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Retirement Guide for Teachers

By Alan Haskvitz, national motivational speaker

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Horace Mann Companies

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Includes financial decisions, legal concerns, and aging and health links

Retirement IQ test

Earning test for early retirees

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Life expectancy calculator

Estimating Your Retirement Income Needs

Steps in Retirement Planning

Ten Steps to Retirement

Before you accept an early retirement package

Ten questions to ask before retiring

Steps to take when you are 60

Printables for how much you need to retire and estimating expenses

Tax Benefits for Teachers

Women and Retirement

California Retired

Teachers Website

Regardless of what state you work in this site has excellent insights into the issues of retirement.

NEA retirement site

The impact of Social Security on Teacher Pensions

Social Security news

Understanding Social Security Benefits

Social Security Retirement Earning Table

Research immigration and family histories

By Alan Haskvitz,

National Motivational Speaker

For quality educational resources go to

This is a great way to get a family or a class involved in history. I have placed the best sites I could find on this topic here. The include Canadian, Chinese, Irish, Jewish, and other links as well as immigration resources and statistics as well as poetry.

I have them posted here.

Canadian settlement & history

Chinese, Irish and Jewish immigration

Family history resources

Immigration activities & lessons

Immigration data & statistics

Immigration information

Immigration literature & poetry

There is no certain way to fight a traffic ticket, but this site has the best information. Also included are vehicle reviews, a marketplace, chapter locations, links, and a step by step how to guide to use protect yourself.

This is truly a good site for any motorist. For more information click on

For reviews click on

“The National Motorists Association Foundation is dedicated to finding innovative ways to improve and protect the interests of North American motorists. The foundation provides NMA members, and others, the opportunity to make tax-deductible contributions to fund a variety of activities geared toward expanding motorists’ opportunities to drive, travel, and just enjoy the gift of mobility.”

The family friendly gas mileage champions

The Car Family

For more Family related links to to

for more reviews go to

What a difference a year makes. In 2004 there were only a handful of cars, largely subcompact or hybrids that could crack the desirable highway and into combined 30-mpg mark. Today there are dozens from the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner SUV to the Toyota Prius that can be fun to drive, especially if it is to the gas station. In addition, a great many new hybrids are due out such as the Toyota Camry. Just off the pace of these economy champions is our family favorite, the four cylinder Honda Accord with a manual transmission that delivers 26/34 on regular fuel with a list price for the Value edition of just over $18,000.

Contrary to what has been a constant in the past, good fuel mileage no longer equates to poor performance, The Car Family is proud to report that the 2006 gas mileage leaders are peppy, ride well, and can hold a family of four. Although some of these fuel misers are diesel powered and thus may not be available in all states, a great variety run on unleaded and are for sale most everywhere. Even better news awaits the consumer as these fuel sippers as a whole cost less than the national average of about $25,000 for a new car meaning you can have your cake and eat it too.

We didn’t test the Honda Insight because it only has room for two, but it is the champion with a combined 60-mpg average. Others in this category come are our two-time car of the year, the Toyota Prius that averaged 55 mpg and competes for most interior room with much larger cars. There are no SUV in the high mileage category with the Saturn Greeline Vue and the Ford Escape having the best at arouund 27 mpg in real world operating conditions.

Honda’s Civic Hybrid is a great highway car, but does not have the utility of the Prius. It is quick and handy and gets over 50 mpg. Next in line come the many diesels from Volkswagen. We tested last year’s Passat diesel wagon and were extremely impressed. We got over 38 mpg in mixed driving and the car was downright energetic. However, they are not currently marketing this model. Other Volkswagen diesels getting over 30 are the New Beetle, the Golf, and Jetta.

Gasoline powered sedans that are fun to drive, economical to operate, and are definitely worth a test drive are the Toyota Corolla, Scion xA, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, the non-hybrid version of the new Honda Civic, the MINI Cooper, Hyundai Accent, Mazda 3, and Nissan Sentra. Interestingly, the Corolla and Sentra are being redone this year meaning you can count on the 2007 models being even better. If you want handling, the Mazda and MINI are in a class of their own.

