From by Richard Buckle

I have just returned from back-to-back trips to the West Coast.

First to Palo Alto where HPE NonStop hosted a Partner Technical Symposium aimed at the NonStop vendor community. At that event, HP shared information about future products, features and timeframes for NonStop systems.

Just a short time later, it was off to Las Vegas for the big-tent marketing event, HPE Discover 2016.

In an attempt to put my money where my mouth has been of late, I left home with no cash in my wallet. Could I survive? Would I pay a price? Where would I need cash? Where would I find my ATM card useless?

A few days into the trip, I got the answers to all of the above when I had to cross a bridge to get to San Francisco’s famous peninsula. I skipped the Bay Bridge and headed for the Dumbarton Bridge. Ouch — no toll stations taking plastic of any kind!

I pulled up to a manned tollbooth and asked about options. “Your choice is to loop back, find an ATM and return with cash,” the attendant said. “Otherwise, you will receive a photo-tag bill in the mail.” Fair enough, so over the bridge I continued, undaunted.

Three weeks later, I picked up the mail to find a notice from California. “Please pay the $5 toll and the $25 fine” — so much for traveling without cash. Plastic has its place but a fine of $25 on a $5 toll for carrying plastic only is hard to swallow.

My colleagues in Europe, particularly in Sweden and Finland, routinely tease me about not going cashless. In both of those countries it’s easily accomplished.

But this is America, and we want options. We want to be able to make the choice between cash or cards.

Then there was the time in Las Vegas when the establishment lost power and couldn’t process cards and there was a t-shirt I absolutely had to buy. Oh well, next time.

I was pleased to see that the mechanic who came to my RV in Las Vegas and did an oil change and lube while I was parked, took a credit card.

With the thermometer hovering around 110 degrees, I felt compelled to include a tip and was surprised to learn that the preference was “cash only.”

Of late, I have associated cash with security. No cybercriminal can steal my money if it’s in my hand. And I have come to appreciate the element of privacy that cash provides.

In April Bloomberg News published the story, “Cash is still king in Switzerland.” A couple of items in the article caught my attention.

In Switzerland there is no movement to get rid of large-denomination notes. You can still trade with the 1,000 Swiss franc bank note.

Indeed, so concerned are the Swiss about the murmuring from other European countries, some have floated proposals to enshrine existing denominations all the way up to the 1,000 franc note in a national law.

“Cash is property and cash is freedom,” a 44-year-old attorney and member of the nationalist Swiss People’s Party told Bloomberg. “It empowers the individual, because it’s tangible wealth.”

Swiss concerns about plastic overlap with their desire for privacy — even at the expense of security in some situations.

To the Swiss, security is secondary to privacy — so much so that attempts to streamline travel across the country have generated unintended consequences.

According to the Bloomberg article, “A new train travel card — similar to London’s Oyster card or New York’s MetroCard — provoked concerns authorities might snoop on citizens’ travel habits.”

One Swiss parliamentarian, discussing whether to discontinue the use of large denomination bank notes, said, “There’s no reason to change things. … I don’t want the state to know who goes to what restaurant. That’s none of the government’s business.”

For as long as I can recall, I have looked up to the Swiss banking system and considered the Swiss a smart bunch, so if they want to continue with cash for privacy as well as security, who am I to argue?

For Americans, cash provides convenience as well as transparency. I doubt I will ever have the cash on hand to purchase a Richard Mille watch for myself or a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes for my wife, but on my next trip to the West Coast, I will have at least have $5 with me — and maybe a few dollars more — at all times.

Here in the land of plastic, it’s still a lot simpler — not to mention lot more convenient — to pay a cash toll than to deal with the paperwork after the fact. And you can take that to the bank!

photo istock

The terrible toll of going cashless