On the tenth floor of a glass skyscraper in Houston, a waiting room is filled to capacity with pilgrims, a tableau of suffering and hope.
Vanessa J. is ready for her Ring Dinger. She’s driven nearly four hours from San Antonio for her weekly treatment. Three years ago, the mother of two was sitting in her SUV when she was rear-ended by a large truck. “I happened to look up in my rear-view mirror, and I seen this big ole delivery truck topping the hill, and it was coming fast,” she remembers. The spinal fusion surgery didn’t help; her leg kept going dead at inconvenient moments. One morning, getting ready for work, she fell in the shower. As she lay helpless on the tile with the water raining down, she thought to herself, Oh my God, I’m never gonna be able to get out of this tub.
Rickey H. is ready for his Ring Dinger. He set out this morning at 2 a.m. from Birmingham, Alabama, and drove 11 hours to be seen for the first time. The 27-year-old web developer was a reserve defensive back and special teams player for the University of Alabama, Birmingham football team. After years of breathing issues, he had surgery to remove some of his nasal membranes, followed by procedures to investigate his debilitating reflux. Recently, doctors suggested a second surgery on his sinuses, which had grown back. This treatment is his last resort.
Richard M. is ready for his Ring Dinger. The 55-year-old retired Marine has lived a rugged, eventful life — maybe a little too rugged. “I rode bulls, jumped out of airplanes, put everything on my back and walked a hundred miles to kill bad guys,” he says. A few years ago he broke his neck — only he didn’t find out until six months later, when he finally went to a doctor. After surgery to fuse vertebrae, he says, “I was damn near bedridden. I could get up about long enough to hobble to the bathroom, take a leak and then hobble back to the bed or the chair. I was one fouled up individual.”
Tristan W. is ready for his Ring Dinger. The 23-year-old grad student, a former state high school shot-put champion on a track scholarship, was working out in the weight room at Sam Houston University, warming up with 500-pound squats, when he “felt something in my back explode. I hit the ground, and couldn’t move my legs. I thought I was paralyzed.”
And so it goes, four days a week, 48 weeks a year — as many as 40 patients a day. They come from all over the world to see Gregory Eugene Johnson, D.C., and to experience in person his “hard core” Johnson Chiropractic Method and his trademarked “Ring Dinger.”
There is Andrew from Oakland, Bruce from San Diego, Corey from Minnesota, Shelby from North Carolina, Craig from Scotland, Emily from San Jose, Riz from Indonesia, Juan from Costa Rica, Devin from Ireland. There are race car drivers, football players, pro baseball players, Japanese tourists, a former Miss Texas USA, a dancer who could no longer dance, a classical guitar player who could no longer sit for long enough to play, a woman who hadn’t been out of a wheelchair in several years, a man with three failed spinal fusion surgeries. There is even a Swedish chiropractor, with whom he exchanged treatments.
It’s been this way pretty much since 2013, when Johnson’s then 15-year-old son, Gregory Edmund Johnson — a business prodigy who’d just finished helping his dad set up a computer billing system in his new Houston office — suggested he post some videos on YouTube.
From this innocent idea — first uttered in the parking lot of an Office Depot on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2012 — Johnson and his Advanced Chiropractic Relief channel have become a YouTube phenomenon. To date, Johnson has posted more than 2,000 videos of patients receiving treatment. His Ring Dinger compilations (put together by his son) average more than 5 million views each. Office treatments cost $250 for the first visit, $150 thereafter. YouTube ads, Johnson says, bring in well over $20,000 a month — and a steady flow of patients, most of whom have found Johnson on the internet while searching for an answer to their crippling pain. He is the doctor of last resort.
During the month of August, viewers watched 15,084,112 minutes of Johnson’s YouTube videos. Each serves as a demonstration and a testimonial. And each draws a long chain of viewer comments — some laudatory, some lascivious; some fawning, some trollish. Johnson’s fans call themselves Crack Addicts, named for the distinctive pop that often accompanies an adjustment. (Called cavitation, the sound is caused by the release of small pockets of nitrogen gas which become trapped in the synovial fluid surrounding the joints.)
