- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Mar 2016
From the cover
Reimagining Boot Camp, Nursing Home Rebellions, and the Locus of Control
The trip was intended as a celebration, a twenty-nine-day tour of South America that would take Robert, who had just turned sixty, and his wife, Viola, first to Brazil, then over the Andes into Bolivia and Peru. Their itinerary included tours of Incan ruins, a boat trip on Lake Titicaca, the occasional craft market, and a bit of birding.
That much relaxation, Robert had joked with friends before leaving, seemed unsafe. He was already anticipating the fortune he would spend on calls to his secretary. Over the previous half century Robert Philippe had built a small gas station into an auto parts empire in rural Louisiana and had made himself into a Bayou mogul through hard work, charisma, and hustle. In addition to the auto-parts business, he also owned a chemical company, a paper supplier, various swaths of land, and a real estate firm. And now here he was, entering his seventh decade, and his wife had convinced him to spend a month in a bunch of countries where, he suspected, it would be awfully difficult to find a TV showing the LSU-Ole Miss game.
Robert liked to say there wasn't a dirt road or back alley along the Gulf Coast he hadn't driven at least once to drum up business. As Philippe Incorporated had grown, Robert had become famous for dragging big-city businessmen from New Orleans and Atlanta out to ramshackle bars and forbidding them from leaving until the ribs were picked clean and bottles sucked dry. Then, while everyone nursed painful hangovers the next morning, Robert would convince them to sign deals worth millions. Bartenders always knew to fill his glass with club soda while serving the bigwigs cocktails. Robert hadn't touched booze in years.
He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and the chamber of commerce, past president of the Louisiana Association of Wholesalers and the Greater Baton Rouge Port Commission, the chairman of his local bank, and a loyal donor to whichever political party was more inclined to endorse his business permits that day. "You never met a man who loved working so much," his daughter, Roxann, told me.
Robert and Viola had been looking forward to this South American trip. But when they stepped off the plane in La Paz, midway through the monthlong tour, Robert started acting oddly. He staggered through the airport and had to sit down to catch his breath at the baggage claim. When a group of children approached him to ask for coins, Robert threw change at their feet and laughed. In the bus to the hotel, Robert started a loud, rambling monologue about various countries he had visited and the relative attractiveness of the women who lived there. Maybe it was the altitude. At twelve thousand feet, La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world.
Once they were unpacked, Viola urged Robert to nap. He wasn't interested, he said. He wanted to go out. For the next hour, he marched through town buying trinkets and exploding in a rage whenever locals didn't understand English. He eventually agreed to return to the hotel and fell asleep, but woke repeatedly during the night to vomit. The next morning, he said he felt faint but became angry when Viola suggested he rest. He spent the third day in bed. On day four, Viola decided enough was enough and cut the vacation short.
Back home in Louisiana, Robert seemed to improve. His disorientation faded and he stopped saying strange things. His wife and children, however, were still worried. Robert was lethargic and refused to leave the house unless prodded. Viola had expected him to rush into the office upon their return, but after four days he hadn't so...