was finally free.
The papers had been signed, every
conceivable contingency worked out and other than a few subtle
monitoring efforts, he was driving into an adventure with nothing but
time on his hands, miles from all the surrounding palaver and
approximately two hundred thousand dollars in
small bills squirreled away throughout the generic but pleasant car. He
never was that hard of a worker so this new adventure wasn't
reaction to a stressed-out, time to stop the merry-go-round kind of
lifestyle but it was definitely time to shake things up.
He had no plans but he had been patiently waiting to be a person
unencumbered by societal demands but if truth be told, and it was time
for that to happen, he never really had a lot of pressure on him.
William McMillan Foley was a lucky man; through a series of events, he
had accumulated one of the largest personal fortunes in the world and
never really broke a sweat as it appeared his greatest skills were to
not do harm and know when to get the hell out of the way.
Driving a car with no agenda is fun for about five minutes; after that, your brain begins to ask standard logistic questions and William McMillan Foley's brain was no different. In his personal case, he was embarking on a (hopefully) great adventure with every he needed to easily survive for several months. Being freakishly wealthy and officially anonymous, the trip allowed him to do something unique and restorative to his bored and somewhat cranky demeanor. As he drove, it hit him everything about his was clean and without debris; the car and his belongings were pristine with no old luggage tags or trunk remnants to imply drudgery or miscellaneous obligations. Rarely does one get any type of clean slate to start a second phase; usually numerous issues (both real and imagined) have significant influence in cluttering up the corners within us all.
As William McMillan Foley drove, it took him sometime to be comfortable for doing things for himself. Once you are a billionaire, you stop carrying money, you stop shopping like normal folks and just by asking for things, they appear. The first few times you see something and remark, "That would be nice to have" and one day later, it is sitting on your desk, it is a heady time. After a few days of saying words and things appearing, your mind begins to dull to the behind the scene efforts which actually go into acquiring the rare, new, intriguing and challenging. And thanks for several decades of that lifestyle, William McMillan Foley was just happy to keep the car on the road. One of the upcoming challenges was going to be pumping gas; he had several lessons with his assistants before leaving but his actions were still too wooden for a man his age. He needed to move from car to cap to pump to fill to cap to cashier with more elan and less jerky-Herman Munster actions. He was certainly capable of mundane tasks but it had been so many years since he had to function as a standard human being.
When he successfully filled his tank and wandered into the convenience store, he was surprised how complex and frantic things had become. He was stupefied with the wall of beverage choices, as each iteration more complex that the next, and realized that this was the new town square with banking, grocery, hardware, coffee and bakery all underneath one pre-fabricated roof. He approached the cashier with a standard bottle of diet cola and called out his pump number.
"Gas on pump two and this," said William McMillan Foley, billionaire.
The somewhat glassy-eyed woman smiled and said, "That will be fifty-one dollars and twenty-two cents."
William McMillan Foley handed over a crisp, new one hundred dollar bill and slightly backed up to allow the transaction to continue without any looming on his part.
She looked up at him, just because one hundred dollar bills were just rare enough to warrant eye contact, and said, "Oh, a new one. Just made today?"
Her humor was unscripted and for a few moments, William McMillan Foley stammered before providing a slightly laughing comment of "I wish."
She smiled back, handed over the bills as the dispenser dispensed the coins. She had no idea that the man in front of her was worth countless billions and he had no idea about anything about her. The people that deal with billionaires are senior partners, chief ushers, exclusive concierges, accomplished professionals whose only focus is a positive interaction with someone filthy rich. She was likely making minimum wage and was just wandering through life with no firm plans but the interaction stood on its own merits.
He got back in the car and cracked open the beverage. He was getting the hand of multi-tasking as usually, he was sitting in the back of a limo or premium luxury sedan, surrounded by a few assistants, with every comment validated and every hand motion recognized for what it was at the moment: a cell phone (pre-dialed), a fresh glass of something, a one-page summary or a myriad of other things that crossed his mind as he went from point A to point B. Today, he was driving his own car to a destination still not determined with a fresh drink in the basic cup holder. It felt good...but not that great. While he felt some liberation as the captain of his own destiny, there was something to be said for having a stunning administrative assistant hanging on his every word as she subtly squirmed in some dark gabardine ensemble. Freedom appeared to have both some ups and downs so he wasn't ready to embrace either world with any conviction just yet. However, if pushed, he decided the outside world didn't have the same smoothness or general cleanliness which he was now accustomed.
His life was not laden with anguish nor full of ups and downs: it was very nice, level and boring. And with most things, if one didn't leave one's comfort zone (or try to leave one's comfort zone) occasionally, the sameness would continue to erode one's general approach to life. He hadn't taken things for granted because after two decades, the context has disappeared and things were as they appeared. This was the opportunity to move around the great unwashed and either see what he was missing or the best reason to run back behind guarded gates with no regrets.
