A co-worker of mine sent me a letter that he wrote to Busch Gardens, Tampa, regarding his family's experience there. Thoughts? I found this to be very interesting.
To the operators of Busch Gardens, Tampa, FL
Have you ever had an experience that was so unexpected, so totally illogical, that you were completely flummoxed? Numb? My family and a family friend had such as experience this week at your park.
Our 18-year-old son decided that the ideal way to celebrate his high school graduation was to travel from our home in Jacksonville to Busch Gardens primarily for the rollercoasters. His plan was to invite his best friend, a 17-year-old young man whom he has had the pleasure to know for about 6 years. The young men were accompanied to Tampa by my wife, with the idea that they would enjoy the offerings from the park independent of her parental intrusions- what better way to celebrate oneï¿½s passage into legal adulthood? So, the trip was planned to begin on Monday, June 12, 2006.
So far, this story has got to be so totally ordinary, so completely mundane, that it is begging to be deposited into file 13 without further attention. The story is, I think youï¿½ll agree, a bit more unique because the young men were not able to fulfill their plan. You wouldnï¿½t allow it. My sonï¿½s friend was prohibited from the coasters because of a manufacturerï¿½s safety recommendation. You see our friend has a prosthetic lower limb that he has worn his entire life.
Brace yourselves- here comes the litigious third strike, the kind of advocate- for- the- handicapped garbage that people are getting so very tired of, right? After all, there is this Americans with Disabilities Act but it only states ï¿½reasonableï¿½ accommodations, right? And to ask your company to provide a rollercoaster ride for this youngster is simply not reasonable. Period. End of discussion. The lawyers have looked it over. Rubber-stamped the policy. We have firm legal ground to stand on. With both good feet. Certainly if the papers or local T.V. news got hold of the story, we could explain. Who would want to go to Busch Gardens if they had to endure a flying prosthetic leg bashing them in the head? Or even worse, a flying handicapped kid falling from a coaster? Can you imagine the pain and suffering of little children who witnessed that grisly mess? Would the Coen brothers pick this story up and write a screenplay? Could this be the next ï¿½Fargoï¿½? I can just imagine Carl Hiassen silently cursing that weï¿½ve gone and done it again- messed up another opportunity for him to write fiction about unfair, bizarre happenings in his adopted state.
Now, let me try to inject this story with some facts. Like many tourists, my family made reservations at a hotel near the amusement venue. Then, Tropical Storm Alberto formed in the Gulf. They had to decide what to do and decided that this was THE vacation, you know the one that has saturated the mind of a young adult to the exclusion of food, social contact, and bathing for months. So they went, driving through a pretty mean little storm to get there. It was true. Check the date. The young men wasted no time to get to the park. Arriving there, they discovered the cause of my total flummoxation (word). The operator of the ride informed them in no uncertain terms that my sonï¿½s friend could not ride the coasters. You see, you need both legs for this ride. My sonï¿½s friend is one of the coolest customers I have met. Heï¿½s used to his physical situation since heï¿½s been living with it, well, his whole life. He knows he has to make some adjustments here and there. He gets by and he makes no complaints. Knowing this lad, I am sure that his reaction was, ï¿½No problem. If youï¿½re concerned about the prosthesis, Iï¿½ll remove it and hop on into the seat.ï¿½ Knowing this lad, he would be doing it with his killer smile and without batting an eyelash. Did I mention that he does this every day of his life? The real question at this point is where I should insert the information about him being a boy scout working toward his eagle this summer and his stellar academic performance at one of the two award-winning Duval County public schoolsï¿½I guess here is as good a place as any. Heï¿½s not reckless and heï¿½s not a fool.
So, you have to picture this because you will NEVER in your wildest dreams understand what this feels like, nor will I. Hereï¿½s this guy and my son standing there, being told that he cannot ride the coasters that they planned to ride from about three months ago when the vacation was originally planned. The vacation that was going to be threatened by a tropical storm. The one that would have been meaningless for my son if he went it alone, because he wanted his friend with him to experience it.
Now, hereï¿½s the most ironic part. I decided to save this for the end of the letter, being the provocative letter-writer I am. Our young friend has visited your Busch Gardens before and been on these rides. With fake leg. During the summer. In shorts. No problem then.