If you need more room the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix can get you over 30 mpg with a standard transmission and are quite frisky. However, our favorites in this sized category are the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner with two-wheel drive. They are easy to drive, love to please, and come well loaded with standard equipment. On the other hand, they are at the top of the price level of fuel-efficient vehicles coming in at about $28,000. If you spend more you can get the larger Toyota Highlander hybrid.

If you are looking for the gas mileage champions by category the minicompact field is lead by the fun MINI Cooper with a 28/36 rating. We love this car, but don’t expect much room to haul anything. The MINI is probably going to be offered in a longer version soon and we recommend you seriously consider it if you like to drive rather than be driven. Subcompact cars are lead by the Volkswagen diesel propelled New Beetle at 37/44. We like the Beetle and it has good safety ratings, too. In the compact field the Honda Civic hybrid is our favorite. It runs smoothly and the new model is very competent on the highway. The government claims 49/51 for this model, but we averaged about 43. The Toyota Prius rules the midsize grouping with at 60/51 rating. We recorded 46 mpg in mixed driving. If you really want a bargain latch onto a Hyundai Elantra with 27/34 ratings and a base price under $14,000. Hyundai’s Sonata also claims a top listing for large cars with a 24/34 rating. We tested both the V6 and four-cylinder version and really liked the latter. It was responsive, roomy, and is priced around $18,000 with an excellent warranty.

The station wagon winners were the Matrix, Vibe, and Scion xB. The Scion is quite fun to drive, but it lacks the utility of the other two. Toyota is coming out with a larger version soon. Look for prices around $15,000 and up in this grouping. If you need a touch more room the venerable Ford Focus provides 26/34-mpg figures and is a workhorse. You can get exceptional deals on this model as they have been around for a long time. If you live where snow and rain rule the roads the Subaru Legacy wagon is a winner with a government highway listing of 30 mpg.

If you need more utility the Ford Ranger pick-up offers 24/29 figures as does its sister model, the Mazda B2300 with the Toyota Tacoma just a step back at 21/26. Although not listed as a leader by the government, our favorite is the Isuzu I-280 and Chevrolet Colorado with 20/27 fuel mileage just beating out the Ford Ranger. We were impressed by the ride of these trucks and there were some great deals out there for these models. The SUV non-hybrid category winners are the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute. We like the handling of the Mazda more, but they both are easy to maneuver and offer good family space inside. As for the vans, despite the fact that the Mazda MPV having nearly identical consumption ratings, Honda’s large and powerful Honda Odyssey is the best here with 20/28 ratings. If you travel in town a great deal the MPV is going to be a better performer and easier to park and maneuver. If you have children and carry a great deal of odds and end get the Dodge Caravan with the Stow and Go option.


Mom’s view: I really am not into small cars, but the Toyota Prius is a joy to drive. The folds down seats offer plenty of versatility and I can drive over 500 miles without refueling. I also liked the Dodge Caravan and think that every mother should check out its storage options.


Dad’s view: I loved the Ford Escape. It handled very well. I also was totally surprised by the Isuzu and Chevrolet Colorado pick-ups. Except for some poorly placed tie downs in the bed they have a pleasant ride and with the manual transmission can keep up with traffic when loaded. I have seen fabulous prices on these models.


Young working girl’s view: I did like the diesel Passat wagon we tested, but since they don’t have a new model this year my choice would be the Hyundai Sonata. It surprised me with its quality interior, great warranty, and acceleration and room. The handling wasn’t what I liked, but the pricing is good.

I also found the Prius excellent and the Dodge Caravan was dog friendly and easy to drive.

College going male’s view: The Scions are my favorite. Easy to park in the smallest parking spaces on campus, capable of carrying my adopted English Mastiff Brutus to the dog park, and trendy, they deserve attention. The Honda Civic non-hybrid would be my second choice since I like the interior and its legendary quality reputation.

