Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FOMONomad Las Vegas: Our Timeshare Adventure

Matt and I just got back from Las Vegas. I will write about it once I've recovered, but in the mean time, here's Matt telling the story of the time we thought it was a great idea to go to go to a timeshare presentation in exchange for discount show tickets, gambling money, and passes to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

One by one we suckers crammed into a large "limo-van" which was actually a somewhat tricked out version of the yellow short bus kids would take to elementary school. Aboard were various couples who looked like contestants on The Amazing Race. The kindly hicks from the styx (I say this being a proud hick from a very lousy stick). The young skinheads. The foreigners. The Minnesota Vikings fans. And your humble narrator and the blogger of his dreams. Like the rest of them, Anna and I were in it solely for the promise of $150 in cash and prizes, donuts, free coffee, and some laughs in that order. Not a single passenger on the bus-of-the-damned for even a single moment envisioned actually getting a timeshare.

The blue jacketed flim flam artists promised that the "time share of our dreams" (TSOOD) was located conveniently on the Las Vegas Strip. The first hint that this was a lie was when we drove right past the strip to the highway. One by one, the casinos all sped by -- the Bellagio, then the Monte Carlo, then New York New York, then Mandalay Bay, and yet we moved farther and farther away. Finally past the seedy motels, past empty fields, past Jack in the Box, past 7-11, past tumbleweeds and the OK Corral was ... another casino. We still weren't there. Some of us looked out the window anxiously, wondering if we'd ever return.

Well, we finally arrived at the headquarters, where we were filed into a large, sterile lobby. Sitting at desks with phony smiles was the cast of "1984."

Each of the couples sat in chairs waiting for our personal minder to arrive. Yes, each couple was assigned a handler whose job apparently was to keep us awake during the presentation, encourage us to eat donuts, and find whatever tenuous comparisons they could between them and us to make a faux connection. In this case, Anna and I were lucky. Because our handler/minder/Svengali was awesome. His name was Lee.* He once played for Penn State football.* He played pro football.* He keeps in contact with Joe Paterno at least two or three times a year.* He loves Timeshares.* (Asteriks = unverified information).

Mostly I liked Lee because he cheated during the slideshow presentation by whispering the answers to me whenever our scary moderator asked a question.

Which brings us to a woman named Jacqueline.* Jacqueline was a bewitching combination of Oprah, Tyra Banks, and Mussolini. The only reason I threw Tyra Banks in the mix was because Jacqueline told us her dream was to be a supermodel in Paris.* Our Oprah-lini never achieved her dream of being a model in Europe but you know what? -- Jacqueline liked to ask questions that she then answered herself -- she finally realized that with the time share deal she was actually living her dream after all. She truly was a model. A role model. (Get it?) She was a role model for all of us entering the fabulous world of buying a piece of an apartment building for one week a year at the same amount as it would cost to buy a regular house in most of America which we could live in all year round. If this doesn't make sense to you, Jacqueline wouldn't like you.

Anyway, Jacqueline asked for a volunteer to serve as her trained monkey and write buzz words on an easel with a felt tip marker. Before anyone's hand could go up, our own Anna Sproul was at the board, felt tip marker in hand. Jacqueline asked all of us why we went on vacations. With the exception of "pictures" -- Anna's answer -- most people said what you'd expect: family, fun, getting away from it all, spending time with friends, blah blah.

Then Jacqueline told us that Time magazine has proven that if we don't take vacations we will all die sooner. Then she said Harvard Medical School said something about how if we don't take vacations we'll get divorced. Or maybe that was the other way around. In any case, Jacqueline's point was get a time share or your wife will leave you and you'll be dead in a year.

At this point, Jacqueline made us all introduce ourselves and make up reasons why we were there other than the obvious aforementioned cash and prizes. She then called us by our nametags -- which I had to be cheerfully told to wear three times before I complied. Jacqueline loved calling people by their names as if we were friends and it wasn't obvious she was reading the tags. Then she came around to me. Looking at my name tag -- marked MATT -- she then said, "Pat, tell us why you've gone on vacation." Lee*, noticing a grievous breach of etiquette, immediately shouted out my correct name. Jacqueline looked as if she were about to be fired. Rule #1 of swindling people is to get their name right. So Jacqueline proceeded to call me Matt about three times to prove that she knew it.

At this point Jacqueline then told a long-winded story about how she met her husband, VJ,* on Match.com.* And yadda yadda yadda he almost died a year after they married because they didn't have a time share, or something like that. While everyone in the audience shifted uncomfortably, Jacqueline instantly produced tears that oddly did not fall, cracked her voice in just the right spots, and told us that she practically ran up and down the corridors of her husband's hospital room*, shouting, "Why didn't we take more vacations?? WHY??? WHY?!!!!" Her only goal in life is that each of us don't meet that same cruel fate and nearly lose a loved one because we didn't join a Time share.

