Dollar bills. They're stashed in pockets, thrown in tip jars, exchanged for all sorts of things, and rest snugly in a cash drawer at the end of the day. No one thinks about the much. They're a means to an end--that end being a lottery ticket or a latte. Essential.
You may not think about your dollars much, but many people do, and a lot of them live here in the Capital Region. The Web site Where's George? is dedicated to tracking the movements of paper money. A stamp or other marking on a registered bill directs observant consumers to the site, where they enter the serial number on the bill and learn about its sordid past.
With over 148 million pieces of United States currency logged in the Where's George database, some of them have inevitably passed through the region. Curious, I ran a random sample of local Zip codes through the database to see exactly where those bills have been. What follows is an entirely unscientific random sample of where our friends and neighbors have been spending their cash in February and March of 2009.
Remember that these represent cash transactions among people with computer access, rather than a commentary on the local economy as a whole.
I first learned about the site when I worked at a highway rest stop, and local bills reflect that, often showing up at convenience stores. (Or are they "convenient stores?") Combining coffee and convenience, of course, is the inevitable Stewarts.
Sometimes, an innocent dollar can start out in Albany and end up in the strangest places. Specifically, collected in a drug bust near Buffalo.
Most bills turn up in locally-owned eateries, especially as tips. One bill made the impressive journey from Joe's Grill to England. A sampling of sightings: Bailey's Café, Café Madison, Carm's Restaurant, Elaine's Deli, Garbo's Diner, Hamilton Street Cafe (change for a "delicious" ham and Swiss melt), Lakeview Inn, the Moose Deli, an unnamed "local bake shop" in downtown Albany, and unnamed Chinese buffets and takeout places. A number showed up in workplace eateries, including the Watervliet Arsenal snack bar.
Which isn't to say that we don't love chain restaurants, fast food, and chain fast food around here...even if the food is "less than memorable." McDonald's is a popular destination for our cash, as well as Wendy's, Taco Bell and Subway. Other bills surfaced at Red Robin, Applebee's, and Ruby Tuesday.
I was disappointed to see that not many local retailers showed up in my study, but big-box retailers were well represented, including Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and Kohl's. Both Price Chopper and Hannaford were well represented in the grocery category. A few smaller stores went unnamed, including one that sells belly chains and a "soccer store."
Our bills are quite invested in local culture. They were spotted edifying themselves at the Albany Institute of History and Art, Troy's Children's Museum of Science and Technology, and the Sand Lake Center for the Arts. They were exchanged for Girl Scout cookies, and turned up at a Clifton Park Elks lodge.
Many bills were spent on entertainment, including the recent Tom Jones concert, video rental, casino gambling, and bingo. Dollars went bowling often and roller skating occasionally, and go to the movies an awful lot.
Some notes are just confusing or cryptic. "Near Rip Van Winkle's bones"? Literally? Ew.
Who else wants to know what an "illegal debt" is?
Also, don't worry--the Tooth Fairy is still in business in the Capital Region.
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