Like the popping of a pimple or of a piece of bubble wrap, the audible Rice Krispies crackle that often accompanies chiropractic adjustments have proven addictive, particularly the effects that accompany a Ring Dinger. The procedure is performed on an antique rig called an Inertial Extensilizer Chiropractic Traction Spinal Decompression Adjusting Table. Made of steel and leather, with brand lettering in a deco-inspired font, the Extensilizer looks like a leftover from the torture chamber of some retro-futuristic dystopian state. With the patient in a supine position, face up, knees elevated, pelvis pinned in place by a pair of foam-sheathed metal rods, Johnson grabs onto the patient’s jaw and the base of the skull (the occipital bone) — the actual hand-hold is a white cotton towel wrapped around the neck — and administers a high-velocity, low-amplitude tug along the Y axis.
There are seven vertebrae in the cervical © spine, 12 vertebrae in the thoracic (T) spine and five vertebrae in the lumbar (L) spine, which sits on top of the sacrum, at the lumbosacral joint. In one motion, Johnson’s Ring Dinger adjusts all 24 freely-moveable vertebrae, from the occiput to the sacrum, C1 to L5.
Upon experiencing a Ring Dinger, which releases adhesions and compressions along the length of the spine (and no small amount of endorphins and adrenaline), some patients laugh uncontrollably, some turn red, some cry, some issue a stream of epithets. One woman peed herself.
“I ain’t pulled off nobody’s head yet,” the 60-year-old Johnson likes to joke in his twangy Midwestern accent, a silver haired six-footer whose blue eyes blaze with his mission, pursued steadfastly since eighth grade: to become the best chiropractor in the world.
Greg Johnson grew up in the land of Honest Abe Lincoln, southern Illinois, a town of 900 called Albion, founded in 1818 by an English sheep breeder and philosopher as a utopian community, with the idea of uplifting the working class. (The founder’s account of his journey was a bestseller at the time in England and other European countries, and probably the highlight of the town’s history.)
Johnson’s dad worked with the oil and gas industry, selling machine parts and engines. His mom stayed home and cared for Greg and his sister. There were 90 students in his high school graduating class, which drew its enrollment from around the countryside. Many lived on farms; the Johnsons, however, lived in town, five minutes from school. There was no McDonald’s, no movie theater, no restaurants. He spent a lot of time in the local pool hall; the game remains a passion, he has a pool room with a fancy black felt table in his north Houston mini-manse. Much of the rest of his time was spent working on his 1976 Mustang Mach 1 351 Cleveland, a classic muscle car with a fastback and dual racing stripes on the hood he bought with the money he made bagging groceries.
Sometime during sixth grade, Johnson was roughhousing with his sister when he fell backwards off the sofa and hit his head on the coffee table, giving him a knot on the head and a stiff neck, but no other obvious effects. Within three months, however, he developed asthma and allergies. “I was supposedly allergic to everything,” he remembers ruefully. “I was given all kinds of medications — cortisone, inhalers, allergy pills, allergy shots twice a week.” But still, he says, “my asthma attacks were so severe, they’d have to take me to the hospital and put me in an oxygen tent and shoot me up full of epinephrine.”
The suffering went on for two years. Then one day his mom met another mom who told her about her own son’s positive experience with a chiropractor. Johnson’s mom decided on a local doc who’d attended the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, known as the Harvard of chiropractic schools. Within a few months of beginning treatment, Johnson says, “all of my symptoms completely went away.”
“Chiropractics saved and changed my life,” Johnson adds, with the same unblinking zeal as his patients. “I’d been planning to become a medical doctor. But from then on, I knew what I was going to do. From the eighth grade all through my freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years in high school, everything I did was geared toward getting into chiropractic college.”
The origin story of chiropractic medicine takes place in the late 1880s, when Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer, a Canadian and a student of metaphysics who moved to the U.S. in 1865 to practice something known at the time as magnetic healing, learned that the janitor who took care of his office building was experiencing hearing loss. Palmer manipulated his spine. The man’s hearing returned.
