It stood there gleaming in the reflection of the Christmas lights in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods, a silver Beamer. Right there, in the middle of the mall with a big sign promoting “Win this Car”. A stand with a black plexiglass box stood next to the car with a pad of entry forms attached at the top. I had a pen in my breast pocket so, what the heck, I filled out a form, crumpled it up and dropped in the box. I had once been told to bend or scrumch up an entry giving it a better chance to rise to the top. I totally forgot about it until I received a call from the nicest tell-a-marketer letting me know my name had been drawn from the pool of entries and although I hadn’t won yet I was still in the running. He told me how lucky I was I was one of two people they had drawn that week and put into the pool of finalists for the car. The contest still had another eighteen months to run before the winner of the car would be selected but in the meantime I was eligible for four three day two night stays at any of six hundred hotels around the country for two adults and two kids plus a fifty dollar gift card and a thirty dollar voucher for dinner at Olive Garden for each of the four trips. Wow! All of this would be mine if I agreed to tour one of their Wyndham resorts. Okay, I saw the hook and I bought it, hook, line and sinker. We set a day and time for my tour. I figured I didn’t have a whole lot to lose as long as I could remain strong enough to just say no to whatever they intended to sell me, and then I would have access to some very needed mini-getaways.
The day before my tour the Wyndham people sent me a confirmation letter with directions to the resort and a list of things I needed to bring along including a valid driver’s license and a major credit card or checkbook. The confirmation was sent as a text document to my email. When it arrived the definition of fine print became very clear, or unclear, since the type was so small I had to hit the enlarge button four times before I could make out what it said. Tucked into all this fine type was the information telling me I would have to agree to a two-hour session explaining the wonderful Wyndham time-share plan. I could have bailed right then and there but since I had time on my hands I decided to go ahead with their offer.
The day of the tour I drove from Madison to Wisconsin Dells, about fifty-five miles. I needed to be at the Wyndham at Glacier Canyon Resort at nine-thirty am. It was one of those beautiful Midwest winter mornings with clear skies. The tree branches remained coated with a thin layer of ice and with the early morning sun shimmered like crystal spires out of a bed of blue marshmallow fluff. The parking lot at Glacier Canyon was plowed into a rat’s maze and littered with salt and sand encrusted cars all looking very abandoned. When I walked inside my cynicism heightened with all the timeshare signage that cluttered the otherwise rustic cabin appeal of the lodge. I was immediately directed to a bland yellow stairwell and told to take the elevator to the third floor. The reception area for the timeshare tour was as bland as the stairwell had been. I was the first one there. I think I even arrived before the director, but promptly at nine thirty the director entered and the elevator opened for a second time depositing a half dozen additional responders, each one looking like an easy mark for the persuasive marketers. I felt the bond of a group of people enticed by a set of free vacations all in need of our lucky to change.
Once I had shown my driver’s license and credit card, DJ, a muscular pug of a guy with face covered in stubble, a big bright smile and a bone crushing handshake came out with his hand extended to greet me . His exuberance was the kind seen by football players making their entrance onto the field as thousands of fans screamed him on.
“Come on Lee, let’s get out of here and find out some stuff about YOU!" Make me a star. I was becoming putty in his hands.
DJ’s first set of questions covered the basics: age, occupation (I lied, well I only half lied – the occupation was true I’m just not practicing at the moment) children, wife (no, I have a partner), address, like I said – the basics. Then things got a bit more interesting. It turned into this free association game. Quick!
“Name your favorite vacation spot.” “Tuscany” “Which state is that in?”
“If you could go anywhere for a vacation that you haven’t been to before what would be your top four?choices?”
“Prague, Budapest, New Zealand, and Scotland” I’ve never been to Eastern Europe and if DJ was going to give me free rein I was going to go for it.
I had just moved myself into a VIP prospect in DJ’s eyes. I could see the dollar signs swimming behind his baby blues. With the questions ended, It was time to look at the rooms. Now he thought he really had me hooked, sumptuously overdone rooms in a mishmosh of styles all with that overdone and oversized look, the kind of design that would have mass appeal. I gave him a fake, "Aww". Then it was back to the inquisition table and explanation of the plan.
DJ did it justice: no one week a year at the same location, no black-out dates, when it’s paid for you own it and can will it your kids and they can will it to theirs, the list of benefits went on and on. VIP membership…a mere sixty thousand dollar entry fee paid out at $642 a month for the next ten years.
“Let me get my manager,”and in came Bob. Where DJ was your jeams and tight polo shirt kind of guy, Bob was the suit, but not in a good way. The suit was off, his shirt wasn’t pressed and when he smiled it was with the yellow teeth of a long-time smoker all before the age of twenty-eight.
“I know the intro fee might feel a bit high so here’s what I’m prepared to do today. We’ll give you the same amount of points so you can have the VIP membership but we’ll knock the price down to forty-five thousand if you sign up today. I can tell you do a lot of high-end traveling. DJ can get the paperwork going right now.”
The pressure was on and my knees were getting weak. The guilt of having to tell them “no” was weighing on my resolve.
Snap out of it Lee!
After I graciously said, “Thank you, but no”, Bob swallowed his smile, whipped out his black marker and signed off on my form.
“You need to hand this to the lady at the table over there to get your release.”, no good-bye, no handshake, only the back of his ill-fitting suit as he moved on to his next potential timeshare conquest.
“Hi, let me see your form. You were shown the rooms? I need to ask you some questions about your tour today. How would you rate DJ on a scale of one to five, five being high and one being low.”
“He was a four.” He really was a four. When we weren’t talking about the resort and timeshares we talked about the cost of living in New York as opposed to the costs in Wisconsin. He kept shaking his head over that one.
“I see you weren’t interested in the VIP offer. Did they explain our trial offer. You can try out the plan for a very reduced price and then if you find you like it you can apply the cost to a real membership.”
“No, I really don’t think this is the way we travel but thanks for all of your gracious offers.”
Please take this to the receptionist for your free vacation package.
I made it out with my vacation certificate in hand. I did it. I said, “NO” to every offer and I got my freebie. Well I though I did, until I read the fine print: Fill in the form below and mailing to the above address within the next seven days with your good faith deposit of $100 in certified check or money order. Your vacations must be taken at least thirty days apart and completed within the next twelve months if any of these requirements are not met you will lose your deposit and be fined at the rate of….
Nothing in life is free