The Lonely Nevada Sky

Steve Fossett is one of the modern day adventurers of our time. Like adventurers of the past, he has broken countless records, pushed engineering to its limit, and, one can extrapolate, encountered new and creative ways to pour money down a rathole to increase his name recognition for anyone who feels like reading a decade-old copy of a Old Bored Rich Guy World Record Almanac.

Making his name as a commodities broker, he made his money early in life and then chose to spend the difference trying to break various records. Some of Fossett’s accomplishments are admittedly pretty impressive. He swam the English Channel, a glorious achievement many people have failed, least of not the Luftwaffe, and certainly more than I could ever accomplish—the only record I’ve ever set was spending the longest time watching Irish soap operas while simultaneously not looking for a job. Fossett has climbed the highest peak of six of the seven continents, and has records in areas relating to nonstop aircraft flights, gliders, cross country, ballooning, speed sailing, and the aptly named Ironman Triathlon, which I can only hope involves a contest of eating massive quantities of raw flesh, watching consecutive hours of rugby on a black-and-white television without a bowel movement, and going the longest amount of time without telling his wife that he loves her.

In one notorious example of his early glimpses into adventurousness, as a college student at Stanford in the mid-60’s he once swam to Alcatraz, which was at the time closed to the public, and installed a banner proclaiming the highly important political statement of “Beat Cal.” Afterwards he, along with Sean Connery, overpowered a group of domestic terrorists threatening San Francisco with biological weapons in an elaborately planned maneuver that seemed to take what seems like upwards of 1,600 hours of completely ridiculous dialogue and draggin’-ass action along with $8 of my money to resolve.

One can hardly begrudge someone from living what is no doubt a dream of many; if you’ve earned the money, why not spend it on something you enjoy and will mean something after you’re dead? Granted, you probably don’t want to become dead in pursuit of that goal, but then again if there’s no chance you’re going to die, then why not just stay home and play Yahoo! Sheepshead with some housewife in Malaysia?

Fossett has propelled many feats of engineering and endurance with help of another idle millionaire interested in pissing money away, Richard Branson. Branson is head of the Virgin empire, known for such successful and diverse offerings as an airline, mobile phone carrier, and trying to be a second-rate second-rate Donald Trump, which in the grand scheme of things is kind of a sad aspiration for a billionaire.

Fossett probably came to prominence in most people’s minds when he was in the news for repeatedly failing to complete his quest to circumnavigate the globe in his hot air balloon. I would suspect that most people couldn’t come up with a whole lot of reasons that such a voyage could not be completed. I mean, there isn’t much to a hot air balloon besides some nylon, a big ol’ fire, some sack of sands, and a desperate and child-like hope that if the winds change direction one degree differently than you expect your ludicrous choice of transportation to fly around the world with nothing more than a few cubic sheets of fabric and the sheer amount of determination which is roughly equal to, and the quality of, what the hell it was that decided to make you do this in the first place will come to an abrupt and unfortunate end. The timing of the media stories was poor from Fossett’s perspective, since they ignored all his previous successful attempts and focused on his inability to complete the quest, a move that some people felt was an elaborate marketing ploy for Cialis.

Rich people finding new and creative methods to use their money in inefficient ways to further aggrandize themselves are hardly new. Self-serving charitable organizations, egotistically named institutions, and grandly conceived plans with more emphasis on establishing a name for the annals of cultural history than any of the financial, productive, or practical considerations they relied on to become rich idle billionaires in the first place.

There are several examples of this throughout history. Howard Hughes is a perfect parallel of what happens when rich people are allowed to waste their money in a manner of their own choosing. Hughes was an extraordinary visionary and expanded his business into a diverse conglomerate of interests that included aviation, engineering, motion pictures, hotels, tax evasion, and Jane Russell’s mountainous breasts. His once excellent financial acumen soon descended into Elvis-like hedonism, such as buying up massive quantities of Banana Nut ice cream from Baskin Robbins mere moments before declaring he was sick of it and purchasing television stations so he would have something to watch in the early morning hours. (In his defense, at least he didn’t attempt to manage the construction of the Denver Airport or tried to merge AOL and Time Warner.) He eventually died of a multitude of disgusting reasons, no doubt partly because of his indulgences that fell well outside of his abilities, but mostly because he was completely batshit crazy.

Alas, Fossett has become a victim of his own success. While scouting out areas in Nevada to beat the land speed record, his aircraft disappeared. At this point his plane has been missing for quite a few days, and search parties have come up with nothing but sand and damaged flying saucers, which, according to regular reports from Coast to Coast, occur at a frequency of once every government denial of Area 51.

Regardless of his eventual fate, Fossett has proven to us one thing: that no matter what, regardless of how incredibly pointless it is, as long as you have the drive, determination, and an endless supply of wealth to piss away, you can accomplish anything.

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