In Spring 2007 I published an essay called “The Low Season” in The Cimarron Review. It’s the story of how my wife and I paid for a month in Puerto Vallarta with money we made by attending timeshare presentations. Because I now live in Myrtle Beach, a place that exists largely thanks to the vacation industry, the time seems right to revisit the piece. So I’m going to serialize it here. One part every week for ten weeks. To start reading from the beginning, scroll down.
The Low Season
Part Three: The Score
Travel is always a combination of negotiation and compromise. Given the obstacles of language, laws, and customs, the traveler is subject to the push and pull of how he thinks things should work versus the reality of how they do—caught between what he wants and what he gets. This makes traveling different from vacationing. The vacationer gets to a single destination and stays put. But traveling by definition means moving from place to place, concentrating not only on the places themselves but also on what’s between. A vacation is a break from what you’re doing; traveling is what you’re doing.
The vacationer spends hours researching the airfare, the hotel, and the restaurants. Then he crosses his fingers that he’ll make his connection in Atlanta, the weather won’t suck, and the room will be as swank as the Internet photos promise. Because of the built-in time constraints, the vacationer has little tolerance for the less-than-perfect. He wants to experience everything at its best.
The traveler, however, either gets used to experiencing things as they (sometimes unfortunately) are, or he doesn’t have much fun. When ordering a Red Bull and vodka in a foreign language, the traveler learns to smile and nod when the bartender pours him a tequila and Squirt. The traveler learns to say close enough. The traveler learns to enjoy the negotiation process, understanding that every exchange, win or lose, eventually becomes a meaningful part of the experience.
A week ago, Kate and I went on our first-ever timeshare presentation. We’d just crossed the border at Nogales, headed for the resort town of San Carlos, when we were forced to stop at an immigration checkpoint to register the van with the Mexican authorities. A friendly young woman offered to help us manipulate the bureaucratic maze. She told us which lines to stand in and which to avoid; she sorted out which forms went to which official. Amid the stern-faced, gun-wielding Federales, her smile offered a much-appreciated Bienvenidos á Mexico. Then she asked the question Eyder would ask a week later: Where are you staying?
We didn’t know yet. But we knew that wherever we stayed, it had to be cheap.
The woman held up a brochure. “If you want,” she said, “you can stay three nights at this resort for free.”
Kate and I looked at each other and shrugged. Cheap’s good. Free’s better.
The Sea of Cortez Premiere Vacation Club was clean and sterile in a Myrtle Beach Holiday Inn kind of way. The suites had ocean views and kitchenettes and were decked out in durable, guest-proof furnishings—plastic on plastic. Even white-washed of all character, it was a hell of a lot nicer than the Motel Sixes and Super Eights we’d sprung for in the U.S. In order to get the room free, we signed up to take a ninety-minute tour of the grounds.
Kate and I met the Premiere Vacation Club sales guy at breakfast the next morning. He was from Southern California, and he wore a scraggy moustache that highlighted his hollow cheekbones and pasty complexion. His face seemed carved by too many late nights and too few vitamins. Like the breakfast itself—watery eggs on chipped chinaware—the sales guy was one part optimism, two parts desperation.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “I’m not into high pressure. I don’t want to waste your time, and I don’t want you to waste mine. So before I even start my pitch, tell me if you’re interested. You say yes, and we’ll keep talking. You say no, and I’ll let you get back to the beach.”
So we did. And he didn’t argue or backpedal or even try to turn our no into a maybe. He just clicked his ballpoint into his shirt pocket, gathered his charts and graphs, and invited us to help ourselves to more of the breakfast buffet.
Twenty minutes later Kate and I were lounging under an umbrella made of braided palm fronds. It had been too easy. I never got to unholster my awesome bargaining powers. As the desert sun climbed and the tide rolled in, we lifted ourselves from our towels only to reposition our deck chairs and adjust the angle of our umbrella, to negotiate the boundary between sand and sea, between sun and shade.