That $10 bill, in other words, took Boggan into the American heartland culturally as well as geographically. He’s enough of a world traveler not to have been surprised by what he found, and indeed over and over again he was touched by the kindness with which he was received, but he was in a very different place from the one he’d left only a few days earlier. Driving to Arkansas, he found himself listening to Erich “Mancow” Muller’s syndicated radio show, a nonstop rant — “It is the duty of every Moslem [sic] to kill you,” they intend to “kill every Jew or Christian on planet earth” and “our President sides with Hamas” — that was loony enough in itself but even more so when one considers that “for years his show, ‘Mancow’s Morning Madhouse,’ was the most popular slot among males aged between eighteen and thirty-four.”
Yet Boggan was driving to Arkansas behind a black Ford Escape driven by Ray Holman, a 63-year-old African American, married to a white woman, who shrugged off veiled racial insults — one good old boy told Boggan that if the sky turned dark “and you can’t find Ray, just shout for him to smile. That’ll give you a helluva clue” — and went about his business with solid self-confidence. “Again I realised how close to a person one could become in only forty-eight hours,” Boggan writes. “I had grown to admire Ray, his resilience and ambition, and I wanted so badly for him to succeed.”
On and on they came: Dean Agus, a talented musician in Hot Springs, “easy-going and easy to talk to”; Ron Zoller, a cheerful construction worker restoring a spectacular mansion in St. Louis for the former pro-football quarterback Marc Bulger; Deneva Elvins, a waitress who pointed him to sections of St. Louis “being reclaimed by young urbanites.” From there the $10 bill took him to Chicago and a financial adviser named Darrell Mikulencak, who was skeptical about the quest but who in an unexpectedly candid conversation admitted that he despaired over what the crash of 2008 had done to retired clients whose nest eggs were wasted.
The journey, which covered six states and about 3,000 miles, ended in Detroit after a hunting trip in upstate Michigan with Megan Schneider and her father, Jim, two more people who got under Boggan’s skin in the very best way. At the end, tired but heartened, Boggan decided that the trip probably wasn’t a “true reflection of what happens to ten-dollar bills from month to month,” but something more: “if what I did amounted to an experiment, then its results said more about people than about money. That, on the whole, people are good. They will meet a stranger, feed him, give him a bed for the night and feel the need to send him away with good prospects.”
It would be easy enough to say that Boggan just got lucky, that his $10 bill was touched by a certain magic that led him to good places and away from bad ones. Perhaps so. But at a moment in our history when so many Americans are troubled by what they see as anger and hostility among their fellow citizens, it is rather nice to be given a bit of evidence that this may not be entirely true.