Follow The Money

by Steve Boggan on 04 July 2012, 09:07AM Follow The Money

Many years ago, when travel provided magic and trepidation in equal measure, I used to say that the Greek Islands were the best place in Europe for an adventure.

Why? Because the ferries were so unreliable that you never knew where you would be going next.

You might have planned to hop from Amorgos to Folegandros but the boat simply didn’t turn up. Instead, there would be one bound for Santorini; the Greeks shrugged, you went and that is where you met your first love, broke your leg, wrote your book, whatever.

Then came the internet and the Olympics and suddenly Greek ferries were almost Germanic in their precision. Hats off to them, but, well…it wasn’t the same.

I am a passionate Grecophile so I kept travelling there. For years I missed the chaos, the beautiful serendipity of going to one place and finding yourself in another. Once that had gone, I felt I had lost something fragile and innocent, something as elusive to recapture as that first love.

But recently, I found it again during a journey I undertook to follow a ten-dollar bill across the United States of America. Yes, it does sound crazy but, as a challenge to myself, I decided to see whether it would be possible to keep tabs on a banknote for 30 days and 30 nights.

Six states and 3,300 miles later I am able to tell you that, yes, it was possible. Along the way I met the most extraordinary people who allowed me into their lives simply because they came into possession of the ten-dollar bill – Serial Number IA74407937A.

There were farmers in Kansas who told me about their disintegrating way of life. There were the missionaries in Missouri who tried to save me. There were the Amish folk and the father and daughter who let me stay with them while they hunted deer with bows and arrows in Michigan.

They all came into possession of the ten-dollar bill at some point and, until they spent it again, they let me into their lives. There was the trucker from Kansas, the repossessions woman from Colorado, the labourer restoring a quarterback’s mansion in St Louis, the banker from Chicago – and lots more.

They told me their stories and showed me their worlds. We broke bread together and shared secrets. At one point, the ten-dollar bill went to a blues band in Arkansas. The lead singer took me into his home and told me of his love for music, about his brightest hopes and darkest fears.

A Vietnam veteran spoke for the first time in 40 years about the night his men were killed in the jungle. The sound of his own voice telling the story surprised him. And he cried.

The bill had sent them crashing into my life and me into theirs and we all felt richer because we had met.
So, I hear you say, what’s your point?

Well, it’s this. I had accidentally rediscovered the spontaneity I had so craved for all those years. The ten-dollar bill was as damned unreliable as the Greek ferries of my youth and it took me to places I never would have seen had I not been drawn along in its wake.

Almost all the time I had a sense of falling. I never knew where I would be from one minute to the next, and it was exhilarating. Not least because time and again I would plummet into soft landings, the kind only American hospitality can serve up. People laughed with me about my ludicrous mission, then fed me, watered me and gave me a bed for the night.

If, then, you are to take anything from these mad ramblings, it’s this: There’s nothing wrong with a little planning for your holidays or your special journey. Book your flights and maybe reserve rooms beginning and end. But save a little time and space for the random – heck, build it in! Take a dice. Stick a pin in a map. Blindfold your partner and get them to throw a dart at a globe.

I can’t expect you to follow money the way I did, but give yourself someserious helpings of spontaneity and mystery. Be afraid, even. Experience that sense of falling. Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps or Henry Stanley’s epic hunt for Dr David Livingstone would not have happened if they had had GPS systems and email, and we would all be the poorer for it.

So, lose time, get lost and I promise you will be rewarded with those special adventures that only fate can provide.

How can I be so sure? Well, I can’t; I don’t even know where you’re going. Do you?

Steve Boggan is the author of Follow the Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten-Dollar Bill published by Union Books

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