So to summarize, if we did not buy a time share, we would die early, divorce our spouse, and then lose a loved one in a hideous accident after meeting them on the Internet. Not a single person in the audience: a) bought this story, b) believed Jacqueline's tears were real or c) showed any signs of emotion. Anna called this part of the presentation "exploitative." I ate my muffin (maple iced). Lee* was zoned out, trying to find out if Dallas won in the playoffs (which he repeatedly reminded us was going on at that very moment).

Total number of time shares bought at this point: ZERO.
Total number of snack foods I've digested: one donut (Bear claw)

Then Jacqueline informed us she was going to take a break so a very special guest could talk to us -- THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE RESORT CONSORTIUM THAT OWNS THE TIMESHARE SCAM. I of course was immediately offended. The Vice President? Where on earth was the President?

Then Lee*, in one of the best moments of the afternoon, motioned to the door behind us with a sort of "ta-da" gesture. With excitement, I turned to look for the Vice President to appear before us. He did not. Lee* laughed. Instead the Vice President appeared on a film, with hair courtesy of Grandpa Munster. He said something to the effect of: "Greetings Person or Persons. Buy my time share and I willl come have a picnic with you because we are all one big happy family at Time Share Co, a subsidiary of Scams R Us, in affiliation with the makers of Pet Rocks." Exit the Vice President.

Then Jacqueline, who managed to compose herself from her one second long emotional outburst, walks around and hands each of us piles of Monopoly money. Did you know, she asked herself, that the average family will spend $70,000 in their lifetime on "RENTING" a vacation? You can instead BUY your vacation at a nominal rate with a time share and actually make money. That's right -- the time share people are doing you a favor. A few minutes later, inexplicably, she takes our piles of money back. We've learned nothing. Anna asked Jacqueline how the money was denominated since there was no number on them, just dollar signs. Jacqueline did not appreciate being asked a question she did not pose herself.

Then suddenly, she asks herself, have you ever heard about the high-pressure sales pitches for a time share? Well, those don't happen here. If this isn't for you, no problem. This deal is too good to be true and if you don't want to make piles of money while on a vacation by buying a time share, then that's your choice, stupid.

Number of people buying a timeshare after ONE HOUR: still zero,
Number of items I've now eaten: 3 donuts, one large muffin, and half of a turkey sandwich.

Finally, Jacqueline ended the presentation by asking each couple to commit to a lifetime of vacations. We were forced -- yes, forced -- to look the other person in the eye and solemnly swear to take a vacation together once a year. Then Jacqueline, who suddenly became oddly animated, required each of us to "Seal that promise with a kiss" while she watched. One couple in front of us, who clearly had been married for a decade, steadfastly refused to make either the promise or seal it with a kiss. Jacqueline insisted. They refused. She insisted. The wife seemed about to relent. The husband sat motionless. No kiss. No seal. No deal.

Then after making sure the rest of us didn't cop out of it, she dismissed us so that our minders could escort us on a tour of our future time shares. Lee* took us around with the enthusiasm of a man doing the same job for 30 years. He claimed his time share somehow allowed him to travel to Paris for $300 and that we could stay in a castle in Ireland for about $168. We'd get free car rentals.* Half-price plane tickets.* Lunch with Cher.* Whatever.

Anna and I took the obligatory tour without much enthusiasm. We played along with our cover story that we were actually thinking of buying. At one point, we mentioned that one of our mothers would really enjoy visiting us here. Lee's eyes perked up. Then we walked into the bathroom and saw a framed photo of Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture. It was a curious photo, since Randy wrote a book about living life as if you were dying -- and then died. Lee seemed to have no idea of who Randy Pausch was, why were were talking about him or why any of this was ironic.

Finally after the tour, Lee had some other tough guy come over to brow beat us into buying a time share. Each time we said no the price went down. From $50,000 to $39,000 to $29,000 and then somehow to $3000 with some complicated ownership of half of a unit on alternate weekends or something. It made no sense. After four hours, they finally heard our "no." So we got sent to another room to redeem our cash and prizes, whereupon we were offered yet another super duper deal that was something like $1500.

So after turning Lee down, then turning down the hot shot sales guy who then insulted us for having the nerve to just come to the presentation in the hope of getting the cash prizes we were offered, we then turned down yet another person. And finally, finally got our prizes and were packed back on the bus to return to the casinos. And boy did I have a lot of time on my hands writing all this down.

The End?

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