Living In America 2029, A Workers Paradise - By Emiliano Antunez -Price of Liberty
Living In America 2029, A Workers Paradise
By Emiliano Antunez

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March 10, 2005

Karen Johnson looks closely at the computer screen in front of her. It's hard to make out the images since her employer (a major fast food chain) has not replaced the equipment in her drive through window for over ten years. Karen is fortunate by comparison. Her coworkers in the kitchen area have to deal with fryer's, microwaves, ovens and broilers that are close to twenty years old. With all these difficulties, an average order takes fifteen minutes to complete and customer's complaints are endless. But even those toiling in the hot kitchen are thankful for their jobs, especially considering the unemployment rate has just climbed to over 25 percent.

Karen feels extremely grateful to former President Jeb Bush and current President Chelsea Clinton-Kennedy and congress for their support of favorable labor legislation. Thanks to them Karen and other fast food industry workers make twenty-five dollars and hour (minimum wage) while also enjoying guaranteed health insurance, six weeks of paid vacation and thirty paid sick days in addition to ten paid personal days annually. Her daydream about the workers paradise she presently lives in is interrupted by a cackling voice on the speaker, "Can I get some service here?"

Karen hesitates for a moment (business is not that brisk) and answers, "Sure, can I take your order?"

"I'll have two cheeseburgers, one order of fries, and one medium cola." Karen carefully punches in the order on the faded keyboard and informs the customer, "That will be twenty-nine dollars and forty-three cents, please drive through."

The tense seventeen minutes at the drive-thru window end when Karen completes the order and hands an unmarked greasy brown bag with the burgers and fries plus the drink to the man that has been glaring at her all this time. The car is over 15 years old, but actually looks older, his wife and three children don't look so good themselves. She watches them park nearby to share their meal. One cheeseburger is divided between the two adults, the other amongst the three kids, fries divided evenly and the drink passed around as everyone nervously looks on, making sure nobody takes more than a sip. She thinks of how fortunate they are to have a car and not have to rely on public transportation like she does. As Karen watches the family devour their meal she notices the sun is setting. Her watch displays 5:55PM, so she's off in five minutes. Today is Friday and she's eager to get paid.

Karen appears at the door of her manager's dimly lit office. He shuffles through some papers and hands her an envelope with a couple of grease stains on it. As Karen leaves the restaurant she opens the envelope and reads the numbers on the check stub.(Gross Pay $750 Federal Withholding $187.50 FICA $112.50 State Income Tax $75 Medicare $37.50 Special Deficit Reduction "Contribution" $22.50 Net Pay $315.00. She worked thirty hours this week (the maximum allowed by law). Wow, she thinks her parents never made that kind of money at a menial job like hers.

Karen stands on the corner waiting for the bus. Over thirty minutes late, as usual, the door opens to reveal that it's packed with humanity (as usual). Once she steps on, squeezing through the other passengers, she swipes her debit card and the display in front of her reads "1 ADULT FARE $6.50." The bus has a pungent stench, not necessarily due to the riders who emit a particular odor of their own, but because the bus has not been washed in quite some time. Karen stares at the once illuminated sign on the drivers cubicle "Committed to Excellent Service, Lee County Transportation Authority." The screeching sound of the breaks and the bill board she sees on the corner through the bus window caked with soot, urging her to "Support Our Troops in The Middle East" reminds Karen that this is her stop.

Karen walks the three miles from the bus stop to her home every day since she can't afford the extra bus fare. Soon she'll be home, a room seventeen feet by twenty-three feet located in a house shared by 4 families. Karen shares her room (which costs $1400 monthly in rent) with her grandmother who receives $595 from social security monthly, and her mother. Her stepfather (Karen's father was killed in the Iraq War in 2006) is serving with the Navy in Iran and sends his $550 in combat pay every month (the US Military is now drafting people up to the age of 55). Karen's sister, whose boyfriend was whisked away by police more than two years ago for "suspicious" activity and is believed to be in CIA custody in a foreign country (but no one is sure since no one has heard from him since his arrest) and her ten year old nephew live there too. The boy's free healthcare benefits include a much needed kidney transplant (which he's been waiting on for over two years) and free glasses (he's been wearing the same pair for four years). Thankfully her sister gets $225 a month in government assistance (not to mention a "free" government education, worth every dime) for her son since the whereabouts of his father are unknown. Her half-brother also lived in the room until last year when he was killed in a shoot-out over drugs and gang turf less than three blocks from their home.

Her step sister has fared better than the rest of the family since her husband was killed in Syria two years ago while serving in the US Marine Corps and the government gave her $100,000 with which she's was able to purchase a used car and move into a larger living area with a separate kitchen and living room. She lives with her two daughters, ages four and six. She was able to splurge sometimes, taking both her girls up to twice a week to the restaurant where Karen works, but her funds are beginning to run low and she'll need to find a job soon (no easy task these days) or she'll have to go on welfare or join the military (women are more than welcome).

Karen finally turns the last corner on her walk home, which is not an easy one considering all the thugs and drug dealers on the streets. She is constantly solicited for sex or to buy Heroin, Ecstasy, Ketamine or steroids. Karen must be careful and keep her wits about her at all times as shootings are a regular occurrence. Police are almost nonexistent as are most municipal services, especially since the county had to cut the budget substantially and raise property taxes exorbitantly under the weight of pensions paid to retired "civil servants." As she opens the door to her home (the room) she smells the chick pea soup and rice her grandmother prepares on a hot plate for dinner every evening, she wonders if she'll be lucky tonight. Last Friday she got a hot dog (wrapped in "free" government cheese) and a slice of pound cake for desert. As she takes in the aroma of her room and listens to the radio blaring our "God Bless America" over the chatter of her family, twenty-four year old Karen can't help but feel fortunate to live in America "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

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