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 Four: The Deal
This is how Eyder makes his living. Properties like The Mayan Palace, The Plaza Pelicanos Grand Beach Resort, and Krystal International Vacation Club hire him to track down married couples willing to sign up for the tour. Eyder knows that nobody wants to waste hard-earned vacation time sitting through a sales pitch. He’s used to the brush-off. But he has a wife and kids. He has bills to pay and school uniforms to buy, so like all the touts, he hustles. He’s always on the job. When shopping at Wal-Mart, he looks for gringos who need help finding the Coppertone or the Pepto. He points Mr. and Mrs. Norteamericano in the right direction, and after they thank him profusely, as if he’d just shown them the way to El Dorado, he slips them the question, Where you from, my friends? and he reaches for the brochure in his back pocket.
How much money does Eyder pull in for every couple he delivers to the mega-resorts lining Banderas Bay? I don’t know. But when Kate and I tell him we’re busy tomorrow morning, and we couldn’t possibly visit The Mayan Palace, he tells us that the hotel can offer us 3,500 pesos for taking the ninety minute tour.
“3,500 pesos?” I say. “Are you serious?” My internal accountant, so intimate with the red pencil, sharpens the virgin black pencil, dons the eyeshade, and goes to work. 3,500 pesos at a 10.48 peso-to-dollar exchange is about 360 dollars—or ten percent of our budget for this whole trip. The Estancia San Carlos is costing us thirty bucks a night. We’d be trading ninety minutes in The Mayan Palace for twelve more nights in the San Carlos. The Mayan Palace would be paying us to stay somewhere else. There must be a catch. “3,500 pesos in cash?”
Eyder laughs and says, “Sí. Of course, amigo. You have a nice breakfast. You take the tour. Then they’ll give you the money in cash.” He pretends to stack bills one by one into my open palm. “If you want to buy, that’s fine, but if you say no and take the money, that’s fine too. I don’t care. Just as long as you show up.”
I try to suss out the economics of the system. The Mayan Palace must guarantee Eyder a fee of, say, 4,000 pesos per couple. Then maybe he keeps the difference between his fee and what it costs him to lure prospective buyers, in this case 3,500, leaving him a profit of 500. But can The Mayan Palace really afford to gamble 4,000 pesos, more than 400 dollars, on the purchasing whims of every couple? If so, folks would have to say yes a whole lot of the time. The resort must have the success rate of a Mayo Clinic surgeon.
But if I’m right about how the system works, why did Eyder start at 3,500 pesos instead of 2,500 or even 1,500? Maybe he’s a volume dealer. Small margin, heavy traffic. But I’m worried about the more likely scenario, that Eyder’s cut is totally independent of the incentive The Mayan Palace offers tourists like us. The resort probably just kicks him a hundred pesos or so for every couple he drags in.
I look down at his boat shoes—the mud-caked leather and thin soles—and hope he makes a good living peddling timeshare tours. That he can support his family, visit his mom in Ohio, take a vacation himself every now and then.
No. That’s not it. I hope he’s soaking The Mayan Palace. I hope Eyder lives in one of those white houses up in the hills, like the one I can see this very moment, jutting through the palm trees, painted orange by the sunset. I wince at the thought of Eyder working night and day funneling gringos through a five-star resort only to squeeze his family into one of the concrete-walled apartments that line Route 200 on the edge of town.
“You have a credit card?” Eyder says. He’s reaching into a portfolio for the official Mayan Palace invitation form.
“Well, yeah.” I say. “But what do we need it for? They’re paying us, right?”
“Don’t worry, amigo.” Eyder taps a bic pen against the form, leaving a patch of tiny white moons on the carbon sheet. “They just want to look at it. They won’t charge you for anything.” And then he hands me the form. He aims the pen at the line where he has written 3,500 pesos.
Can Kate and I even consider taking $360 for our time if Eyder makes only a few pesos a day for his? Our time isn’t worth more just because we’re the ones with the MasterCard.
Then again, the cash is going to end up with somebody; it might as well be us. And it’s not like we’re stealing from Eyder. This is The Mayan Palace’s money.
So yeah. Of course we can take it. We have to take it. We’d be damned fools not to.
“That’s the deal, amigos,” he says. “3,500 pesos. Ninety minutes. You want to do it?”
Hell yes we do.