Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Way or the Highway

“My way or the highway!” There was once an entrepreneurial young man, the scion of one of those wealthy, formerly hardscrabble Manhattan families, who loved to use that line. His other favorite was the famous Mel Brooks quip from History of the World: Part I, “It’s good to be the king!” Like the denizens Alexis de Tocqueville describes in Democracy in America, this man had ascended to royalty in the span of one generation, bestowing upon himself the title of Bourbon, after the drink. He was a collector, both of art and women, but had some trouble distinguishing his whores from his wives. He was used to revamping his trove. By the time he was in his late 30s, he’d had three wives, and fathered two boys each with the last two. But he wasn’t just a rich guy who squandered his wealth. He had many hobbies, and whatever he tried his hand at, whether painting or skiing or stamp collecting, he did with great mastery and élan.
He liked to travel everywhere in private planes, and even took helicopters to the heliport on the East River in Manhattan. He wasn’t afraid to live the good life.  He liked to vacation on out-of-the-way islands in the Caribbean, which were more easily reached by private aircraft. He had life down to an art. His car and driver waited for him in the morning, and he rode to work with his St. Bernard in the back seat.

Then one day he took an innocuous trip to New Hampshire in a chartered Learjet.  He was going to attend the annual meeting of the board of trustees of his old prep school.  He flew up with another alumnus, with whom he liked to shoot skeet. His friend had even brought along a pair of rifles. The plane was forced to make a crash landing. Bourbon perished, but his friend walked off the plane unharmed, with his guns in tow, reporting that the rich scion’s last words as the plane went down were, “Oh shit!”

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