Thursday, August 08, 2013

An Interlude With Shopping

Sunday dawned and no-one felt much like doing anything strenuous, what with driving 12 hours more than we thought we would and having arguments with Timeshare Jobsworths and each other, and being royally pissed off with everyone and everything, so Mrs Stevie decided that it was the perfect time to organize her usual trip through hell.

I am speaking of the Timeshare Tour Torture, which is an hour-long sales pitch one can put oneself through in order to get some sort of premium, usually cheap tickets to one of the attractions in the area, and something which I have loudly proclaimed as not being worth the time it siphons off my vacation, even if all I do with that time is stare into space remembering a time of no wife, kid and timeshare, no matter how many bux they knock off a couple of Disney Park Jumpers. It is how we ended up owning a week at Orange Lake Country Club in the first place1.

Why "tour"? Because when they think you are in the market to buy a week or upgrade the unit you "own" they will take you out and about the sprawling Orange Lake Megopolis in a stretch-limo golf cart. We no longer qualify for that sort of treatment since the sales department know from previous "tours" that we are not interested in investing more money in a fancier set of digs, having paid off the mortgage on what we currently have. They call it a tour for the same reason you call a vacuum cleaner a hoover and a photocopier a xerox whether or not those companies made the product you are going to use - laziness and inertia.

However, a timeshare is at its heart a money printing operation, and the need to re-monetize everyone's investment is as urgent if not more so than any software vendor's (and we all know how often they turn over products in order to get you to buy the same thing again and again). This time the angle was "points". It seems that in the last five to ten years the industry has gone from a model where everyone simply owns a week in a unit to putting a point value on that week/unit combination, which the owner can then use for "whatever they want" (the salesman's words). I imagine it works rather like the points I earn on my credit card for spending money and rather less univesally than the saleman's gleeful claims would have me believe.

Mrs Stevie started the session off with a bang by introducing herself and in the same breath telling the salesman that she wasn't interested in what he had to sell. This set a confrontational tone that turned my stomach acid for the duration. The salesman did his thing, explaining why points would be better for our style of vacationing (it would, by the way) but they spoiled it all by telling me he wanted me to pay for the points, assessed by some arcane process at some few thousands. Not only that, he wanted me to sell our favourite week/unit back at cost, buy a new one for twice that then pay for the points on both units. The cost was on the order of 15 kilobux.

I smiled and told him that I did not have fifteen thousand dollars, and if I did it would be sucked out of me faster than Goldfinger out of an aeroplane window for college fees, Triple Espresso Coalhammer Lattes etc. He countered with 12 kilobux. I repeated my claim of penury and he countered by calling his manager4 who dropped the ante to 6.5 kilobux, which I declined and they finally let me go about my day. There's no point double-teaming the husband anyway, as any salesman knows. He doesn't control the purse strings, the blonde-haired harridan fulminating less-than quietly in the seat to his right does.

Our take-away was three cheaper Universal Studio tickets and some passes to the Orange Lake water park (something which when we bought into this place would have been entirely free. Like I said, monetizing is big now). Huzzah! We were finally free to go about our day!

Mrs Stevie then insisted on driving around the entire timeshare complex to see how much bigger it had grown. I tried to beg out of this but was accused of "whining" and told to belt up.

When we bought in, the timeshare was modest, a clubhouse/restaurant complex with studio apartments, raquetball and tennis courts, thre swimming pools and a bunch of villas, in blocks of four to a terrace, set on the fairway and surrounding the greens of a golf course of maybe 36 holes or so (I can't be sure). Within five years there were 96 greens, no raquetball courts, a new development of larger villas clumped in blocks of six (two upstairs dropped on the four below) and a new swimming pool. Now, I couldn't tell you how many greens, four "villages" of units, the new ones resembling the blockhouse halls of residence of certain universities or the hotels one can find all over Kissimee, and which beg to be called "Stalag-something" on looking at them. I wouldn't buy into one of those units if I had the cash and a burning desire to own another week at Orange Lake Country Club.

We got lost in the now labyrinthine road system of the once-small Country Club more than once, causing Mrs Stevie's temper to dip further south, which was bad because of the whole not being out of theater thing, but good in that it promised a stop for coffee in the near future during which I might be able to bolt.

We ducked into a couple of places to set up passes and so forth because The Stevieling would have a guest at some point and we wanted her to have the run of the place and to be able to use the facilities without a hitch, and also because Mrs Stevie said she needed to stretch her legs and get away from my "constant moaning", then we tootled off to Oldtown, a sort of traditional pilgrimage when we are in Kissimee.

Oldtown was opened the year we took our first holiday as a married couple. It was then a street, two blocks long, of turn of the (20th) century style buildings with various period-themed shops and attractions in them, and it happened to be right across a car park from our hotel room. There was a restored antique carousel at the end of the street, a place where you could get into costume, grab come props and have one of those "antique" photos taken, a place that made candy and dozens of different flavours of popcorn, a general store where they sold 5 cent cokes in the original-sized bottles (about 2/3 the size of a modern day one), a candlemaker, an ice cream parlour and so forth. There was a magic shop, and I picked up a couple of machined brass nicknacks each year from them until they moved on to greener pastures.

It was touristy, but not nasty touristy if one excepted the "English Pub" on one corner which employed English staff whose job it was to sneer at everyone who walked through the doors and to be as snotty as possible. A quarter century later and it still stands out as an island of naff, though the pub and the staff are long gone. And good riddance.

We took a hot air ballon ride that first year, that we booked from a guy who operated from the front apron, which was terrifying but served to show me the terrible devastation of the orange orchards that the blight caused5 and also was the first time I ever saw a cellular telephone6 (in the hands of one of the "chase team").

