Far back in the mists of ancient time, before the days of my tenure at The Little Railway Company That Couldn’t (a job so terrible I also refer to it as My Time in Prison) I was a student. Not a Public Institution Student, mind you, but I attended a private technical school which meant my fees were approximately three times what most students would pay.
Stay with me, because that is significant and relevant information.
Being a student meant, of course, that the prospect of free food was appealing.
That is also relevant information.
The Woman to Whom I Would Eventually Marry and I were (and still are) travel enthusiasts, so when a phone call came in offering us a chance for a free gift and dinner in exchange for us coming to a “40-minute sales presentation about last minute and discount travel,” it seemed appealing. Free food, discounted travel, free gift. All things that students with little money would be interested in.
So off we went, to see what this was all about. We were greeted by a Clean-cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Khaki pants, and Red Tie with White Stripes. He was pleasant enough, making small-talk and obviously trying to put us in “the buying mood.”
After a brief tour past pictures of smiling African children who were going to school as a result of the wonderful community involvement of this company, we were escorted into a room with about thirty round tables, twenty nine other couples, and, not counting our Clean-cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Khaki Pants, and Red Tie with White Stripes, twenty-nine other Clean-cut Twentysomethings with White Shirts, Khaki Pants, and Red Ties with White Stripes, each sitting at one of the tables with each couple. The couples, like us, all had that Deer-In-The-Headlights look, as much as to say, “what the hell are we doing here?”
We were escorted to a table and seated. After a few more minutes of small talk, some other guy, this one a Smooth-looking Clean Cut Early Thirtysomething with a White Shirt, Khaki Pants, and Red Tie with White Stripes, came in to the room. All the Clean-Cut Twentysomethings with White Shirts, Khaki Pants, and Red Ties with White Stripes applauded enthusiastically, while the rest of us couples glanced, somewhat embarrassingly at each other and offered subdued, polite applause.
The presentation began with a film, laden with scenes of beautiful resorts, palm trees wafting in the breeze, white sandy beaches, and crystal clear blue tropical waters. The voice-over consisted of happy customers who saved all kinds of money by using the buying power of the “club” they had joined.
Once the film was over, the presentation continued with a short speech explaining the basics of the plan, inter-laced with a few lame jokes (to which all the Clean-Cut Twentysomethings with White Shirts, Khaki Pants, and Red Ties with White Stripes were only too happy to provide an enthusiastic laugh-track).
About two thirds of the way through the presentation, the door to the room flew open, and another Clean-Cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Khaki Pants, and a Red Tie with White Stripes practically flew into the room, holding a miniature bottle of Champagne, and popped the cork. The cork flew across the room in a graceful arc, landing with a “thunk” on one of the tables. All the Clean-cut Twentysomethings with White Shirts, Khaki Pants and Red Ties with White Stripes jumped up, cheering and applauding. I then noticed the couple standing in the doorway with the person who had popped the cork. They were looking quite bemused at this sudden outpouring of love and applause. The cork-popper introduced the couple, explaining they had just joined the club and were embarking on a wonderful life of discounted and last-minute travel.
Once the presentation was complete, the guy who was sitting with us excused himself and brought over another Clean-cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Rolled-up Sleeves, Khaki Pants and a Red Tie with White Stripes. After a few moments of small-talk and handshakes, we sat down and he started the procedure known as The Close.
The Close consisted of asking leading questions to get us saying “yes,” and finally dropping the price on us. There were two options, the Lifetime Plan (only available tonight), or the Annual Plan. The Lifetime Plan was available for the low price of $6,999.
The Woman I Would Eventually Marry laughed.
And then the wheeling and dealing started. They tried everything. First, of course, I could choose the Annual Plan, which was available for $1999 a year was an option.
Being a student, I didn’t have $2 lying around, let alone $2000. I was very sorry, but it looked like we didn’t have a deal.
But wait! We can do more! The free gift, of course, is an option (that was drawn privately in another room known as The Gifting Room) and most of the gifts were, of course, a gift certificate for $150. We could apply that (or a higher value if we drew a gift of a higher value) towards the price.
Okay. The Clean-cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Rolled-up Sleeves, Khaki Pants, and Red Tie with White Stripes excused himself for a few minutes. At this point, another cork popped and flew across the room, and all the Clean-cut Twentysomethings with White Shirts, Khaki Pants, Red Ties with White Stripes jumped up cheering and applauding again. A couple had just sold their timeshare to the company and applied it to the price.
The Clean-cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Rolled-up Seeves, Khaki Pants, and a Red Tie with White Stripes returned, and made us what he described as his “best possible offer.” Put $10 down tonight, and take a year to pay the rest of the price of the Annual Plan, less the value of the gift we were about to draw.
I told him to go away for a moment.
My girlfriend looked at me.
I looked at her.
“I’m not buying anything,” she said.
“Neither am I.”
“I’m hungry,” she said. We had both held off having dinner as the restaurant they gave us the gift certificate for was across the street from their presentation room.
“So am I.” I replied.
I called the Clean-cut Twentysomething with a White Shirt, Rolled-up Sleeves, khaki Pants, and a Red Tie with White Stripes over and gave him the bad news.
“Okay,” he said, looking defeated, “we’ll get you in to the Gifting Room next.”
Nor was it “next.”
In fact, next didn’t come for half an hour, and we finally gave up on waiting and walked out. Tired, annoyed, and hungry.
The restaurant across the street was closed.