Later, the janitor’s daughter would offer a slightly different version. According to her, the “spinal manipulation” in question occurred quite by accident, after Palmer joined a group of men outside his office who were listening to the janitor tell a joke. (Though his hearing had become weak, his speaking abilities were fine.) Upon hearing the punchline, Palmer laughed heartily and slapped the janitor on the back, as people will do. A few days later the janitor noticed his hearing had improved.
In either case, based on the treatment of the janitor, and no doubt on observations of his other patients as well, Palmer set out to develop a new healing art. The name he came up with combined the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (to practice) to describe the hands-on therapy central to chiropractic care. Chiropractic is based on the notion that the relationship between the body’s structure (primarily the spine) and its function (as coordinated by the nervous system) affects all matters of health. Palmer believed altered or diminished nerve flow is the cause of all disease, and that misaligned spinal vertebrae are the cause of altered nerve flow, which disturb the signals the brain sends to the body. Palmer believed restoring these vertebrae to their proper alignment would restore health.
In 1897, Palmer opened the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport and started teaching his techniques. By 1902 the school had graduated 15 chiropractors. In 1906, however, Palmer was prosecuted in Iowa for practicing medicine without a license — a reflection of the stigma against the profession that still presides today in mainstream medical and insurance circles.
On principle, Palmer chose to go to jail instead of paying the fine. But after 17 days, he changed his mind and paid. Shortly thereafter, Palmer sold the school to his son, B.J. Palmer, for $2,196.79. As soon as the sale was finalized, D.D. Palmer went to the West Coast, where he helped to found more chiropractic schools in California and Oregon.
An interesting side note is the difficult relationship between D.D. and B.J. Palmer. Their disagreements regarding the direction of the emerging field of chiropractic care were vitriolic. Some people even say B.J. killed D.D. in a desperate act of chiropractic patricide. According to court records, D.D. was marching in a parade in Davenport in August 1913, when he was allegedly struck from behind by a car driven by B.J. Some say his death, on October 20, 1913, was caused by the consequences of his injuries. The official cause, however, was listed as typhoid fever. The courts subsequently exonerated B.J. of any responsibility.
Chiropractic historian Joseph C. Keating, Jr. says the murder story is a “myth” and “absurd on its face.” He cites as evidence the testimony of eyewitnesses who recalled D.D. wasn’t struck by B.J.’s car, but rather, he stumbled in front of it during the course of the parade, and B.J. wasn’t able to stop in time. A tragic accident, Keating concludes.
Some 68 years later, in 1981, a young Gregory E. Johnson graduated cum-laude from Palmer. The degree typically takes three-plus years to complete (ten trimesters with no summer break). Each night before going to sleep, Johnson would write down on a piece of paper 100 times: I am the best chiropractor in the world. Next, he’d read each affirmation, one by one, into a tape recorder. Then he’d play them on a loop over a speaker in his bedroom while he slept.
Johnson had been out of school for about two years when his Ring Dinger was born. As he’ll tell you, he’s the among the truest of all the true believers: “The Ring Dinger changed my life, too,” he says.
Following his graduation from Palmer, Johnson spent a year working as an associate to a chiropractor in Beaumont, Texas, about an hour’s drive east of Houston. Upon completion, Johnson moved to Houston, where he partied it up (in the spirit of the early 1980s) while planning his next move. One day in the summer of 1983, Johnson received a call from a fellow Palmer grad named Russell Janssen. He had a practice in Austin, two and a half hours northwest. “He said, ‘Come on up, I want to show you this new adjustment I learned,’” Johnson says.
At the time, Janssen says when reached by phone, he was working with a management group that promoted the use of the Inertial Extensilizer table, the design of which was adapted from an earlier table with an expired patent. Among other procedures, the table was intended for use with a particular old school chiropractic technique called an automatic priority adjustment, so named because, Janssen says, after such a dramatic manipulation, “the area of the spine with the most fixation is the first to loosen.”
“After he gave me the treatment,” Johnson says, “I flew back to Houston, and I tell you, I couldn’t move. It hurt so bad. I was sore. I had a headache. I said, ‘Man, I’m gonna punch that son of a bitch if he ever tries to do that again.’ That’s the worst possible thing I’ve ever felt.”
