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"The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year."
– Mark Twain  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 4 April 2019  

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  “Follow the Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten-Dollar Bill”
  By Robin Widmar

   Anyone who has ever driven on I-70 through Kansas has seen numerous roadside billboards touting a variety of attractions. Some of them are historic, others are kitschy, but all offer a colorful glimpse into the communities and people that occupy America’s heartland.
   “Follow the Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten-Dollar Bill” by Steve Boggan presents a similar experience, minus the indigestion that comes from snarfing too many road-trip snacks or the agony of waiting for the next rest stop when the kids need one right now.
   Exploring America’s Midwestern states is not exactly what the British writer had in mind when he set out on a 30-day trek to follow a specific ten-dollar bill wherever it happened to go. He was really hoping the bill would land in the hands of “a cowboy heading to Montana, a professional gambler en route to Nevada, or an actress bound for Hollywood.” But Boggan’s self-imposed rules demand complete randomness: He cannot direct where the bill goes by influencing how it is spent or to whom it is given.
   (In an oxymoronic twist, Boggan ultimately concludes that his “mere presence affected the ten-dollar bill’s progress” since recipients were more conscientious about spending it instead of, say, depositing it at the bank. How could a person not be influenced when a total stranger comes with the ten-dollar bill?)
   Boggan begins his adventure in Lebanon, Kansas, because it is often cited as the geographic center of the United States. (There is actually some controversy surrounding the label of “geographic center” but he has to start somewhere.) He gives the bill’s first recipient instructions he will repeat many times: “Just treat it like any other ten-dollar bill and spend it whenever you’re ready.”
   As it turns out, there are pitfalls to using cash in modern society. One is that dying farm towns offer few places to spend money, and Boggan’s ten-dollar bill languishes in Lebanon for three full days before moving on. Then there is the way that debit and credit card use has changed the way money moves. Boggan experiences several delays because people who receive his bill pay with plastic more than cash. While good old Alexander Hamilton metaphorically cools his heels in someone’s billfold, Boggan is forced to do the same as he waits for the bill to start moving again. And if the bill is somehow lost? That becomes a very real possibility on more than one occasion.
   Not knowing his itinerary from one day to the next turns the most basic tasks of life on the road –- finding a place to sleep and doing laundry –- into some of Boggan’s most comical misadventures. He suffers near-hypothermia in an RV in Missouri. A night in a fleabag motel prompts him to compare the experience to previous accommodations in Third World countries and war zones. And he learns that using a microwave to dry his hand-washed underwear is not a great idea. He makes the best of everything, though, and racks up plenty of positive experiences to counterbalance the negatives.
   Although Boggan presents an interesting travelogue, his book is just as much about the people he meets. Not all are thrilled about being tailed by a total stranger, but others take him and his odd quest in stride. He makes some new friends along the way but, more importantly, he hears their stories.
   There are farmers facing the steady migration of young people to non-farming occupations. A black man married to a white woman in a small town where “mixed marriages could be difficult.” A blues band whose lead singer struggles to balance his career with the desire for a stable home life. A family determined to keep moving forward following the loss of a child. An Amish man dedicated to upholding his community’s way of life. A lively young woman who invites the citified Englishman on a bow-hunting trip in Michigan. Theirs are tales of dreams, struggles and ordinary life — all documented by a foreigner with an instinct for uncovering the things that matter.
   Boggan weaves snapshots of people and places with bits of history and trivia to create an insightful portrait of American life. “Follow the Money” is not a thrill-a-minute read (and there are times when the author clearly yearns for just a little more excitement). What keeps readers turning the pages, though, are Boggan’s genuine interest in people, self-deprecating humor, laugh-out-loud moments as only he can describe, solid storytelling and a desire to find out where the money goes next.
   At journey’s end, Boggan’s odometer has logged 3,299.2 miles through six states. He concludes that for the most part, 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.”
   “Follow the Money” is a comfortable companion to the summer travel season, especially for readers who like a little Americana with their road trips. It lends solid credibility to the old adage that life is about the journey, not the destination.
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