Case Study – The Bensons

 

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Brian Benson, an account man with a Chicago area consulting firm, worked hard through the winter of ’13. His commute into the Loop from out in western suburbs was a dreary trek, driving through wind-swept snow to the metro station, standing out on the platform in the bone chilling wind, then crowding into the train like one of so many sardines during the 45 minute ride into downtown. He’d put in a long, arduous day in his little cubicle, making sales calls, following up on existing accounts, and generally stressing over complaints from disgruntled clients. His primary consolation was a sense of security in the idea that it was all for a worthy cause. After all, Jen and the kids depended on him. He pictured her back home reading to little Bryce from Dr. Seuss. He thought of Brittany, off at school for the first time, finding her way in the world. During the work day, he would try to put in a call to home when he could, during break time and lunch, and occasionally when he could steal some time between account calls. He was the quintessential family man.

One night in February after the train ride back out to the suburbs, while walking out to the car there in the commuter lot, he slipped on a patch of ice, and fell headlong onto the frozen asphalt. He was out like a light. When he came to, he tried to shake it off, staggered groggily on to the car, and then drove home in a stupor. Jen greeted him at the door, but turned white as a ghost when she saw the gash on his forehead. Off to the hospital they rushed, where Brian stayed overnight for observation.

The next day they resolved that it was time for a vacation. Jen responded to an email touting a dramatically discounted stay at the luxurious Playa del Mar in Acapulco, in late March, during spring break. Brian had a week of accumulated vacation time, and so it was decided – the whole family was going to paradise!

After a layover in Houston, they landed at Acapulco Internacionale, and then rode the rest of the way in a shuttle full of giddy tourists, mostly families like the Bensons, before checking into the resort at the front desk. Brian hadn’t seen Jen so excited in a long time, as much for the kids as herself. After check in through the front desk, they were told to see the concierge, who would help plan their stay.

There Carmen, a comely, sophisticated-looking Mexican woman promised tickets to a local water park, part of the package deal, but reminded them that they had to sit through a presentation in the morning. Jen didn’t remember having seen this requirement, much less had she told Brian and the kids And where would the kids stay, after all? Not to worry, Carmen assured, there was a nursery and playground facility, and the kids would be safe and sound. So in the morning, after an early breakfast, the family prepared to split up. “Don’t cry …now, now… it’s only for a short time… we’ll all go to the water park after this… you know, sliding boards, waterfalls…”. Jen’s words of encouragement seemed to do the trick. Brian gave the kids a big hug, kisses were traded all around, and Jen reluctantly let go of little Bryce, teary eyed, to be led off at the hand of “Ms. Maria. ” Brittany, with her time in kindergarten, wasn’t as timid, skipping along beside.

The couple ambled over to the convention center area, where they joined perhaps a hundred other tourists in a seminar room, tables aligned facing the front where there was a power point projector. Glossy literature lined the tables. No sooner had they settled in, than a waitress, of sorts, ‘Davila’, offered them some ‘tapas’. There were chips, salsa, quesadillas, even margaritas, all ‘complimentary.’

It struck Brian and Jen that cocktail service was peculiar, especially in the morning on a family vacation. Also, and they had just eaten. They politely declined. Many around them did not, though. Finally, “Raul” took the podium. He was a squat, middle-aged man, graying around the temples, suited in navy pinstripes. His subject matter: Investment in the hospitality industry. He started off a little subdued, but after a wry joke or two, and some chuckles from the audience, the spirit seemed to take hold of him, and he commenced to deliver a pitch of salesmanship with so much conviction that he seemed to be invoking the wrath of the Almighty against anyone who’d dare resist. “As God is my witness, this is the most dynamic thing to hit these shores since Cortez…you cannot, must not miss out on this opportunity… because if you do, there are ten more of you out there waiting to buy into this investment…look at the person next to you… now picture ten of him just waiting to jump on it…. scary thought, huh… better to keep the wolves at the door…” But after an hour or more of this, Brian still had no idea what he was selling. References to vacation ‘ownership’ abounded, but it all sounded very much like a timeshare pitch.

Finally, it was time to break out. Someone named Sylvia appeared out of nowhere, and beckoned the couple into a side office. After a while, it finally became clear that they were selling timeshares after all, repackaged as vacations ownership so as to avoid all of the pejorative connotations. Brian wasn’t biting. He and Jen, after about an hourly of politely declining interest for every conceivable reason, started to get up and leave. This was hard, because they were dealing with real people, and they frankly felt somewhat indebted for having accepted some of the hospitality. But they each agreed that it simply made no sense for their family, financially or otherwise.

Sylvia begged them to wait ‘just another five minutes’, so that she could consult her ‘manager’ about sweetening the pot of incentives. Brian was still standing, and becoming frustrated. “We don’t want or need any more incentives, we just want to get on with the vacation with our kids…”. Immediately, a towering figure calling himself “Domingo” blocked the doorway.

Scowling, he tried to put the shocked couple on the defensive: “You do not like our resort seńor?… You show up here, on our dime, accept all our ‘graces’, and then try to just walk out on us. .. “. He was literally brow-beating Brian. “Where are you from…Chicago I see…I wonder how you would like it in Chicago, if I show up at your home and [defecate] on your front porch…” Things went on like this for several minutes, but it seemed eternal. Jen’s concerns were no longer merely about the fear of offending Sylvia. She actually began to wonder how they could physically escape from the little office. There was Domingo, in all his bluster, trying to intimidate her much smaller husband. When it became apparent that this was all well beyond the pale of any reasonable civility, Brian, still on the defensive, actually made reference to calling the police.

“You go ahead, Seńor, call any cop you want, there’s the phone, right there on the table.” Brian started to lift the receiver…”I happen to know someone there who can help you, ask the receptionist for my brother Eduardo, the Chief”. At this point, Jen began to sob uncontrollably. Brian knew he had to focus. He had no idea where his kids were. He would be lucky to get out of there at all, at least any time soon. He could continue to resist, and risk something very bad, who knows what. Or he could simply sign some paperwork, get out of there, be back with the family, and hopefully gone as soon as possible on the next flight out.

In the end, the poor couple capitulated, signed the paperwork under duress, scooped up the kids, and caught the red eye flight out to Houston later than evening, where they spent the rest of their ‘vacation’. But not before they saw Domingo in the lobby, as they were leaving, chatting it up with Carmen, in Spanish of course. Domingo seemed to notice them, bags packed, in a hurry to get away. “Señor, Señor, not so fast…” Jen’s heart skipped a beat as big Domingo ambled over, broodingly… he reached in his coat pocket, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to her husband…”You almost forgot your tickets to the water park, Seńor.”

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