But over the next few days, Johnson became aware of something else. Back when he was about 16, Johnson had gone, as he had every year, to the Edwards County Fair in Illinois. While on one of the rides, he came loose from his seat and was slammed back downward by gravity. Since then he’d always had a painful and annoying kink in his mid-back. Once he got to Palmer, he identified the trouble as a compression at the T-12/L1 joints. But no manner of treatment or chiropractic adjustment had ever helped.
“Within a week after Janssen’s treatment,” Johnson says, “I was running around like I was 20 years old again and feeling great. I called him back up, and I said, ‘Hey, can I come back up there and do that adjustment again?’”
As it happened, when Johnson returned, Janssen revealed his plans to move to Clearwater, Florida — he was marrying a female chiropractor and they were starting over down south. “Would you be interested in buying my practice?” Janssen wondered. The Inertial Extensilizer was included in the deal. One week later, Johnson had secured a loan and started practicing the move on patients. As a way of distinguishing his own technique, he decided to call it the Ring Dinger — so named for the carnival game called the High Striker, where you swing a heavy mallet and try to ring the bell. “I figured that’s kind of what it feels like,” Johnson says. “You definitely get your bell rung.” He has since trademarked the name.
Back then, Austin was small but growing, a perfect locale for a man on a mission. In time, Johnson had himself a 6,000 square foot facility, with treatment tables and Extensilizors, as well as full rehab facilities, with the usual equipment and complement of physical therapists. “I had 15 employees at the clinic. I was personally seeing 165 people a day, and I had four other doctors working, too. We did EMGs, all the electro diagnostics — nerve conduction, velocity studies, EKGs, everything. It was a state-of-the-art facility. We were doing like $3.5 million a year in revenues. I believe it was the largest practice in the state of Texas at the time.”
Johnson treated and befriended college and pro athletes, entertainers, cheerleaders and pageant queens. To satisfy his lifelong need for speed, he bought himself a 12 cylinder BMW 850 CSI motorcycle and a 42-foot fountain boat with triple 700 horsepower engines and a top speed of 110 miles an hour on the water. He entertained at his 5,800 square foot custom home on Lake Travis. He dined on occasion with his buddy Jim Maddox, a Texas Attorney General who would later mount an unsuccessful run for governor against Ann Richards. Had Maddox won for governor, Johnson muses, he might have become the first chiropractor ever named surgeon general of a state. “One thing about me, I’ve always been the kind of person who works hard, plays hard, full throttle. There’s never no in-between,” Johnson says.
Perhaps his crowning moment in Austin was the day he revealed his downtown billboard. The photo was taken at Daytona Beach Florida. Johnson and some friends had attended the Daytona 500. Through a patient’s connection, they’d watched the race from the pits with the Budweiser racing team and the trophy girls. Johnson was wearing white shorts, a turquoise tank top and white rimmed sunglasses. The way his buddy took the shot, you could see the ocean in the background and the blue sky. The way the billboard was constructed — according to the doctor’s orders, with extra framing — Johnson’s image was rendered into a large and smiling 3D figure looming over Sixth Street, Austin’s main entertainment drag. “I feel great, so can you!” read the copy.
The stunt brought a ton of publicity. Johnson was featured on local TV and on radio. His practice grew ever larger. Attorney General Maddox showed up at his new facility to cut the ribbon. “At that point it seemed to me there were no limits,” Johnson says. The chiropractor as rock star. It was a tantalizing first taste of fame.
Against this backdrop of mercurial success, Johnson was married. The woman might have been a bit of a party girl. Gregory Edmond Johnson was born in 1997. In fatherhood, Johnson experienced a new kind of joy and mission.
But then the plot turned. The marriage dissolved. An expensive and ugly divorce ensued. The ex was determined to move back home to the Central Valley of California with their son. The court found no reason to stop her.
In 1999, Johnson sold his practice and his remaining adult toys and followed his son to Visalia, California, a small city within the large, fertile agricultural region where the nation grows much of its food. The climate is hot, and the air is often befouled by a pervading aroma of manure. Often, in late fall through early spring, a blanket of impenetrable Tule fog descends and visibility is reduced to zero. Nonetheless: “I wasn’t gonna let Gregory grow up without his daddy,” Johnson says.