Family conference: If you car about the environment and aren’t into conspicuous consumption all of these should be considered for daily driving. For a list of all vehicle websites go to and click on business.

Best gas mileage popular cars by manufacture with government highway estimates.

Acura RS, 34; Audi A3, 31; BMW 325i, 29; Buick Allure, Lacrosse, 30; Cadillac CTS, 27; Chevrolet Aveo, 35; Chevrolet Cobalt, 34; Chrysler Sebring, 30; Chrysler PT Cruiser, 29; Dodge Stratus and Charger, 30; Dodge Magnum, 28; Dodge Caravan, 26; Ford Escape, 31; Ford Focus wagon, 34; Honda Civic Hybrid, 51; Honda Civic, 38;Honda CR-V, 29; Honda Odyssey, 38; Honda Accord, 34; Hyundai Accent, 35; Hyundai Elantra, 34; Hyundai Sonata, 34; Infiniti G35, 26; Isuzu I 280 truck, 27; Jaguar S-Type, 28; Jeep Liberty diesel, 26; Kia Rio, 35; Kia Optima, 34; Lexus RX 400h, 28; Lincoln Zephyr, 28; Mazda Tribute Hybrid, 29; Mazda 3, 35;Mercedes Benz E320 Diesel, 37; Mercury Mariner Hybrid, 29; Mercury Milan, 32; MINI Cooper, 36; MINI Cooper convertible, 35; Mitsubishi Lancer, 34; Nissan Sentra, 35; Pontiac Vibe, 36; Saab 9-3 SportCombi, 31; Saturn Ion, 31; Scion xA, 37; Subaru Legacy AWD 30; Suzuki Aerio, 31; Toyota Prius, 51; Toyota Highland Hybrid, 28; Toyota Corolla, 34; Volkswagen New Beetle diesel, 44; Volkswagen Jetta Diesel, 41; Volkswagen Golf, 44; Volvo S40, 32; Volvo V50, 32.

Safest Family Cars:

They’re not Large SUVs

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This just in:

A Greyhound bus  carrying 36 people, struck an SUV that had overturned in front of it, slammed into a concrete center divider and reportedly killed six.  Large SUVs are more easily flipped. Here is yet another example, and in this case all of the SUV passengers were killed.

And more:  In California, a driver lost control of a SUV and crossed into an on-coming traffic and hit a van carrying a young college coach and other university students. The toll wast hree people dead and 16 injured. Again,  SUVs are difficult to control and do not respond as well as station wagons or sedans in emergency handling situations. Stability control can only do so much. You can’t overcome the laws of physics.

Look at the startling number of SUV accidents and deaths listed on Google:

Let’s start by debunking the great myth that large SUVs are safer than smaller vehicles. They are not. What is worse is that people sometimes confuse them with the very safe mini-van because they can hold seven passengers. They are not. Some people feel that the high seating position makes them safer to drive. They are not. In fact that trait makes it easier for them to tip over. If you are looking to buy a large SUV you need to be prepared to pay more for insurance because of claim losses for these vehicles as well as the damage they do when involved in an accident. In essence, you are more likely to die in a compact pick-up, small sedan, or large SUV than any other type of vehicle. In addition, about one child every week is backed over and killed by the drivers of SUVs. So large SUVs are among the most dangerous family vehicles not the safest. What is worthwhile knowing is that several manufacturers have developed crossovers with SUV looks that provide a nice alternative to large SUVs. Both are easy to drive, have good visibility, are not expensive, and get good gas mileage while offering abundant interior room. Now, we are talking about the large, truck based SUVs here, not the lighter and more nimble crossover style ones. For some eye opening facts about SUVs go to

Each year, about 40,000 Americans lose their lives in motor vehicle collisions. Statistics report that one in 8.5 drivers is involved in an automobile collision and one out of nine hospital beds is occupied by an individual who was injured by a vehicle. So the selection of what to transport your family in goes far beyond fuel mileage, options, deals, or looks. It is literally a matter of life and death to many.

