Two college friends reunite one evening at a hole-in-the-wall bar. Their stories flow of the past and present as they catch up over beers. Life had taken them on separate routes, but that night, it seemed like no years had passed since so long ago when they were younger and used to hang out at bars with their cares only being about homework, romances, and dreams of their future rather than families, mortgages, and the problems that come with age. One of the friends glances over and saw a dart board. Soon enough, a challenge is issued, and a game of 501 begins. It had been ages since either had played but after the first round, their aims became better as they laughed about the times they used to play. The challenge is then upped with some money placed on the table for the winner – a single dollar bill – the same amount they used to bet when they were poor and in their early twenties. There it sat among their two glasses of beer with George Washington watching on as the darts hit the board until one guy made it to 129 and the other 132.
The first guy goes to the line with his darts in hand. His eyes focus, and his arm goes back before the first dart is released through the air. It lands in a 19. He turns around and smiles at his friend as he holds up his beer as a toast. Then the focus goes back at the dart board. The second dart flies through the air right into a triple 20, and then the last and final dart goes in the double bullseye for a win. “Looks like that dollar is mine,” he says as he heads back to the table to claim his winnings. “No so fast. Let’s give me a chance just like old times,” his buddy says as they think back to how they had always gotten into the habit of letting the second person go just to see if they too could get to zero.
He took a deep breath and threw the first dart. It lands on a Triple 19. He hears a “Nice” from his buddy. His second plants itself in a single bullseye, and then after one more deep breath, the third and final dart is launched, landing right in the middle of the board for a double bullseye. He turns around with a smile at his friend and knows, just like it was many years ago, they both get to throw one dart for the win. The high score gets the dollar and the bragging rights. His buddy laughs, grabs a dart, and steadies himself at the line. He turns around and makes some small talk about how the dollar was going to be his before he launches the dart right into the double bullseye. “Beat that,” he says as he goes back to his beer, the table, and the dollar.
“I will do my best,” his buddy says as he grabs a dart and takes aim. He does his best to block out his friend behind him making noise to do his best to serve as a distraction. With one dart to win, he focuses on his options that would give him more points. He takes aim and launches as the dart flows through the air right into the triple 20. His buddy gives him a high five and they laugh some more about the game they just had before one takes a pen out to celebrate the win and their great night together on that dollar bill.
More than likely, how that note ended on the dollar that eventually found its way into my hands didn’t exactly go down in that manner, but still, it is the story my mind has created and continues to replay when I see those words and numbers written to the left of George Washington. It is also a reminder of how nifty money really is.
I know the love of the money is the root of all evil so they say, and given past experiences of seeing greed at play, I could see it as true, so this tribute is not in that fashion. It is more about the money itself, for when it comes down to it, money is truly a fascinating thing when one thinks about it. In all honesty, money, whether it be bills or coins, is nothing more than cloth (75% cotton and 25% linen) and shiny metal. We then place an added value to them as a society, and that value can easily disappear quickly. When I was growing up, that point was hit home with an episode of the TV show Ducktales where they traveled to the Land of Trala La and bottle caps become a currency that eventually tears apart a peaceful society. The book Sapiens also has a good part about how societies create a standardized monetary system to allow for an easier transfer of goods.
Don’t get me wrong – that is all extremely fascinating and then places a whole other level on money really being worthless beyond the intrinsic value we have placed upon it. What has been more on my mind lately is closer to the five-dollar bill in the film Serendipity. For those who haven’t seen it or need a refresher, a guy and a girl have an extremely romantic night and before parting they go to exchange their information. When the wind catches the piece of paper with her number, a back-up plan is thrown out as a way for them to meet again – his contact information is placed on a five-dollar bill and hers is written in a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. Needless to say given this is a Hollywood romantic film, the five-dollar bill passes from one person to another until its fated destination.
And that is where from where this fascination and tribute to money is coming – how it can play a story in our lives and then a different one in others. Its history is rich (pun intended), and for most bills and coins, it is largely unknown. Sure, there are some downsides of money being passed from one person to another, including its potentially carrying bacteria and viruses from one to another as well as potentially traces of cocaine. Even with my bordering on being a hypochondriac at times, I still find it fascinating to think about the journey a bill or a coin has made until it had finally made it into my hands for a brief amount of time before heading on to its next owner. This same fascination is what likely led to such things like the Where’s George bill tracking website (and yep, I definitely do enter the marked bills whenever one comes into my possession and I have ever since I was a youngster).
However, stop and think about how either a bill or coin has played a role in your life. It could be that twenty-dollar bill you earned well before legal working age for a chore or job you just finished. It could have been that quarter you had to get something nifty out of one of those machines in the front of a store. It could be that lucky penny you found one day that indeed seemed to have made everything from then on great. Then there may be a twenty dollar bill you used to pay for dinner for the first date with a person that would then become the love of your life (yep, the hopeless romantic in me continues), or it may have been that five dollars you found in a coat pocket at moment when you felt like you had nothing at all to your name. Even in my life, I can think of so many times when a coin or a bill played a very important supporting character in a great story that led to some fantastic memories that were made. However, with their transfer, they left for other story lines with other people.
This, though, is where the digital age is then changing things even more so. So many people I know rarely carry cash and instead use a plastic card to pay for anything and everything. Not only have studies shown people are more likely to spend more with a card than cash. Sure, I am likely being nostalgic and all, but there seems to be something lost with these transactions too that cash and coins brought to the situation. An electronic gift card from Amazon is nice and all, but it doesn’t see to carry that same value as that single dollar bill my Great Aunt Brittie would always place in my birthday cards when I was growing up. Then having a framed receipt of the first electronic dollar earned for a new business also doesn’t seem to have the same effect of an actual dollar bill from that first transaction.
Once again, these feelings likely all come from a place of nostalgia. However, some psychological studies could also be considered. A 2016 article from Psychology Today about the difference of paying with cash or credit card discussed a few of these, including how one study found a purchase made with cash can be more painful and how another study showed paying with cash can lead to a better relationship with the purchased product. These studies do seem to signal paying with bills and coins do indeed affect the story with the purchases we make.
Then the final thing that has been on my mind is how money can ultimately connect us when we really think about it. An interesting study I would to see is the actual journey of a dollar bill or even a penny that tracks demographics of its different owners including things like age, race, sexual identity, economic background, religion, political affiliation, and anything else that some may see as making one person different from another. More than likely what would be shown is a great mix of people have all handled that coin or bill at one time or another. People who normally may never have talked to each other are all connected thanks to that transfer of a piece of cloth or shiny metal from one person to another. In a way, thinking about money in that light seems like it could more unite than divide us.
Simply put, the object of money is something to be contemplated, especially as we move towards having it become something of the past. Sure, those two dart-playing friends could have exchanged a dollar via Paypal and Venmo, but what would have been lost if they would have (besides the inspiration for this entire blog post). Then think also the next time you slide a card to purchase something how different that experience may have been if you would have handed the cashier some cash and coins instead. You may have just avoided getting a bacteria-covered bill, but there is so much more and so many better things that could have been gained as well. According to studies, the overall experience would have had a little more of an emotional pull and you would have ultimately enjoyed your purchase just a little more. Plus, you just missed out on being a chapter in the story of that bill or coin before passing them on to their next temporary owner.