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A Trip to Replacement Therapy

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I heard the blinker flicker on the car, and we began to turn right. There was a line of cars with an attendant in a yellow vest that read “Staff”. Beside him there was a sign that read “Event Parking $25.” There were at least ten cars in front of us and another fifty lined up behind us all the way to the interstate. They were waiting for their chance to pay. I turned my head to the left and saw James rocking his arms on the steering wheel with a smile that curved up the side of his cheek bones. He could not wait to park and get his seat at the event. I clearly did not feel the same. Yes, I agreed to come, but it was a twist of the arm.

We paid the parking lot attendant and went up five floors and found a spot overlooking the arena entrance.

“I’ll tell you Paul. This guy can change everything.” His hand was shaking, coffee was erupting through the sip hole in his cup lid.

“I don’t know about change everything James” He dismissed my admission and exited the car.

 “Come on Paul I want good seats.” I grabbed my jacket and got out of the car. “Last time I sat further back. I think you get a better experience if you sit close.”

“Why’s that” I asked.

“You can feel the aura more.”

We walked to the end of the garage, then down three flights of stairs to the bottom. When we reached the arena entrance there was a large banner draped from the ceiling to the concreate walkway. It was a picture of a man with perfectly white teeth standing up in a tailored suit pointing directly ahead. “Tony Bland, changing one life at a time.” Below it was a link to a website that read “LET ME CHANGE YOUR LIFE THROUGH ENCOURGEMENT TODAY.” I rolled my eyes and James was enamored by the poster. It was as if he was staring at Jesus Christ himself; offering blessings to anyone who purchased tickets.

Meanwhile, Tony Bland landed 3 hours prior to the show in his gulfstream jet. This was his 78th show of the year and it was only April.  It started in January and wrapped up just before Christmas. Five shows a week, almost every day, onto to the next city to repeat the routine. It was like clockwork for Tony. He’d land in his track suit, with his own personal logo “TBM” embroidered on the jacket and pants. His coffee in hand taking calls, making sure the books are placed perfectly outside the entrance. The t shirts, hats, hoodies, and coffee mugs are on the opposite side where the sales reps greet the patrons. There script memorized, pamphlets in hand, ready to approach people about making the next step in their journey. “Are you interested in our online membership program beginning at $10 dollars a month?” They offer coaching courses, meetings with Tony for private seminars, and a free trucker cap for signing up.

I picked up my pace and kept my eyes forward walking directly past the reps and headed for the arena. All 8,000 seats were sold out there were lines everywhere t shirts, books, coffee mugs all being wrapped in white packaging paper and placed in bags. It was an efficient assembly line.

“Look Paul” James tapped my shoulder and raised Tony’s new book “The Long Journey: The Life you Always Wanted.” “You think I should get it?”

I was puzzled. “We are here I’m sure you have one.” 

“Yea but this was signed by Tony.” I opened the book and saw the autograph with “Stay at it” right above the signature. How much I asked.

 “It’s only 80 bucks.” As James thumbed through the pages.  I couldn’t believe it; 80 bucks for a signed self-help book. Not to mention $30 a t shirt, $15 for a mug, plus the $50 dollars to get in. I placed my hand on my forehead and looked around “This guy’s making a killing.”

Two guys walked by and made their way to their seats. I turned to James “Are you going to buy that or not? I want to see the stage for this thing.” I could see the stage lights piercing through the door and I blindly walked in. It reminded me of the Alien abductions you see on tv where you just walk into the light in a complete trance. There was a huge stage and there was nothing on it, but signs strung from the ceiling to the floor that read “Tony Bland” vertically. There was a large projection screen at center stage. It was displaying the cover of Tony’s latest book with print below that read “Available today.” In the top right corner was a countdown to showtime.

Meanwhile Tony was in the back. Getting his makeup on, sipping his coffee, and reading his x messages. “Where’s my pills?” Two horny goat weed pills were brought in a small cup. Tony cusped them in his hand and threw his head back. He does his jaw exercises 10 reps by 4 sets “straight down, rotate, bite up.” he repeats for every rep. Tony finishes and yells “Karen that’s the first part of my edge. Where’s my Starbucks.” A young lady with a headset brings his coffee “Mocha Grande Latte with extra caramel, right?” The lady smiled “Of course Mr. Bland. He grabbed his coffee and began to sip as fast as possible. He put his headset on the noise from the crowd could be heard. Tony looked at the countdown clock and then his Presidential Rolex.

Someone shouted from the back “Ok your own in 60 seconds”. Tony turned and thanked everyone for the support and gave a presidential wave. “30 seconds” Tony’s grin flattened for just a moment.  Then his lips turned upwards. “You’re on!” Tony walks to the stage and throws his hands up, and fist pumps for the crowd.

