Hero to Homeless

A short story adapted from the novel Travis Hunter by Stephen Michael Berberich

Nov. 4, 2003

Dear Travis,
Everybody back here in Georgia is eager to welcome
home the best damn soldier in the U.S. Army. Son, I trust you are
still serving our country well over there. Be a leader always, son.
Only six weeks left on your tour. You will report to my buddy at
Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning. I arranged everything.
I’m counting on you, Travis. Don’t mess up. Make me proud.

In a barren, rocky region of Afghanistan, several armored
combat vehicles travel at a deliberate pace up a dusty road into
a cluster of tan and gray mounds leading to an open dryland
hummock. Big, rugged U.S. Army Sgt. Travis Hunter rides
shotgun in the lead vehicle. He pulls out the little folded letter
after he can no longer see through the dirty windshield.

The soldier driving says, “We are approaching the target, Sgt.
Should you be reading?”

Hunter, bristling with strong-minded determination,
ignores the question and keeps reading the letter from home.
Hunter replies hurriedly, “Letter from Dad. It came just as we
packed up.”

“Everything okay, Sgt.?”

“He’s getting me into officer training.”

“You deserve it after four combat tours. But I thought
enlisted personnel need special clearances to get into officer

Hunter smiles and replies, “You don’t know my father.”

The old road is rocky, creating too much vehicle noise and
slowing progress.

The soldier at the wheel says, “We’re here, enemy
compound is over the ridge. The lieutenant says that a soldier
interpreter on the patrol picked up Taliban chatter. They are in
that flat structure just a bit more. Yes, right over there, Travis.” He
slows the vehicle to a crawl with the others.

Hunter folds his father’s letter and tucks it into a chest pocket as
the armored convoy drifts to a halt, motors silenced.
Hunter takes charge. “Listen. The lieutenant wants us to go on
foot. Come on. Take your weapon and follow. Watch for side

The U.S. patrol forms two columns, each in a single file
up the ridge. Point men for each column sweep for improvised
explosive devices, IEDs. The columns move quickly and lightly
with minimal clamor. The two columns converge near the earthen

A crackle of automatic weapons breaks the silence and
a premature grenade explodes in the air, sending the soldiers
scattering behind boulders.

Hunter stays up halfway on his knees and pumps both hands,
palms down, for the men to lower their voices randomly saying,

“There, there. … See ’em? … Heads up.”

He ducks flat to the ground with Lt. Sam Jones who
whispers, “Hunter, take six guys and advance to the right. We’ll
go left. Go, go, go, go.”

The soldiers open fire on the structure, raising clouds of
dust. As they advance, return fire hits Jones, the first up. Another
round hits a soldier who then stays back with wounded Jones who
is holding his bloodied right knee.

The firefight lasts just five minutes until shooting ceases
from the earthen structure.

At the quieted structure, armed U.S. soldiers kick in an
old wooden plank door. They find a large cache of weapons and
just two dead enemy soldiers.

Hunter quickly assesses the situation, “Men, pile these
weapons up. I’ll check on the lieutenant and get a vehicle to load
up.” He then speaks into his hand radio to Jones. “All clear, sir.”

When he then spots the lieutenant huddled behind
with another man, Hunter runs to Jones and the soldier who is
frantically working with bandages and tourniquets. The soldier
ignores his shoulder wound and treats Jones first.

Jones says, “We need to get back to the forward operating
base before sundown, Sgt. Hunter. Get stretchers. Harris here
caught one in the shoulder and will be okay, but my knee, oh.”

Jones is writhing in pain but maintains a self-assured tone and

Hunter is inspired by the lieutenant’s fighting spirit and
reports stalwartly, “Sir, the men are loading the cache. We took
out the only two enemy. I’ll be back soon. This area should be
okay, sir, the Marines cleared it Monday.”

“Be careful, sergeant and make each of your steps back to
our vehicles exactly the way we approached.” Hunter is already
off running as Jones adds, “Same footsteps. Hear me, Hunter?”

Hunter hastens down the hill with an M249 light machine gun
and his holstered M9 Berretta on his hip. He feels for his father’s
letter over his heart as he climbs into a vehicle to drive to the
wounded men.

He doesn’t realize that the soldier who drove the vehicle
to the firefight left the front wheels turned sharply to one side.