Johnson started all over again, opening a solo practice. With a fist full of freshly printed business cards, he went door to door, establishment to establishment. Lucky for Johnson, the region was dominated by the farming and manufacturing industries, where people work hard with their bodies. As business grew and the office became more hectic, Johnson bemoaned the loss of the well-trained staff he once maintained in Austin. He was overworked and on edge. Then suddenly, in early 2002, he noticed there was no money in his work bank accounts.
After some investigation, Johnson discovered the worst. Nobody was stealing. But the employees responsible for billing “were a bunch of lazy deadbeats. They couldn’t keep up with the volume of patients. So they just weren’t filling out claims. A lot of people got free treatment. Or they were printing out the claims, but they weren’t putting them in envelopes to mail out. They were throwing them away in the trash. I got so pissed I fired everybody on my staff,” he says.
Unable to run the office himself — there was a waiting room full of patients to be seen — Johnson put an ad in the Visalia Times. Dozens of people applied. Among them was Renae Taylor. Married and the mother of two grown women, she’d recently taken early retirement from her management job at a grocery chain. After being home for a time, she’d grown bored and wanted to work. “I was definitely the oldest person who applied,” she jokes. “I never thought he’d pick me.”
The interview lasted five hours. “I was trying to make her cry,” Johnson says matter-of-factly. “I even told her that up front. I was trying to weed her out, I was trying to push all the buttons. I didn’t want any more lazy do-nothings working for me. I wanted someone with a work ethic like mine.”
Says Renae: “I told him, ‘Listen, I worked for Albertsons for 26 years and outlived every store director I ever worked for. You’re never going to make me cry.’”
Finally, Johnson thanked Renae for coming in.
She looked at her watch. Then she looked pointedly at Johnson. “I’ve been here five hours. Are you going to hire me or not?”
Renae started the next day. Over the coming years, she never missed a day, never called in sick, was never late. She’d always work late if needed. She handled the money and made the appointments. She was steady a hard worker, with the same kind of mania for detail as Johnson. But where Johnson was gruff and always on a roll, she was personable and beloved by all.
The two grew close, work spouses in the best way. Whenever young Gregory came to the office, he’d go immediately behind the reception desk and hug Renae around the neck. She’d help him with his homework and feed him a snack while his dad was seeing patients. Over time, Johnson says, he found himself falling in love with Renae. As an observant Christian, however, he respected the sanctity of her marriage — even if he believed, from what he’d seen and heard over the years, that it was on shaky ground.
Then one day in 2006, Renae came to work and it was obvious she’d been crying. Her husband had left. They’d been married 24 years. There were two grandchildren. “Well good riddance to him,” Johnson said.
It was a few minutes before 9 a.m. on a weekday morning, just before the office doors were due to open. “I’ve loved you for a couple of years,” Johnson confessed, gripping the formica top of the reception desk with his large and muscular hands. “Now your husband has walked out, I’m making my move. I’m not wasting any time.”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” she said, drying her eyes. “Let me pray on it.”
For the next year, the couple abstained from intimate relations while they went through pre-marital counseling with the pastor of their church. “The hardest damn thing I’ve ever done,” Johnson says.
They were wed in 2007. In 2010, they got full custody of Gregory. In 2012, they headed back to Texas to start all over again.
On an average day, the tenth floor waiting room at Advanced Chiropractic Relief is a strange admixture of emergency room, cocktail party and the line outside a live filming of a popular television show. Presided over by Renae Johnson, who keeps the coffee pot filled and the side table stocked with small bottles of water — Johnson recommends drinking at least two gallons a day — patients visit with each other while waiting their turns. Many are accompanied by friends who tag along to see Johnson in person. Each time he ducks his head into the room to pick up the next patient, the excitement level rises palpably. Combined with the ragged energy of chronic pain, a jangled sort of carnival atmosphere prevails. Like a prayer gathering of evangelicals or an evening meeting of 12 steppers, every person who comes to see Johnson has their own testimonial.
