Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Resisting WorldMark's Hard Sell Approach

We’ve attended time-share owner presentations before, and I vowed, never again. I hate the “hard-sell”, where they come at you from all angles, trying to convince you to put more money into the club. In Tucson, I got angry at the concierge and emphatically let him know what I thought of their tactics. He told me they would never ask us again to attend a presentation, and they didn’t for a while. But time passed and the club went through changes, so that memo must have gotten lost. They started asking us again.

 The Concierge at the front desk at the Seaside Resort last Tuesday assured Katie and me that the presentation would be informational and that we really owed it to ourselves as club owners to attend. She said the presenter would tell us about new things happening with the club and all the new condo properties opening up. I told her I didn’t like the “hard-sell” part, where they try to convince us to invest more money in the club, but she assured us that they didn’t do that anymore and gave me a piece of paper with a check list of things that we could expect from the meeting. Third on the list was “No hard sell”.  She said if we’re uncomfortable with the way someone is talking with us, just pull out the paper and show it to the person.  She said the guy wouldn’t push too hard and we’d be out of there in an hour’s time with our visa gift card worth $125.00.

My sister Karen, without hesitation, signed up for the two hour presentation for non-members. She would be informed about all the benefits of the club and then have to persevere through the part where they tried their damndest to convince her that she couldn’t possibly be able to live with herself it she didn’t join the Club. I know from experience that this is difficult to sit through if you have no intention of joining. Karen had no intention of joining. She was going for the sole purpose of receiving the $125.

Katie and I had no intention of purchasing more credits either, so I decided not to go. But the combination of the Concierge’s reassuring words and my sister’s fearless stance to earn the reward money, must have softened my resolve. We signed up for an early morning presentation.  I had it all worked out in my mind how the hour would go. We would listen to the talk about the club, gain valuable information for the future and when the sales person asked us to buy more credits, we would simply say “no thank you” and get on with our vacation, $125 richer. The money would come in handy to help pay for our meals at local restaurants.

The Club employee in charge of us at the presentation was named DJ. He seemed like a nice guy and asked us all about our experiences in the club and a few personal questions. We then listened to a 45 minute talk by an exuberant young woman who told us about all the new club features and properties. Then DJ escorted us to a table, we sat down, and he excused himself for a moment. He returned with a young man who, I presumed, was going to give us the “soft sell” for the last 15 minutes. This guy came at us from all angles, trying to convince us that it was in our best interest to buy more credits. And the best part, according to him, was that the club would easily finance the whole thing. We would have monthly payments of only $185 and could enjoy all the benefits our new status would engender. He had pictures and charts and kept at us.

We were fifteen minutes into the second hour  of our one hour presentation, when the guy, let’s just call him DH, for dick-head, asked Katie directly, “What do you say, are you ready to sign?” He pushed a paper in front of her with a big X next to her typed-in name. Katie looked at me and then looked back at DH and said “No.”

So then DH turned to me. He didn’t ask me the question, but instead pushed a paper with a big X next to my name in front of me and began explaining all the benefits he had just explained to Katie, all over again. He must have thought I hadn’t been listening or perhaps he thought I was deaf, but it was at that point that I couldn’t take anymore and lost my patience. Katie had already declined the offer. We were now nearly twenty minutes over time and as far as I was concerned, we were done.

I interrupted DH, giving him a look that could kill, slammed the checklist down on the table and very forcefully said, “We’re done here. It’s time for you to leave.” By the way that he and DJ reacted, you’d think I'd turned the table over and called him a “scum sucking pig", like Marlon Brando did to Slim Pickens in The Appaloosa.  DH quickly gathered up his papers and hurried away without uttering a word. DJ made excuses for DH, like “He’s just doing his job.” trying to smooth things over. I thought, that’s the same defense Adolf Eichmann used at the Nuremburg Trials, but didn’t say it out loud. When DJ realized the excuses weren’t working, he decided to give me some advice. “If someone offers to give you money to attend something, you can bet they are going to try to sell you something.” In other words, it was our fault for attending the presentation if we had no intention of buying in the first place. Thanks a lot DJ. I was dangerously close to channeling Jack Nicolson in The Last Detail, but Katie managed to get us out of there without incident.

It took me half the day to calm down from the whole thing.  I had trouble enjoying our breakfast at a local restaurant, paid for by the visa gift card. Like I’ve said several times before, “I’m never going to attend another one of those Presentations.”


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sequim, Our New Home

Katie and I recently moved to Sequim, Washington.  Sequim is not a new place for us. We lived in Port Angeles, 15 miles to the west, from 2004-2009 and both worked here part of the time.

