Saturday, 2 June 2012

Scratch & Lose

Justyna's second day with us began uneventfully. We had a lazy morning and just before noon set out, with our friend Gerrard from Saltwhistle, to explore the town of Philipsburg on the Dutch side of St. Martin. We were going to there to stroll on the boardwalk, grab lunch and check out some souvenir stores. It is very easy to move around the island, and travel between the two sides is permitted once you clear on either side. All we had to do was catch a "maxi taxi", one of many privately owned cab vans that run frequently between all the major towns. We took one to Marigot to visit a marine store first, and after waited for another to take us to Philipsburg. Standing on the side of the road in Marigot we talked about food. Preoccupied with our mission to the marine store we lost track of time. It was close to 2 PM and we suddenly grew very hungry. Once in Philipsburg we would quickly chose a place to sit down among countless waterfront cafes, if only the bus would come soon. We stood awhile under the shade of a roadside tree, when a young man approached us. He introduced himself as en employee of a Westin Dawn Beach Resort and wanted to know if we'd like to participate in a giveaway. We had food on our minds and not a lot of time to kill, but he handed us some scratch and win tickets anyway. The bus hasn't shown yet so we scratched. Unfortunately the bar of symbols at the bottom of my ticket revealed 3 sevens. The most coveted combination in the Westin scratch and win ticket world. I say unfortunately, because what followed was an unfortunate turn of exciting, comical and frightening events. 
The triple sevens combination, young Jason informed us, would give us a one time opportunity to win a $1000 or a 5 day retreat at a Westin of our choosing... after enjoying a mandatory 90 minute tour of their facilities, of course. This sounded like a bit of a hassle for four hungry foreigners, but we're poor cruisers and we got so excited about the possibility of winning the cash we caved. Though not without protests from our empty stomachs, which Jason promised to fill on the way to the hotel. He seemed really excited about this, much more than we did, and we quickly learned why. Bringing 2 couples in with a triple seven card for a tour meant a $400 bonus for young Jason. He was stoked. He began to coach us in terms of the types of answers we would have to provide in order to fit the ideal Westin target demographic. I guess he was supposed to ask them all before letting us scratch the tickets to make sure that we were over 30, in long term relationships, preferably with kids, earning $10,000/month per household. We are the furthest thing from what Jason needed to bring in, but he didn't care. He just fed us the answers. Justyna and Gerrard had to pretend to be a couple of 6 years and they took their roles very seriously, beginning to bicker on cue. Jason spoke fast and erratically about what we should expect and we began to feel uneasy about our part in it, but by then we were already in his car and driving towards the Westin resort. 
As promised, Jason was taking us to eat first, but upon checking the contents of his wallet he announced he had very little money and needed to stop by a friend's to borrow some. Uh-oh! We exchanged a few suspicious glances. Justyna said to me in Polish: "This is beginning to feel like that time I got robbed in Jamaica". Uh-oh! Jason called his friend and spoke in French, something about meeting him at the beach. We drove on. When we got to the beach the friend was not there. Another short, cryptic phone conversation followed. We decided we didn't need Jason to pay for lunch. We could cover it if he only just got us to a place we could eat. We didn't feel in danger, the area we were driving through was populated, but we were certainly apprehensive. This guy's behavior was proving to be less than professional and it concerned us. We pulled up to a small convenience store with a deli counter to get sandwiches. It felt good to get out of that car. Jason wasn't threatening in any way, he even showed me his driver's license, but we still felt uneasy. I think he sensed it and when we asked how much further to the resort he asked the lady at the deli counter to confirm that it was just down the road. Seeing as though the place he was taking us to really existed, we felt relieved and piled back into his car after our sandwiches were ready. We were fed and a bit more comfortable, until Jason pulled into a parking lot saying he was going to grab that money from his friend after all. He jumped out of the car and disappeared inside a storefront. We didn't know what to do. Justyna laughed nervously saying: "Something like this happened right before I got robbed in Jamaica". Gabe was starting to get a really bad vibe, and when Jason emerged from the store followed by his friend, Gabe got out of the car and watched them. Jason's friend walked over to his own car and pulled something out. It was a stack of pamphlets, with details about some other prizes available to us. Clearly this other fellow was Jason's work associate, helping his buddy seal the deal. That's all. Clearly Gabe was overreacting. Or was he? He began whispering in my left ear just how wrong all this felt. Justyna sat in the back seat with us, over to my right, speaking in Polish about how it all felt wrong to her too. And then Jason told us the resort was just over there, down the hill and beyond this really awesome beach we just had to see. It was going to be a short detour, but well worth the views. Once again, laughing with disbelief, reluctant to accept that it might actually be true, Justyna whispered: "It's starting to look more and more like the time I got robbed in Jamaica". That's when Gabriel said we needed to get out of the car. Whatever it took. Thankfully it didn't take much. Jason stopped the car promptly when Gabe faked car sickness and demanded to be let out. Everyone piled out. Confused at first we tried to comfort Gabe, never truly realizing it was a ruse. So did Jason and once he saw through it he seemed to be genuinely affected. He asked if we're getting out because we didn't trust him and I had to tell him that yes, his conduct left too much to the imagination. We were glad to see a "maxi taxi" come around the corner and we hailed it. Once in the safety of the van tensions relaxed and we laughed. We laughed at our stupidity, at our gullibility. We laughed at Gabe's outstanding performance. The way he staggered out of the car, bent in half, grasping for a nearby wall and dry-heaving. We laughed at our dumb luck and at poor Jason, who in the end seemed very hurt by our betrayal. Ultimately we came to agree that we may not have been in danger, but we all felt we were being played, and that was bad enough. Gabe had a strong hunch that he refused to ignore and we're very glad we followed his lead, especially that after a quick internet search the next morning we learnt that Jason and his Westin resort deal were in fact a fraud. 

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