Now for the response from your customer service representative. Youï¿½re going to love this because you had to think that this part DID NOT go as well as expected, judging from the tone of this letter and where Iï¿½m thinking of sending it. We had to bring in our fixer, our closer, our quasi-lawyer. The person just meant for the job. My wife. You see, sheï¿½s a mother, and you shouldnï¿½t mess with mothers, but you did. And even though this boy, technically, belongs to another couple, heï¿½s really a little like a second son to us and we kid around about such things. She went to that customer service person and yes, she demanded that the boys receive a full refund for their trouble. She also wanted an explanation. ï¿½Itï¿½s because of guest safety. The manufacturer recommends that all riders must have enough strength at their knees to hold themselves in the seat.ï¿½ Our sonï¿½s friend has, what the old comic used to say, ï¿½Muscles on his musclesï¿½. Heï¿½s a mature, physically strong lad. This is obvious to a casual observer. Now get ready, because I know youï¿½re going to love this next part. ï¿½Itï¿½s on our website.ï¿½ So, reluctantly, and Iï¿½m sure this made management proud because we canï¿½t be giving punk teenagers (especially ones who complain about our safety limits) their money back, she agreed to refund the tickets. Geez, this is America, let us get a clue! Read the website. Donï¿½t be such a shameful, victimy type person! This reminds me of the voice activated systems that we endure in America that remind us that while our business is important to them, please listen carefully and press this and that and whatever! So, my wife is still trying to get a logical explanation from this employee who probably wished by that time that she had evacuated to higher ground, to explain why the boy was permitted to ride these rides before but not now. Our friend walks well but with a noticeable limp. She offered that he probably was wearing long pants at the time. So, the boy (who was the most flummoxed of us all, since it was he who was the featured person) might have said something or maybe he decided to keep it to himself because you canï¿½t really fight this kind of ignorance or soft peddled *# without a shovel. But he told me later that he never wears long pants to venues like this because, it turns out, he is like all the other kids and long pants in Florida get hot, donï¿½t you know. And that prosthesis actually gets sweaty! So, no, he wore shorts in the past and had no problem. Maybe because his parents were with him and they knew their sonï¿½s rights like the back of their hands? Itï¿½s anyoneï¿½s guess.
So, once they arrive home, one day early from the trip, I got into the act and started asking the lad some questions. No, he has never had a problem with this before in amusement parks, even this one. No, he doesnï¿½t routinely check websites for important information about disabled persons. And, by the way, in his 17 years of life, he has almost forgotten that itï¿½s such a big deal. In fact, it is. And thatï¿½s the moral of todayï¿½s lesson, class: no matter what laws are on the books and policies public places have, you still have to fight for your rights all the time. Sad, isnï¿½t it. Be glad youï¿½re not 17 with part of a limb missing. Because you donï¿½t have to give it a second thought. An entertainment venue indeed!
Now, you customer service types like to read the finale- thatï¿½s the part where the griper really shows his hand and expresses the outrageous thing he has been building to for the entire letter. Comp tickets? Money? A six-pack of BUD?
I should tell you something about myself. I really enjoyed Busch Gardens in the past and have visited your parks in Florida and Virginia. I work at a special school in St. Augustine where we educate deaf and blind children and so this whole issue of accessibility is on the forefront of my professional life every workday. You might say Iï¿½m sensitized to the ways in which the promises made in various legislations such as ADA, IDEA, and other alphabet soups are played out (or not) in reality. I hear the horror stories and the success stories.
So, Iï¿½m going to start by telling you that I will never come to your park again, nor will my family, friends, and frankly any person I can convince. Whatï¿½s the old marketing advice: ï¿½Please a customer and they will tell three people about you. Dissatisfy a customer and they will tell 20 people.ï¿½ In my case, you can multiply that by 2. That also goes for the many Anheuser Busch products on the market. I will share with my peers at work what occurred here, because it simply cannot be fixed with free tickets, coupons, or a courtesy letter from some sycophant whose job it is to limit liability for your corporation. I will inform others of what happened, because, hey, itï¿½s not like anyone lost a leg on a ride at Busch Gardens. God forbid. Letï¿½s keep our perspective. You are, after all, an enterprise that promotes itself as a recreation, a diversion from the stresses or school or work, a place to enjoy a few safe thrills and buy some overpriced hot dogs in the process.
Will this letter go to a lawyer? Not from me. But itï¿½s going to my sonï¿½s friend and if he and his parents decide they need a lawyer, I would be behind them 100%.
Will this letter go to the St. Petersburg Times or Miami Herald or Jacksonville Times Union? That will depend on the boyï¿½s sensitivities. He might not want to make such a big deal of it. But you have to admit; it would be a pretty interesting story. Especially with summer being your biggest time and all. I really, really want to show it to Carl Hiassen, I might feel the need to do that anyway. Or maybe the Coens.
What will you do about this? How many people with various handicaps will get this kind of rude treatment when they come to your park? How many letters just like this one have you already received? Iï¿½d suggest that you review your whole policy about people with disabilities. But you wonï¿½t. Unless you are under some threat. Let me make my point as clear as I possibly can. You had no reason to deny this young man access to the roller coasters. You treated him with no respect. And then you covered yourselves with insipid explanations. This kind of thing should never happen in the great United States. Not in the year 2006. Not by a company that promotes itself as a haven for family recreation. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
- T (Real Name Edited Out Specifically For This Post)
10 a Piece can end this within 24 hours.
You mean Neil Armstrong?
You soiled your pants for the last time???