie, it won’t be long.”

         “Mama,” Herbie pleaded.

          “It’s okay, sweetie, you’re learning is all. All I’m saying, honey, is you don’t waste a lot of time with your women. I’ve shown you but you don’t learn. It’s more than getting in and getting out. You listen okay, but as soon as you get in the saddle, it’s all a sprint to you. It takes time, honey, it takes time. Maybe this looker here will be the one.” The woman laughed so hard, spittle came out.

          “But Herbie, dear, you be gentle too, by the look of her, you might be her first. Now hand over your clothes, deary.” The old woman then cackled, “Trust me, if you do it real sexy-like, it goes quicker.”

          She was almost hysterical, looking everywhere for help and a way out.


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What is the Joad Cycle

The Joad Cycle is a series of dystopian speculative fiction novels set in our America from 2032-2084 after a Constitutional Coup has brought to power an extreme Right Wing, Christian, Libertarian Entrepreneur who is the leader of the new Entrepreneur Party. In this America, business interests rule, government has been marginalized. and the poor and the middle class no longer exist, the result of a massive economic genocide. To survive, every citizen lives to create wealth and should living cost more than they can generate in value to the economy, they are executed. Mostly, this is an Anti-capitalist Love Story.

$$$ How to Read this Site $$$

This site is mostly fictional and it supports the novels, providing backstory and additional related short stories that take place within the world of the Joad Cycle.

The site offers a Blog and Journal from the perspective of one main character, the hero of the first book, The Golden Rule . This character, Bernie Rosenthal who is very liberal politically, works as Chief Financial Officer for U.S. Angs, a multinational multibillion dollar private corporation owned by Tom Gorman and Tom Morgan, the Toms, who represent ultra Conservative Koch brother types. Bernie is humbled by the tyrannical Toms during the day and finds a release journaling his job frustration. Meanwhile, Bernie's future self, Berne Thau, adds to the blog entries with his perspective, more than 30 years in the future, after money, greed, and the Right Wing revolution end the American Republic .

We are living in trying times. According to Berne Thau, they will get much more difficult.

Why this curmudgeon wrote this story

Every generation, parents tell their children that life was better back when they were young… and the children always scoff.

But now that I have qualified to pass judgment on that age-old warning, now that I’ve been both young and old, I have come to realize that the old have it right and children scoff at their peril though in the ways that American society has been taught to measures success, every generation since maybe the turn of the twentieth century anyway, has had it better.

But with age, and career experience, I have learned that those ways are deceptive and worse, they are wrong. Success is measured based on wealth, conveniences, and life expectancy issues when it should be evaluated on what we hope to be as individuals and what we become as people—the expectancy of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been successful enough. For most of my baby boomer life I was comfortable middle class interspersed with a few years of unfortunate decline towards impoverishment, never quite getting there before bootstrapping back to comfort.

For a time, I was a certified member of the 1%—in income though not in wealth. The 1% is a class of people who rule their part of the world and have a lot of confidence that somebody they know rules the rest of it. I wasn’t a one-percenter for many years, but it was a good life until my associations made me believe that I just didn’t want it anymore. I apologize to my family for what I had become and these novels are my penance.

People congratulated me for the success I’d earned as if those less and least successful earned that lack as well. And with the memory of a manufacturing facility in a small, rural, one-employer town in out-of-the-way Northern Maine near the Canadian border closed to improve a bottom line somewhere else, with an American town murdered for earnings per share, I signed off and began to write the The Joad Cycle.

In my research, I came to fear for my family that grew from the narrowest and shallowest possible family tree to three generations deep and two wide. My family is important and so I wrote these novels for them, for their future, for what I dread we have taken from them and will continue to take, long after we are dead.

I live in the Midwest and my friends are good people and I value them. They are conservative and most are Christians and somehow, we argue over unions as if union members aren’t patriotic Americans, too, and besides, what is to be gained by condemning workers in a country of workers. And we disagree on the poor? Social Safety Nets may not be working as well as they could (But how would we know if these Safety Nets are working? It is not as if some brave politician will stand up and precisely define what a win looks like in the freest, richest country in the history of history—and seriously, doesn’t free-form Capitalism deserve the bulk of the blame with its all-encompassing goal of creating winning humans and losing humans).

And discussions on life and death with my conservative friends, life at the very beginning and the very end, and guns and gods…forget about it. But unlike politicians and the media, we are friends so we work around the discomfort and the dislike for the greater good.

My friends are the current version of the salt of the earth and all of us abide by family values above all, even if we can’t agree on them. Good people like us accept a society where too many of our children are handled by strangers during the critical formative years. And in the twilight years too many parents and grandparents are handled by strangers until their money runs out, like sand in an hourglass, their lives extended only so far as Government security or private insurance will grant.

And when Americans finally expire after insufferable pain and embarrassment and to the sighs of sad but relieved loved ones, it reveals the immaturity of the vast majority of the American people who won’t resolve; once and for all, when God’s reason ends life and so they leave that to for-profit resolution. Can’t it just be in the fading twinkle of an ancient woman’s eyes?

But all of this pales to the legacy of GREED! Greed, that race for wealth that is ingrained in us all from television at a too early age that drives us to become economically viable so that with something extra in our paychecks at the end of the week, we can indulge ourselves with gifts, with palliatives, to relieve the pain and discomfort that we feel for doing what we must do to earn what wealth we cab. Greed is the satisfying of artificial and constant cravings.

And those who are considered the best of us, majority stockholders, officers of corporations, politicians, and celebrities all at the top of their respective food chains, they earn their way into the 1% and possessing this true wealth, they gift themselves truly extraordinary palliatives in order to compensate for something deeply unsatisfying within that was once more human, what they lost in the dog-eat-dog world that we all live in.

This is the world that we pass on to our children and our grandchildren. This world is what will own them someday like it owns us today. They are truly greed’s legacy. That too is the basis for my cautionary tale of America’s future, The Joad Cycle.

But I still idealize my youth. I remember what it felt like when I was a boy and so I wrote a grand love story, too.


Gary Levey