Today's Reading

"There it is!" Scott pointed and bounced a little in his seat. From the air, Catalina Island was a rugged Mediterranean hillscape with a picture-postcard seaside village nestled in its little harbor, where ranked yachts bobbed and a ferry backed and filled to turn around. The towering Casino anchored the town to the right: a cream-colored squat cylinder topped with a dark rice-paddy hat of a roof whose red-brick color flared in the last rays of the sun. To the left, the harbor turned into a beach road that girded a cliff. We banked that way and there was the helipad, lit up with spotlights.

The pilot angled us in, leveled off, and sank down, both skids kissing the ground at the same moment. A couple of ground crew in hi-viz ran out to tie us down, and then the pilot unbuckled, stepped into the passenger area, and opened the door, stretching out his arm in an "after you" gesture. We stepped out into the Catalina night.


Old Man Wrigley launched his chewing-gum fortune in 1891. Company lore says he was a door-to-door soap salesman who had the bright idea of putting a free piece of gum in with his soap and the gum was so popular he got out of the soap biz and jumped into gum.

Wrigley might have been good at gum, but he was better at business. Specifically, he was extremely good at convincing investors to back him as he acquired 95 percent of the world's chicle-tree forests. All the gum in the world was Wrigley gum: either Wrigley made it, or someone else made it and paid Wrigley for the privilege.

In 1890, a year before the Wrigley Company was founded, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Bill, named after its primary author, Senator John Sherman, William Tecumseh's baby brother and a man almost as grimly determined once he set his mind to something. In his impassioned speech to the Senate, Sherman said, "If we will not endure a King as a political power we should not endure a King over the production, transportation, and sale of the necessaries of life. If we would not submit to an emperor we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity."

The Sherman Act was law when Wrigley set out to corner the market on chicle, but it was a weak and struggling thing. Sherman's main target was a robber baron who cornered the market on something far more precious than chicle: John D. Rockefeller, who owned the oil, the railroads, the banks, and the state lawmakers who oversaw them. Rockefeller's Standard Oil company fell to antitrust law in 1911—twenty-one years after the Sherman Act's passage, and eleven years after they put Sherman himself into the ground.

That buying 95 percent of the world's chicle violated the Sherman Act is beyond doubt, but is it truly a crime if no one prosecutes you? What if you spend your fortune in harmless and charming ways, say, by buying the Chicago Cubs (they call it Wrigley Field for a reason) and then bringing them to your celebrity weekender island for spring training every year?

Clearly this is not a crime, because there is no crime on Catalina Island.

The Zane Grey sent out a driver in a liveried golf cart to take us in. The island had strict limits on cars and the waiting list was more than a decade long, but the golf-cart policy was more generous. The driver was a kid named Antonio who told us he was a local, whose great-grandpa moved there before Wrigley bought the island. Graduated Avalon High, the local K-12, and married his high-school sweetheart. Antonio told us all this as he drove us away from the rotor wash that blew our hair and found its way up the cuffs of our pants.

Once we were on the long, quiet curve of the sea road, Scott leaned forward. "You an In-N-Out fan, Antonio?"

Antonio looked around at us so quickly that the golf cart actually swerved a little and he had to look forward again to get it back in the middle of the lane. "Sorry, sorry!" he called. "In-N-Out?"

Scott said, "I bought a sack of burgers in Long Beach before we took off.

They might even still be warm. Fries, too."

"Really?" Antonio said. "Damn. I mean—Sorry, I mean—Sir, could I possibly buy one of those from you?"

Scott smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. "They're for you, Antonio. Six double-doubles, six orders of fries. No milkshakes, I'm afraid. I couldn't figure out how to pack them so they'd keep cold."

Antonio slowed the golf cart, pulled onto the shoulder by a chest-high railing. "Seriously, sir? I mean, that's very generous of you."

"It's not my first time on the island. I usually stay with friends out in Hamilton Cove. I know enough locals that I know what to bring."

Antonio's smile was wide enough to lift his scalp and send his chauffeur's hat askew. "Thank you, sir! Thanks very much!"

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