Hunter begins driving. The vehicle veers off the uncertain course
of the dust-covered road.

An explosive sound and flash of light in the fading
daylight flips the vehicle, throwing bulky Hunter 10 feet away.

Moments later, the semi-conscious warrior Hunter hears an
approaching Medivac helicopter’s pulsating wop-wop-wop of the
spinning blades and its roaring turbine engine.

Baltimore, Maryland, five years later
On a misty cold October weekday morning, former U.S. Army
Sgt. Travis Hunter, a wounded warrior now 33, wakes up lying
on concrete under the Russell St. exit ramp. He pours water from
an old army canteen over his head and wipes his face. His full,
reddish-brown beard is unkempt and to his chest.

He ambles off aimlessly, carrying a folded wheelchair full of
rust and dents. The ambulatory chair is missing one footrest. He
carries it only to the edge of the darkness near Oriole Park at
Camden Yards where amber streetlights might expose his game.
Only then he gets into the rickety chair and covers his legs with
an olive-green blanket.

Travis wheels himself through a smelly alley leading to his first
stop of garbage cans and a dumpster behind a Greek restaurant on
Pratt St.

A Purple Heart medal is pinned to his tattered greasy Army shirt.
He wears a well-worn Atlanta Braves baseball cap from the
1980s. Travis is big and muscle-bound even in the wheelchair.
Yet the most distinguishing feature of his physique is his twisted
and awkward posture that leaves his tanned and chiseled features
in an expression of perpetual pain.

Yes, he fakes needing the wheelchair. He is not faking the twisted

Down the alley, Travis is disturbed to find another vagrant lying
next to the dumpster. He becomes anxious, causing spasms
to begin in his twisted muscles. He holds his jaw to the left to
control tremoring spasms.

He continues wheeling to the unconscious soul. He walks to the
limp body to check for life. It is a woman. “Hey, you there, lady.
Wake up.” The former soldier gathers up semi-conscious Mary
Ann Gilford, 28. He gently places her in his wheelchair and starts
pushing it.

Mary Ann regains consciousness quickly, fearfully, “You a doc?
Hey, I can walk, mister. Get your hands off!”

Daylight is breaking slowly with a heavy, low cloud cover.

“Listen, lady,” Travis barks to the ungrateful woman, “I just want
to help you. You’ve got blood all over your clothes.”

She panics, “Are they gone? … I mean, them dogs. Oh God,
where are they?”

“Do you mean street dogs did this to you?”

“Well, I didn’t do it to myself. Hey, what’s wrong with your neck?
You look worse off than me. Your head’s all crooked, mister.”

Travis turns away, disgusted.

“Okay, none of my damned, whatever, right?” she says. “Yeah,
dogs were in the dumpster, angry. The Greeks throw bags of
uneaten lamb in there. I tried getting in to get some.”

As he takes charge of the situation, the pangs of anxiety calm in
his stomach. Travis’s muscle spasms stop. He says, “I know about
the Greeks’ throwaways. Dogs got to the meat first? I’m sorry.
Come, I’ll fix you up. Got a name?”

Author Releases Book Set In Anne Arundel County

Posted Thursday, November 4, 2021 1:57 pm

Local author Stephen Berberich has released “The Misadventures of Maximum Green,” an adventure story with a gardening theme. The story is set during the real estate boom of the mid-1970s.

“I took the liberty to change some names which would otherwise be a distraction from the story,” Berberich explained. “We are clearly visiting the former Severna Park Inn and Gibson Island as just two examples of the places which inspired me to write the story.”

He also drew from experiences as the founder of Bayside Nurseries in Annapolis.

“The Misadventures of Maximum Green” can be purchased on Amazon. The public is also encouraged to meet Berberich on November 6 from 8:00am to 3:00pm at the Early Christmas Flea Market and Craft Fair, hosted outside of the Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum. A rain date is scheduled for November 7.

Learn more about the author at smberberich.wordpress.com.


Berberich novel explores post-Vietnam war life

Posted on 

Rural black Melvin Watt and suburban white Max Green turn to horticulture to build back their lives and renew their friendship by launching Maximum Green Design Co. 

Bryantown author Stephen Michael Berberich recently published his book “The Misadventures of Maximum Green” through Slice of Life Publishers.

The book, which details an intriguing story of humor, insights into human nature and the sweeping social changes in the 1970s, can be found at Amazon.comGoodreads.com and by blog at wordpress.com.

How long have you been writing, and how did you get started? I have been writing fiction in novels and short stories for about a decade. I started by writing down dreams.

What inspires you to write?

While driving home from a New Year’s party in the wee small hours of the morning, my wife and I created a ghost story. That story became my first novel, “Night at the Belvedere.” I been creating new characters and story plots ever since.

What kind of writing process do you use?

I create characters and let them tell the story for the most part. For my five novels, I’ve had to interrupt their fun and adventures to invent an ending, which takes a lot of thought.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Creighton — those sort of quirky authors.

What are you working on now?

I just published “Travis Hunter: War hero found homeless in a mysterious post-traumatic state.” I am working on getting it distributed through medical and military advocacy groups. It is now in ebook form as well as paperback as of mid-July on Amazon.com, along with my other novels.

What do you want readers to know about you?

My stories emerge from real like experiences by me or acquaintances. They related to contemporary life.

Stephen Michael Berberich

Please include a brief description of your book.

Two friends, Max Green and Melvin Watt, return home to Maryland discharged from the Army during the last days of the Vietnam War and are burdened with contrasting personal issues. Melvin, a rural African American who enlisted, is ngry and hyper-violent at times over being limited in combat duty. Suburban white Max was drafted out of college and comes home a pacifist. They turn to horticulture to build back their lives and renew their friendship by launching Maximum Green Design Co. They start with no cash and no clients on a rented, rundown farm once owned by Lord Baltimore. Max is educated in botanical sciences and aims for creating outstanding gardens for the rich and pretentious in historic Annapolis, the state capital and superb sailing resort town. Melvin brings leadership and superior social skills. Their success is threatened at every turn by the likes of crooked developers, a ghost ship on the Chesapeake, a whacky disgraced literary professor turned landscape architect, law suits, pretentious home owners, and a murderous ex-husband of a beautiful French fashion heiress living alone at her summer estate home on the Magothy River. Gardening technique is a thread throughout and colors the story.

Please include an excerpt from the book.

“As heiress Louisa Fountain is meeting with Max and Melvin and an attorney who have pledged to help her, she lays bare her feelings about her dangerous ex-husband:

“Martin has every reason to make mother and I disappear. He believes he is in my will. Both mother and I have controlling shares of our corporation.

“Pardon, s’il-vous-plaît.”

She removed a designer handkerchief from a tiny snap lock purse and dried her eyes. “Now, that is all I have to say, except my sincere gratitude to you all for caring about us. And we love the landscape work too, gentlemen.”


Travis Hunter

War hero found homeless in mysterious post-traumatic state

Wounded war hero Sgt. Travis Hunter has a debilitating post-traumatic condition. He doesn’t know what it is. It is a neuro-muscular condition, which has frozen some of his head and neck muscles to one side. The mysterious medical condition hit him several months after his Army discharge. The Veteran’s Administration doesn’t recognize it as combat related.

His painful post-war state has dashed all hope of Sgt. Hunter recovering his true self. Worse, Travis blames his twisted condition on his failures in life. He is despondent. He has resolved to live on the streets panhandling.
This story begins with the post-war years of Travis Hunter living in pain, it’s little-known causes, few treatments, and no prospects for a cure. Travis is just one of many former soldiers abandoned to deal with the cruel fate of post-war complications of the most serious nature. And he is one of more than 250,000 Americans who get slapped down by his neuromuscular condition, their lives never to be the same again. Many never diagnosed.

Former Sgt. Travis Hunter’s travails are written in real time here exactly as they happened to him. He is a lost soul until beautiful Nurse Janet Lee offers help him. At first, he refuses bitterly.

Click here to order

New superb paperback novel, The Misadventures of Maximum Green

Click here to hear about my favorite novel yet. It is based on a true story.

My paperback edition of the novel, The Misadventures of Maximum Green, is available today May 1 on Amazon.com for just $15.99 with the new cover art. As with the eBook, it is a nostalgic trip home to Anne Arundel County and relates to our days at Andover in places and events. It is based on a true story. The eBook edition is reduced today in price by more than half also. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Based on a true story.

Synopsis: Stephen Michael Berberich presents his latest novel​ The Misadventures of Maximum Green. It’s an intriguing story, full of humor, insights into human nature and the sweeping social changes in the 1970’s. Two friends, Max Green and Melvin Watt, return home to Maryland discharged from the Army during the last days of the Vietnam War and are burdened with contrasting personal issues. Melvin, a rural African American who enlisted, is angry and hyper violent at times over being limited in combat duty. Suburban white Max was drafted out of college and comes home a pacifist. They turn to horticulture to build back their lives and renew their friendship by launching Maximum Green Design Co. They start with no cash and no clients on a rented, rundown farm once owned by Lord Baltimore. Max is educated in botanical sciences and aims for creating outstanding gardens for the rich and pretentious in historic Annapolis​, the state capital and superb sailing resort town. Their success is threatened at every turn. Gardening​ is a literary thread throughout.

Little Man of Steel

by Stephen Michael Berberich

Spring 2020 Connections
Based on a true story

     Chaos reigned. The nation was at war, protests raged on campuses, cities burned in race riots, and assassins killed popular leaders.
     So, did I worry that my poor grades would get me drafted out of college? Guess so.
     I was worried a whole lot more whether I could buy the white Chevrolet Malibu ragtop with all black interior I’d coveted since high school. I needed tuition dough too.
     Well, heavy industry came to my rescue. Aunt Kay’s neighbor got me a summer job with the big Bethlehem Steel Mill at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. He said he was
     My job title was to be as a roll-transfer man. What the hell was that?
     No matter. That summer, I’d be earning the best hourly wage of any college kid.
     Guardedly then, I drove my mother’s 1956 Plymouth Savoy across East Baltimore through neighborhoods of small post-WWII homes built for returning GI’s on VA loans. I marveled at the consistently neat, framed-in trees and little lawns.


Loretta’s Great Deal – short story winner, Writer’s Digest

Loretta’s Great Deal

by S.M. Berberich

WD-SSS-Comp-2019-WinnerSeals-WinnerThe hazy morning sun promised another sweltering hot one on that unforgettable July 31, 1955. It didn’t matter, though. Loretta couldn’t be happier. Her delivery truck had arrived.

That burly man in gray and red coveralls lifted the truck rear door with one arm. She saw it there, inside the truck, just as pretty to her as it was in the store window. Loretta darted out of the corner row house, a cup of coffee in one hand and a cold bottle of Coca-Cola for the nice man in the other.

“Thanks madam. I’ll get this baby off for you.”

She watched him pull it out. “Sir, put it back there, please,” she said, pointing to the backyard, past a neat row of red rose bushes and flower beds.

At last, it lay there wrapped in plastic on her grassy yard, eager to give out a giant yawn and open like a big swelling flower bud. She signed the receipt and gave the burly man a dollar tip—generous in those days.

Hands on hips, she said, “It’s one of those new-fangled clothes dryers, sir.”

“I know madam. Must be the first one in the neighborhood. Congratulations.”

The thing didn’t look like much, arms folded up around a shiny pole and covered with twists of plastic roping. But Loretta was pleased. The store salesman said it would be a great help raising her baby. Loretta and husband Pete had been blessed on July 20 with their first child, Valarie.

Pete and Loretta lived paycheck to paycheck in those days and Pete opposed springing for “that weird thing,” he said. But, he softened when Loretta pleaded, “Oh Pete, baby Valerie deserves fresh diapers.”

He’d learn soon, though. His Loretta had the knack for knowing a great deal when she saw one. This deal, this ‘expensive’ purchase, would prove legendary for their growing family. It was that fold-up kind people used to put outside–a single-pole, umbrella style clothes dryer. The crazy thing set Pete back a whole nineteen bucks including delivery.

Life in Baltimore back then was all about the neighborhood. On Loretta’s block, her umbrella dryer was a sensation. In the coming years, she would be hanging diapers out on that thing for not only baby Valarie, but three more baby daughters in short order.

She secretly loved being the first on the block with the umbrella dryer. The neighbors hung clothes on pull-and-pin straight clothes lines on pulleys. Meanwhile, Loretta’s new dryer thing spun around like nothing yet in clothes-drying history. It would literary twirl if you let it, with clothes flying and flapping in the wind in a giant circle of colors and whites. These were Loretta’s home flags! They advertised that Loretta was raising healthy, lively daughters.

Loretta remembered little of her mother. She vowed to make up for her motherless childhood by giving all the time and effort needed to bathe, care and dress her daughters with love and freshly laundered dresses.

She always said that the hot, sticky day when her umbrella dryer arrived was more than a happy day. It was a neighborhood event. Pete got off work early to put it together. With one eye on his bride smiling and waving encouragement from the back stoop, Pete was soon head scratching and fumbling with the web of plastic clothes lines wrapped around the thing until he was ready to put the ‘flower’ into full bloom.

A small crowd of kids and middle-aged women had gathered at the alley, most of the neighborhood ladies with gigantic hair rollers poking through wind-blown head scarfs, like pink toilet paper rollers.

Finally, the ladies gave out a collective gasp as Pete pushed up the dryer arms from the center pole and flung it open. Some cheered. They say one old lady fainted. But, there it was, all sprung out magnificently like an umbrella, just like that sweetheart Bud Collier showed on his Beat the Clock quiz show.

Loretta’s dad, William, was next to arrive at the event, returning from work to his home he now shared with his daughter and new son-in-law until they could afford their own place. William opened the back gate from the alley, and, by God, there stood that thing Loretta had been goin’ on about for weeks. Upright and firm on one skinny silver leg; it was a grand monument to modern progress during those happy days in post-World War II America.

“See Papa, it opens like an umbrella and spins around. Has 220 feet of line. Baby Valerie’s diapers, all of our clothes, sheets, towels, even Pete’s uniforms, all can dry in fresh air,” she told her father.

He gazed at the ingenious invention on display for all the world to see (Well, the world from the alley, that is.), smack dab in William’s cherished patch of green, his leisure spot, his bit of wilderness in the asphalt city.

“Some design Retta,” he said while easing in through the kitchen door to sniff for any intriguing aromas of supper.

She smiled with mild relief. He didn’t complain that her dryer might eliminate horseshoe tossing, whiffle ball, cook outs, or neighborhood bull sessions on long summer evenings.

Loretta watched him and guessed his thoughts. “It comes with a metal sleeve for the pole to slide into and out of the ground, Papa. Pete put that sleeve in a big cement bucket in a hole to make it stable and secure. It’s a new idea. You can pull the dryer out of the ground and bring it into the house. I’ll show you. Come on.”

“Ah huh, what’s for supper, Retta?’ he said. Being mechanically astute, a master machinist at Westinghouse, William figured that his daughter and quiet son in law had wasted their money. Surely the metal contraption would soon rust away in that Maryland’s soggy weather.

Loretta was a 22-year-old, beautiful brunette of German stock who could sing like Judy Garland as she did housework or tuck her daughters into bed every night, much to the pleasure of anyone passing by her open windows in summertime.

By 1966, Loretta was full commander of the laundry. No one dared touch the laundry but her. She cared that much about cleanliness and raising good kids. Loretta and Pete’s four daughters were always pretty, healthy and in fresh, clean outfits, thanks to their Ma.

When they needed more living space, they bought a detached house in the county. She would not miss the neighborhood, but worried, “Good Lord, what’s going to happen to my dryer? Say what you will about my daughters, but don’t mess with my umbrella dryer,” she joked.

The first thing in the moving van was, you guessed it, Loretta’s umbrella dryer. When they moved, she even had Pete dig up the ground socket, cement bucket and all, and then anchor it in soft sandy loam behind their new home.

Versions of the umbrella dryer were first patented more than 100 years ago. But it took the expanding economy after WWII to become popular, and some are still on duty, still servicing families well, still filling laundry with sun and oxygen, still saving energy for folks who know a good deal when they see one, like Loretta.

The umbrella dryers are now mostly in older neighborhoods where there are no snooty home owners’ associations like those on new cul-de-sacs and high-end track villages prohibiting “unsightly” backyard clothes lines.

So, don’t look now, but it’s already July 20, 2012 and old Grandma Loretta is still happy, sitting in her backyard, sipping a cup of coffee, talking with neighbors and, oh yes, waiting for the clothes to dry on her umbrella dryer. Yes, the same one.