“Welcome, everyone!” Tony raises his hand to his ear. The crowd repeats “Welcome!” James began to nod and repeated the statement. I laughed to myself and scanned the room. I saw a mass psychosis forming right before my eyes. They were mesmerized by the stage, the status, the presences of this man. I just didn’t get it. I grabbed James’s shoulder “This guy’s cheesy” and he waved his hand to shoo me away.

Tony began “I want to thank you guys for being here. I can’t tell this audience just how pumped I am to be here. I want you to know todays the first step. And well, first steps are never easy.”

Tony pauses to look at the floor, then raises the microphone to his forehead. “Life is challenging but I believe, I truly believe, we are put on this earth to help people. To be a beacon of hope for others.”

 Tony walks to the far side of the stage. Winks at the woman with big titties in the front row.  “Today I’m here to help you. Today your life will change if you follow these steps, these new habits, you will look back and remember this day as the day I said I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m done with the crappy job and lack of finances. I’m done not living up to my potential. I’m done not having a plan. So let me give you step number one.” A power point appeared, and Tony held up his first finger.

I could not believe what I was seeing. It was as if the entire room was being inebriated. The Asian man sitting beside me dropped his cell phone in the middle of the aisle where he let it lie. Nobody was looking around. Nobody was going to the bathroom. They were transfixed on the stage. On the man transmitting this hope. I rubbed my hands on my eyes. I could feel the itch to watch.

“Take these notes down.” Tony said with a broad smile. The crowd began to pull notepads from bags, purses, and even there back pocket. He held up his right index finger “ONE, invest in yourself. You are the brand, the product, the income producer, and the only person that matter.” I watched as others took notes. Rule number one was the formula for his entire shtick and he’s selling it back to his audience.  

Tony went on and on. I watched the crowd, and I watched Tony. He was a salesman. He wasn’t selling you a physical product. No, he was selling hope to a bunch of hopeless people. They were the product, and he was the business. Maybe it was an even exchange.

After 45 minutes of presenting power points, tips, one liners, and most of all hope, Tony waved to the crowd “Chase your dreams!” and exited the stage.

I was entertained and I could feel the warmth Tony provided. James remained seated for a few moments. He stared at the stage absorbing the experience. Around two minutes later he stood with a huge smile. His shoulders were relaxed. His first step was a bit wobbly. He turned to me and asked me how I liked the show.

“It was more entertaining than I thought it was going to be.” James ignored my comment and faced forward. His pace was faster than mine keeping him few steps ahead. “These shows always get me charged up. I feel like anything’s possible after I get started…I must get started.” James looked down at the tile.

“Isn’t that what you come for? To get a plan and act?” I asked. James sped up and walked to the bathroom while I waited outside. I watched as people exited, and I noticed something. They all had a smile on their face. Maybe it isn’t about changing lives.

When we got to the parking garage, we found James’s car and got inside. You could see the arena and the side parking lot where fans were gathering. A barricaded path from the arena side door to three black SUVs was carved out of the crowd.

James put his key in the ignition and turned it. The engine tried to start but never fully turned over. “Damn, I got to work tomorrow.” He punched the steering wheel and dropped his head. “Man after spending this money today I really can’t afford to put my car in the shop.”

Tony exited the arena with a beautiful blonde hair woman, and two bodyguard on each side of him. He stopped to sign a few auto graphs and take a few pictures with people waiting. He smirked and waved. The crowd was begging for more. James still had his head on his steering wheel. After a few more photo ops Tony walked up to the third SUV and a man opened the door for him. He stood on the running board and waved to the crowd in a long left to right motion. I could hear the screams inside the car.  He then blew an encore kiss and closed the door. They drove off headed to the airport for his next gig tomorrow in Wichita.

I tapped James’s shoulder, and he lifted his head. “Man, you missed Tony, he just left. He was signing autographs.”

James was no longer smiling. I couldn’t even look.

“I’m screwed if this car doesn’t start.” He sat up fixed his posture and took a deep breathe before turning the key.

The car stuttered a few times. James gave it gas. The engine turned over and smoke shot out the exhaust. James gripped the top of the steering wheel with both hands and looked up at the sky to thank God.

He took one more deep breath and lowered his head. “See John, I told you these conferences are fun.” I nodded to agree. “I need to save some money for a car, but next time Tony’s in town we should catch another show.”

I looked out the window as we headed down the highway and couldn’t help but think, it’s healthier than going to the bar. Even though it does the same thing.

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