When the news came down, I was even more startled than I might have expected to be, mostly because I’ve visualized this scene so many times it seems like part of the background now: pretty much any time the phrase “bridge abutment” occurs on this site, there’s a thought of crashing into one for some reason.
And really, if your destiny lies in the concrete on the underside of an overpass, that might well be the one you’d pick: genuinely sturdy — the Turner Turnpike sits on top — and far enough out in the sticks that you wouldn’t be noticed quickly. We’re talking Midwest Boulevard between 122nd and Memorial Road, from which Aubrey McClendon’s crushed Chevy Tahoe was extracted earlier today. Was this deliberate? For what it’s worth, he wasn’t buckled in.
Then again, “restraint” wasn’t in McClendon’s vocabulary; the man built a remarkable empire on a perfectly ordinary commodity. More than once he ran afoul of protocol. When Clay Bennett’s syndicate, of whom McClendon was a member, purchased the Seattle SuperSonics, it was McClendon who let slip the destination of the team, which everyone knew but which everyone was bound to deny. (The NBA fined him a quarter of a million dollars, which would be like fining you or me a Quarter Pounder with cheese.) In Michigan, McClendon tangled with conservationists, and did not prevail. In 2013, his own board of directors sent him packing. Undaunted, he set up a rival firm just down the street from the Chesapeake campus where he’d once ruled. That campus, incidentally, was another bit of McClendon willfulness: while other oil barons went vertical downtown, he built horizontally out towards the ‘burbs.
And the day before yesterday, a little incident from his Chesapeake days came back to haunt him, in the form of an indictment: during the acquisition of new oil and gas leases, said the Feds, he’d engaged in a sneaky form of bid-rigging. Whatever he’d been doing, it must have worked; at one point, Chesapeake was the largest natural-gas producer in the nation.
But those days are gone, natural gas is selling for a comparative pittance, and McClendon burned up a few BTUs of it this morning to get to the last place he’d ever get to. The unraveling will fill several books: if there’s anything to that indictment, perhaps several sets of books. One should be written, I insist, about how Aubrey McClendon left his brand all over this town, and how we’re a better place for it.