(The following essay is 100% true, and I’m banking on it to get me a writing job. Critique away in the comments section!)
“Time Sharing Is Sharing Time” – By: Ryan Z.
I couldn’t believe my ears.
The loud man on the other end of my phone was trying to explain it all to me nice and slowly. Apparently, while waiting for a veggie sub at Cousin’s last week, my wife had dropped her name into a drawing to win four round-trip tickets to almost anywhere on the continent. Today was our lucky day, and I was skeptical.
You see, today is never my lucky day. It just doesn’t work that way. My name (or my wife’s name for that matter), doesn’t get chosen from a rotating plexi-glass drum for any reason whatsoever. Not for money, not for a vehicle, not even for a car wash. My streak of mediocrity and sheer immunity to good luck was something that my wife knew about long before she married me, and it was beyond me why she even exerted the energy to fill out the contest card. Nonetheless, the loud man assured me that her name had been drawn and the tickets were ours to pick up.
“Oh, just one more thing,” the loud man said, as I braced myself for the impact. “All you have to do to claim your tickets is sit through a 90-minute presentation on the benefits of timeshare ownership. Sound good to you?”
It most certainly did not sound good to me, but it wasn’t my decision to make. I put my wife on the phone, and six days later we were on our way to the Fairfield Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.
The game plan was simple, and we rehearsed it for the entire drive there. We were going to smile and nod, politely refuse, collect our tickets and get the hell out of there. The official letter clearly stated that there was no obligation to buy, and if we just stood out ground, we’d be the proud new owners of nothing but four free tickets to Honolulu.
The trick to “winning” these contests has nothing to do with folding your entry card asymmetrically, so it has a better chance of being snagged. The big thing is that insignificant box that impolitely asks you what your annual income is. The higher the digits, the more phone calls you’ll receive. They don’t want to pitch timeshares to people who can’t afford them, so make sure you check the highest box every time. Sure, they’ll run a credit check just to keep you honest (and ask you about fifteen times), but sometimes it’s just funny to screw with them a little bit.
We arrived there a little early, made a solemn vow not to sign anything, and entered the building with our checkbooks and credit cards safely back in the glove compartment.
The second we opened the doors, we were hit with an atmosphere of psychological warfare the likes of which I had never seen. The XM Satellite radio station was cranked to a specific station that played nothing but “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang, and the room was so cold I couldn’t help but dance. I glanced at my watch to see if the 90 minutes were over yet, as young businessmen laughed loudly and high-fived in front of a huge dry-erase board full of sales figures. I was already more than happy to give up the free tickets just to go home.
“Bill” was the salesman handpicked just for us (the single black woman in front of us got the only black salesman in the building, the elderly couple got the elderly one, and we got the youngest). Bill had massive, Kip Winger-esque teeth that probably made the “ting” sound when he smiled, had it not been for the loud disco music drowning it out. His breath was minty-fresh, his handshake was firm and he knew exactly where we were coming from.
“I know exactly where you’re coming from!” Bill yelled from across the table. Why wouldn’t he? We had been friends for 15 seconds now, and he made me feel right at home. “Coffee?!” he screamed, as I kindly declined. For the next 45 minutes, we talked about absolutely nothing. Bill used this time to establish some sort of bond by asking us questions that were none of his business. He would later use the answers to these questions to try to snare us into writing him a $30,000 check.
To his credit, Bill certainly knew what he was doing. When he realized that I wasn’t budging, he began to ignore me and talk solely to my wife. I would chime in with a good reason as to why a timeshare wasn’t for us, and he would cut me off in mid-sentence and ask her how she felt about it. When she became aloof and indecisive, he pounced on her, pummeling her with loaded questions and double talk. He would berate her until I was inches from taking a swing at him, then he would turn his focus back to me, allowing her to catch her breath and leaving me disoriented for the next round of interrogation. He was putting up a good fight, and I respected him for not going easy on us young newlyweds.
After the first question-and-answer round, we were whisked away to a screening room to view a short movie about the timeshares in question. The movie was nothing more than paid testimonies from people who could obviously afford something as useless as a timeshare. They hit you with every demographic, ethnicity and excuse in the book. In one testimony, a single mother sat on a couch with her 3 young children. “The world isn’t secure anymore,” she said as she held her kids tightly to her. “I just like to have something in my life that’s secure.” If that wasn’t jaw-droppingly awful enough, the last one did me in for sure. An elderly couple was talking about how they were going to include the timeshare in their will, as to “pass on a legacy to their children”. Sandwiched in between these bleary-eyed confessionals was stock footage of couples enjoying the good life together (walking on the beach, snowmobiling, siding a house), most of which I had remembered seeing used in a commercial for personal lubricant some years ago. The video concluded and I wanted to vomit, but there was plenty more to see on the tour.
It should be noted that at no time during this sales pitch did we ever give Bill the slightest inclination that we were going to buy anything from him. There was many times where I thought he was going to throw in the towel, especially all those instances when I said “We have no intention to purchase anything here today.” Bill just smiled, swayed to KC & the Sunshine Band, and took us to the next leg of the tour.
Finally, 155 minutes after we arrived, we got down to business. He laid everything out on the table for us, and played his trump card. He showed us a cartoon image of a small, crowded hotel room, complete with unhappy, crowded people. Next to that there was a cartoon image of a large, sprawling timeshare, complete with happy, sprawling people. He showed us the prices in comparison, and tapped his pen impatiently onto the cartoons, making it clear how insane he thought we were for turning down such a money-saving opportunity. As we had discussed in the car, we politely told him that we liked the crowded hotel room better.
Bill had finally run out of replies. There was no way he could argue against something so completely ludicrous. He looked up at us like we had sprouted extra arms and legs, and watched his commission evaporate. Ever the professional, he told us that we had “decided to file our future under the word ‘someday’”. He composed himself and shook our hands, crumpling the paper and throwing it over his shoulder in a huff he had used on hundreds of others.
Five minutes later we were clutching our free plane tickets.
On the way back home, we couldn’t help but feel a little bad for people like Bill. Even though he would just move on to the next group of suckers and forget our names, we felt a bit guilty for making him work for two hours to no avail. Come to think of it, timeshare ownership certainly is a money-saving opportunity. Maybe we were too closed-minded to see the true value in what he was selling. Maybe we’ll go back there someday and listen with a more open ear.
Forget it, I’m going to Hawaii.
(We’re headed up to Green Bay on Friday night. We’ll talk again on Saturday.)