Before we get started on which vehicles are the safest you need to know that every model year brings out new crash testing figures. Since this article is based on an accumulation of research it is not current for this year’s models. Thus you should do your own checking using the insurance industry and government websites listed below.

There is no safest car. There is a safer driver. The more classes you take in how to drive the better you are going to be. For example, many people at an intersection when waiting to make a turn have their wheels turned in the direction they want to go. This is suicide. If another driver just taps them from behind their car will be shoved into oncoming traffic. Such accidents are extremely dangerous with high death rates. Another item you pick up from attending classes regardless of your age is following distance. You need to leave at least one car length for every ten miles an hour you are traveling. Although in today’s world that means people are going to be cutting in on you it does provide you with a guideline. Riding someone’s rear bumper is dangerous, especially in large SUVs and pick up trucks that require 30 to 50 or more feet to stop than sedans because of their greater weight.

Here is what to look for when buying a safe family vehicle. First, when you take a test drive don’t be sidetracked by gimmicks. Check emergency braking, handling, side and rear visibility, driving position, and night lighting. We highly recommend that you test-drive the car both in the day and at night. It may be time consuming, but it could save your family. Keep the radio off and don’t just stay on smooth roads. Making a short stop on a rough road could open your eyes to shortcomings with the vehicles suspension and brakes.

Safest car ratings

In the field of large sedans the Lexus ES300, Audi A4, BMW 330i, Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry XLE, Nissan Altima, and Subaru Legacy did quite well. Small cars that did well on crash tests were the little Volkswagen, the Honda Civic EX and the Volkswagen Jetta. Pick-up trucks, as large SUVs do not do well in crash tests. They are not subject to the same safety standards to begin with, and they are by their nature, difficult to control because of the lightweight of the bed and their great girth. Other recommendations are to always buy a pick-up with ASB and, if available, traction control. The best performers were the Toyota Tundra, the Dodge Ram, and the Ford F.150. Crew cab rating had both the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier doing well.

For 2005, the safest cars were the Mercedes E Class, Volvo S 80, Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Galant, Chevrolet Cobalt, Toyota Corolla, Acura MDX, Lexus GX 470, Volvo XC 90, and Honda Odyssey, according to the Department of National Highway Transportation and Safety and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Interestingly, one of our favorite medium sized SUVs, the Chevrolet Equinox, did outstanding in the crash tests. In past years SUVs from Saturn, Honda, and Hyundai were joined by the Lexus RX 300, Acura MDX and the Toyota Highlander as the safest in this category. We also highly recommend the Subaru Forester. However, remember that not every vehicle is  tested every year.

Minivans should always to safe and all of them performed at the top or next to the top in all categories. On the other hand, the greatest risk of death came from driving small sedans, SUVs and compact pick-ups.

Safety Related Features

Children and airbags. These are some rules to follow when driving with children in vehicles that are equipped with air bags. First, never put a rear-facing restraint in the front seat because this puts the child’s head too close to the passenger airbag. Children should always ride in the backseats. If this is impossible, the seat should be placed as far back as possible. Some vehicles, such as the very handy Chrysler/Dodge minivans, have built in child seats and restraints that are the easiest to use. Because of the danger of side impacts, especially from SUVs that have bumpers that override the safety beams required in family cars, it is best to place children in the middle back seat.

The proper use of head restraints. The purpose of a headrest in a car is to prevent the head from being snapped back in a collision and injuring the neck, especially in rear-end collisions. Head restraints should be adjusted, if possible, so that it is directly behind and close to the back of your head. If you are buying a vehicle, make sure they are adjustable.

All or four wheel drive does not improve stopping and, in reality, the extra weight, may cause longer stopping distances. On the other hand, they may provide more stability while driving on slippery ideas. Overall, unless you live where there is significant rain or snowfall the advantages of four-wheel drive are minimal for family travel.

