08/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Culture Zohn: T. Boone and Me: Red Oil Man and Blue Boomer Girl Have Something in Common


Let me confess at the outset I have never met T. Boone Pickens: I don't even know what the T stands for (I just looked it up. It's Thomas, after his father. Pickens has a website that puts most to shame). I have been to Texas for only one day in my life (Houston), and to Oklahoma for two, both times for cultural and not energy pursuits. I don't shoot or hunt and I couldn't "hit the ground with my hat" (this is how Boone refers to losers--e.g. poor quail hunters).

But the new Pickens Plan sounded pretty win-win to me until I heard all kinds of people go off on it claiming that it was all about shape-shifting Boone, and getting the federal government to support Boone's initiatives into natural gas and wind, pitching it as a "buy US" screed against foreign oil.


Naysayers from both sides of the aisle already abound, calling Boone a user, a chameleon, not too bright, not at all analytical, and someone who is shameless about needing media attention for his every whim. My green friends say Boone just knows a good hole in the market when he sees one.

But people say he has good instincts as a gambler and is a good promoter even if he is a serial monogamist when it comes to his professional (and personal) passions, falling in love with one energy fix-it after another. It was natural gas, then water, then oil and gas, and now wind power.

I don't want to go all touchy feely here, especially about a guy who has a bazillion dollars.
I used to have great antipathy for Boone (that's what everyone calls him): as Captain of the Swift Boaters, he made my life miserable when I was on the ground for Kerry in New Hampshire; as I knocked on doors in the crisp fall air, I was always one step behind the much better organized Republicans in front of me.

(Nevermind: Kerry did take back NH, it was the only red state to go blue)

But Boone and I have something in common besides the fact that we are both interested in a Green solution this time, not Red or Blue: we have both reinvented ourselves a whole bunch. Lost in the back and forth and poring over old news is that Boone is a textbook case of a modern day guy.

Boone is fearless, a master of resurrection! Sure, it helps that he has the money to back up his gut. But he's not afraid of second, third, fourth, and more acts. He's not afraid of what people say about him. Some might call that narcissistic. I call it brave.

I'm not meaning to make light of people being downsized. And Lord knows I wish I could have been more wildly successful in each of my endeavors. But Boone hasn't always been on the ups. He has touted natural gas as an alternative and so far that hasn't taken off. He's had to pick himself up (granted, in the G4) and start again.

The Plan's site describes his trajectory as thus: Paper route to owning an oil company, to taking over many oil companies, to hedgie to natural gas purveyor to wind. Water is next. (So far, no one in Texas wants his water. How about a pipeline to LA, Boone?) He is comfortable dabbling in anything that produces energy, since he says that as a geologist, it's all he really knows anything about.

Isn't this what we tell kids when they are starting out? Take your strongest suit and build on it? Stray, but don't abandon your roots?

In a 2007 interview in Playboy, Boone admitted to being on antidepressants for a month which jolted him out of a depression. A mere year ago he was not too enthusiastic about wind. And now, look what's happened. (He also said at the time he didn't want to drive a Prius. Watch out Toyota is all I can say--Pickens has already tangled with the Japanese)

You don't always know when you're reinventing yourself. Sometimes, in fact mostly, it's a downturn that forces you to re-evaluate things. You were on top and then boom, you aren't. After a while though, even if you want to climb back on the horse (western metaphors abound on the Pickens site--it's infectious) you can't. The posse has ridden out of town without you.

Ok, fine. You can roll over and play dead, or you roll over a few more times and get up on another side of yourself. Usually, you can't tell what that is ahead of time. It unfolds right alongside the misery, and you have to let that quiet down so you can listen to it without the static of the depression which is still firmly in residence.

But if Boone is catching a wind wave and riding it to a new persona, I say, go TBP! Becoming a wind merchant is going to change his life, and probably ours too.


We should all have the chance to change our minds, even if there are commercial and expedient and non-altruistic motives behind it.

Pickens says: "The world is generally resistant to change, especially for those who are benefiting from the status quo," " But the world also is resilient, and I firmly believe in the free enterprise system and the energy generated by the entrepreneurial spirit."

Besides all the new Green faces he is going to be able to see at dinner parties, and all the new friends he has made already on Facebook and My Space, he is going to raise the alt energy conversation to a whole new level and in fact, he already has. So what if he has a new book coming out next month! On top of knowing about energy of all kinds, he's a marketing genius.
By the looks of it, somebody has been following T Boone around for years scribbling down his every word....he's not shy about telling it like it is and more importantly how he'd like us to remember it.

Eventually, though certainly not right away, he, or his heirs (there are quite a few though he once said he was leaving his money to charity) will make a bundle. But the government has done nothing but drop the environmental ball on us--refusing to think as big as we need them to. (Just yesterday, tax credits for energy initiatives rolled back) Most Americans admire and don't resent wealthy, self-made men and women--and he was not born wealthy.


On his website, Boone is free with history and advice. He was born by C section (the first in Oklahoma), and his mother, Grace, was the disciplinarian and the one who taught him the value of hard work. She's also the one that made him put back the wallet he found on his paper route even though he "pled and pled (he was a geology major not an english major-- nobody says an oil man has to be a grammarian though I think some must be). He also credits his grandmother Nellie and his Aunt Ethel for teaching him about the importance of strong women (Boone! How PC!)

And when he talks about shareholder rights why he practically sounds like a Democrat (how to spin a corporate takeover....)

And he may even know how to spin! He built a huge gym for his employees since he loves to work out!

And his sophisticated website proves that Boone has embraced the internet even if he doesn't personally send email or have a blog (yet!).

And he loves to party! His Plan website says parties make everything better. As with Tupperware, Boone wants to spread the message house to house.

And Boone is hopeful, an optimist; at 80, he still sounds like a passionate man.

Suddenly, a crazy thought came into my head. I thought, hey, I love wind, water, the rights of shareholders (just another kind of union, right?) and I can run up a mountain! And I know I could easily become accustomed to the G4 (especially after my last three trips on American Airlines-no pilots, no luggage, no electricity); I decided to check out Boone's My Space page.

Alas, I learned that Boone apparently loves statuesque blondes (all four wives) and that he is a Gemini (not good for me, my father was) and that Brenda, the Orgasm Fairy is already after him! (See what happens when you go Green on the internet, Boone!).

His Facebook page has its usual question at the top, "Not the T. Boone you were looking for...?"

Of course, he is the T. Boone I am looking for! I hope there is not another.

But while it is highly improbable that Boone's final, definitive, re-invention act will be for him to fall for a thin,lefty brunette, and although I can't host a Pickens Party this week, I thought would try to contribute to the effort by making a small wind farm right here in my backyard which does pick up the ocean breezes pretty well at about four pm each day.


As Boone himself says, "A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan."