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A No-Win Situation : The Small Print Said We Had a One-in-100,000 Chance at the Car

February 07, 1988|JACK SMITH

WE ALMOST won a Mercedes-Benz.

Well, not almost , maybe, but we had a chance: one chance in 100,000.

My wife filled out a coupon when we went to the Luxury Lifestyle show at the L.A. Convention Center. A week or so later, she got a phone call. She was excited. She said a young woman had told her that we were one of six finalists. In a few days we would be receiving our number under a seal. We had to drive down to Oceanside to peel off the seal and receive our prize.

If we didn't win the Mercedes, we would win one of five other prizes--14 days in Australia, seven days in Maui, or three nights and four days in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas.

I said she had misunderstood. It was some kind of a real estate sales pitch. We could not be one of only six finalists. It would take tens of thousands of prospects to pay for the Mercedes alone. What the woman meant was that if we went to Oceanside and listened to the pitch, we would win one of the six prizes.

In a few days an envelope came with Finalist printed on it in red block letters. It verified that we would win one of the six prizes. In small print it said that our chances of winning the Mercedes were one in 100,000. The chances of winning the trip to Australia were 10 in 100,000; the chances of winning the other prizes improved up to 30,000 in 100,000 for Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas.

"I don't want to win a trip to Las Vegas," I said.

"What about Lake Tahoe?" she asked.

I answered the phone a few days later when a woman called to verify that we were going to Oceanside. I agreed to be there at 1 o'clock on the following Saturday.

Our appointment was at a four-story condominium on the beach; it was a pretty orange color with blue trim. We checked in at a desk, and my wife was given a card to fill out. Among other things, it asked if our combined incomes were above a certain level. A minute or two after 1 o'clock a young woman sought us out. She wore a dark blue miniskirt, a short-sleeve flower-print blouse and white, lace-patterned stockings. Her hair was light blond, curly and shoulder length. Her fingernails were long and opalescent. Her eyes were blue.

"Hi," she said, "I'm Wendy."

Wendy led us to an apartment, and we sat at a small table. Other couples were seated at other tables with other salespersons. Through a large window we could see the ocean. It was dark blue with silver patches under a hazy sky.

Wendy asked all about us: What kinds of vacations do we like? How much time do we have? What do we like to do? Did we know about time-share? She said it was the second-biggest business in the world, next to technology. She told us how it works: You buy two shares in a condominium, (the one we were in) and that entitles you to use it two weeks out of the year.

Also, with access to the company's computer, you could trade with people who owned shares in condominiums all over the world. She turned the pages of a catalogue showing other condominiums--country houses in England, chateaux in France, villas in Italy. They all looked sumptuous and cozy.

I felt guilty. I knew we weren't going to buy a share in a condominium. Wendy took us out on the deck and showed us through a couple of the apartments. We went back to the table. "Any questions?" Wendy asked.

"You haven't said what the price is," I said, feeling that I needed to be told the price as a point of departure.

"I haven't got my real estate license yet," she confided. "I'm not allowed to quote a price. But I can get someone to do it."

"Well," I said, "we don't want to buy a condominium today."

"I guess I'd better sign you off," she said.

"Sign us off?"

"Yes. I'll get someone to sign my sheet to show that I've done my job."

"You were charming," I said.

She signed us off, which meant we could pick up our prize. We won four days and three nights at Lake Tahoe.

Transportation is by bus; leaving at 6 a.m.

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