The Traveling Salesman Problem

The Traveling Salesman Problem

Jan 14

You may have seen a thread on Facebook about this, however, I feel compelled to detail the whole situation in more than the few hundred characters I can work with there.

So it all started a few days back.  Someone randomly phoned our house during the day. The call display lit up with the dreaded “Unknown Caller” but Jen broke her usual convention and answered anyway, thinking it may be a friend or loved one calling from their number-blocked cell phone.  We have a few people who call us occasionally for whom this is the case.  It wasn’t the case this time, however. No, it was someone who was asking for Jen to do a survey.  She graciously answered their random and obtuse questions. She was thanked for her input and told she might win a prize.

Fast forward to Friday.  Another phone call with the dreaded “Unknown Caller.”  Surprise!  We’re a winner!! A choice of fabulous prizes, provided we sit through a short presentation, they’ll be there at 6:30pm! Click.  And no number to call back.

So 6:30om rolls around and nothing happens. We begin to hope that we’ll be fortunate on this one and be able to get along with our plans for the evening, which were supposed to include watching a movie together as a family. It’s nasty weather and roads outside, so maybe the person was smart and called it off, right? Wrong.

At about 6:45pm or so, the doorbell rings. I toy with the idea of turning off all the lights and hiding in the basement, but sadly, it’s too late for that. I answer the door to find a person standing on my front step with two large reinforce bags. We’re talking double the size of a suitcase you’d take on a two-week trip. Needless to say, we were a little confused. It was certainly not yet obvious what we were in for, but my hopes of this being done in half an hour were quickly fading. We asked simple, normal questions, like, “Are you moving in,” and, “No, really, how long is this going to take?” Sadly, we didn’t get good answers to either.

So, the guy starts unpacking his first, smaller item. He was really good at interacting with Aidan as he did so. He should probably do birthday parties.

After unpacking and setting up his wonderful binder full of photocopied pages in plastic inserts, he begins to tell a tale… a tale of woe and misery. Of people who wanted to go outside, but found a world fraught with pollution and contaminates, so they retreated inside, only to find a world under the domain of a more sinister enemy… the evil Dust Empire with its legions of Dust Mite armies creeping and crawling over every surface, living in the very air you breathe and defecating in your eyes while you sleep. (I’m not making that last part up — he really said that, and a lot of other things to make us afraid to live in our own house!) But fortunately for us, there was a hero powerful enough to take on the evil Dust Empire! Looking very much like a Dalek from the old Dr. Who series, it stood ready to exterminate the Dust Mite armies and trap them forever in its Vortex!

As I was listening to the spiel, I happened to pull up a memory of being visited by a vacuum cleaner salesman when I was a kid and thought, “Hey, this is kinda like that, but with something else… that’s pretty funny!” Thank you, Irony, for that wonderful moment!

Having finished his tale on this air filter contraption, he wanted to put it in a room to test it out for a few moments while he finished up, or so I thought… He was going with the whole “This is good for your family, especially your son” approach, so it went in Aidan’s room. It seems, I should have been paying more attention to the fact that the larger bag hadn’t really been opened yet or I would have realized we were in for a lot more. But I didn’t. And we were.

And as the salesman unpacked the second, larger, bag and told us more tales of the evil Dust Empire and how its nefarious forces lurked everywhere around our homes including, unsurprisingly, the very floors we walked on. But lo, a new saviour existed that had the power to seek out these forces of dusty terror in their very homes! And for the next hour, we were treated to demonstrations of the ineffectiveness of our current vacuum, and how the solution he was about to offer was so very much better. Unfortunately, this often consisted of sheets of filter paper covered in dust being snapped and sending their load of dust floating into the room as an example of the current state of vacuum efficacy.

Now I am pretty sure we all got the point after the second or third demonstration, but they kept going on and on as a new accessory was brought into play. On the plus side, a good portion of the main floor of our house and half the stairs cleaned, but it came at a price – time. On numerous occasions, we mentioned to this salesman that he needed to wrap it up. Perhaps we were not forceful enough, though he indicated that he cut several demos out of his presentation… not sure what else he could have showed us, but I don’t think it would have mattered.

Finally, after about a good hour on the vacuum, we check on the air filter and sure, the air in Aidan’s room smelled different. Maybe better and maybe just like something that had been run through a filter for an hour. But that concluded the demonstrations (thankfully) and we sat down to talk about the cost. (Sometimes you know when it’s something you want to be sitting down to hear…) He started by talking about the costs that some people would spend for high-end vacuums, cleaning supplies and so forth, and somehow arrived at a number very close to $7000 over the lifetime of a piece of equipment. After much more finagling and you-bought-it-the-day-we-showed-it-to-you discounts and donations-to-the-foodbank discounts, he arrived a a price of around $3700 for the deep-surface floor cleaner (he wouldn’t call it a vacuum) and two of the filter units. We considered this for about half a second and told him politely, “No.” He then jumped into payment plans, and we again, politely said, “No.”

And then the hard sell began. The name dropping of a local radio personality who had bought one just the day before. The offer to come back and show us how they worked best and help us clean the house. The guilt trips that we were making decisions with our wallet instead of doing what was right for our family. And we again, said, “No.” We made it quite clear that we had no interest in racking up that sort of debt. It was about this time that Jen snuck upstairs to get Aidan ready for bed, leaving me to fend off the continued sales tactics alone. Not that I blame her, Aidan really did need to get ready for bed, and our plans for a family movie night have been quite ruined.

After several more attempts to explain to the person that if I have the product and I haven’t paid him in full yet, then it’s a debt, which I didn’t want, he suggests I go talk to Jen, thinking that she will have been sucked in by the “good of the family” line. I go talk to her, if only to get a few moments away from the sales pitch, but to his surprise, Jen was on her way down with a pyjama’d Aidan and told him a flat-out “No” of her own. Yay for being on the same page!

So then the real torture begins… the pack-up. The sales guy starts packing up all his wares… slowly. I get the impression he isn’t used to packing up; most people probably acquiesce. But what the salesguy failed to consider was the strength of our resolve. For what seemed like the next hour, as the salesman cleaned up the equipment for the next demo, threw out the results of the demonstrations and packed everything back into their suitcases, he tried and tried and tried to find out exactly what he had to say to get me to change my mind. But, my mind was made up and not to be changed. Finally, as he was all packed, he tried a call to his manager to see if he could do anything, and told a few untruths about the situation to try to get a big discount. Even if it had come through, I wouldn’t have taken it under those circumstances… but no dice.

So finally, about 3 hours after he arrived, we finally got our house back to ourselves and didn’t end up with a new floor-cleaning device or air filter. I guess we’ll need to be more careful about what phone calls we answer in the future. At least we got a bunch of the house cleaned in the process! If anyone feels like helping repel the even Dust Empire, let me know… they probably know that they have us outnumbered by now…

1 comment

  1. Wow! That where that stemmed from!

    We were lucky winners on Friday too. However after three attempts to schedule an appointment I was hung up on. Apparently you can’t take their time, but for them to take your time is fair game.

    Glad we avoided that!