By Star Traylor
We had just finished a dinner of fish and fries on the pier in Virginia Beach when my husband ducked into a souvenir shop to buy T-shirts for our kids.
As soon as he disappeared, my kids went wild. The 3-year-old, Annabelle, began tugging at a flotation device shaped like an animal that was sitting on the sale rack outside one of the shops.
“No,” I told her, holding the toy in place. “We already got you a new floaty.”
“Where did Daddy go?” asked Oliver, who is 6. “When’s he coming back?”
When I located my husband he was deep in conversation with a 20-something lad trying to recruit buyers for a timeshare condominium complex a few blocks away. If we agreed to listen to the two-hour sales pitch about it the next day, the young man said, we’d get free tickets to the aquarium for us and the kids – a $75 value.
It was the first vacation we had taken since Annabelle was born. I hadn’t been feeling overly ambitious when I’d planned the three-day trip. I just wanted us all to be able to see and smell the ocean. We had accomplished that much and enjoyed it, for the most part. But by the end of Day Two we were over budget, and Oliver had his heart set on visiting the aquarium, so the prospect of free tickets was enticing.
The next morning we arrived at the hotel where everyone who had agreed to hear the sales pitch was to meet a representative of the company. Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice that the other people waiting in the lobby with us did not appear to be particularly well-heeled. These were not upwardly mobile professionals with disposable income for vacations, but working class folks, not entirely unlike ourselves, who had been lured in by the prospect of free tickets to something. Immediately I began to feel like more of a victim than a part of some exclusive target demographic.
We were greeted by a salesman whose name I have since forgotten – a man in his late 40s who had been laid off from his job as a federal contractor. He told us his story and how he had a 4-year-old son. Life is stressful, he told us, but he and his wife cope by planning regular vacations through their timeshare ownership.
Vacations are good for your health, said the salesman. They provide a respite from the daily grind and might even keep marriages together, he said.
“What’s most important to you?” he asked us.
“Family,” we both answered. What else would anyone say?
If we valued our family, the salesman said, we should make vacationing a priority by buying a timeshare, thus ensuring we’d have quality time together at least once a year. Then he led us on a tour of one of the condos in the timeshare complex. We admitted it was quite lovely, but we didn’t think we should take on a $50,000, $400-a-month debt just so we could relax there for one week each year.
But the possibilities were endless, he told us. We could exchange our time here for a week in any number of locations with resorts owned by the company he represented.
“Hold out your hand, Star,” he said to me.
After a minute, I realized he was serious, so I played along and held out my hand.
“Imagine I have the golden key to your dream vacation home here. What does your dream vacation look like?”
I tried to picture it, but for the life of me I could not. If I had $50,000, I thought, I’d go back to school, get another degree and switch careers. I was a newspaper reporter, but for years I had been obsessed with the notion of going back to school to become an English teacher. I just couldn’t figure out where I’d get the time or money.
Now, as this salesman kept trying to get me to envision my dream, I could picture only career aspirations, not lounging poolside sipping a drink with an umbrella in it.
I could see the profound absurdity of my “dream.” Instead of purchasing leisure, I wanted to pay to do schoolwork. Nonetheless, I was having a revelation, just not the one the salesman had intended.
We told him again that we weren’t going to buy a timeshare and, looking deflated, he handed over our aquarium tickets. We left feeling cruel for having disappointed him.
On the ride home, my husband kept talking about the poor salesman.
“Do you have non-buyer’s remorse?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I just feel bad for that guy. I’ll bet he doesn’t last two more weeks in that job.”
We returned home, where I promptly enrolled in a teaching program at the local university. We may not take another vacation for several years to come, but when we do, we won’t be sharing our time with any salesmen. Surely they would try to sell me a dream, but I’ll still be paying off the student loan from the last one I bought.
By Star Traylor