Retreaters – Chapter Two

Tuesday, October 2nd

6:03am, CST

Just south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Matt gently grazed and activated the turn signal of his 2003 GMC Safari with his left pinky. It had been, as usual, an uneventful hour long morning drive, and he was ready for good coffee and company. His right foot eased over to the brake as he slowed to make the left turn into Ma Kaye’s, the restaurant at the twenty-four hour truck stop. Under the parking lot lights, he could see several familiar rigs parked side by side in the back lot. Good, he thought, Mac made it, as he recognized the distinctive red Mack truck tractor. Breakfast at Ma’s had become a four day a week tradition for him and Tuesdays and Wednesdays were usually the best, shooting the breeze and solving the world’s problems with a couple of truck drivers.

Swinging around to the back of the building, Matt parked just one car away from the back door. His lights glared back at him for a second against the windows and reflective siding. As he shut off his truck, he couldn’t wait to get inside. The morning air was brisk in the high thirties and the air was still, heavy, and damp.

He entered the restaurant; the back half set up as a diner, and zeroed in on the seat next to Bill and across from Tom and Mac, three of his usual early morning breakfast buddies. It was a 1950s style setup, now in an early 1980s color scheme. The front was set up with booths and tables for families, but at the back had two elongated U-shaped counters, each with nine fixed round stools. This was where the truckers went so they could eat alone, together. Little Joe was the dependable short order cook on the morning shift, a man who took pride making breakfast the best meal of the day, but definitely not a meal that would qualify for the South Beach Diet. Breakfast items covered half the oversized menu and could be ordered round the clock.

Matt removed his green plaid flannel jacket/shirt and hung it off the back on his stool. Tipping his head forward slightly with a grimace just short of a smile, he gave a hearty “Mornin’!” At least two similar greetings were grunted back, their source difficult to pinpoint in constant clatter of dishes and silverware.

“Well, that was weak.” Matt looked over to Tom, his on and off again breakfast partner for the last couple years. “What, coffee hasn’t saturated the system yet?”

“No, just got here five minutes ago myself. Haven’t ordered yet. Michelle’s only been by once so far.”

Matt looked over to Mac and noticed his glassy, bloodshot eyes. “Looks like you aren’t sleeping again, Mac.”

“Yeah, been a cable junkie the last couple nights on the China trade restrictions debate, the Taiwan blockade threats, drilling the Gulf, and now an early outbreak of flu season,” Mac grumbled.

Michelle came around the corner, black topped coffee pot, cups, and menus in hand. She was just over 200 pounds of attitude and sass. She placed a white porcelain mug in front of Matt and one in front of the other, but unfamiliar new arrival at the end of the counter. She looked to the new guy and asked, “Leaded coffee, hon?” The man nodded and Michelle poured the coffee with one hand while grabbing a menu for him with the other. “Specials are on the insert, bottomless biscuits and gravy is just $3.75 this morning. If you want somethin’ done your way, just let me know.”

“Sure, give the new guy special treatment,” Matt said to Michelle as she made her way over to him.

“Matthew, a person only gets one chance to make a first impression. I’ve blown that with you a few hundred times over now, haven’t I?” She smiled at him as she filled his mug. “OK, we all know what we want?” Michelle grabbed her pad of green order slips from the pocket in her apron and began taking orders. Matt was last, and in the mood for his favorite, the traditional trucker’s breakfast of two poached eggs, corned beef hash, American fries, and double buttered wheat toast.

“Holler if you need something else, gentlemen, or if you need a woman’s perspective on solving the problems of the world.” Michelle exited with.

Matt looked back over at Mac. “So, are you going to share the fruits of your insomnia with us?”

“I was bouncing between Fox News and CNN again last night, as usual. MSNBC drive just drives me nuts. Same crap for the past week or so, House has a trade restrictions bill but it won’t pass in the Senate. China is threatening that if we default on the trillion we owe them, or pass the import tariff, they want every Westerner out of China, except for essential Embassy personnel. Chinese naval “exercises” around Taiwan continue, and they continue to block that Raytheon missile shipment, which is a mess since that ship is registered in Panama or something.”

Matt replied, “So, are half the shelves in Wal-Mart going to be empty for Christmas?”

“Most of the people leaving China didn’t seem to think it was all that big a deal on the long term and said the Chinese were very polite to them”. Mac took a sip of his coffee and continued. “Remember, we didn’t do anything about Tiananmen Square, and frankly I don’t see Obama doing anything more than giving a couple speeches about it, instead of decisions, as usual. They will just up the interest to the Chinese on their debt so they don’t dump it, and back down on the tariff percentage.”

