"Follow the money" is a piece of advice I am frequently treated to on the Internet. It is invariably proffered as though it were a self evident proof; although my interlocutor never seems to have taken their own advice.
And, I have say, I never expected to come across someone who would take Deep Throat's advice literally.
Well, I guess Steve Boggan's (2012) book Follow the Money just goes to show that if you wait long enough, sooner or later, you will see just about anything.
Boggan takes a ten dollar bill, IA74407937A, and travels to the centre of the United States, which according to the 1918 calculation is Lebanon, Kansas. There he gives the bill to Rick, a construction worker. The next morning Rick spends the money in the town's only store, and thus begins a journey across America.
Every time the ten dollar bill changes hands, Boggan becomes acquainted with its new, temporary owner. And we, the readers, find out a little bit more about the diversity of a great nation. We travel with Boggan from Lebanon, Kansas to Detroit, all the time learning about the economy, the people and how they live.
Each time the bill changes hands, Boggan is catapulted off in a new direction, seemingly at random, yet revealing the interconnectedness of the people and the US economy. Even roadside signs add detail to the emerging picture, like the one in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which proclaims:
No Trespassing. Violators Will Be Shot. Survivors Will Be Shot Again.
Not only do we gain glimpses into the lives of ordinary Americans, we are also treated to asides on social history, such as the fact that Hot Springs was a favourite watering hole of gangsters from Al Capone to Bonnie and Clyde. This was a town that thrived on illegal gambling and refused to recognise Prohibition.
As we travel around America with Boggan, listening to all these stories, subtly, by degrees, the absurdity of the enterprise disappears from view, and we take the whimsical conceit completely for granted. How deeply one is drawn in only becomes apparent when Boggan loses track of IA74407937A and we share his anxiety. Such a sense of loss for an ordinary ten dollar bill, an object which is significant precisely because it is virtually indistinguishable from all the other billion and a half in circulation. A picture printed on cotton and linen, designed to look like every other ten dollar bill. Yet this journey into the heart and soul of everyday America is so real that the thought of losing contact with IA74407937A is a genuinely unsettling experience.
The journey of Boggan's ten dollar bill lasts thirty days, covers three thousand miles, and reveals an image of America, one that transforms the ordinary and mundane into something that seems almost transcendent.