This week’s Extra Shot comes to you from the road. You know those people trying to squeeze the last bit of freedom out of summer I mentioned in last week’s column? Well I’m one of ‘em. Currently I am in South Carolina, not too far away from Greenville, SC.
Normally I omit when I travel from the column so I can more objectively focus on my Wilmette audience and write about things more relevant to you. But Wednesday was too damn funny to pass up telling y’all about.
Wednesday Greenville played host to a traveling motivational seminar. Get Motivated!TM advertises big time marquee names for a ticket price of only $1.95. Wednesday’s roster of speakers included Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Lou Holtz, Gen. Colin Powell, Bill Cosby, and Laura Bush. Again, all for less than $2. I attended, partially to find out what’s the catch, and partially out of desperation. Truthfully I could use a little more motivation in my life, and even though I am far too cynical of a schmuck to buy into a motivational speaker, it’s only $2.
With that attitude I awoke on Wednesday at quarter till 6am, donned business casual attire, ready a notepad and a few resumes, and departed towards the little town of Greenville. The event was held in the Bi-Lo Center (which if that isn’t funny to you then imagine that it was held in the Piggly-Wiggly Center): capacity 14,000. My $2 ticket earned me “premium seating”, which naturally limited me to the worst seats in the arena. Premium seating, kinda the same way medium is the smallest size at Domino’s. I got settled and waited for the catch to become apparent.
Out first was Dr. Robert Schuller, who was touted as “America’s best inspirational speaker.” Not sure when the good doctor earned this title, but I’ll bet it wasn’t recently. His message was simple, “Nothing’s impossible”, that’s not paraphrasing, that is actually all he had prepared. Schuller ate clock for 14 minutes before gimping off stage. One nationally renowned speaker down and I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated.
Despite the poor performance of the first speaker, one thing impressed me, even at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday the arena was filling up.
Steve Forbes managed to breath a little more life into the room. Nothing really gets a crowd going nowadays like ragging on Washington. Forbes’ agenda was pretty clear; privatize medicare, implement a flat-tax and subtle tones of praise Jesus. A political speech from a non-candidate, but still not motivational.
Rudy Giuliani and Lou Holtz followed with nice sets that featured personal stories of overcoming adversity and keeping a positive attitude. Both were funny and uplifting, but not much more than that. For a guy who has delivered countless half-time speeches, and another who brought back NYC after 9/11, I had expected more.
Then the lights were lowered, an unadvertised speaker was introduced, and a clean-cut yuppie hit the stage accompanied by rock music and flame-throwing pyrotechnics: what followed was the catch.
A 60-minute in-person infomercial for weekend investment classes which the good people at Get Motivated!TM had haggled down the price for all their beloved attendees. This guy was good; smooth, and polished. A self-made man from humble beginnings, who had unlocked the secrets to financial success and was here today to share that secret with you. He knew what the “big boys” knew and he wanted everyone in attendance (which at this point had to be the full 14,000 capacity) to get in on the opportunity of a lifetime.
Unfortunately I wasn’t born yesterday.
The audience was given several incentives and opportunities to approach the nearest sales representative, assuming they had their credit cards in hand. Once the organizers were assured that enough time had been given to rope as many sheep as possible, only then was Laura Bush ushered out to meet her eager audience.
I’m not going to assume your personal opinion of the former first lady. Most are divided between seeing her as a spineless 1950’s subservient housewife, or a genuinely personable non-politician with a passion for America’s young people.
Regardless of your feelings, know this, Laura Bush is not a trained public speaker. Have you ever received one of those family update Christmas cards from a pseudo-family friend? The ones that drone on and on insistently about what little Suzy and Johnny are up to and yada yada yada. That Christmas card is apparently Laura Bush’s model for forming a motivational public address.
Five hours into the day and still the only thing to impress me was the turn out for the event. We were dismissed for lunch and I took the opportunity to bail from the Bi-Lo Center.
I took my time walking to lunch. 100 degree Fahrenheit heat and dark wool dress pants lowers your motivation to hurry anywhere. I ate, cooled dow, and decided to wonder back to hear the only two speakers I had actually heard positive reviews for; Colin Powell and Bill Cosby.
Walking back I began to notice that there seemed to be as many people walking away from the arena as walking towards. Attendees were easy to identify—we were all well dressed—and most were carrying notebooks or program booklets. Once I got a half block away from the arena I overheard a woman on her phone say that the doors were locked and no one was being re-admitted.
Sure enough, outside the Bi-Lo Center was a crowd of a couple hundred attendees huddled by the arena doors trying to get back in. An odd sense of community formed quickly within the group. Everyone knew only one thing about everyone else: we were all desperate enough to think this was a good idea in the first place. People were asking around to hear what people had heard. The story that arose was that the fire marshal had determined that the arena was over populated, and when a group left for lunch the doors were locked to make the event safer.
Unbelievable, I was locked out of getting motivated. What a sad sorry commentary on the current deplorable state of this nation. The organizers of the event must not have considered this a possibility: How could they? The entire population of Greenville is only about 56,000 people. To overfill the arena would take roughly one out of four people in town showing up.
But that’s what happened.
People had driven in from all over the place. As we all stood outside the arena I struck up conversations with my fellow exiles. Many had driven more than two hours to attend the event. Some had even paid more than $50 for front row seating, which I assume was called something like Super-duper Premium. Many were furious because they had left things within the arena to save their seats. Things like purses, tote bags containing cell phones and tablets. One woman had left her mother inside and was now being told she couldn’t go in to retrieve her.
One guy yelled at the ticket window attendee, “What if I had left my kid in there?” I answered, “Dr. Huxtable is raising your kid now buddy.”
The joke was well received. Other people had already begun to jokingly bang against the glass windows of the arena and yelling things like, “please help us” and “send water.” I attempted to get people to lock arms and start a sit-in chant. I figured We Shall Not We Shall Not Be Moved would have been appropriate, but it seemed everyone else thought it was too hot for such foolishness.
One guy thought it would be really funny to rush the doors when they were momentarily opened for the Greenville police. The police did not think it was funny, so they arrested him. Not sure what his bail was set at, but I can damn sure bet it was more than $1.95.
After the joke had gotten old, and we all realized that the better speakers had probably gotten on and off the stage, we were left with no choice but to quietly and calmly disperse.
We tried to make the light of the situation as he herded ourselves to the parking lots. Many jokes were made riffing on the terminology of the speakers we had been allowed to hear. It was agreed that it was difficult to get upset over being cheated out of the second half of a $2 day. Still, there was a somber sense of disappointment. Not at being denied reentry to see particular speakers, but of the fact of the matter. We couldn’t even get let in to this. This wasn’t an interview, or a career fair. It was a damn motivational seminar, and we couldn’t even get back in.
Any alcoholic in recovery will tell ya that rock bottom looks different for everyone. Getting locked out of a motivational seminar might not seem like much from where you’re sitting, but for some of these people on Wednesday I could see this was another straw on the camel’s back and another nail in the coffin.
Like I said, too damn funny, right?
I’ll break it down for you; attitude matters, nothing is impossible, you have to stay up to date with technology and a little faith never hurt. If you feel like sending me $2 I can be reached by clicking the Email the author button on the header.
Until next time Wilmette,