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Brad was an ad man working on Madison Avenue. He and Liz, a literary agent, shared an upscale East Side apartment. Liz had just taken up there, and was still oogle-eyed over her new man. Autumn afternoons in Central Park, breakfast at Tiffany’s, an evening at the Met. The couple lived out their new lives together, making their way through the maze of Manhattan. It was still pretty giddy stuff for Liz, 25, who had come from rural Indiana.
One of the ‘perks’ Brad received from his advertising account with MGV Resorts was a deeded timeshare interest in a posh Malibu resort, where he and Liz would be vacationing come winter. It was technically company owned, but Brad generally received first dibs on it since he was the account point man.
One day in January, though, Brad’s firm received an odd piece of correspondence from a company called Timeshare Resorts International. Although the details were sketchy, it generally advised Brad that they had ‘acquired’ some kind of interest in his timeshare, that he was now on the ‘points’ system, and that he would have to buy TRI ‘points’ if they were to vacation in Malibu.
This all seemed a little untoward. For one thing, Brad didn’t recall having put the timeshare up for sale. It also struck Brad as a little strange that he had to pay them money for having bought some kind of interest in his timeshare. Didn’t it usually work the other way around? He was sure that he could get this all straightened out though.
So he called TRI headquarters in Las Vegas. ‘Stanley’ of TRI customer service assured Brad that nothing irregular had occurred, and in point of fact, as a welcoming gesture they would put him up free of charge in Sedona for four days and three nights. Liz was giddy. She had always wanted to see Sedona. Plus, it was the middle of January, and things were a little raw in Manhattan.
And so at the end of the month, off to Sedona they flew. This was going to be a welcome departure from the same old vacation. Not that Malibu was chopped liver, mind you. Far from it. But Stanley had assured them that, as TRI members, they would have far more flexibility, with access to resorts all over the world. At Sedona the couple checked into the opulent Sonoran Resort. The rooms were posh, the views were spectacular, and a complimentary dinner that evening was terrific.
“I could almost get used to this,” Liz thought as they were settling into their room. No sooner had she thought this, than Brad said exactly that, verbatim. Liz took this as further proof that Brad really was her soul mate.
The next morning, while checking through the concierge, the couple was ‘reminded’ that they were to attend an investment seminar sponsored by ‘the developer’. Brad was becoming a little concerned about his memory loss. He was only 34.
And so they dutifully took their seats in one of the resort conference rooms for the one hour presentation. Brad and Liz were wooed for an hour or so by Audrey, who presided over the seminar. She put on quite a dog and pony show, with glossy literature, videos, and power point – a power play, really. One opulent resort destination after another, some in Hawaii, Nice, Bali, even Tahiti.
“And how are you liking your current accommodations? Not too shabby, huh? Now take this and ramp it up an order of magnitude. Just feast your eyes….”
These were to be an extension, each one more exotic than the previous, of their current vacation. So if they thought this was good, just imagine… And they did. Perpetual bliss, almost, within their reach. And so it was that soon Audrey came to own them, lock, stock, and barrel.
Before they knew it they were signing off on the dotted line. Lines, actually. Line after line after line. But they were on vacation, after all. They had been in the room for a while now, and were anxious to get on with it. This was no time to stress over legal technicalities. If it turned out to be problem, it seemed to Liz that it was only a local one. Not the kind of thing that was likely to follow them back to New York.
Toward the end of their stay, they took in a gorgeous sunset over the rustic desert terrain. Each individual ray seemed to suffuse the sky in a thousand different colors. “You know we were meant for each other” Brad whispered in her ear. “If you tell me anything right now I’ll believe it.”
Eventually, though, it was time to return. As winter wore on, one evening after dinner at Gregorio’s, Liz noticed that Brad’s trousers were beginning to ride up his waistline. She didn’t say anything though. Everyone puts on a little weight in wintertime.
One night after work, while she was shuffling through the snail mail, Liz found a mortgage statement of some kind. She opened it, and realized that it was from their TRI “Vacation Club”. A three hundred and ninety five dollar contribution was to be required. Monthly. She couldn’t help but wonder how it could be so much. This was like new car payment.