There also have been some question as to the value of antilock brakes that make it possible to steer while applying full pressure on the brakes. We feel that this is because most drivers have never been educated as to how to stop and maneuver their vehicles when they are equipped with ABS. We feel it is necessary to practice with this option and to make sure every driver in the family knows what it feels like when the system starts to pulsate, and how it enables you to steer away from danger. It is absolutely necessary to have this option on slippery roads.

Daylight running lights have detractors, but they make it much easier to see oncoming vehicles regardless of the lighting conditions. Dark cars driving on black paved roads coming out of tree shaded lanes are almost impossible for someone to see when wearing sun glasses. Running lights prevents this. While we are on this subject, please note that in most states it is illegal to use your fog or driving lights unless visibility is limited. These high-powered units create a great deal of glare. Driving with them on just because it is night is a violation in most areas. If you find it necessary to use these lights for night driving we highly recommend you have your eyes tested and that isn’t a joke.

Teenage drivers

Teenage drivers are always a problem because they do not have the experience to drive well. They have quicker reactions, which is sometimes a problem, especially when driving a top heavy SUV. It is very dangerous to have a young driver in one of these because of their poor handling characteristics in reactive situations. This warning also applied to small Jeeps, too.  Teenagers are prone to one-car accidents and rollovers because of their inexperience and reactions. Teenagers are more than twice as likely to be involved in a rollover in SUVs than an older driver. Coupled with this instability is the fact that teens tend to use the power of these vehicles and speed. Adding a distraction such as a cell phone is asking for trouble. If you have to have a SUV the Lexus RX, and Toyota Highlander and 4Runner were involved in less fatal accidents than the others. The brochure is available from

Family conference: We think that large SUVs are very dangerous and not at all environmentally friendly as a whole. Unless you own a farm or ranch where their attributes can be put to good use other vehicles can do a safer job and reduce your maintenance costs and treat the environment a lot better. The worst offender we have found it the Hummer H2 with its 6500 pounds, poor fuel mileage, poor rear visibility, and lack of interior room they are out of their element in town. You might also want to check the Hummer’s low customer satisfaction ratings, too. General Motors, which makes the H2, has a great SUV in the Chevrolet Equinox that we highly recommend. In addition, the Saturn Relay deserves a test. Other than that the Subaru Forest, Lexus RX, Toyota Highlander, and Acura MDX are worth testing and the Lexus and Highlander are available as hybrids to save fuel costs. Big sedans such as the Toyota Avalon, Ford Five Hundred, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, and others are also well worth a long look. Take your time; your family’s lives may depend on it. We think that your best bet is always going to be a minivan from any of the major manufactures.

Helpful safety links

Top Vehicle Safety Ratings Page

Highway Crash Data

National Highway Safety Safe Car Information

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Public Broadcasting Story on SUV Rollovers

SUV rollovers

Car Safety Seats

Minivan Safety Data

Large link site to safety related data

Links to all manufacture sites

Grey conspiracy: We are in this Together

 by Alan Haskvitz

Harold felt old. The cold air dried his skin, ached his joints, and disgruntled his nature. Harold was old.

He pushed open the heavy door of the department store and felt the warm, gooish air envelop him. Once inside he stopped and slowly searched for the men’s section much to the disgust of the other shoppers who had to sidestep him he bent over to read the labels in the dim fluorescent light.

Harold walked, looked, and sensed an annoyance from others at his pace. He revealed in it a bit and wasn’t offended by the negative reaction to his actions. He had many younger driver try to cut him off on the highway because his speed wasn’t to their liking. He lived for the stoplights where he would catch them and give them the evil smile he had perfected  over the years. Having reached nearly 70 years of age he had developed a belief in himself that was  granitized by having survived. He may not be fast, but he was steady and reliable.

