Mistrusting the Trustees?

A decidedly unhappy incident at the Crane estate

  One of the park and preservation organizations I try to support is the Trustees of Reservations, which acquires and maintains various pieces of land and historic buildings in Massachusetts and turns them into destinations.  I've been a paying member for over five years as of this page, and have visited several properties across the spectrum of indoors and out.  When they acquired a large art museum in Lincoln, I tooled out there to wander the outdoor sculpture garden and then go inside the gallery to finish my tour.  I've visited some of the historic houses, *including* the one that's the subject of this, and never before this day had I received any comment one way or the other about my feet.  So what I ran into here was a complete and very unwelcome surprise, because I knew that this sort of crap is not what the Trustees is about.

It's hard to get through their piteously understaffed phone system and actually talk to a human, but I finally did reach someone with some authority and had a longish conversation.  He wasn't really in a position to act on anything, though, but said he'd forward all my details up the right administrative ladder. He also suggested that I follow up with an email so they'd have the whole story in writing, so I did that.  The email chain pretty much explains the rest, and why I remain just a tad skeptical that this was a complete success.  I sent this first one the same evening of the incident.

Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2023 17:22:22 -0500
To: membership@thetrustees.org, info@thetrustees.org
From: hobbit
Subject: Problem at Crane

This is important, please pay close attention to all of this and escalate
to the appropriate high levels within the Trustees.

I had a conversation with Chris Moore today, the business manager up at
the Crane properties.  I didn't really want to talk to anyone from Crane
since that's where the original problem occurred, but so be it as that's
where I got forwarded on the phone.  You may reference that to this email,
anyway, as it's about the same situation.  I had a rather frustrating and
upsetting experience up at the Crane Estate with its personnel this afternoon
[Thursday], and it points out something that needs to be fixed organization-
wide so I never have this problem again, at *any* Trustees facility, and
neither does anyone else.

First of all, I'm [name], [memb-num], for several years now, and I've been
to quite a few Trustees properties -- mostly the woodland parks, as I like
hiking and being in nature.  I've also visited a few of the house/estate
properties on occasion.  I do my best to support our local organizations
that protect natural and historic resources, including Trustees, Mass Audubon,
DCR, and several forest Friends groups.  I lead group hikes and try to pass
on as much of the lore that I learn as I can.

For today, I had signed up for a Cupola tour along with a friend, and we
arrived in plenty of time and spent quite a while wandering the grounds and
down the Allee.  Racked up over 2 miles, in fact.  It was when we went into
the House for the actual tour that the staff at the desk demonstrated some
profound ignorance and the type of personal prejudice that they really need
to leave at home and not bring to their workplace.  They tried to insist
that footwear was needed for the tour.

WTF?  This is not how the Trustees works.

I don't wear shoes, for health and mobility reasons.  Typical shoes are
actually quite bad for us, all of us, but so many people have been brainwashed
to think that they're necessary.  So there's a lot of old mythology around the
subject, as you might imagine.  I hike all those woodland properties happily
barefoot, including all kinds of rough terrain, without any issues at all.
It's the way Nature wants our feet to be, really -- they can be a lot more
robust than we give them credit for.

I didn't catch the name of the younger woman who first started in on me, but
you can probably figure it out.  She tried to throw every typical BS excuse at
me: "oh, it's because of the board of health", and then when I refuted that,
"but we serve food here" -- 100% irrelevant, food and footwear have NEVER had
anything to do with each other and you can look that and the "health code"
garbage up in 5 minutes.  Then, "oh, it's liability, you'll sue us".  Then
"Christina", I believe, joined the melee and tried to back up the first woman
and thus gang up on me.  Neither of them seemed to understand that I am 100%
responsible for my own feet regardless of location, and that's the truth of
how contributory-negligence law works -- and frankly I resent their implication
that I was up there to try and deliberately cause myself some kind of harm and
then turn around and sue the Trustees.  What kind of disingenuous nonsense is
that??  Everything they tried to throw at me has NEVER had factual basis, and
a little poking around on the internet can bring you all the proof you need.
It was almost comically ridiculous, in a sad way.  It's all just prejudice at
work, which essentially started back in the sixties particularly in the US,
and we're still living with it 60+ years later.

Christina went up to the back office to talk to "Trina", or maybe it was the
other way around -- I didn't really catch all the names, I was too upset at
that point that this nonsense could happen at ANY Trustees property.  As I
said, I've been to quite a few of them including the deCordova, and nobody
ever said a word about my appearance until today.  I was also up at the Crane
house several years ago for that big open-house with the art installation
on the bowling green, wandering inside the house and out, and nobody said
anything about my feet.