His team had refrained from calling him for two reasons: one, it had only been four hours since he left their collective, friendly confines and two, they didn't want to force him into a ditch due to the surprise of a chirping cell phone. They had discussed a hands-free, just press a button, solution but felt they might have been over-engineering the entire matter. Johnny Pederasty and Tommy were his guys; Johnny was his link to the outside worlds and Tommy was his inside guy. Tommy, a retired Navy steward, was incapable of surprise or judgment but liked running a tight operation. His interests were limited but when he was locked onto an issue or individual, he was focused and eschewed meaningless exchanges of information. Johnny was more multi-dimensional but saw the bigger picture; his boss may not have been mentioned with industry captains, but his timing and ability to get out of the way of good ideas were impressive in their own way. Both men were trusted and had teams working with them that were equally solid. There was no turf wars between Johnny and Tommy; they were like an old married couple that respected each other's differences and could immediately and impressively close ranks when collaborating on a common issue; like their boss. And in true William McMillan Foley form, William McMillan Foley stayed away from the dynamic and did what he was told or what he thought best at the time.
"Should we call him?" said Tommy. He was looking up at the chase clock, detailing times to their mutual interest: duration of total time since departure, estimated time to assumed destination, current estimated time for critical evacuation (they had not shared that clock with anyone yet) and duration of time since last phone call. At this moment, the total time and the phone call clocks were in annoying synchronization.
"Not yet," said Johnny. "This is the first time, in a long time, where he is working without a visible net. He needs a bit more time. I estimate him at the hotel in three hours with the assumption of a few stops for no good reason. Let's call him in about an hour to say hello and see if he needs anything."
Exactly sixty minutes from that last communication, the two men sat in a secure conference room and dialed dedicated and completely cold phone number dedicated to this mission. No one in the holding company, outside of three people, were aware of the circumstances. William McMillan Foley was enough of a mystery in the first place that news of a walkabout would add unfair fuel to an already unfair fire. This was a complete lock down operation and these two personalities were the perfect ones to pull it off. They were completely loyal, felt responsible for his health and welfare and were optimistic that this adventure was exactly what the boss needed.
The number rang. The conference room was impressive and empty; both men sat on the far side of the burl wood table, huddled around a speaker phone.
It rang again.
Finally, William McMillan Foley picked up the phone and said, "Hello?"
"Boss?" said Tommy. "It's us."
"Hey Tommy! Hey Johnny! I am still alive and making good time."
"Good to hear , Boss" said Tommy. "We knew that everything would be going great."
"Liar" said William McMillan Foley, "But thanks for lying."
"Just to confirm, I have a reservation at the Ritz-Carlton?"
"That is correct; under your first name and your mother's maiden name," said Johnny. "Everything is direct billed and you are marked as a VIP. There will be no questions."
William McMillan Foley was content with this arrangement. It had been twenty years since he had asked reservation details and it was nice to know that re-entry would not be that cruel. Usually, he got up and was escorted to a limo and then to a private jet, another limo and then through a special entrance and then to a suite. He had forgotten the logistical challenges of all efforts related; if he wanted to go to the Super Bowl on the morning of the game, he would make one call and start walking towards the door. Magic always seemed to take care of it until now.
"You have to remember to plug in your cell phones," said Tommy. "One of the kids may call so you can't be without power on the road. Most people plug their cell phones in as soon as they walk into their house."
Until yesterday, William McMillan Foley had not owned a cell phone. A few had been handed to him over the years when he desired to make contact but usually cell phones were for other people. They had given him training over the last few days to assure he was checked out on the hardware and could re-charge or replace a cord or a plug from the stash in the trunk if something happened. It was going to be a long night for everyone so they all knew they had to pace themselves to help him feel like he was really on a liberating walkabout. Either way, everyone was pleased on how everything had been going and a night alone in a fairly nice hotel would be the next step.
William McMillan Foley turned off the phone and tossed it onto the open passenger seat. He was pleased with the events and was gaining comfort with his re-learning of a lifestyle long forgotten. He would stop every hour or so to stretch his tense muscles and wander around a city square or general rest area. He noticed that things were dirtier than he had remembered; normal people appeared a bit more rumpled than he remembered as they adorned themselves with apparel dripping with logos and sporting events as they walked into some bakery or similar carbohydratic epicenter. He didn't wax so nostalgic that his recollections of 1991 placed him in some pseudo-formal wearing throwback to days gone by, but the general order of things had seemed to take a few distinctive steps back.
When he arrived at the Ritz-Carlton, he pulled up and grabbed his bag and expertly tossed the keys to the approaching valet. This was also a practiced move and by not breaking stride, he sent a message to the disinterested attendant that no value remained within the car. While at the first several glances would confirm that this man traveled light, it would have taken a professional to realize that this car has several well-disguised secret compartments. William McMillan Foley had a large amount of money hidden inside the bag but he wasn't going to worry about the money; that was there for discretionary purposes only. As William McMillan Foley approached the desk, a manager met him, shook his hand, gave him two swipe cards and brought him to a discreet elevator around a hidden corner. The behavior appeared the Johnny had greased the whole process and within three minutes of stopping his car, he was left alone on the top suite of the hotel. The level of efficiency brought back its own memories but William McMillan Foley was a single audience member for the ride and while it felt familiar, it didn't feel like things were back the way they should be running.