Ruth was looking at her watch yet again. It was her grandmother’s watch and it would be a prized possession of her grand daughter in a few years. She liked to stay busy working at the store as it made time pass more quickly. It also suited her ego as she enjoyed showing the younger clerks what a real worker should be like. Ruth was religious, took pleasure in the rare visit from her now grown children, and was described by others as warm and honest. They simply did not know her.

Harold viewed the isles of all department stores as gates that forced one into areas that he did not want to wander. One of his pastimes was to watch others being guided down the store paths that circled the store’s generous offerings rather than just walking through the smaller isles to the section of want. Watching is what Harold liked to do most. He wasn’t so good at participating.

Ruth saw Harold coming. She didn’t know him, but she knew the type. The gray hair, slow gait, and hardened eyes enlarged by glasses that had been upgraded yearly to offset the thickening corneas. To her he was not handsome or ugly. She had long ago banished such observations to those under 40. Now her labeling was simply based on the observer’s medical condition.

Harold saw Ruth and walked directly to her. He noted her appearance without prejudice. She was a salesperson. In his younger days he would probably have not been attracted to her, but now he saw someone he could identify with. Someone who wasn’t threatening or likely to ignore him.

“May I help you, sir?” Ruth asked with a self-taught smile.

“ I’m looking for some gloves. The type they used to make. They had a wool insert, were leather, and there was an adjustable strap on them. I need that kind. My hands are real big and they get cold in this dam damp weather, “ Harold asked.

“I have not seen that type in a long time. Maybe something over here would be satisfactory?” Ruth recommended as she slowly led him to a small selection of gloves near the belts and watchbands. She was hoping that the younger clerks would notice how she was willing to help this customer even when it would mean little to her sales commission.

Harold tried a few on while she watched. His hands were big, but what puzzled Ruth the most was the crooked fingers and scars that could not be covered by the stretched and thinning skin.

“What did you do for a living?”

“ Lot’s of things. Started on a farm, later worked in a junkyard, and after the war I got a good job making steel. Too bad the place went belly up. To much Chinese imports boss said.”

Harold liked to talk about the past.

Ruth listened carefully. Her husband had also faced a hard life and she recognized the need to be a good listener.

Her husband had died after a full life, but little financial success. She was the first man she had known and the last. Ruth took pride in that fact and kept it that way until she passed away quietly. Her family divided up her slim belongings and kept her memory alive, but not well.

Harold started rummaging through the pile of gloves.Near the bottom of the pile he found a pair of woolen mittens. He smiled to himself in self-appreciation.

“I’ll take these.”He dug into another pile and located a pair of large leather gloves. “And I’ll take these.”

She had seen what he had done and laughed.

“So you made yourself a good old pair.”

“Yep, and they fit darn well, too.” I bet “OJ would be proud.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. Not too many of the other workers would have even understood the sly joke.

She smiled as she walked back to the register. The word darn brought back memories. She remembered her mother scolding her father for using the term.

Ruth started to ring up the purchase. She looked at him again as he fumbled in his wallet. He had already calculated the cost and had opened an old coin holder to get the exact change out.

It was not a rash decision by Ruth, but one derived of camaraderie and a hatred of the corporate system that had chosen greed as its god and reduced human life to one of haves and have nots. She hadn’t acted on this impulse before, but, as she looked at this age-weakened fellow survivor, clinging to the edge of a society that tolerated him until his Social Security check was spent, she decided to act.

“That’s is $5.78.”

He looked at her.That was not the correct price for the gloves. He was puzzled. Had she had forgotten the second pair?

“Did you get these?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you having a sale?”

You might say so, Ruth said nervously. Her idea, so strong a few minutes ago, was weakening as it appeared that this might not have been the man to start her act of corporate sabotage.

“Okay, Harold finally answered, smiling at the bargain.

She handed him the change and watched him count it.


Ruth was not given to excessive talking, but this time she could not hold herself.

“We are in this together.”

Their eyes meet briefly and without a word they both knew that a good deed had been done.

