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Published: Thursday, 12/12/2002

`Free' offer costs time, patience

“No, this is not Mary Powell. You must have the wrong number, and state, and country. This is Hilda Crosspatch in Budapest.”

I swear one day I am going to answer a telemarketer with such an answer. But you know what? The person on the other end of the line would just continue the programmed spiel. As long as the telephone line is open, telemarketers talk. Hanging up is the only way to shut them up.

I have slammed the phone more than once. Then I am sorry and wonder if it was a student trying to make a few dollars to earn college money and after enough hang-ups he will give up the education goal and become a begging street person.

When such rudeness is expressed, the next caller with a sales pitch gets the royal treatment. I am friendly, ask where they are located, what the weather is there, if they are having a good day, and thank them for calling Mary Powell.

It was obviously during a mellow mood - twice - that I succumbed to the blarney that offered free travel and lodging.

As we learn early in life, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Still, there is an undeniable curiosity in each of us that, when teamed with something free, such as a plane ticket, makes it hard to turn down.

With that weak excuse for human frailty, two offers were accepted. The first was to a Toledo gathering and the second to Novi, Mich. Each involved two hours of listening and watching a video on the subject of the wonderful world of vacation-club membership. While the speaker-salesman who has said his part hundreds of times makes an admirable presentation, we audience participants squirm in our seats and check our watches every five minutes because we know- with some guilt- that we have no intention of signing up, especially if we are over 65.

The presentation at Novi was a particularly outstanding example of marketing. The movie depicting swimming, horseback riding, sailing, fishing, and dining at elegant vacation resorts was shown between the first sales hype with the salesman assigned to Mary Powell and the second meeting with him, in which he hoped to seal the deal.

This was no modest presentation. The sales company went all out with an auditorium equipped with a full-size movie screen and standard airline seats where guests fasten their seat belts and, through audio and visual motion pictures of changing landscapes, get the feeling their imaginary plane is taking off and landing at the faraway vacation destination.

After the “flight,” salesmen who have spent the time revving for the final sales pitch meet their prospective customer for another round of information. Always, the price is the last information written down. There is no opportunity to think about it or discuss it with your lawyer, accountant, psychiatrist, or pastor. It's that day or never.

Don't they know women like to think about it when they are shopping, even if it's just a lamp, let alone thousands of dollars for a vacation plan?

If the second sales pitch fails, a supervisor pops out of the woodwork and joins the table to help the defeated salesman. Only when that doesn't work do I see the free certificates that were promised.

I have not tried to use mine. My curiosity is satisfied. I will pay for my own lunch.

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