Editor’s note: Meredith is on maternity leave. This column originally was published in 2007.
If you want to feel important, walk around Puerto Vallarta looking older and slightly better (or more) dressed than a college kid on spring break — and with a wedding ring on your finger.
My husband, Rick, and I were in Mexico last month and were surprised and somewhat flattered that despite having quibbled for a full 10 minutes over whose turn it was to get the window seat on the plane, we gave the impression of being mature and respectable enough to garner solicitations to buy timeshares from roughly five out of every seven people we encountered.
The last I’d heard about timeshares was in the early 1990s, when my dad announced that hurricanes had ravaged the one my Uncle Herbert and Aunt Anita owned in Cancun. Invented in Europe in the 1960s and peaked in the 1980s, the timeshare industry today, as far as I knew, was nothing more than a little piece of nostalgia. Sort of like Demi Moore’s youth.
But not in Mexico. The come-ons started moments after our flight landed. Before clearing customs, a man in uniform whisked us away to a counter lined with brightly colored maps and plastic palm trees wearing miniature sombreros. A woman behind the counter told us she worked for the government and that out of the goodness of the hearts of Mexican people everywhere, she wanted to offer us a discount card that would be valid at participating souvenir shops, car rental agencies and Hooters.
“All you need to do is give me a $20 deposit, and I will pick you up at your hotel tomorrow morning and take you to breakfast. Then I will give you the card,” she said, her eyes sparkling and her arms open wide like Ricardo Montalban greeting visitors to Fantasy Island.
“I don’t eat breakfast. We’d actually just like the card now, please,” I said. Then I thought back for a split second to the page in the Fodor’s guidebook we had thumbed through on the plane warning about timeshare pitches. “Hey, this isn’t some sort of a timeshare thing, is it?” I asked.
She dropped the smile and looked in an instant less like Julie McCoy playing shuffleboard on the Lido Deck of the Love Boat and more like Chucky with a freshly sharpened ax. “Well, excuse me for thinking you might want to see a brand-new property in the area. It’s a whole lot nicer than where you’re staying,” she said with a sneer.
We were also solicited by the cab driver who drove us to our hotel, the boat captain who took us on a half-day fishing trip, the cashier at the convenience store where we bought a bag of chips, the proprietor of a ceramics shop in which we browsed, the busboy at the restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch, and every fourth person with whom we did or did not make eye contact while walking down most every street.
Sitting down at a bar for a drink after dinner one night, we met a guy from Texas who had moved to Puerto Vallarta 10 months earlier. He chuckled at our timeshare stories. And then we told him we actually agreed to attend a 90-minute timeshare presentation after getting a written guarantee that we’d receive $300 in cash, a bottle of top-shelf tequila and two massage gift certificates.
He stopped laughing. “Seriously, if you’re going to do a presentation, then let me take you.”
We started laughing. “Ha, ha. No, really.”
“I can’t offer you cash, but,” he said, lowering his voice and looking around dramatically. “Are you a Ratt fan? My buddy over there is in the band and you can party with him.” He motioned for a guy in a Hawaiian shirt and hat shaped like a volcano to join us.
A closeted ‘80s heavy metal fan who probably would have chosen a Trans-Am over a Ford Explorer and a mullet over a normal guy haircut had he ended up settling anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, Rick’s jaw dropped. “Wow. I saw you guys at Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport in 1986.”
The dude cleared his throat. “Well, actually, you wouldn’t have seen me then. I was the third lead guitarist in the Ratt reunion tour in 2004 when the band played some state fairs. But the sound engineer on that tour was also with the original band.”
Rick gave him a high-five. “Cool.” Then he turned to me and pleaded, “Honey, can we do this timeshare thing instead? Then we can party with a guitarist from Ratt!”
We ultimately chose to honor our original presentation commitment and were taken around a sprawling resort called the Mayan Palace in a golf cart with a guy named Lolo who had spiky peroxide-blond hair and fashioned himself to be the Mexican Henny Youngman.
“Next I show you the alligator pond. Where the wives send the husbands who drink too many margaritas,” Lolo cracked.
One hundred seventy-five minutes, four sales managers and 19 offers requiring down payments ranging from $50,000 to $649 later, we were unceremoniously shown to the back door. Those departing timeshare-less, as we were, were not invited for another ride in the golf cart, but given walking directions created by Mr. Magoo on how to navigate our way back to the property entrance. And, despite the 45 minutes it took us to find the dungeon where we collected our booty, we were poolside at our hotel by 2 o’clock that day.
Which was OK with us, because we had the satisfaction of knowing that people in some countries — or at least one — think we look pretty important. We still have (most of) a bottle of tequila to prove it. Salud.
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