Harold took the bus home, trying his gloves on, exploring their workmanship, and wondering, a lot.

The gloves went well with his security guard uniform and they were truly warm. As he wandered around the large discount store parking lot he felt stronger wearing them. Harold had worked this job for over five years supplementing his government benefit check and giving him a sense of existence.

Since the cold wave there wasn’t too much fooling around in the parking lot so he went inside. It was a lasting decision.

Instinct also was a strong point for Harold and as he walked to the change room he decided to stand there for no apparent reason. The woman was Mexican, old, and weathered. Harold knew she was stealing something and so he followed her. His walkie-talkie went off and he answered

“What’s up?”

“Harold, see that woman in front of you?”

“Of course.”

“We have her on tape putting something in her purse. When she goes outside check her out. Think your man enough?”

Harold did not answer. He was used to the jokes and jabs about his age, but the company knew he would be there Mondays and after long weekends and kept him on the payroll. They also knew he would be hard pressed to find any other job and so his position and salary remained at the entry level. It peeved him, but he liked the idea of moving around and the prescription discounts.

Outside, he asked the woman to stop. She was shaking.

Harold knew she was a shoplifter. He had done this many times before. But usually it was a teenager or a gang member and they seldom stopped. He just followed them at a safe distance copied down the license number of the vehicle and called it into the supervisor. This was different. She had stopped.

“Open up your bag,” Harold said cautiously.

The woman compiled. Inside were some underwear, a bra, and a pair of socks. He started to take them out and he noticed his own gloves. They were so comfortable he had almost forgotten he was wearing them. “What’s your name?” Mary she said softly, head down.

The well-worn women stood still before him, head down, ashamed, and yet cornered. For some reason Harold turned her against the car so that the video cameras could not record the action.

“What do you have in there, Mary? “

“I don’t have any money for new ones.”She was too embarrassed, even at her age, to name the garments in front of a man.

Harold looked at her and the conspiracy took it next victim.

“We are in this together.”

She looked up, her brown eyes misty and searching for meaning in his words. She had not noticed his face  before. It was not polite to look at men outside her family. She reached for his gloved hand and squeezed it.

A few seconds after she drove off the walkie-talkie squawked to life.

“What happened? Get yourself a date?”

“Better get your camera pointed at some younger women, “ Harold replied. He had done his job.

Mary didn’t speak English well. She had tried to exchange the items in her purse, but the sales clerk was on the phone and didn’t understand what she wanted to do. She had receipts, but no one seemed to care so she simply exchanged the wrong sized items for the correct ones.

Mary drove home. She went to Mass the next day and asked the priest what “We are in this together,” meant. He told her that it related to the Bible and it was all about God. Mary liked that answer.

On Monday,  Mary went to her job at the dry cleaners. It was hot and the hours were long. Everyone seemed to be in a rush and many times her boss would criticize her because a customer had said her work had damaged an old garment. Mary knew the drill and so did her boss. If he yelled at her the customer felt better and her boss would give the customer a free credit slip. Everyone knew the old garment was ruined before it was brought in, but business was business.

The old couple walked in with their yellow receipt and waited for Mary to find the dry cleaned items. There were ten of them. Mainly tattered shirts and blouses. But in the middle was a double hanger with an old wedding dress. She checked it and the heavily laced dress was part of the order. She decided to double check and took off the receipt and walked back to the front where the couple was waiting.

“Did you have a wedding dress? “

“Yep,” the gray haired man replied.

“My wife here wore it 60 years ago and now my niece is going to wear it for her wedding. Makes us proud.”

The woman was smiling as her husband  explained the gown.

“I’ll get it for you,” Mary said and went to back into the store to get the garments. The gown cost nearly $50 to clean and the other items came to about $20.

She brought the items to the front, hung them up, and called to her boss.

He came with anger in his walk. He had heard Mary’s call before and knew what it meant.

In Spanish she said that the customer was a regular and was very unhappy because the lace on the designer wedding gown was ruined. He glared at her, grabbed the receipt, and smiled at the customer.

