That George guy really gets around

Dollar .jpg

A dollar goes surprisingly far these days.

By Laura Northrup

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.

We like coffee. We like it from Starbucks, from Uncommon Grounds, at college, and we really like it from Dunkin' Donuts.

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.

Other bills have an even more exciting night life, showing up at an undisclosed local strip club and at multiple bars. One attended the All Over Albany birthday party.

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.


dolla dolla billz y'all

I always forget about Where's George, but it is super neat.

I got two of them from the Pump Station at the AOA birthday party. Don't remember where I spent them.

Such a fun way to create relationships and share experiences- a tiny way to feel less isolated, me thinks.

Ha! I never thought to use the site that way at all!

Is there a website that tracks where people got a George Clooney as change? I would like to shop there.

Heh... I used to do this all the time in High School and college. Gotten out of it since then, but it's certainly a fun way to see where your money goes.

I'd be all over that if there were.

I have no dollar-related comments at the moment, but I'd just like to note that Laura is also a new assistant editor and the tipline czarina at Consumerist, where she appears to be wearing a hamster as a hat:

Onward and upward!

Interesting post (and glad to see Laura's byline).

Ah! A post I am uniquely qualified to respond on. I have supplied many a Georger in the quest.

From this page you can select a custom rubber stamp. I recommend an Ideal 100. Typical text includes the lines:

Track where I've been!
See where I go next!
(last line custom text - like: Albany, NY)

You can always contact me direct at melrose_stamp at yahoo

That's interesting since I started using Where's George many years ago and since forgot. About a week ago I got a bill that was marked and I got interested again. This posting reinforced it and I think I'll dust off that stamp I made about 4 years ago!

Thanks a lot... now another time waster!

I got a stamped bill once and found out it had only been registered one other place... it went from Kentucky to Ohio. Kind of disappointing. I'd like a sordid dollar that had been in drug busts and strip clubs. I think I'd feel like I was living dangerously, vicariously, through George.

Of course George was spotted at the Albany Institute of History & Art. After all, he was president when it was founded in 1791. (Second oldest museum in the country.) It's also been reported that he has a thing for mummies.

HA! Awesome. I used the Where's George website when I worked as a server for years during our stay in Michigan.. Whenever I got one of those marked bills I logged it into the system. Quite interesting the least to see where dollars came from to make it to my hands before being turned into the bank. Now that I don't use cash or deal with cash much any more I haven't logged anything locally.

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