Sequim is not your usual Western Washington town. It is located at the top edge of the Olympic Peninsula. On the southern border are the Olympic mountains and to the north is the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Vancouver Island, Canada is directly across the Strait. To the west are some of the rainiest places in the US, receiving over 100 inches of rain per year, yet Sequim gets less than 16 inches, lower than many towns in Arizona and California. This is because of the rain shadow effect. The Olympic mountain range serves as a barrier, causing the winds to lose their moisture before reaching the area. Washingtonians refer to it as the “banana belt” and pilots who fly over, talk about the “blue Hole” which is often directly above Sequim, the only break in the clouds for miles.

Sequim(pronounced Skwim, from the Klallam language),  is a smallish town of about 7,000 residents, 30,000 if you include the surrounding area.  

In 1977 a Sequim resident named Emanuel Manis was digging a hole in his front yard and accidently unearthed the bones of a 13,800 year old Mastodon. Imbedded in one of its ribs was a human made bone projectile point.  This archaeological discovery put humans in the area earlier than Anthropologists thought. Some of the Mastodon’s bones can be seen at the local Sequim museum.

Prior to white settlers, the S’Klallam tribe inhabited the area. S’Klallam means “Strong People” in the Salish language. The first European settlers came in the 1850’s and lived in Dungeness, located on the Strait. The West Coast's first commercial fishery was built in 1848 in Dungeness. They mainly sold Dungeness crabs. In the 1920s & 30s commercial crabbing became a huge industry. The area was named by George Vancouver in 1792, who wrote: "The low sandy point of land, which from its great resemblance to Dungeness in the British Channel, I called New Dungeness.” The Dungeness School which was built in 1893, is still standing in the area and is run by the Sequim museum and arts Center hosts many local functions.

Sequim is currently most noted for its annual Lavender Festival. Lavender farming is not a lucrative business on its own, but on one weekend in late July, all the farms work together, showcasing their various lavender products, and turn Sequim into Washington’s own Provence. People come from all over Washington and beyond to wander around the farms and the downtown area, spending their money.

Another Sequim festival of note is the annual Irrigation Festival, which is the oldest community based festival in Washington. In the 1890s, irrigation canals expanded farming out on to what was then called the Prairie, the open dry areas. Farms sprung up and the area became one of the State’s primary suppliers of dairy products. At one time there were nearly a thousand dairy cow farms.

Sequim has now become a popular retirement community. It’s peaceful living here on the Olympic Peninsula. Like any rural area, the pace of life is unhurried and where ever we go, there are beautiful vistas of mountains, open grass and farm land and water. We are surrounded by beauty. If for some reason we need a city fix, Seattle is just a forty five minute drive and half an hour ferry ride away.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finding An Old Friend

Last November I wrote a blog summarizing my year in Vietnam. On April 20th there was a comment left from a Vietnamese Interpreter I worked with in Vietnam from 1967-68. He simply identified himself as Nguyen Van Tuat.  I was ecstatic.

Tuat is 3rd from the left
Tuat’s son somehow found the  blog,  where he saw a picture of his dad as a young man.                 

Shortly after my unit, the 635th MI detachment, 198th Brigade, got set up at our basecamp near Chu Lai, two Interpreters were assigned to us, Le Van Chang and Nguyen Van Tuat. Both were about twenty years old like myself. They were the first Vietnamese people I got to know. Both Tuat and Chang were friendly and loved to laugh and joke around.
Chang, Tuat and me at the beach on the South China Sea

We worked together every day, interrogating detainees or going on Intelligence gathering missions. We hung out in each other’s hooch’s  in the evenings, talking and eating snacks or C-rations.
When we had time off, we went to the beach.


Me & Tuat

Chang before he was shot
On New Year’s Eve 1967, Chang was shot by “friendly fire”. Tuat and I went up to the hospital to be with him. He was shot in the shoulder and survived. A month later he was back working in our unit.

When I returned home in October of 1968, I left them there in the war. Over the next 46+ years, I had no way of knowing whether they survived the war and the communist takeover in 1975.  So when I received the message from Tuat, I was relieved to discover that he was still alive.

I’ve Skyped with Tuat twice so far. He told me that Chang also survived and is now living in the US somewhere. We expressed our happiness to have found each other after all these years. We’re now both 67 years old, but talking with him face to face on the computer screen, I could still see that young man I knew from all those years ago.  He told me that after the war he ran away and hid, but the communists found him and put him in a “re-education camp”. He described the experience  with tears in his eyes as “bullshit” and “very bad”.                                                                       

Tuat, Duy Anh, Hue
When we first Skyped, Tuat was working long hours, six days a week on a farm. The second time he told me he got a different job, at a hotel. He said the work would be a lot easier, even though the pay was still very low. Hue also works as a cook and Duy Anh is in his last year of high school. Tuat is determined to send his son to college, so he can have a better life.