“Thanks for coming here. I heard what happened and you don’t have to pay for the cleaning of the dress.”

The old couple was jubilant.

Mary took the money for the few shirts and blouses and handed them the change.

“We are all in this together, ” she said softly

Ruth meet her friends for coffee and told them what she had done. They were not all in agreement, but some  started to organize and the subversion spread.

The Grey Conspiracy it difficult to spot. After all, you are dealing with the most experienced workers in the world. They have built every company, built every road, and filled every position for decades. They knew how things were. That is except for computerization. But that hurdle didn’t last for long.

Ruth had small cards made up in large font that read, “We are in this together.” She even wrote out the rules. If you needed something, really needed something, you would show the card and ask the person if they knew what it meant. If they said, “We are in this together” the person in need would get a discount or the item for free, illegal or not.

The older generation was wrestling back control of their world.

Of course, it did not take long for management to notice something was wrong. Old people were coming in looking for older clerks. Everything was balanced, but something was wrong. How could old people be beating the system?

Elliott felt foolish working in the computer store. He could not keep up with the newest trends in technology. Everyday Elliott was ignored at work and his ideas shredded. He was trained as a computer programmer, but nowadays that was done by younger people. Elliott wanted to help people, but his pace was too slow. He restocked and occasionally reprogrammed a computer so that it worked a little more efficiently, but no one seemed to notice.

And yet,  Elliott ultimately saved the movement.

The old man came up to Elliott and showed him the card. Elliott had no idea what to say and so there would be no discount. But old people kept searching him out and giving him the cards. They were all looking for help fixing their computers.

“What do you people want with those cards?”Elliott asked in frustration as a customer holding on to a walker presented her card to him.

“We look after one another. Why don’t you come to one of our meetings,” she suggested.

There must have been a hundred people there. All old, and none looked rich. Ruth gave her speech, asked for their opinions, and sat down. There were no opinions until Elliott spoke up.

“I don’t like this, but I can see your point. The problem is with inventory control. How are you going to not get caught?”

Ruth explained. We just overcharge the young people. Sometimes they complain and we apologize, after all we are old. Most times they just sign and leave. We do have a problem with the inventory, though. The cash drawer always balances, but the inventory is off.  We say it is shoplifting.”

Elliott thought for a while and smiled. “I think I can help.”

It was not the greatest website in the world, but to conspiracy members, it was the best. Working alone in his bachelor apartment, Elliott would scan every bar code he could find. He the codes  on his site with a description. The conspiracy members brought him piles of bar codes and he worked long hours perfecting his program. It was a challenge and he loved it.

Meanwhile, no one ever looked twice at an old people looking in dumpsters and putting slips of paper into their Wal-Mart bags. Old people and dumpsters weren’t an unusual pairing.

The website went on line without any fanfare. It was a secret and by utilizing several servers around the world Elliott kept it that way.

Word got around in a slow, unhurried way. Old people would go to the website, find the items that they needed, and print out the codes. They would paste the codes to the back of the “We are in this together” card and go from store to store that handled that item looking for a member. They knew it was only to be used in extreme circumstances. No one wanted to ruin it for the others.

All they needed to do was find a member working as a cashier.  It was a simple matter to take the card, place it on the item, and let slide it across the reader so it would record the reduced price.

When the inventory figures came out they would match. If any problems emerged they would be recognized by the younger management team as a computer problem and phone calls would be made.

Over time the movement spread and vitamins, support hose, and even sturdy shoes and a suit for a grandson’s wedding were given these “senior discounts.”  It got so that when a gray haired individual walked into a store a gray haired clerk would often seek them out.

Now mind you, this wasn’t done at the small stores. This is a conspiracy against the sprawling, big box, impersonal ones. It exists today anywhere you see a survivor in need. A survivor who helped build a great country and who only wants to die warm and comfortable.

Harold and Ruth never meet again and never needed too.


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