You won a free cruise!

I kept getting the same phone call, over and over again, always from out of state.  The caller ID would say Seattle or Orlando or Phoenix. “Hello?” I’d answer, but before I could even finish that one word, there’d be an automatic recording, “Congratulations! You’ve won a free vacation!”

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The messages would scroll through the same two or three scripts. “Pack those bags!” and I’d try to hang up before the sentence could be finished. Or there’d be one where a boat’s horn would blare, followed by a, “You just won a free cruise!” I don’t understand where these robo-calls are getting their financing from. Who’s making money off of this? Even if I were gullible enough to fall for a scam like this once, don’t you think it would raise even the stupidest caller’s suspicions to keep winning free vacations, one after the other?

So I just stopped answering my phone, outside of the few known contacts that still took the time to actually dial my number. And this worked, for a while anyway, but the phone gods must have taken notice to my answering habits, because the tactics changed slightly. I started getting random calls from various numbers in Danbury, Connecticut.

Connecticut, huh? I mean, I don’t really have any business in Connecticut, but it’s pretty close, definitely within the tri-state area. And why were they so persistent? It was like every other day, Danbury, Connecticut. Even though I knew that it was probably a junk call, every time I’d see that 203 area code pop up on my touchscreen, my imagination would run wild, I’d start fantasizing about all sorts of out-of-the-blue dream job offers, or some rich long-lost relative who’d somehow left me a large sum of money, but his inheritance lawyer was based out of Connecticut, and if he couldn’t get in touch with me soon, he’d be forced to start looking toward my next of kin. And do I really want to see my brothers and sisters wind up with what should have been my surprise fortune?

So one day when I got out of work I saw the three missed calls, I hesitated for a second before my thumb impulsively pressed the redial button. It didn’t even ring, it went straight to the recorded voice, “It looks like somebody’s ready to claim their free trip!” I was instantly disappointed, not realizing how I’d unintentionally let my long shot Danbury fantasies take up a little too much room in the higher parts of my consciousness.

But right as I was about to hang up the phone, the recording got a little specific, “Make sure you’re at the airport with enough time to get through security. Your reserved seat is in row 21, seat F.” It couldn’t be. Did I really win a trip? A free cruise?

I showed up at the airport on Monday and swiped my ID through the automated kiosk at the terminal. “Please report to agent window.” The agent ran my license through her system, “So you’re the guy who won the free cruise. Well guess what? You’ve been upgraded to first class. Enjoy your flight.”

Things just kept getting better, my good fortune accelerating every step of the way. When the cruise director asked me why I only had a backpack, when I told them that I wasn’t really convinced that I’d actually be traveling on a free vacation, he had a whole new wardrobe sent to my cabin. They unpacked everything, and all of the clothes fit better than my own.

At the buffet that night, I started loading my plate with oysters on the half shell. But one of the cruise workers stopped me, “Hey, you’re the free cruise guy, right?”

“That’s me,” I said. He took my plate away and came back with some expensive looking China. Now these were oysters, almost three times the size of the ones available for the rest of the guests. When I cracked them open, I couldn’t believe it, but there were actual pearls stuffed inside, just like you’d see in a picture from a high school oceanography textbook. After I finished my meal, the staff took all of my pearls and fashioned them into a necklace, with all of the pearls spelling out the words, “Free Cruise.”

I thought that was a little cheesy, but it was a nice gesture, and it was great way for me to identify myself as the lucky winner. People stopped asking me, “Are you the free cruise guy?” and just automatically started giving me the star treatment wherever I went. My hour-long massage got extended to four. I was playing some blackjack at the casino, I had a nineteen, but when I signaled that I’d hold, the dealer gave me a look and mouthed out the word, “Hit.” And it was a good thing too, because I wound up with a twenty-one, and the dealer drew a twenty. I won like seven hundred bucks.

When I got home, I brought the pearls to one of those pawn/jeweler shops in the diamond district. I can’t believe how much money those things fetched. I mean, I’m no pearl expert or anything, but I would’ve assumed them to be fakes, or at least the manmade kind, the artificial ones that they produce by forcing sand into the oysters’ mouths.

I just got back last week. I can’t believe that I waited so long to take advantage of such an incredible opportunity. I wish I knew who to thank. Unfortunately, I stopped receiving the robo-calls, so it looks like the good luck has moved on to someone else. Still, if you get the call about the free vacation, trust me, it’s not too good to be true, it’s real. Pick up that phone! Head on over to that airport! You’ve just won yourself a free vacation!

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