Katie and I have plans to travel to the Far East next year and I am looking forward  to visiting my old friend Tuat and his family.



Friday, January 2, 2015

Bob Dylan and Bobby Vee

I often watch youtube music videos of some of my favorite artists. The other day I ran across a clip from a Dylan concert at Midway Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota from July 10, 2013. When the audience quieted down, Dylan stepped up to the mic and said, “I’ve played all over the world with everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna and everybody in between… but the most meaningful person  I’ve ever been on stage with, who’s here tonight, used to sing a song called Suzie Baby." Dylan then introduced Bobby Vee to the audience. The band started playing and Dylan sang Suzie Baby, an unremarkable, simple early rock & roll sounding song, which I’d never heard before.

Did I hear him right? I dragged the cursor back and listened again. Sure enough, Bob Dylan just said the most meaningful person he’d ever been on stage with was Bobby Vee. If you were alive in the early 1960s and turned on a radio, you'd have heard Bobby Vee. He had a string of hits: Devil or Angel, Rubber Ball, Take Good Care of my Baby (written by Carole King and Gerry Goffen), Run to Him and The Night has a Thousand Eyes to name a few. Between 1959 and 1970, Bobby Vee had 38 top 100 hits and 7 gold records. He was part of the popular music phenomenon that filled a void shortly after 1959. Around that time Elvis entered the army, Little Richard quit singing to become a preacher, Jerry Lee Lewis went to jail for marrying his 14 year old cousin and Buddy Holly along with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens died in a plane crash. Early rock & roll was all but dead and into the void rushed a bunch of good looking male singers, singing catchy pop tunes. We called it “bubble gum music”. It’s greatest appeal was to young teenage girls, “bubblegummers”.  Bobby Vee was one of the most popular of the bubble gum hit makers.

In 1964 rock & roll was revived by the Beatles and Dylan. Dylan’s influence spawned the birth of the singer/songwriter and blended folk and rock music. Popular music moved away from the catchy pop songs of singers like Bobby Vee and became more relevant and meaningful with more musical complexity.  So why is Dylan so reverential towards a pop star, who sang the kind of music that he broke away from and stood in stark contrast to. To understand this we have to go back to “the day the music died”, as Don McLean put it in his song American Pie.   

 On February 3, 1959, a plane crashed in Minnesota killing Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens along with the pilot. They were part of a concert tour called Winter Dance Party, which also featured Dion and the Belmonts. The plane was on its way to Moorhead, Minn for their next concert. It was a tragedy, but the concert tickets were sold and the manager wanted the show to go on. He put an add out on the radio for a band who could fill in. A local group made up of the Velline brothers, Sidney and Bill, responded to the add and were asked to fill in for the lost musicians. Sidney and Bill let their 15 year old brother Bobby sit in with the band for the concert. Bobby had been perfecting a singing style that sounded like Buddy Holly, which made him perfect for the gig. Just before the performance, the Velline brothers were asked what their group was called and Bobby spontaneously said "The Shadows".  The Shadows were a hit that night and went on to record four sides for the Soma label, one of the songs being Suzie Baby , featuring Bobby singing in his Buddy Holly style.

In the summer of 1959, The Shadows hired an 18 year old musician from Hibbing, Minnesota who was working in Fargo as a busboy at the Apple CafĂ©, named Bobby Zimmerman. Here is how Dylan puts it in his autobiographical book Chronicles Volume One. Talking about Bobby Vee he writes, “In the summer of ’59, he had a regional hit record out called Suzie Baby on a local label. His band was called The Shadows and I had hitchhiked out there and talked my way into joining his group as a piano player on some of his local gigs, one in a basement of a church. I played a few shows with him, but he really didn’t need a piano player and besides, it was hard finding a piano that was in tune in the halls that he played.”

The young Dylan credits Bobby Vee for inspiring him to go on in his own career.  He admired Bobby,thought he had a great Rock-a-Billy style of performing and was grateful to be given an opportunity to play with his band. They both left the mid-west and had extremely divergent careers. Bobby Zimmerman went to New York, where he changed his name to Bob Dylan and invented his Woody Guthrie, troubadour persona and  Bobby Velline got picked up by Liberty records, changed his name to Bobby Vee and became a pop star and teen heartthrob .

Dylan says in Chronicles: “ Bobby Vee and me had a lot in common, even though our paths would take such different directions. We had the same musical history and came from the same place and the same point of time.” “I’d always thought of him as a brother. Every time I’d see his name somewhere, it was like he was in the room.”

In 2011 Bobby Vee was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. With this knowledge, he traveled to Arizona and with his family recorded a final album called “The Adobe Sessions”.