How I turned into a time-share sucker
October 26, 2005
My family and I just got back from Sedona, Ariz., land of pinon-juniper forest, redrock spires and vortexes said to be spiritual. The only vortex we found, though, was the one our credit card number went into.We headed down to the self-proclaimed “New Age” capital of the West, thanks to a friend who gave us a free three-day stay at a resort. All we had to do was sit through a short sales pitch for the time-share program.Our show began at 9 a.m. on the second day of our stay. Along with another dozen-or-so freeloading couples, we were herded into a room with expansive windows looking over a courtyard backed by the area’s trademark sandstone monoliths. As we entered into the room, each couple was ushered by a sales person to a small, round table. Once there, like an orchestrated military movement, the sales pitches began all at once.Our personal sales agent was Travis. He was a nice guy. Young. Intense. Good at what he did. And what he did was for an hour-and-a-half make us understand why we, as a traveling family, would be morons and child abusers for not buying into this program. He then brought out a personal photo album of him and his pretty fiancee in Hawaii on their own recent time-share excursion.”Don’t you want to spend quality time with your kids?” he concluded with the sincerity and intensity of a minister.Yes. I did. Right then, in fact. But our kids were back in the room gorging themselves on sodas, snacks and TV. Around me, chatter filled the room, dense and energetic. “Buy today … buy today … buy today.”Buy today, Travis continued, urging us, doing us a huge favor, because there were extras being offered right now and only now; in fact if we were to leave this room, the only thing we’d ever again be eligible for was the standard package at the retail rate. Corks popped around us as other couples signed on the dotted line and celebrated with little bottles of champagne.It may have been the excellent and endless free coffee setting fire to my cerebral cortex, but … there was an alluring reasoning unfolding here. At its best, this time-share deal seemed a brilliant, albeit for-profit, worldwide commune, a kind of capitalistic socialism for travelers.Of course, at its worst, it was $14,000 worth of advance hotel reservations. But Sarah and I couldn’t get enough space to discuss these concerns because Travis kept interrupting our deliberations with sweeteners: Two free airline tickets? A free week of lodging? No fees the first year? And more coffee?Our kids called our cell phone. How much longer would we be?”Just a few minutes,” I whispered gruffly into the phone, feeling the “average to high stress” Travis had scribbled secretly, yet clearly, on the top of the interview form, about us, I assumed.”They sound like great kids,” Travis cooed, as I pocketed the phone and sat back down.It sounds insane now, but before we left that room we put a fat deposit on our credit card. Actually it sounded insane then, too. And so that night was one of tense, awkward hours filled with a mildly psychotic blend of giggling and soft whimpering. Finally, we called a lawyer friend who, after he stopped laughing, did some quick research and found that Arizona has a seven-day contract rescission law, just for suckers like us. It should even be written into the contract, he added.We looked again. It was. Right above our signature.Right then I understood how old folks get swindled out of their savings. How kids get sucked into cults. How 25 years earlier I had gotten conned out of my money after only 15 minutes in New York City. How skilled salespeople make their living.Still, it’s hard to blame Travis and his time-share shilling compatriots. We signed the contract, willingly, earnestly. I’ll admit that I even feel some admiration for Travis. He was good at what he did. And I know my wife and I learned some helpful, important lessons about ourselves and the big scary world out there.Given those positives, maybe this predatory hard-selling has a function in natural selection. Maybe these time-share sales people are like hyenas or dingoes, performing their own Darwinian culling of the dumb, the weak and the confused from the economic herd, and thereby strengthening the survivors.Maybe. All I know is, I hope my wife and I evolved.Ken Wright is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes from Durango, Colo.