Why I Always Carry a $20 Bill in my Pocket

On my recent trip to California, my friend Trev asked me what I would do if I found myself without my shiny Internet-connected devices. I laughed and said, “I’ve consciously managed to maintain a good degree of competence independent of my iPhone.” Well, that’s half true. Trev and I were getting a ride from our mutual friend Travis to Union Statin in LA to catch our train down to San Diego. We arrived with a good forty minutes to spare, so Trev went off in search of something or other, and I opted to smoke a cigarette outside (a rare indulgence I’ve allowed myself on this vacation.) After I lit it, I reached into my back pocket for my iPhone and found…

…nothing. I keep the phone in Twelve South’s new BookBook case for iPhone (www.twelvesouth.com) because it combines a wallet with an iPhone case in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Sometimes, during prolonged car rides, it’s too much of a hassle to keep taking it out and putting it back into my pocket every time I get a notification or want to check something for Travis in Maps. I looked up to see if I could run out and catch Travis, but he was gone. Train stations are like airports in that they aren’t keen on loitering vehicles. Forgetting about the cigarette, I tore off in the direction I last saw Trev.

While I searched, I ran possible scenarios in my head to figure out a course of action. If I could get to Trev quickly, I could use his cellphone to call Travis and get him back to the station, possibly in time to still catch the train. That was labelled as “best-case scenario.” There were two options in the event that I couldn’t find Trev in time: I would have to either miss the train in order to get my iPhone back, or I would have to take the train anyway and have Travis overnight the iPhone to our location in San Diego. The problem with what I refer to as the “FedEx scenario” was that I would be completely at the mercy of Travis’s ability to get up in time to get to FedEx in time to ship it to me in time for me to leave California entirely on Tuesday. Except it was Saturday, so he’d be unable to send it until the day before my flight. That seemed risky. I had to cast my hopes toward the “reschedule scenario” wherein I find Trev before he gets on the train and call Travis. Now, Union Station is not very stranger-friendly; I had an incredibly difficult time getting oriented enough to find the landing platform, the place most likely to hold my friend. I ran back and forth through the station, trying to recognize Trev out of the dozens of other people who were shuffling between buses and trains.

A cold panic began to set in. “What if I don’t find Trev in time? I have my iPad, so maybe I could send Travis a Facebook message that would get pushed to his iPhone and notify him of my plight, but maybe not.” For the first time in this disaster, I started considering the fact that the more important thing that I’ve lost here is actually my wallet, not my iPhone, but they’re the same thing thanks to my BookBook! If I didn’t get my wallet back, I’d have a very difficult time boarding my plane in San Diego, where checkin is accomplished with a credit card. Then I considered the “worst-case scenario,” where I can’t find Trev before the train departs and he rides all the way to San Diego because, ignorant of my plight, he has no reason to assume anything other than that I must be on the train somewhere. If I couldn’t find Trev, I’d have to find some other means to contact Travis (assuming he doesn’t get Facebook notifications.) I took inventory of my pockets and found a grand total of fifteen cents in my pocket. In today’s financial climate, that’s not even enough to make a call from a pay phone.

Even if I could contact Travis, the icing on this cake of terror is the level of gas in Travis’s van. We’d been pretty much paying as we went throughout our tour of LA and Travis was chronically low on fuel. I knew when we left that he’d have just enough to make it back home. The later it took to get a hold of him, the more likely it was that he would either run out of gas on his way back to the station, or run out on his way home from there. This was looking pretty grim. I considered my emergency options: if it came down to it, I could always call Collect to my parents and get their advice on the situation. They would no doubt advise me to try to reschedule my train and offer to wire me money in the event that there was some rescheduling fee. (I briefly considered calling Collect to Travis, but discounted it because Travis wouldn’t recognize the number and probably wouldn’t accept the charges, even if I gave my name as “I’m not giving my name to a machine!”) It would certainly be a humbling experience, but I would make it back to Alabama and Travis could just mail me my wallet and phone.

Except my driver’s license is in that wallet. If Hollywood has led me to understand anything about how Western Union works, you must present a photo ID to withdraw money sent to you. I had no such thing, unless you counted my Facebook profile or photograph of my license that I could present on my iPad. My worst-case scenario just got a little worse. Even if I somehow could get money transferred to me, that wouldn’t solve the problem of boarding my plane, since planes require you to present identification along with your ticket at the security checkpoint. If I couldn’t get a hold of Travis, I was in serious trouble.

My own words reverberated through my head: “I never carry cash, it’s a thing of the past.” Well, we’re not living so far in the future that our mobile Internet/money devices are wearable, so cash will always have its place in an emergency such as the one I just survived. I found Trev in time to call Travis and get him to bring me my iPhone wallet. I missed my train, but was able to reschedule a bus ride that would arrive later in the evening for no charge. It was a little inconvenient and certainly stressful, but the one takeaway I got was this: In America, it’s always wise to have a 20 in your pocket.

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