The next month it got even better. The quarterly dues statement arrived. Another $589 hit. Liz started to do the math. Let’s see, (12 x $395) + (4x $589) comes to about six thousand dollars a year. She began to realize that they had made a terrible mistake.
She tried to call customer service to get some kind of accounting for the ‘maintenance fees’, at least “I need to find out why these dues are so high”.
“You’ll need to send a written request.”
“Fine, please tell me where I can email or fax it to”.
“We can only take it via U.S. mail to our PO box in Las Vegas”.
“Why is that? Isn’t this a little inefficient in this day and age.”
“I don’t set the policies, M’am.”
“I get the feeling that you really are going out of your way to make this as difficult as possible. Why a PO. box…(?). … is it so that there’s as little accountability as possible…(?)
Finally, Liz got the address, and sent her written request for a dues accounting via snail mail. How could Brad have let this happen(?), she wondered. He was older, worked in business, and should have known better. But every time she tried to take it up with him, he seemed to just blow it off, as though he was in denial about it. In fact, that’s what he seemed to do in general whenever confronted with some festering unpleasantry. And this made Liz that much more inclined to carp on him about these things.
And though she was quick to complain about the expenses, this didn’t seem to keep her from playing lotto each day of the week, several times daily.
Several weeks went by this way, still no accounting from TRI. Liz called customer service again demanding a response.
“Sorry, but we don’t have any record of your request. You’ll have to send another.”
“Why am I not surprised about that…. you can record phone calls, you can email me when you want to sell me something, but you turn the clock back a hundred years when it comes to being accountable, and then conveniently lose the accounting request. …”, and so on, Liz continued her tirade, while Brad sat cringing on the sofa. After the call was over, he knew there would be hell to pay.
Eventually, she slammed the phone. “How can you just sit there like nothing’s wrong….just munching away on junk food. When was the last time you went to the gym. Look at you, you’re taking up half the sofa…”. Now she was really evolving into something Brad had never dreamed of.
And so the couple was consigned to reluctantly pay their monthly financing fees, and their quarterly dues, for fear of ruining their credit otherwise. It was now becoming a general financial struggle. Breakfast at Tiffany’s had long since given way to Dunkin Donuts. (Brad especially liked the chocolate éclairs). If there was any consolation, it was the prospect of taking the next vacation at some world class resort.
Almost a year had passed, and it was time to make the plans. But airfare to Bali or Tahiti would run way to much money, especially now. So Liz settled on Aruba. Brad was not about to question this. By now it was clear that his apartment was really a hen house, and he was not about to ruffle the feathers
But when Liz called to book their stay, the conversation went something like this:
“We want to book a week in February at the Royal Palace in Aruba.”
“Well, unfortunately, you don’t have enough points for this…”
Brad was listening from the sofa, again. He spilled his bag of Cheetos®.
“What do you mean we lack points, you’re already stripping us down to our birthday suits, and now have the temerity, the very gall, to tell us that we can’t stay … with what we’re paying, you should be putting us up in Buckingham Palace… get me your supervisor immediately…there’s obviously been some kind of mistake…”
But alas, there had not been. Liz was directed by the supervisor to read page 42 of their contract, containing some disclaimers, waivers, and other weasel words limiting access to resort facilities ‘in the discretion’ of the developer. And so it was that the extent to which they had been fleeced became a stark reality.
They did manage to book a stay in February at the Saltwater in Atlantic City. And although it lacked the opulence of the Sonoran Resort, it did feature an all-you-can eat buffet in the floor level cafeteria. Brad spent a good deal of time there while Liz was off in the casinos.
One evening they were out at a real restaurant. Liz ordered Oysters Rockefeller. Brad opted for pizza. But when it was time to pay, his credit card was declined. “Run it again, please”. When the waiter left, little capillaries began to stand out on Liz’ forehead. This was never a good sign.
“You’ve maxed out our card, Brad? Is that what you’re going to tell me next? Maxed out? That card has a ten thousand dollar limit. We just got it six months ago. You and your profligate spending… and eating for that matter, you hedonist, you’ve eaten your way to raggedy edge of hard times, the brink of insolvency, and you’ve drug me down with you…. “
And so, if there’s a moral to the story, it’s this: Timeshares can strain relationships.
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