Matt noticed the new guy shaking his head. “Don’t agree over there? We’re an open forum here, what’s on your mind?”

“No, I ain’t disagreeing,” the new guy replied. “Been driving truck since I lost my tool and die job back in 2003. Chinese could make a die for what it cost us to get the raw steel just about. That was a third generation family company lost, and the second generation of it had even served in the Pacific saving their asses from Japan. I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now. Our government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us, Democrats and Republicans alike. And now we owe them over a Trillion dollars, so they think they can tell us what to do. Screw that. I mean, it’s like the US tax payer always get screwed, always has to make up for everyone else’s losses, and now our credit cards are maxed out, and we have to go around the World begging. I just don’t get it, what happened?”

Matt, Mac, and Tom all glanced at Bill at once, in silence.

“Wasn’t that your cue, Bill?” Matt asked as Tom started to chuckle.

“Oh God, here he goes,” said Tom as he ran his fingers through his graying hair.

“Yeah, yeah. The Bilderbergs, the CFR, and all of em are finally gonna get their way.” Bill replied.

Matt teased, “Go on, what’s your theory on this? Come on, we know you have one, it is a new week. What’s the new theory?”

Tom looked over at the new guy. “Bill is our resident expert on international conspiracies, so don’t mind him. In fact, you may be interested to know you don’t have to pay federal income tax because it is actually Constitutionally illegal, according to Bill.”

Bill replied, “Hey, that’s not fair, Tom. You are over-simplifying the point.” Bill paused and lowered his head. In a low tone, he continued, “But, that’s true, federal personal income tax was created illegally.”

Matt prompted, “Come on, Bill. Back on China, what’s the big picture we aren’t seeing here?”

“OK,” said Bill. “The 2008 Olympics went well, but recession is really starting to pinch them, and there is serious concerns the US will stop making some payments on Treasuries, to certain nations in particular. I mean really, how many foreign “loans” has the US made and gotten stiffed on since WWII. Why can’t we do that for once? Chinese however, through all their lobbyists, like Dodd, are doing all they can not to get stiffed out of a trillion dollars, and to avoid the import tariff taxes. We’ve lost our bargaining power since our economy is weak with unemployment officially now over 16.1%, but the actual number is higher. Real estate was just stating to come back until mortgages going over 10% interest killed it again, and now inflation is 11%, putting the misery index at 27.” Mac said.

“But go war over it? I just don’t see that, so much of this is bluffing. The Chinese need us, even like us, and many want to be us. Look at how many come here and stay.” said Matt.

“Today, most Chinese don’t want China to become another America, as Americans seem to think they do. I realize they get that from the students who come from China to America, that is, those who weren’t sent as spies. Anyway, that group has remained a problem for disrupting the human anthill or human beehive that is China with Western ideas. Also, the Chinese government is not the only one benefitting, so long as they keep the cheap labor going, the super rich continue to make super profits off it in international trade deals. The other problem for them was of course the Internet. Google tried rise above it all, and work with them, and then goes running to the NSA after China rapes them. Still, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle even as much as you try and beat it down with your little red book. It’s hard to sell that little red book when people hear about so many other more interesting books out there, so they must try something else, like racial superiority for instance, which has had historical success in homogeneous societies.” said Bill.

“But, doesn’t this whole embargo and loss of most favored nation trade status stuff shake up all the business and all the money?” Matt asked.

“Its all multi-national money, the super retailers, and the very wealthy in the third world grabbing up the natural resources. China is the hardware factory, India is the software and telecommunications service factory. We continue on into a service-only economy with Europe twenty-five odd years ahead of us down that road, showing us where we’ll be,” Bill replied.

Tom chimed in, “But Bill, aren’t all the economies interrelated? Don’t you hurt yourself by harming anyone else?”

Michelle brought out the orders, six plates balanced on her hands and arms. “How we doing on coffee? I’ll grab the pot.” She dealt out the plates with the ease of a seasoned blackjack dealer, then grabbed the pot of coffee from the burner behind her. “How are the world’s problems today, guys? Bill, I hope you aren’t scaring anyone. I know Matt, Tom, and Mac can handle it, but its early hon, go easy Bill.” She looked over to the new guy, “Anything else?”

“No, I’m good, thanks,” was his reply.

As Michelle walked back to the kitchen, Tom said, “Anyway, Bill, what about that? Why does China risk losing it’s largest customer?”

