Two and a half years ago, Steve Boggan, a youngish British journalist with experience in investigative reporting and feature writing, decided that it was time for a change. He was bored: “Not with . . . my life in general, but with work. I felt I had squeezed the life out of it.” It was time for a change, but not a wholly radical one. He decided to take a trip, but one that might lead to writing a book and thus earning a bit of income.
So he flew to the United States, hired a rental car and got himself to the heart of the heart of the country: a small town in Kansas called Lebanon (2010 population: 218) that may have been “slowly dying” but still possessed the attraction of having once been declared “the geographical dead center of the contiguous USA.” The validity of the claim was and remains dubious, but it’s about all Lebanon has left to cling to, and it gave Boggan a convenient launching point for the journey that he had decided to undertake.
(Union Books) - ’Follow The Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten-Dollar Bill’ by Steve Boggan. (Union Books)
In his wallet Boggan carried a $10 bill: “Its serial number was 1A74407937A and it was burning a hole in my pocket.” That’s because he had decided to “follow a ten-dollar bill around the United States of America for thirty days and thirty nights” and see where it took him: “I had two rules about the movement of the bill: I would not deliberately interfere or influence where it went and I would not tell people how to spend it. Of course, I might threaten physical violence against anyone who put it in a baby’s piggy bank with instructions that it not be removed before the child’s eighteenth birthday. I would also prefer the bill not to be dropped into an automatic deposit chute at a bank. That would not end its journey, though it would probably end mine. But I couldn’t say as much.”
He arrived in Lebanon in October 2010, “alone and unpaid . . . propelled only by curiosity and itchy feet,” with “one night’s accommodation, no Plan A and absolutely no Plan B.” At Lebanon he handed the bill to Rick Chapin, “a lean and quiet man, a handsome construction worker,” because “I had discovered by accident that he was a good man, the sort of chap you would want beside you if you were in a scrape.” He had taken a room in the hunting lodge run by Rick and his wife, Kay, and soon found himself happily in the embrace of their hospitality: “I had known the Chapins for less than twenty-four hours, but I felt we had grown close. They had taken me into their house, fed me well and plied me with good wine.”
His reception by the Chapins set a pattern for the rest of his tour. Some people into whose hands the $10 bill found its way were happier than others that it came attached to a gangly Englishman, and a few passed the bill along to others with what can fairly be called unseemly haste, but mostly people were interested in and/or amused by Boggan’s quest and happily played along with it. These included the next person in Lebanon who got the $10, Paul Coleman, “a bespectacled Englishman who had been living in America for twenty-one years” and was a fount of strong opinions. “I don’t hold with all that religion,” he told Boggan at a church fair. “I don’t need an imaginary friend telling me how to live my life.”