Where does the good go



Facing 8 free hours in San Francisco yesterday, I decided to play tourist. I waited 40 minutes in a line so I could stand outside clinging for dear life to a trolley car pole and then I walked around Fisherman’s Wharf looking for a way to get to Alcatraz.

I entered one travel agency that loudly advertised tickets to “The Rock” in its storefront window.
“Sorry, we’re sold out today.”

Disappointed, I turned and headed back to the door.

“Pssst,” I heard from behind me.

I turned and another agent in the store (which now appeared to be housing three or four different agencies) summoned me to his counter.

“How many in your pahty?” he said in an unmistakeable Boston accent.

“It’s just me,” I chimed, figuring he had some secret, backdoor way to get one little lady a ticket to Alcatraz…

“You 25?”

“Yes.” (well, at least 25, but he didn’t ask all that.)

“You got a credit card.”

Hmmm… what is that bell ringing in my head and that nagging feeling in my gut…


“You want a $75 gift card to Macy’s?”

Hmm, must be a fire somewheres about… alarms. going. off.


“Great,” he reaches down behind the counter and produced a clipboard-full of paperwork.

He starts to fill it out.

Name, Address… then he looks up.

“Would you prefer cash?”

“How much cash?”

“Same. $75.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“OK, take this form over to the Cannery and you’ll watch a video — maybe 30 minutes and then, you’ll get the $75 and a free cruise around the bay. It circles Alcatraz.”

All that for the low, low price of?

“One thing, though. A lot of people say they are going to go and then they don’t show up, so we ask that you put down a small deposit. They’ll give it back to ya when you get there, but I need to put it down.”

“How much?”

“1o dohlars, is that a problem?”

“Well… and I’ll get it back? Do I have have to buy something to get it back?”

“No, you get it back once you show up. We are a very reputable company.”

I think I heard one of the other travel agents in the office snicker, but when I turned around he was dutifully writing something down on his glass top. In pen.

“OK,” I said handing over my Alexander Hamilton, “I’ll head over there now.”

“No, they’ve got to set things up. Go over in about an hour and a half.”


“Well, there’s cookies and brownies, coffee — stuff like that and they need to cater it for the right amount of people. You understand.”

I most definitely did not.

“Oh, yeah. OK.”

I left there holding my appointment slip and receipt for $10. I walked out to the docks and then back up to the waterfront park. Then I decided to call for a second opinion. I relayed the whole story to Karol, once she stopped laughing and telling everyone in attendance at Chez Karol that I was a moron … ok, I don’t really remember what she said, there was too much laughter in the background.

But I headed to the Cannery, well in advance of my appointment — to find ten or twenty other people seated in the lobby.

I checked in. Spelling my name with all kinds of silent letters: Daiwzn Sczummears.

I called Karol back: “Ha! It’s a real place, there are real people here and I see the cookies.”

“Look around, are these people you want to be surrounded by? How many are wearing Hawaiian shirts and sweat pants?” She paused for a moment and asked: “Are you wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sweat pants?”

I uttered a few profanities and hung up.

I looked around and realized the immigrant Russian girl definitely had a point. I was surrounded by all manner of society’s least gifted. Toothless women, men with dirty, grey ponytails, a lady absently holding a kid on her lap whose hand was elbow deep in his nostrils. All of them, ostensibly waiting for 75 bucks and a free cruise.

As I contemplated going back to the storefront to get my ten bucks back, a woman called out:

Da-zawn Soomars?

“That’s me.”

“Terrific, pleased to meet you Da-Zawn.”

We sat down at a small round table. There was a computer monitor, a clipboard and a black leather portfolio.

“So you’re from New York?”


“I love New York, my daughter and I … do you have any kids?”

I shook my head and she continued.

“We really want to spend Christmas in New York. I just imagine the store windows with the Christmas themes, the big tree in Rockerfellar Center and the ball dropping in Times Square.”

“Yes, it’s very beautiful.”

“Tell me about your dream vacation.”

“Umm… I would be on my way to tour Alcatraz prison and end up at a time-share presentation, waiting to get my ten bucks back and a free cruise.”

She laughed. Then stopped laughing.

“No, seriously.”


“OK, where in Hawaii, describe it.”

“Dunno, never been.”

“Well, we’re going to change all that. Here at Star Vacation Owners, we believe that when it comes to vacation, you’ve earned a great one. We’ll make all your dreams come true.”

Hmmm… Hello, I am Mrs. Jesse L. Martin. President of the United States of America, call me Dawn.

For the next 50 minutes, she showed me an interactive computer program about vacations and told me that with their patented “points system,” I would never spend another dime on hotel rooms. She told me this was the best time to get into the ownership market and I would never regret it.

During the presentation I kept hearing louds pops, followed by applause.

“New owners,” she explained. With every pop, I looked around for the champagne bottles and lucky buyers. My eyes were never quick enough to find either.

Then we went across the street to a “model home.”

Exhausted, I sat on the couch.

“Comfy. Isn’t it? And these doors here close, so you can tell the kids to go to bed and then (she grabbed a couple of bathrobes hanging in the closet) va-va-va-voom”


“Ok, since no one is here I’ll put in the video.”

