A Savage Journey to Heart of the American Payments System.
We were somewhere over Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. First of all it was the coffee. I probably had one cup too many as I just couldn’t fall asleep. I just sat there in my cramped seat, wired and staring straight ahead. But then it was the gin and tonic that really did it. I should’ve stopped at one, but I’ve got a fatal character flaw, an addictive personality and I just couldn’t resist. I ordered the second and that is when I could feel reality beginning to slip away…
We were on our way to check out The Money 2020, some crazy out in the desert payments thing. I don’t really know why. I’d been sitting minding my own business when the Finance Director called. “You’re going to cover The Money 2020, with Howard”, he told me. I didn’t have time to think. “There’s a suite at the Venetian” he told me. And expenses? “Yes, expenses”.
I called Howard. He picked up the phone. “What’s up, Gonzo?” he said. So I told him. I told him I was frightened. It’s a zoo. There’s like 10,000 people and they all care about payments. That’s like, crazy. “We need to go, Gonzo” he told me. “Why?” I said for the tenth time, “What’s the story?”. Be the story, he told me. This isn’t about consultancy, this is about gonzo consultancy. Next thing I knew I’m in the lounge. I saw this guy, looked like he wanted to go with us. Said his name was Tim.
He came along in a seat up front. He must have been more loaded than we were. Started babbling about digital money. Tibado, he might have said. Or Tibadoo or tip ado. Or something. I figured there would be a lot like him out there, under the desert sun, getting ready to change the world by making a marginal reduction in transaction costs for a limited subset of monetary interactions. I’ve heard it all before, mostly from me. Zzzz zzz zz.
Was I dying? My brain was shutting down, like they say it does when you’re at the end. I was feeling numb and I couldn’t think straight. All I could see was a bright light. Oh well, I thought, it was a good run. I saw the great Wall of China and the launch of Mondex in Swindon. It’s my time.
Suddenly, Howard was there. He turned off the reading light. I could still see. “Howard,” I said. “I’m going. I’m slipping away”.
He looked at the pile of paper in front of me. “What did you do? You idiot! You’re not supposed to go through it all at once!”
He picked up the in-flight magazine and waved it in my face. “These are meant for emergency use only! If the plane is going down, then you open up the in-flight magazine and start reading it from beginning to end. You’ll be in a coma long before it hits the ground. Otherwise: no more than a page or two a time!”
I realised immediately that he was right but I was out of control and I glanced down at the page in front of me. “Morocco: Land of Contrasts”. I started feeling drowsy again almost immediately so I decided to take matters in hand and I stood up and began wobbling unsteadily towards the back of the plane to try and find something to bring me down. A nice cup of tea maybe. I wasn’t sure at first, but then I realised it was Emily Baum standing in the aisle in front of me. Smart lady. I always take her seriously. She looked panicked, distracted. “They’ve run out of vodka” she told me. I sensed her pain.
The tea and the KitKat stabilised me and got me as far as the immigration line. But when the cop asked me what I was doing here I couldn’t remember. My knees turned to jelly for a moment and while I was thinking what to say I remembered something that Howard said about how all of our clients would be there. But where? And then I remembered, and I told the cop about The Money 2020 and he let me through.
I caught up with Howard again in The Venetian. He was thinking about ordering something to eat but I told him as his Director of Innovation I advised against it. We’re both going to dinner tonight, was my thinking, so maybe just a coffee is enough. I told Howard that I was still feeling the effects. I hadn’t slept at all. The suite was great, but my head wasn’t. And just when I thought I was going to drop off, the alarm went off to remind me that it was time for the Manchester derby. My suite had two huge televisions in it I couldn’t decide which one to watch so in the end I turned on both of them and watched them grind out a nil-nil.
Afterwards I’d walked through the casino which had turned out to be a bit of a mistake because the flashing lights everywhere were very confusing. I stopped for a moment try and work out what the blackjack dealer was saying but then I realised that the blackjack dealer was some kind of robot on a screen and the woman I thought was talking to me wasn’t a blackjack dealer but just someone playing a slot machine. “Are you having a good time?” she asked me. “Yes, yes” I told her, and then I told her why. I began to explain just why is that scheme tokenisation is much more important than chip and PIN. “This whole thing” I said, waving my arms around, “is to celebrate it”. I was guessing, really. I couldn’t think what else it was about it.
I was telling Howard all about this but I had to admit I couldn’t remember which things were real or imagined, dreams or nightmares. I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye and I told Howard that I thought there might be some lizard people here disguised as payments experts. “Lizards?”, He responded sceptically. “Well” I told him. “I couldn’t say for sure that they are lizards, but reptiles of some kind. I think I saw claws”. I didn’t tell him that I knew there must be people trying to destroy the system from the inside, and their reptilian nature might explain their poor strategic planning. Mobile payments, I thought. Or said.
Then I told Howard that when I’d woken up yesterday, I’d made some toast, and the toast had come out with my face on it. “You’re going insane” he told me. “There’s no shame in it. But you need help. Think about it: you can’t put people’s faces on toast!”.
“As your Director of Innovation”, I told him, “I have to advise you that you are wrong.”
See! See! It’s not a nightmare it is real. And I showed him. “But”, I told him. “There are some nightmares that won’t go away”.
“Like what”, he asked.
“Well, I heard some voices on the plane and I heard them saying that in America they are going to deploy EMV using chip and signature! Crazy ha!”.
“Sorry, man” he told me. “That shit is for real”.