Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to Put the Annoying Into Vacations

I'm talking to Julie from our time share.

Right now, if I were reading this, I would click away to another blog. My heart would be beating rapidly and my palms would be sweaty. My stomach would be churning gurgling bubbling and stabbing me and I would just want the thought to go away NOW.

And yet, I am, in my real life, at this very moment, actually talking to her on speaker phone about the time share.

And I'm only mildly upset. This is a very unusual set of circumstances.

Do you own a time share? Do you understand it? Do you use it? Have you been drawn into the larger time sharing world, joining Interval International? Please please please tell me that you don't vote in the election of officers every year.

My answers to those questions are Yes, No, No, Yes and OMG why don't you leave me alone.

We were sucked into this folly on our house-hunting trip to Phoenix. We decided to take advantage of one of the "2 nights 3 days in a luxury resort" postcards that used to fill our mailbox, back in the 1980's when life was an ever expanding universe of possibilities. Marriott's Desert Ridge Resort (be careful - this link has automatic music that I couldn't turn off) was brand new and gorgeous, and the condos across the road, while a little less upscale in ambience, were absolutely perfect for us. C&B came over and we rode the lazy river and had cocktails under the stars and dined al fresco and, though we didn't like Phoenix as a new home-town, we were growing quite fond of this particular corner of it.

Naturally, that was the point when we met the salesman. This guy was good. Very very VERY good. TBG is no slouch in that department, and over the years he'd hired the very best of the best to sell to the smartest and the richest and yet there we were, agreeing with the salesman. Gone was our solemn vow to each other that we would not, under any circumstances, no matter what he said, no matter how alluring the prospects seemed, no way would we buy anything. Not a chance. We were firm in our resolve. And then we met the salesman.

He was charming. He was delightful. He was a retired military pilot with great stories to tell and suddenly we were holding notebooks and beach towels and visors and sweatshirts and canvas bags emblazoned with the logo of our OMG how did this happen to us brand new time share.

I have a vague memory of extracting a promise from TBG that he would take care of figuring it out. TBG, of course, shares no such recollection. We both remember feeling somewhat over-whelmed but happy with the prospect of vacationing in a lovely spot in the desert southwest across town from our friends-from-forever C&B. There were 2 en-suite bedrooms; we could play cards til the wee small hours of the night and they could crash in their own space without having to do more than pad across the carpet. It was a plan. A mighty fine plan.

That is, until a few months later when we decided to live in Tucson.

It seemed awfully foolish to vacation, every year, 100 miles north of our home. The weather is basically the same - and we think it's better up here. The scenery isn't that different - and, again, we like our middle desert flora much more than Phoenix's low desert plants. There is better shopping and C&B live there and a change is always nice but honestly, if I'm going to go to the trouble of packing a suitcase, the destination better be more exciting than the next big town up the highway. I've got a pretty nice pool right here at home, after all. No need to disrupt my life to loll on a float and bask in the Vitamin D.

The whole experience went downhill after that. The rules were arcane and I really didn't care. Our travels were between children and parents all over the 50 states and anyway we were living in a brand new vacation destination ourselves. We weren't drawn to leave home to find the sunshine; the sun shines 350 days a year here. It was never too cold or too gloomy or too lonely. Friends and family were lining up for space in what was quickly dubbed "Mom's Bed and Breakfast." Spending a week in Phoenix every year just wasn't on the agenda.

On alternate years, owners have the option to turn in their yearly vacation stay for Marriott Rewards points. I have always liked that name - it is what it says it is. There are no complications, no confusion, no inconsistencies or petty bureaucracies. You collect points for rewards. Simple. Every other year, this time share makes me happy because I can deposit my week for points. I understand what that means. I can redeem them with confidence (adhering to TBG's new mantra - "I will not die with unused points!"). They are useful anywhere and anytime there is a Marriott, and anyone who's travelled in the USofA recently knows that their brand is ubiquitous. This is a good thing.

Trying to plan a vacation with the time share is another story entirely. I have tried. I have failed. I have made the effort and taken the time to plow through the documentation and regulations and restrictions and availabilities and ratings and locations (forget big cities anywhere in the USA) and have somehow never, not once, ever over the years that we've owned it .... nope, I cannot plan a vacation with this thing.

Julie has tried. Lord knows, she's tried. She is the most good-natured soul with whom I've ever shared a phone connection. She has no extraneous blather. She genuinely wants to help me. She figures out ways to solve my problem. Marriott didn't have a time share in New Mexico (go figure????) but Interval International's program ought to be able to help. At least, that was Julie's hope, and all I had to do wass wait.... be on hold.... as a recovering social worker I have had years of experience being on hold..... I do it well.... and I was able to type most of this post while she found someone who.....

To be charitable, let's say that she was polite. She read her script in an appropriately authoritative no-nonsense voice..... appropriate if I were a miscreant 2nd grader. She had her pre-approved litany of questions and responses and she was going through them. In order. It didn't matter that I didn't want to discuss my email address with her; she seemed a little peeved. All I wanted to do was plan a spring-time girl's trip to Santa Fe.

Unfortunately, the only time share they had was on the opposite edge of the state, in Ruidoso. Ruidoso is many things, but Santa Fe is not one of them. I cut her off before she could go through her "thank you for calling and how else can I help you and do you know about our..." speech and then Julie and I were back where we'd started.

I own a time share. I cannot go anywhere I want to go with it. I am not surprised.

She sighed, I sighed, then she inhaled sharply (I've always wanted to write that phrase!!!!) and said "Wait a minute.... this doesn't expire until May, 2010."

And now, delightfully, the burden of planning a pre-paid vacation falls squarely on the shoulders of the Cuters. Together. With friends. Over-lapping mid-week. Alone. Skiing or beaching. I don't care.

Julie is expecting their call.

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