On the larger table in the living room lay a few overnight envelopes and a note reminding him to check in with his team. He dialed the number and once it picked up he said, "I have arrived alive. I am tired and planning on some room service and an early bedtime. Any questions?"
Tommy said, "No questions, sir. Go to bed and we can talk tomorrow at your convenience."
Tommy knew this was not the time to pepper him with questions. He had been working without a net for ten hours and it was a good day's work. His boss may open the envelopes or he may not; this was not the time to push anything.
"Thank you, Tommy. I will get up and get some breakfast and call from the road." Then the phone went dead and the day one was called.
The next morning, William McMillan Foley awoke without entourage or any preparation and began to meet the day. After showering and packing, the old ways were slowly coming back to him but were still a bit unnatural. He got up, turned on the television and was successful in navigating to a standard national news program. Nothing, other than his paid receipt for the hotel stay was awaiting him under the door so he grabbed his own bag and headed downstairs after calling the valet to ready his car. He remembered there was some key slot thing to drop off his key and with this recollection came a new responsibility to complete the dance of the accountable. He found it by the concierge, dropped it off and walked out into the pleasant morning. When he got outside, his car was waiting with the trunk open; little did the valet know that he was two feet away from about fifty thousand dollars. William McMillan Foley smiled and hoisted his bag into the trunk and reached into his pocket and pulled out a pre-readied ten dollar bill. For one car retrieval and a visual bag assist, the tip was on the high side but he didn't care. This was first discretionary cash outlay since the adventure began so he wanted it to go off without a hitch.
"Thank you" said the bellboy. This was a nice hotel but for his effort, this was much more than he expected.
"You are welcome," said William McMillan Foley. "Can you tell me a good, local breakfast place? I want something genuine, off the beaten path and worth my time."
The young man smiled and said, "I got just the place." He quickly wrote down the simple directions and made a few specific recommendations for him. Breakfast is a challenging meal for most people; while everyone is hungry, everyone has their own interpretation of what makes up a good breakfast. The spectrum ranges from heart-clogging biscuits and gravy to fresh fruit and granola with everything in between. William McMillan Foley was hungry and wanted to sit at a counter with a newspaper, a cup of coffee and a plate of what the locals were having. The day was wide open with the potential of about three hundred miles of driving so he wanted to be prepared with minimal bathroom efforts, correct hydration and an appropriate packing of the hump.
The waitress approached with a coffee pot and a menu in her hand; he caught her eye and raised his cup and nodded while pointed at the breakfast plate of the busily eating counter neighbor. She smiled, poured him a cup of coffee and kept walking to the kitchen. William McMillan Foley opened his newspaper and began scanning the stories; for the last ten years, all newspapers had been replaced with virtual clipping services and he had forgot about the simple joy of reading a newspaper, oblivious to all others around him, while passively gnarling on a piece of bacon or quietly chewing on some hash browns. The other component he was enjoying was the no one paid attention to him. When you have a net worth exceeding one hundred billion dollars, you are being bombarded constantly for your time and attention. In this breakfast restaurant, he fell into sync with all the diners around him and enjoyed the time just with his food, coffee and paper.
The bill came and with a full breakfast and several cups of good coffee, the total was less than eight dollars. While he knew he was going to always tip excessively on this adventure, he wanted to pay for good, efficient service versus throwing money around just because he could. He placed a twenty under his empty coffee cup, put his paper on the chairs near the door and headed out in the sun to begin day two of his freedom adventure. The waitress had been tipped well before but her efficiency in service and her decision not to pepper him with questions were the main reason for the payouts. When he got back, he was going to make an effort to begin enjoy breakfast again as its restorative, healing nature made him feel like a normal person...for the first time in ten years. When eating, he realized that most people are not glued to information such as cable feeds, analyst calls and the constant barrage of the 24x7 news channels. People were talking about other topics, not too concerned about global markets, Wall Street or Washington but rather on events which interested them. In other words, if William McMillan Foley stood up and screamed his name, no one would care.
As he got back into his car, he noticed that it was a bit dirtier than when he began. It was not that dirty but he used stepped into pristine cars which were waiting for him. The site of some self-generated debris reminded him that he was not only the captain of his ship, he was also responsible for its general upkeep. Another reminder that in his real life, many of the things he had grown accustomed to, clean cars, rapt attention, a rapier wit, a sense of humor and other attributes were likely thanks to the money he had acquired. Nothing makes you funnier or smarter than a few billion dollars in their employ. He grabbed the small amount of trash and walked it over to a dumpster and tossed it in. He was in charge now, and he was going to keep it all clean.
It is fascinating what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.
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