That weird thing didn’t rust away, but is still standing strong, while millions of broken electric and gas clothes dryers clog landfills nationwide. She’d kept it painted and out of the weather all those years. Loretta’s umbrella dryer today would be called green technology–energy efficient, environmentally progressive.

With the help of her daughter, Loretta lets go of her dryer pole and shuffles across her yard to say hello to a neighbor. “Hi there, my baby Valerie turned 57 today. Wanna come to our birthday party? It’s for Valarie and that reliable umbrella clothes dryer over there. She’ll be 57 too, on the 31st!”



Novels (chose and click below each description to purchase or to read on Kindle)

New novel: The Misadventures of Maximum Green Amazon.com: The Misadventures of Maximum Green: A gardening novel by (9798731218078): Berberich, Stephen Michael: Books

Returning Army veterans Max Green and Melvin Watt, burdened with serious personal issues, turn to horticulture to rebuild their lives. They launch Maximum Green Design Co. with no cash and no prospective clients on a rundown farm once owned by Lord Baltimore.

New!! Trout Heaven: 

51FfoENi-8L (3)Everyone in Sassafras County stays clear of the quarantined Crater Lake in fear of toxic coal spoils from the meteorite crash decades earlier. Everyone, that is, except two precocious teenage brothers who skip church one Sunday morning to try out their new rod and reels in the mysterious lake. They are amazed to land dozens of giant rainbow trout. Naturally, the state lifts the quarantine, recognizing a potential for tourist revenues. Along comes sleazy Vacation Inns and Resorts, Corp. to develop the lake, leading to a tacky town called Trout Heaven. Meanwhile across the valley, famous investigative reporter Henry Clyde Ford is frustrated with writing his memoirs in his log cabin retreat. His peace of mind and once pristine view are ruined by the new resort and town. Then came a strange knock on his cabin door …

Available on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com

Fatal Deadline, published 2017

finalFatal_Deadline_Cover_small (2)Fatal Deadline is a novel about murder and terrorism during the housing crisis, as told through the eyes and ears at an understaffed, small weekly newspaper.  With the kind of zany humor of “His Girl Friday” and perilous risks taken in ‘All the President’s Men,” this newspaper mystery arrives with a unique twist. The only reporter on the trail of the big story is a wide-eyed, 19-year-old neophyte.  Christopher Gilley–new real estate reporter for the Maryland Inquirer–is the real deal. His skills are the envy of veteran reporters at the suburban weekly. In this, his first, real job, Chris has simple goals: to get out of poverty, write good copy, and make Ma proud back home in their small town in West Virginia.  His humble goals are dashed at high noon on May 14, 2007 when the paper’s story of the century drops squarely into his lap. o report theT big story, however, his only sources are hardcore criminal gangs, drug dealers, predator lenders, strippers, thugs, and crafty urban women–the likes of which he’d never known back home.

Available on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com

Night at the Belvedere, published in 2016

Night at the Belvedere is a paranormal novel set partially in a hotel contrived by author S.M. Berberich and the overactive mind of social misfit Nick Esposito, based on the legendary Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, Md.2Night_at_the_Belvede_Cover_for_Kindle (2)

“An enjoyable read. A highly entertaining, imaginative novel with memorable characters and packed with interesting Baltimore history.” H.S. Parker, author of the bio-thriller “Containment.”

“An epic tale revolving around a man who has not fully achieved validity in his own mind. He appears to go into ‘trance-like states’ with flashbacks, hearing and seeing things others don’t see. Characters in his family tree have been perceived by him as ‘larger than life’ and his own individuality was not fleshed out partly because of the power of their personalities, their stories, their social standing and style. The family thinks magically and mythically.” Dr. Pamela Armstrong, Maryland psychologist.

” Nicky Esposito is the brooding, day-dreaming, sharp protagonist whose penchant for history takes him on some strange, paranormal journeys back in time. He can vividly view historic events, such as the tragic 1904 fire that destroyed much of downtown Baltimore, a slave auction, and the transmission of the first telegraph signals to Baltimore’s B&O Station.” Kevin James Shay, author of “Death of the Rising Sun: A Search for Truth in the John F. Kennedy Assassination”

Available on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com