Current Location: Cafe Rosita, Leon, Nicaragua
Price of beer in a bar: US$0.86
Song currently stuck in my head: The Goodbye Look (Donald Fagan)
“Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.” (David Mamet)
You used to use travelers’ cheques. We spelled it with the “q” because people who used them liked to look worldly (and often were). This was a long time ago, in the pre-internet 1980s, back when Ticketmaster was providing a useful service rather than lazily forcing it’s blood funnel into any ancillary business that requires a venue (with apologies to Matt Taibi). Actually both inventions were mothered by similar necessities; they both provided inefficient but much needed solutions to dealing with the disconnection of the time. American Express sold you registered coupons with serial numbers that you could take on vacation and periodically trade for cash at cooperating businesses and banks. If you got robbed Amex would blacklist those ‘cheques’ and refund their value. It was registered cash, more or less. If you’d been burgled of your actual cash, then you’d be in a much worse situation. You couldn’t just pull cash out of an ATM; your bank probably didn’t have any branches in Fiji. Best case scenario you’d be calling a relative or a friend and having them wire you money, though you’d then have to figure out how to get to the nearest Western Union (probably in The Capital) even though you didn’t have bus fare.
You might have ended up sleeping in the park, but in my experience the developing world is full of bars, hotels and restaurants that will let you live on credit until things get sorted (or until they have appropriate change). It’s nice, but you don’t want to have to depend on it.
And for the record, before the internet and widespread credit card use, TicketMaster was a godsend. If your favorite band was playing 3 hours away and you wanted to go to the show, you had to drive 3 hours each way months in advance just to buy the tickets. There was regional distribution, maybe a local record store or radio station had 20 tickets they could sell or use as a prize, but, again, nothing that you could depend on. By the time we all had credit cards in one hand and a landline in the other we’d obviated the need for their service but Ticketmaster had locked in exclusivity agreements and cemented themselves as hentai like middlemen.
Now we have Credit Cards and ATM networks like PLUS and Cirrus. The local ATMS even offer to dispense cash in Cords or US Dollars, offer me the option of English and generally exude an aura of first world technological convenience. I just wish they worked.
I tried about 8 ATMs the other day, many of which made grand promises of network participation and the ability to dispense cash, but 7 of which were all hat and no cattle. The one that finally worked for me was about a mile away and failed the first 6 or 7 times I tried it. The errors were… vague and at some point it took it’s self out of service entirely and announced it was done for the day; a technician would need to be called, a repair made, then maybe we could talk. But after a few minutes it decided it had been a little hasty, put up it’s standard greeting screen and tried to make it up to me in cash. Needless to say, I was open to reconciliation. I just can’t stay mad at money.
If I had to guess, I’d say the root of the problem is temperamental lines of communication between the ATM and whatever semi-fictional island gave my bank the best deal on their taxes. That’s just a guess.