Sharing time

It’s every Durango resident’s worst nightmare. You’re casually walkingdown Main Avenue en route to a cup of coffee, lunch or a littledowntown shopping, when you hear, “Say, where are you from?” The question usually issues from a small gazebo or kiosk, and if you’re not quick on your feet, it’s rapidly followed by others: “Want to spend thenight in this hotel for free?” “Ever tried four wheeling?” “Interested inseeing the melodrama?” “Want to go on a raft trip?”

After politely answering “no,” you continue down Main but the street has suddenly taken on a different flavor. Your mindfills with a different set of questions: “Is the shirt I’m wearingthat strange?” “Do I need more sun?” “Have I been spendingtoo much time in the office?”

At some point, it’s happened to most of us, and for some, it’s happened more than once. After dealing with repeatencounters, I thought I knew how to beat the system with two simple rules – avoid dense kiosk zones by traveling the backstreets and avoid eye contact when forced to travel near kiosks. For the most part, sneaking around Durango and putting on a frown between Fifth and Ninth streets has workedlike a charm. However, the marketing geniuses cracked even my code a couple years ago.

At the time, my wife was working at a local nonprofit and calledwith what she thought was good news. “We’re getting free tickets to an upcoming dinner theatre,” she beamed. “It sounds like it’s a murder mystery, and it takes place in a local hotel.”

Always one to be suspect of “too good to be true,” I was caught a little off guard. “That’s strange,” I replied. “I haven’t heard anything about dinner theater happening right now.”

Still, we had nothing better to do and showed up that Friday. As suspected, the event was not taking place in a room-to-room format in one of Durango’s classics. Instead, we wound up in a standardhotel/motel conference room on the outskirts of town.

Once inside our eyes were greeted by numerous strange-looking shirts, with milky-white skin around every corner and a crew that looked like it had been spending too much collective time in theoffice. The fellow at the front door took our complementary tickets and directed us to a round table in the middle of the room. Our four companions for the evening were already waiting for us.

“Hi, I’m Don and this is Fern,” one couple announced in a slightdrawl. “We’re here from Atlanta.”“Wendy and Phil Patterson up from Alamorgordo. Pleasure to meetyou,” the other two remarked. Phil then raised an eyebrow and asked,“Say, where are you folks from?”

The evening opened with a Depression Chicago-style murder mystery in which a troupe of Colorado Springs actors cast as gangsters, flappers and undercover police officers mingled amongst tables. Their costumes were basic tuxedos and prom dresses, and in phony Chicago accents, they explained that we were not in a hotel conference room but (use your imagination) a Prohibition-era “speakeasy.”

The “play” really bottomed out when two of the male actors in gangster attire got the entire room’s attention and approached the spot where Rachael and I were sitting.

“I remember when old Jimmy Two-Face died right there at thatspot,” the more rotund of the two said while pointing to an area of carpet beneath my wife’s chair.

“Poor old Jimmy Two-Face,” the bean pole replied. “But I’ll tell you what. He’s smiling now.” The room responded with a rousing guffaw,and Phil form Alamorgordo chummed up and gave me a brotherly slapon the back.

After a few more antics, the guy who took our ticket stepped up and without even trying to sneak it, turned off the light. A blood-curdling scream followed, the lights went back up, and there on the plushly carpeted floor, the rotund gangster actor played dead, occasionally cracking one eye to see if anyone was looking.

The ticket taker/light switchoperator then informed us that it was time for dinner, and we would get the play’s exciting conclusion after an intermission. The whole crew, including actors and actresses, lined up for a basic chicken-and-potato buffet. While in line making idle small talk with Fern, I overheard one of our fellow dinner theater goers on the telephone to someone back home. “It’s been fantastic,” she crooned. “We’ve had free rooms. We rode the train. The food’s been great. It’s the best one I’ve ever been on.”

Nudging me in the ribs, Rachael shed a little light, saying, “I don’t believe it, but I think this is a time-share scam.”

Sure enough, a look around with eyes wide open revealed a room full of time-share tourists, the hardiest bargain hunters in the world. These were people who will sit through hours of excruciating presentations for a night’s sleep in a hotel room and a trip through the buffetline. These were people who get car keys in the mail and drive hundreds of miles only to stick it in an ignition and disappointingly turn the key. Suddenly, I realized why I’d been the only one frequenting the cash bar all night.

And as reality hit, so did the sales spiel. The ticket taker, light specialist and salesman took the stage, flashed a Pepsodent smile and said, “Before we get back to the play, I wanted to take a few minutes and fill you in on some of the options we have here at ... .”

Most amazingly, our fellow theater goers ate it up, politely hanging on his every word and beaming as if the play was continuing.

Not so polite, Rachael and I scratched our names and address off a sheet we’d filled out, plotted an escape route and hit the road. Somehow, the snake charmer missed our departure, and we managed to avoid buying two weeks in a hotel room a few miles from our home. We were, however, offered an off-road experience in a Humvee a couple weeks ago. I guess it’s back to traveling the side streets for us.

-Will Sands




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