When Richard M. came for his first treatment, “I was pretty fouled up. I was down to one bullet and a broken bayonet. It was looking pretty grim. My neck was tighter than a dick’s hat.” But after his treatment, Richard says, “I left out of here wanting to go find a beer joint and get into a bar fight. I felt good. Hadn’t felt like that in years.” Now Richard feels so good he’s heading back to Iraq as a “private contractor.”
Vanessa J. saw two different surgeons after being smashed from behind by a vending machine supply truck. “The neck surgeon told me I needed surgery real bad. But he also said there was a 33 percent chance I’d be paralyzed and a 33 percent chance that I’d die from the surgery.” She decided to have a fusion in her lower back instead. One year later, after her fall in the shower, she started Googling. She found Johnson’s channel almost immediately. “I watched video after video after video. I literally ran my battery down to where I had to plug it in to keep watching it. There was this one guy, he’d had surgery from his neck all the way down his back, almost the whole length. I was like, Well holy hell, if Dr. Johnson can help him, I know he can help me. Now she drives three to five hours every week for an appointment. Recently, she brought her daughter, a military vet.
Rickey H. had no idea he even needed chiropractic. Even though chiropractors can’t officially say they treat ailments other than musculoskeletal, when Rickey Googled his list of sinus and digestive symptoms, he, too, found Johnson. During the first treatment, Johnson found a misalignment in his rib cage — probably the result of some hits he made and took as a football player. “The whole point was my ribcage was misaligned, so the right side of my nostrils were inflamed because of the compression, which was forcing my left side to do more. I’d get headaches, I’d get migraines, it was hard to breathe at night. As soon as I had my treatment, for the first time in years, I felt like I could breathe like a normal person would. It’s amazing what you take for granted.”
Rickey has recently moved to Detroit, where he took a job with Quicken Loans as an applications developer. As soon as he has the time off, he’s planning return to Houston to take advantage of one of Johnson’s special treatment packages. Most of the out-of-towners do the same — two treatments a day for four days. There’s a hotel across the street from the office that offers a pool, workout room and a discount to Johnson’s patients.
Six-foot-one, 280-pound Tristan Wendt plays center on the Sam Houston State University Bearkats football team while earning his masters degree in advanced kinesiology. Back in 2015, he was a sophomore shot putter when he blew out his back doing squats. For a few frightening minutes, he seriously thought he was paralyzed. The diagnosis was a herniated disc between L-4 and L-5. He ended up getting two rounds of epidural injections of steroids. When that didn’t work, doctors started talking about surgery. That’s when Wendt found Johnson on YouTube.
“The Ring Dinger is what got me. It honestly hurt like hell the first time because the herniation was so bad. But I laid there for a few seconds and took a couple deep breaths, and all of a sudden, I got tingling down my leg, like the nerve engergy flowing back. The pain started to let off. Suddenly I could feel my leg better; I could feel my toes better; I could feel my back relaxing. I was honestly amazed.”
By spring he felt so much better, Wendt started talking to coaches about walking onto Sam Houston’s varsity football team. By junior year he was backing up an All-American center. More importantly, he’d decided on a life’s path: This past summer, while awaiting the start of his master’s program and his last season of football eligibility, Wendt worked as an intern in Johnson’s office. He shot many of the videos seen on YouTube recently, reducing Renae’s workload. Next year he’ll be attending Palmer College of Chiropractic. The plan is for him to return after his third year of classroom work for his required preceptorship before board exams.
After that — well, Johnson has big plans for everyone.
At noon on a Friday afternoon, Gregory E. Johnson, Your Houston Chiropractor, is
hauling ass down the highway in his brand new, Arctic White, supercharged Corvette ZO6, which he’s affectionately named the Ring Dinger — a discreet logo has been stenciled on the back. A radar detector pings occasionally as we head toward a shooting range, where we’ll link up with young Gregory to pop off some rounds. Now 21, he’s pursuing a master of finance at a local university.
