Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Our new career
The culture of "Cabo" is a culture of tourism--and more specifically of hustling, scamming, repossessing excess. We became participant observers. Innocently stopping to ask for directions at one of the many "Tourist Information" booths near the marina, we found ourselves persuaded to visit a time share on the beach. The sidewalk promoter, thinking of his commission, cheerfully supplied us with a hotel name--Mar de Cortez--and fake room numbers. But first he needed to know: "Are you legally married?" At this time share, like most of those we encountered, being a heterosexual married couple was a prerequisite for receiving the bounty to follow. In exchange for listening to what turned out to be a three-hour sales pitch, we would receive free breakfast, a discounted parasailing session, and the use of time share pools and hot tubs for the remainder of the day. A large portion of my brain now circling around the fantastical image of a hot shower, I requested that the afternoon include shower access. I didn't get a shower that day. How little we knew of what was possible.
We attended the time share presentation and made serious faces. The software engineer grabbed the calculator and began figuring amortized interest, or something like that. The former psychologist for Intel critiqued the salesman's presentation and offered helpful suggestions. I posed incisive questions about investment value. And what would happen, I asked, if we destroyed all the furniture? Would we really "own" the time share, as the company claimed? My attempt to theorize the limits of time-share ownership was met with undisguised alarm.
At the Villa del Arco we first encountered the startling practice of popping champagne corks in celebration of a sale. The room erupting in applause. The slightly sheepish looks on the faces of the new "owners." The legal minutae to follow--free drinks could hardly be an accident.
One time share led to another. After refusing the closer, who followed the first salesperson to offer still cheaper deals, we were directed to a room where our "prizes" would be distributed. An exuberant Mexican woman, who announced, "I stink!" (after taking care of her new grandchild) directed us to the hotel she worked for. "This breakfast is ok," she said, "but the breakfast at my hotel is really, really good!" We also obtained guarantees of a free snorkeling cruise, a trip to "Lover's Beach" in a glass-bottom boat, and a Mexican blanket.
But these paled in comparison with our next windfall. After listening to the pitch of a salesman whose dream was to spend a night in Dracula's castle and debating with him the existence of ghosts; ducking as one of us almost killed a woman with a golf ball on the indoor virtual driving range; and observing a hot tub that swirled like a toilet, we sat down to negotiate with our prizegiver Zoraida. Her final offer: $450 in gift certificates at her time share/hotel's restaurants and a hot shower (at last!), in addition to the usual breakfast buffet and use of pools and hot tubs. After fending off the assaults of a costume-jeweled closer honed like a knife edge, I watched Michael Jordan play golf and ate Kobe beef for dinner. Time shares were playing havoc with my vegetarian sensibilities.
Then we swore off time shares--until Adam and Scotty, number one with a golf ball, discovered that instead of the meager compensations of gift certificates, one could earn hundreds of actual dollars. We began to penetrate the subculture of time share sales--the freelance persuaders, the complicit managers. (The receptionist at the Mar de Cortez was paid to confirm that people like us were staying there.) Adam brought his negotiating talents to bear on sidewalk hawkers and laughing, in-on-the-joke promoters. Together we were taking advantage of the multimillionaire developers building soon-to-be outdated homogenous behemoths overlooking the sea.
The salespeople were humorless true believers who spoke in dialect, all using the terms "location, location, location" and "no-brainer." I watched a little gold key circle a little gold heart on the ring finger of one saleswoman as she told the story of a man she described as "a parole officer" and "schoolteacher" with his "arms all tattooed" who had come one day to Hacienda Encantada. He listened to the presentation and told his sales rep, "I know I need to buy this--otherwise I'll never be able to take my family on this kind of vacation. But I have no money!" And so the benevolent salesman had worked out a series of "little tiny payments" for the man--doubtless at the 15-19% interest that, we were assured, was the best the developer could do. "You can tell me you don't want this--but don't tell me you're going to think about it," Sherry cautioned us. "Because Disney and Four Seasons and all those companies have done research into this and decided it's a good thing, and there's no way you can do more research than they have." Thus are we intended to accept the conclusions of the very entity that is attempting to make a profit from us. The corporation knows what is best. And one in three visitors to a time share presentation ends up buying.
Our life as grifters/corporate raiders, if I can appropriate those terms, came to an end in Cabo as one salesman accused us, despite what I believed to have been a highly convincing performance of interest, of "just being here for the prizes." Taking advantage of the exploitative, heterosexist corporate tourist development model by eating its food and taking its cash seems feeble and insufficient. But Puerto Vallarta beckons. Perhaps there we will become masked time share guerillas who rise up to staunch the flowing rivers of champagne.