Thursday, September 28, 2006

where's george?

As if I don't have enough slightly nerdy hobbies and interests already (remind me to tell you about letterboxing sometime if I haven't yet), a new favorite appeared out of nowhere last week after I taught my usual Wednesday mandolin lesson. The $5 bill that was included as part of my payment bore a message stamped in red: "Track this bill @" Curious as to what this meant - and not being one to say "no" when money talks - I logged on.

It turns out that the website allows you to enter the serial number of any U.S. currency and track its progress as it is spent across the country. Theoretically, anyway - tracking depends on those same bills being entered when others come into possession of them. Hence the stamp on the bill - I guess it worked since it caught my attention.

So I entered my $5 bill to see where it had come from. Most bills that receive "hits" do so within a couple of months, on average. My bill had only been entered into the system only once, almost two years ago, by some guy in Tennessee. Since last week, I've been entering lots of bills - especially $1's. Since I don't have a stamp, I've actually been writing the message "track this bill -" in red ink on each (yes, THIS is the point where the whole thing becomes exceptionally dorky). No hits yet, but maybe something will turn up.

I'm fascinated by the idea that we, as inhabitants of our community, the country, and the world - or really just by the sheer fact of our human-ness - are all joined together. I love being given little reminders of this interconnectedness: all of us, whether we're rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat, genius, or idiot...we all use common pieces of paper - currency - as a crucial means of interaction. It can be virtually anonymous: you probably won't know the gas station attendant to whom you hand over five bucks to buy a Coke and a bag of chips on your next road trip. Or, it can be incredibly intimate: you give your best friend $100 that she desperately needs without any expectation that she pay you back.

Sometimes we're connected by common friends and acquaintances, sometimes by the work that we do or the activities we enjoy. But in a divisive world in which it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground, peaceful ground, with other segments of society, it's nice to know that we ARE connected to the guy in Tennessee or the banker in New York or the garbage man in Baltimore or the farmer in Idaho...even if the connecting thread is something as small and simple as the fact that each of us has held, for a short time, the same dollar bill.

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