“I thought we watched the video already.”

“No, that was the presentation.”


The video was scene after scene of a family of four (of various races and sizes) in a variety of vacation scenes. Skiing, hiking, water rafting, amusement parks. I was dizzy and tired. When it ended we headed back over to the main building.

More interactive computer “presenting.”

I finally put my head down and slumped over the desk. My arms flailed across all her paperwork and pictures and my pointer pen clattered to the floor.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, just tired,” I said with my cheek pressed against the desk.

“OK, why don’t I get the “financing person” so we can talk about what all this cost.”

I sat upright: “yes.”

The financing lady had a lazy eye. She sat down; my salesperson, Lisa left to “get coffee.” She never returned.

“So, Da-zawn, do you like our program?”


“Great, what would you think it cost?”


She frowned.

“Well, monthly it’s not very much more than that.”

She then layed out a financing sheet in front of me:

Total Cost: $46, 889

Downpayment: $14,000

Monthly Mortgage: $578

This would get me 2 weeks of high season, gold standard real-estate or 12 weeks of off-season “bronze-standard” real-estate.

I started laughing so hard the surrounding tables turned to stare. (Even now I am laughing just thinking about it.)

“Ok, I can show you something more moderately priced.”

But I was laughing so hard, my eyes were sealed shut. My side started to hurt. Then, I started to cough.

One of the other managers brought me some water and the lazy eye woman continued with her financing sheets — one after another until I was down to 2 weeks, bronze-standard, that cost $18,000, with a $4000 down payment and a $99 monthly mortgage.

“Ms. Soomars, don’t you want to own a second home?”

I’d like to own a first home…actually, I’d like to rent a first home. Did I mention I live with my mommy?

“Ms. Soomars, I really don’t understand how you can pass up this opportunity. I am practically giving all this away for free.”

“Well, when you do give it away for free, call me. You have my number.” (Actually, they had all the digits that made up my number, but not necessarily “my number.”)

Lazy eye left and an African-American “corporate” guy came by.

(See, ladies and gents, this is why diversity is so important in business)

“Hey there, I understand we haven’t convinced you to become an owner yet, is there anything I can do?”

“No. I just need to think about it.”

“But no one ever purchases once they’ve thought about it.”

I searched his face for any sign of irony or realization about this admission. Finding none, I simply said that as a lawyer I could not buy property on a whim after a 100-minute sales pitch.

I chose my words carefully, “I need to investigate further.”

I heard a pop from directly behind me and saw that it wasn’t the sound of a champagne bottle being uncorked, it was a balloon meeting the wrong end of a pin. These owners were an elderly mother and her middle-aged daughter (or as Rick Blaine, who I had dinner with, might say: “It’s San Francisco, where you see mother and daughter, I see Luvahhs.”

The corporate guy gave it one more shot:

“I could pop this balloon for you, Ms. Soomars. Just pick the package that most suits your budget.”

“Tempting, but no thanks.”

“Ok, just head to the back and our cashier will give you your free gift.”

I collected my $75 bones (and my “deposited” ten-spot) and received a voucher for the free cruise.

The exit sign pointed to heavy metal door with a push bar in the center. I pushed the bar and found myself standing in a dark, cement stairway. I began to wonder if I had finally stumbled into the real scam: alone, in a desolate stairwell, thugs beat you to a pulp, take your money and credit cards and then rip your free voucher into bitty pieces which were then sprinkled onto to your unconscious body. I hurriedly ran down the stairs to the next landing. I exited into the main building and looked in vain for an escalator down to the street level.

Twenty minutes later I was on the street, I realized my free cruise left in about ten minutes, so I ran to Pier 43 1/2 to catch it.

I sat on the top deck with my feet up on the railing. The Bay is beautiful, (cold as hell), but the scenery was breathtaking. I took a picture of myself on my Treo.

I relaxed as the wind beat my face. After all, this is my vacation. And I had earned a great one.


  1. PAUL Says:

    hahahaha that was funny.

    Another similar scam/marketing attempt is the “free trial” I hate signing up for “free trials” because they are a pain to quit. And I am sure other people forget to quit.

  2. candace Says:

    “earned” indeed. damn.

  3. cube Says:

    cool story, but when you have a lot of time to waste, you might as well get a “free curise” at the end of it

  4. supersexy29 Says:

    Dawn, want to buy some magic beans? Only $100 and you wouldn’t have to sit through a promo video either.

  5. Michael Says:

    When my wife and I were dating, she regularly went off on rants about my many social and gustatory failures. Too heavy, too much coffee, too much ice cream, too lazy, blah, blah, blah. Years later, she asked me how I had felt about the lectures.

    “Well,” I said, “it was like those time-share sales pitches. You had to sit through the hourlong talk just to get the color TV. In your case, the color TV was always worth it.”

    To her credit, she actually laughed.

  6. Dawn Summers Says:

    What do these magic beans do? Will they grow a money tree? Or gold bar tree?

  7. Clareified » Blog Archive » When life gives you lemons… Says:

    […] Go to Northern California for a few days. Horrid, horrid, horrid Northern California. […]

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