Most years since we came together we have flown at Christmas to visit Ruth’s son and his family in Bexley, adjacent to Columbus, Ohio.
Sometimes when we fly east we drive down to SeaTac. Often we can get an early, and cheaper, flight so we go down the night before and stay in a motel that provides free parking while we’re away. An alternative is to take the airport bus that now goes more often and more regularly.
More enjoyable – this is a holiday – is to fly from Bellingham on Allegiant that does not fly direct to Columbus. So we fly Allegiant to Las Vegas, then take Southwest to Columbus. This costs a little more than flying the whole way with Southwest (from Seattle) but we get a couple of days in Vegas with Casablanca Express providing a hotel room. Casablanca is a front for companies that sell time shares; we sit through sales presentations and hard sell for an hour and a half in return for two nights lodging. We’ve done this before, and we are confident that we can resist hard sell
This year we saved at a bit more by parking at the $2.00-a-day lot on I-5, just south of Ferndale. You have to balance the number of days you will be gone with the “cut-rate” taxi fee to get to the airport that is $15.00. This is two businesses with one owner. The taxis have been operating in Whatcom County for some time. All the vehicles are Lincoln Town Cars, all white. The owner buys used – there are no new ones – with low mileage as he can find. You pay in advance with a credit card for the parking and the driver at the time of your trip to the airport. The drivers could teach seminars on customer care – and earning tips.
The day we were prepared to leave, December 20, was the day it snowed. Our flight was scheduled at 8 a.m. and we were told to be at the parking lot by 6 o’clock. Even though we were all packed the night before and got up before 4 a.m., we were late because of the snow. A little after 6 a.m., with us still on the highway, our driver called to ask where we were. When we reached the lot he had a space for us near the office, and quickly pulled his Lincoln up to load our bags.
But through Check In and Security we soon learned that the airport was closed and what snow removable equipment was available needed repair. After boarding once and then disembarking, we were told that our plane couldn’t take off in slush. After the snow plows started working, all we could do was watch out the windows. About 3 o’clock we were told our flight was canceled. While our baggage was unloaded from the plane, we called the parking lot. Bags in hand we found our car waiting across the road, parked at the head of the taxi line. The driver – this time a woman – saw us and came to help with our bags. A little after 4 o’clock we were eating an early dinner at CJ’s Beach House Restaurant in Birch Bay. That evening an e-mail from Allegiant advised that our flight was re-scheduled for 12:30 p.m. the next day. Everything that day was routine.
Allegiant really understands Cheap. Everything costs extra, even water. But we weren’t complaining, although Ruth says she fears they will soon start charging for the air we breath. We were pleased to be able to buy a $14 round-trip bus ticket to our hotel on the plane In previous years we had paid much more for cabs.
Casablanca put us in the Plaza, two relatively-new towers downtown. That is where Las Vegas began. The bus driver, whose patter suggested he was a moonlighting standup comedian, told us about Oscar Goodman, “the former mob lawyer,” who became mayor. After Oscar retired his wife of more that 50 years was elected mayor. Downtown is the focus of their passion. Fremont Street has been covered over with a dome where brilliant light shows are projected. There is no vehicle traffic and that first evening we walked the distance of about three blocks seeing open – and free – stage shows and a variety of individual buskers. One saxophone player used a variety of instruments from bass to alto. The whole scene made for one big party – and free!
A short distance from the end of the dome we found an Hennessey’s Irish pub. The house beer was Guiness, very Irish, tasting a little bitter. Yet a perfect match for Al’s Ahi Poke, made with raw tuna. Ruth enjoyed hers with Jameson’s short ribs. We stayed there for a trio that we had watched for an hour getting ready but left after the first set – too noisy (but then, all of Vegas is raucous).
Our first morning we had breakfast at the Plaza’s Hash House, too many carbs and too much money. (The second morning we went to a Mexican place in the Food Court where the food was OK and the cost economical.) We walked around the hotel looking for a comedy club. Only possibility was a pudgy guy who appeared only on weekends and whom the front desk wasn’t enthusiastic about. The casino was mostly slot machines. We didn’t touch a one during our stay, even though the hotel desk had given us both $100 chits on check in.
Now it was time for our session with Casablanca that was on the third floor of the hotel. On the way we sniffed at Oscar’s, the ex-mayor’s fancy restaurant on the second floor. Very high prices; we figured our budget could handle appetizers and a glass of wine or two.
Casablanca turned out to really be TLC, Timeshare Liquidators Company. We drew Thierry, a Frenchman who had visited his grandfather in San Diego 30 years ago and decided to stay for college. He was well dressed and well groomed and, of course sincere. Thierry (pronounced Terry) explained that many timeshares owners were forced to sell their properties when the real estate bubble burst. TLC’s business is taking those timeshares off the hands of banks. Each morning the Las Vegas office – there are nine others – gets a fax with the properties available that day. We liked Thierry and our resistance was working well until Mike showed up. We laughed, “Here comes the closer,” and assured Mike that Thierry was great for us. But Thierry was quick to beg off that Mike had an important role. And indeed he did.
When we went into that meeting we owned 6,000 time share credits, enough for a good holiday every year or so. Now we own 24,000 points attached to a complex in Olympic Valley, California, where the Winter Olympics were held near Tahoe 50-some years ago. We will never need to go there. We can chose destinations from the RCI directory that has locations around the world. We will spare you the details until we publish our article: “Why your retirement planning should include timeshares.”
Mike was irresistible, a smiling bundle of TLC. When we finished signing all the papers, Mike took us to a small machine with three knobs. “Punch them quickly,” he said. Out came a hundred dollar bill. It covered most of our tab at Oscar’s.
Altogether in our 43 hours in Las Vegas we spent $175.17 of our money including $3 for the hotel maid in addition to the two hundred dollar chits that we left for her by the TV
About how much we spent for more points with TLC, you need to wait for another article.