In short, we had a positive first impression of the place despite the attempts by the "English Pub" staff to turn that on its head when we took lunch in their establishment, and we pop in for a look at Oldtown every time we are in the area to see what has fallen off this time.

Well, there ain't much left of Oldtown now, so little in fact that one wonders why they keep the name.

The photo place, the general store and the ice-cream parlour are about the only things still cleaving to the vision. The carousel has been replaced by a smaller one, itself surrounded by other rides. The front apron, once the home to Doug the Balloonist, now is the site of a go-kart track and a bizzare reverse-bungee-jump-in-a-sofa ride popular with drunken British twentysomethings that flock there of an evening7. The Stevieling reckoned they had a zip line too, though I think she had it confused with part of another demented ride in which the rider is strapped into a swing-suspended harness, face down, then winched up and back about two hundred feet and released to swing down through a wide arc.

I was hoping to revisit Mango Republic, a casual apparel store I had used a few times during previous visits to acquire nice quality tee shirts, but it had been replaced by a 60s hippie-themed tie-dye and kaftan outlet. I walked a few doors down and bought a very nice Hawaian shirt from a "Surf Shop", then we flopped down in the ice-cream parlour and scoffed homemeade ice-cream for half an hour or so in disgust at the dogward progress the place was appparently engaged in.

We then moved on to a Cracker Barrel casual dining restaurant just along the raod to get something more substantial to eat, since none of us had had any real food to speak of since breakfast, and for a wonder everything was very edible, the snuff line being met and possibly passed. I like the food in these places, but have only a limited tollerance for the grits-n-biscuit heavy menu and rural America decor. The meatloaf dinner was delicious that evening.

It was around this time that I discovered during innocent conversation about "plans" that our Universal Studios tickets allowed us entry into the Islands of Adventure an hour before the park opened for business, that the park opens normally at seven o' clock in the am morning, that we would therefore be entering at six o' clock as the rooster crows, necessitating a five o' clock rising for the moon, and that furthermore Mrs Stevie was intending to execute Plan Get Up At Midnight To Stand All Day In A Blistering Hot Amusement Park on Monday. As in the very next day!

It is pointless arguing with the woman over these sorts of things, but I did so anyway just for form's sake. Then I demanded to be taken back to Orange Lake so I could lie down and nurse the sudden pounding headache I had developed

And the women did this and then buggered off to Universal Studios to sort out exchanging vouchers for actual tickets and thus save time tomorrow because no delay could be tolerated in achieving the Harry Potter ride before the park filled with the Hoi-Poloi.

This took hours in which I was left alone to sleep in peace, because they got lost and parked four miles from the ticket office or something along those lines. To be honest, I wasn't really paying attention to their babble when they got back, moaning about long walks, car park remoteness and crowds of Brazillians being Brazillian.

Lest you think that Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling were indulging in racisim here I should explain.

Epidemics of Brazillian tour groups infest Florida at this time of year, which wouldn't be a problem but for the appaent lack of any concept of personal space in your typical Brazillian youth. If you are unfortunate enough to be in line in front of such a group, expect body contact (goes double in certain circumstances if you are female), and never get between two separate groups from the same party as they can see it as a threat and may charge. You can accurately predict which individuals belong to which herd because they mostly color co-ordinate the group, adopting distinctive uniforms of bright colors.

I adopt the same rules with such tour groups as African river guides suggest for dealing with hippos - stay clear and stay out of their path, and watch for one surfacing under the canoe. At least the habit of their carrying loud two-way walkie-talkie radio sets to coordinate mass charges across the parks has apparently fallen into disuse - because every single one was toting an iPhone. At least they now do the coordination via silent text messages, though I noticed that the tendency to flock in numbers greater than five was much reduced compared to previous years.

Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling were not complaining about the Brazillians as a race, but as an inconvenient force of nature, like a tsunami or burst levee, that a wise person admits as an inevitable consequence of life in a given geographical area.

Also, Mrs Stevie has not forgotten the time when the Stevieling was three months old and we hosted a family reunion and meet the new baby event chez Orange Lake Country Club that visited the MGM Studios park in our own little herd. Dad and mum and sis and bro-in-law-as-was and nephew and niece all decamped into the Muppet Theater for some quality 3D ents while I volunteered to remain in the shade outside with the sleeping baby Stevieling. When they came out they discovered that a couple of dozen young Brazillian ladies, each wearing a dental floss bikini top and miniskirt8 had clustered around to admire the Stevieling, who was unbearably beautiful even then and A Misunderstanding Took Place that scattered the young Brazillian ladies, woke the Stevieling and left inconvenient handbag-shaped bruises on my head for days. I digress.

I reflected as the women ranted about carparks and whatnot that we had spent a day doing zero and I still felt knackered, probably from all the arguing, so I went back to bed and left the women speaking of early starts.

to be continued

  1. And how we later upgraded from a studio apartment to a villa2
  2. And then a second week in a different part of the complex in January3
  3. And WE ARE DONE
  4. This process will be familiar to anyone who has dickered for a car
  5. 15 years on and dead trees from one horizon to the other. The devastation was total and absolute, and I heard on the radio show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me last week that there is another blight coming. The item was in response to the news that orange growers were supporting an attempt to put pig DNA into orange trees to increase resistance to the pest in question. There was much joking about bacon flavoured oranges, but on a recorded statement a spokesman said the orange was in danger of becoming extinct and I for one understand his comment in light of that balloon flight
  6. It required a car battery and was packaged in a box the size of a small picnic hamper. I, demonstrating my legendary powers of prediction, opined that they would never catch on
  7. It is vital not to be standing in the open when they fire the thing as antiperistelsis under extreme acceleration plus a gallon of predigested beer are not condusive to holiday cheer in the onlooker
  8. A variation of the usual Herd Uniform in which I was taking an anthropologhical and entirely academic interest

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