I hate starting out a new year with a kvetch.
I love loving this town. Its kindness, its open-mindedness.
But my first 2014 column is a sort of protest about what recently happened to a friend. And though it’s certainly not San Francisco’s fault, I was shocked that it happened here, this outrage. (I won’t be mentioning names, so what I make of it in this column won’t reach scandalous proportions. No committees will form. No crowds will storm the gates of the particular institution I’m not naming anyway.)
But, still, what happened offended me.
Y’see, there’s a corporation that runs health clubs, and my friend joined when he moved here. It was easy. You could even buy discounted memberships at Costco — a bargain, considering how pricey New York City gyms always were, and having clubs located citywide seemed ideal.
Our entire household has enjoyed going to the various clubs, and my friend settled on certain locations because of the terrific Step and other classes taught by knowledgeable and experienced instructors. A community of members formed, gathering several times a week, and unique bonds formed that can only be the product of sweating and suffering together. Seeing each other fling about, do the steps well or badly, really seemed to make everyone try harder, and so these classes became more valuable to everyone who took them. My friend had instructors he became particularly fond of, and his retired life in San Francisco began to center around these classes.
It didn’t hurt that the classes served folks of all ages and both genders, some working, some retired, but all enjoying the class benefits. From what I gathered, all felt fortunate that this organization offered these classes, and the members felt grateful they were included in their gym membership.
Then, one day, it was summarily announced that these classes would no longer be offered.
My friend was disappointed. Saddened. These classes meant a lot to him, not only because of the friends he’d made, but also because his physical health had benefitted. So of course he was upset when he was told with no explanation that the classes would be ending. They would be replaced by a series of classes that, by name and intention, seemed more suited to those younger, perhaps more fit; perhaps the demographic “corporate” was desired. The folks “of a certain age” were being ignored — or so it seemed — and their needs and wishes not listened to. At least that’s how my friend saw things.
So he decided to do something. He requested meetings, rallied the troops, organized petitions, and so forth. He thought if management knew how many people loved and needed the classes, maybe they would cancel their cancellation. Give the instructors back their hours. Let the members have what they clearly wanted.
Management seemed reasonable. At meetings with them, my friend presented his case, and — as many of the members do with their opinions and criticisms — my friend even used social media to express his dismay. His plaints were tame compared to what others often express about the state of the clubs’ cleanliness, staffing, and other items. It seemed, at least to my friend, that letting people know about the value of the canceled classes would rally more to protest their cancellation. A reasonable assumption.
Then one day unexpectedly, my friend got a call from the corporate offices telling him that he was canceled. His membership was revoked!
His dues would be returned, and he could no longer even speak to anyone in charge of the clubs he was used to attending. He was persona non grata. And so, despite his efforts to make amends, it has remained.
True, the club contract says the management can cancel memberships whenever, without explanation. But, for the life of me, I don’t see what my friend did that was so wrong. He merely protested, a thing I did a lot of in my youth. So it’s that young part of my heart that rebelled when I was told this story. And because I experience San Francisco as the center of youthful protest in this country that it once was — I ask you: What did my friend do that was punishable by exile?
What’s wrong with this picture?
And, from the older part of me that remembers when this was once true: Whatever happened to “the customer is always right?”