“Because to the people in charge, it isn’t just about the money, it is longer term power instead of short term Wall Street. It’s about ego too. You are presuming the Chinese leaders are thinking like capitalists, like Westerners. That is a mistake. They are more strategic and long term in their thinking and planning. They will overpay for a company if it gives them long term power, which is sometimes worth more than the profit. They will take risks that don’t make sense to the rest of us looking into their world,” said Bill.

“Doesn’t sound like a complex conspiracy theory to me, Bill,” said Tom.

“Not everything is a conspiracy. You guys are giving me a bad rap here. It is simple, just follow the trail to money or power and try to understand that human nature doesn’t change much over time, just technology does. What I am saying is, with the Chinese, there is this ‘rebuild the empire and be great again’ line of thinking. Like the Greeks, the Italians, the Egyptians, there is this remembrance that they once ruled the world. The difference with the Chinese is they think they can and will regain that power someday, and they may be right. They also have some scores to settle dating back to World War II and the British Empire before that.”

Tom asked, “Bent on world domination and a little embargo scares them?”

“Well, as the U.S. first put some relatively light sanctions on China, instead of trying to improve relations with the U.S., they tried to get around it and cheat, by going through Mexico and other countries like Panama, using NAFTA and CAFTA to get their goods into the big box retailers that way. At first, they were successful in doing so, using our own best lawyers to do it.”

Matt nodded as he tucked into his breakfast. He looked over to Mac and said, “What do you think?”

Mac paused for a moment, then replied, “I wish we would all mind our own business more. Second Gulf War taught most folks that, I think. I just don’t know.”

Matt said, “Yeah, well, my cousin in LA tells me how China doesn’t respect our patents, copyrights, and all that. We send them a program or a DVD and they just copy it for their people for free. They don’t think like we do that way at all.”

“Yes, but there, the guy who sweeps the floor, takes great pride in that floor being clean. Here, most people outright refuse to do something so menial, even if the job actually pays better.” Said Bill.

“I remember some foreign language department at a college found out the janitor made more than they did. They went on strike over it, and were replaced in two weeks.” said Mac.

“Seriously?” said Matt.

“Yeah, don’t discount the unions, they have power where you aren’t looking”, said Mac with a smile.

Matt chuckled, “I don’t care what everyone says about you, you’re all right.”

The new guy looked over and said, “Your name really Mac?”

Mac groaned, “No…… it isn’t.”

Matt started in, “Mac drives a Mack truck, which most Americans seem to think is as American as apple pie, but the parent company is really owned by the pansy-ass French, or something isn’t it? Or is it really owned by someone else, Bill, like maybe the Rothchilds?” Matt said looking over to Bill.

“No, Matt, it was, but it’s actually owned by the Swedes now, by Volvo, but it is headquartered in North Carolina, and they are made here at least.” said Bill.

“I should know better than to debate you Bill on stuff like that.” said Matt.

Matt took another bite of his eggs, just as his cell phone went off, rather muffled. It was to the theme of mission impossible. Those at the table started looking toward Matt, who at first did not even realize it was his phone, but then in a sudden realization it was a secondary and specific ring tone, he grabbed the phone from the .

“New ringtone?” asked Bill. “I used to love that show, not the movie, the old TV show”.

“Ah…yeah, or no, it’s set to that song for certain text messages only,” replied Matt as he flipped open the phone to view the screen.

“Nothing bad, I hope,” said Bill.

Time seemed to stop as Matt read the message, and his face showed his shock, but then recomposed himself.

“Yeah, just a text from the office,” Matt murmured as he closed the cell phone and slowly put it to his pants pocket as he stood up. “Sorry to eat and run guys, but duty calls.” Matt dug pulled a ten dollar bill out of his wallet for his breakfast, which he knew would be a $2.69 tip for Michelle, and grabbing a piece of toast from his plate to take with him, hastily turned and started to walked out, at first almost forgetting his jacket/shirt.

“A problem at the office this early? I thought you guys didn’t even open the main office until seven?” asked Bill.

“The construction manager gets there at six. Got to get over there and solve something. Have a good one, guys, and drive safe,” Matt said, looking back as he approached the exit door, waving back to them. He could feel his heart racing a little as he started the van, turned on the headlights, and pulled out of the parking lot. His office was only a few minutes away and he knew he could get online there. He caught himself pushing past the speed limit, and slowed back down. This was definitely not how he had planned to start his Tuesday.