My main assignment for the day was an apartment complex. I was to act as though I was a single female with no children who was looking for an apartment. No problem, I thought. I took off my wedding band and covered the white mark with a different ring. At that time, I could still pass as single and childless. (I’m pretty sure, now, my appearance screams “MOM!” very loudly.)
Before I headed into the apartment complex, I had my story straight. I was a young professional in need of an apartment near my work in downtown Tampa. No problem. I could handle this. I was practically super woman! I walked into the apartment leasing office and met the agent. She was very friendly, and we chatted for a while. We talked about where I worked, why I was looking for an apartment and how soon I needed one. I had passed this portion, the most difficult part of the assignment, with flying colors. The agent offered to take me on a tour of the property. All I had to do was “Oh” and “Ah” over an apartment and decline her offers to sign a lease that day, and I was home free. Then, she asked the question that still rings in my head: “Would you mind if we took your car? My golf cart is in the shop.”
As I heard myself say that would be fine, I was actually panicking and trying to come up with a cover story. My reality, so different from the cover story I had just created, was that I drove a mini-van that was full of toys and Cheerios and gooey substances on all surfaces. I walked very slowly as we headed to the parking lot. My head was spinning. How in the world was I going to explain this? “Think, Al, think,” I thought, but I didn’t listen. (And, actually, I call myself Alison.)
We reached the mini-van, and I clicked the locks open. As the agent got in and looked around, I saw an expression cross her face. Without missing a beat, I said, “Oh, you’ll have to excuse this mess! I drive a mini-van because I travel so much for business. It makes it easier to transport clients when I’m out of town.” She said, “Do you transport babies?” Without blinking, I said, “What?” and turned around and looked, as though I was surprised there was a car seat back there. “Oh no! I forgot that was even back there! I keep my nephew a lot on the weekends. He is with me so much, sometimes it feel like he lives with me!” She asked me how old he was, and I hesitated, as though I could not tell her the child’s age up to the very hour and minute. (This was my first born, you know. I knew every statistic about him.) Then, I assured her that once I moved, I would not have my nephew staying with me. In fact, my sister was mad at me that she was having to find other child care, but I was relieved. I didn’t even like kids to begin with.
Apparently the agent bought the story. I’m sure I was bright red and sweating through this conversation, but I never got any indication that she doubted me. She did not attempt to have me sign a lease, as she was supposed to, so I didn’t think my mystery shopping cover had been blown. If it had, she would have done everything perfectly. That was my first experience of truly acting during a mystery shopping assignment. I should have been in drama in school. Who knew? Perhaps I missed my calling. -Al