Early in their working relationship, Renae began calling her future husband, affectionately, the Tasmanian Devil. On days off, he’s full of the same energy as days on — the kind of guy who keeps moving until he stops, and then immediately falls asleep, only to wake up early the next morning, ready to do it all over again. Over the past year, with the increased patient load, he’s lost 30 pounds.
With the rush of patients lately — they recently had a record 50 in one day — Johnson’s three days off are sacrosanct, filled with his favorite non-chiropractic things: golf, family, firearms, the occasional steak-and-lobster dinner at his fave restaurant (Taste of Texas) and movies on the home theater system in the bedroom, where he sleeps on his back, without a pillow under his head, and with pillows stacked under his knees, as he instructs his patients. Several of the family’s five cats are usually in attendance.
More and more lately, people have begun to recognize Johnson in the streets and in stores. Some have stopped by his office just for a selfie (the attention was cool at first, but now he won’t do it, there isn’t time in the day). With his distinctive voice and unabashedly folksy style, his videos are strangely captivating — like eating peanuts, as they say in the country. Maybe it’s the thrilling pop of cavitation. Maybe it’s the empathetic sensation of sharing vicariously someone’s quasi-orgasmic release of pain. Or maybe it’s the doctor himself: His infectious, deer-in-the-headlights sincerity; his palpable need to promulgate his mission; the way he coaxes each video-taped patient through their testimony like a preacher at a tent revival.
Or maybe it’s the way he has of stepping forward, jabbing his right index finger toward the iPhone-on-a-stick camera and saying, “This is Greg Johnson, your Houston chiropractor.”
The stepping-forward-and-pointing tip was given to him by a Hollywood reality show producer, a way to “make an impression on people when you first engage them.” The producer was hot to make a reality show around the Doc, the practice and the Ring Dinger. But Johnson decided the show was a bad idea — the producer wanted conflict; he wants happy patients. So he didn’t do the show, but he kept the routine. “I say, ‘I’m your Houston chiropractor,’ because it makes the viewer feel like I’m already their guy. They’re getting that sensation of ‘Wow, that’s my chiropractor right there. I know he can help me.’”
As he likes to say: “I treat every patient like they’re my own family or Jesus Christ himself.”
The Corvette is his newest preoccupation — a nod to the thrilling days back in Albion when he used to street race his Mach 1. Right around the time of his 60th birthday, he went to the Chevy dealer to buy a new truck. “But then I saw that Corvette on the showroom floor, and I go, ‘To hell with the truck!’” He had plans to drag race her tonight at the Houston Motorsports Park, but officials demanded he be equipped with a racing helmet. One has been ordered in Arctic White, to go with the car. The Ring Dinger logo — rendered in a playful script, with a spinal cord adjoining the Gs in both words — will also figure prominently.
To be fair, Johnson didn’t have the logo created just for the car. The logo is part of a much bigger picture. Now that he’s achieved his youthful goal of being the best chiropractor in the world — or at least the best chiropractor in the world as depicted and acknowledged by YouTube — Johnson has turned to bigger things.
First, he wants to teach the Johnson Chiropractic Method to a larger audience of chiropractors, something he hopes will help him achieve his second and more challenging goal: To convince the world that chiropractic is just as legitimate a healing art as any of the other medical sciences. As D.D. Palmer postulated, Johnson says he has proven time and again: Many more health problems can be helped by chiropractic manipulation than is currently believed by mainstream science, and more importantly, by insurance companies.
And so, the Ring Dinger logo was commissioned to be used on a specially crafted line of Ring Dinger Spinal Decompression Tables, modeled upon the old Inertial Extensilizer, which is no longer produced. The tables will retail for about $7,500.
The first tables will roll off the assembly line soon. A strategy is in place: In four years, after Tristan Wendt passes his boards, he will take over the patient load while Johnson concentrates on lecturing and sales of the table. By that time, Johnson figures, young Gregory will have his masters and will continue to oversee the financial aspects of the practice and invest earnings, as he already does.
“At that point we’ll be ready to take over the world — or at least to take a vacation,” Johnson cackles, blue eyes ablaze. He mashes his foot on the gas and the Corvette responds, pinning our heads back against the leather seats.