Finally Christina came back and said I could go on the tour after all.  Was it
worth having to fight with your staff for ten minutes?  Not sure at this point.

This incident should have never happened.  It was insulting and degrading,
and probably embarrassing for my companion and anyone else within earshot.
I don't pay well over the minimum membership per year *plus* ticket prices
on top of that to be judged and bullied.  This is the kind of crap that makes
you lose members, especially when it's groundless textbook discrimination
over something so harmless.  The staff who were involved in this need to be
reprimanded and educated if not dismissed, and this needs to go up to the top
of Trustees administration and back down to EVERY property staff that such
treatment of good-faith members, who arrive clearly knowing what they're doing,
is 100% unacceptable.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with avoiding shoes, and should not even be
noteworthy.  Give   http://outbarefoot.org/excuses.html  a quick read, if you
would.  That is the truth on the topic.  I left the Crane staff one of my fact
sheets, a shorter version of that.  I didn't have any shoes to put on even
if I was going to bend the knee to this nonsense, and if I had, I would have
been clumsier and LESS safe walking around than I ultimately was without
them.  In that forcibly-shod scenario, that's when the Trustees staff *could*
have arguably been held responsible for causing a more hazardous situation.

And for the record, those parquet floors feel great, as do many other textures
around the property that I experienced that day!  Consider this: I'm putting
less wear on those floors than anyone coming in with shoes.

  I frankly expected a swift response the next day, to the effect that the relevant employees got educated and I was welcome to return any time, and maybe even an offer of a ticket refund to compensate for the bad experience.  But no, three more business days plus the intervening weekend went by, and total crickets.  After a few more futile tries to raise anyone on the phone the day after that, I started looking up the organization's top leadership on the website, found some hints that their email-address format was first-initial-last-name, and then went full-send Karen on them including as much of the top leadership that I thought might be able to help and get me some recourse.  None of the addresses bounced, so I had probably landed in some key inboxes.
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2023 11:56:46 -0500
To: membership@thetrustees.org, info@thetrustees.org
Cc: ktheoharides@thetrustees.org, cmorin@thetrustees.org,
  dvincent@thetrustees.org, kswanberg@thetrustees.org
From: hobbit
Subject: anyone home??

I have heard NOTHING, via email or phone, about my situation/incident over at
at Crane.  What's going on over there??  And your phone system is *impossible*
to get through, it keeps just putting me on hold and then going to voicemail.
I've reached "Emily" once or twice by dumb luck, and she seems to have no
idea what's going on with this.

C-level recipients, if my guesswork was correct: Check with "membership" and/or
Chris Moore [?], find my original email from last Thursday, and understand
the gravity of my awful member experience up there.  This needs to be solved
NOW, please.  Read some of your own web pages on diversity and inclusion
if you need a reminder of what the Trustees is supposed to stand for.

The problem should have been fixed swiftly and decisively LAST FRIDAY after
I called and sent the email, and a formal apology issued.  We're coming up
on a week of you simply GHOSTING me, likely while those rude and ignorant
people up at the Crane house bumble on with their badly misinformed lives.

Also noted while trying to reach people:
Try calling your own number and pressing "0" to reach the Boston office, and
listen for a while.  You'll hear the hold music drop and then go to ringing,
like the call was actually going somewhere, and then it goes back to hold.
That's confusing for callers, and would be worth fixing.  But the fact that
nobody answers at all so often is a much larger problem.  Instead of playing
excuses about "high call volume", how about hire more people to field calls??

  That seemed to finally crack their ivory tower and get my complaint actually taken seriously, and I finally heard from them a little later:
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2023 17:29:59 +0000
From: Mark Lindsay <mlindsay@thetrustees.org>
Subject: Problem at Crane Estate


I was forwarded your message concerning your experience at Crane Estate
last week.  I appreciate your honesty and candor about what happened.  This
incident highlights the fact that there is currently no public facing policy
about footwear at the house on the Crane Estate.  We will take your feedback
into consideration as this is developed and published.  Health and mobility
factors will be incorporated into the policy to ensure that accessibility
needs for our visitors are being met, and situations such as you experienced
do not occur again.

Your message also shows that our team needs to adhere to the standards of
service we expect in support of our visitors.  Two essential components of
this standard are courtesy and empathy.   Because of your experience, I will
make sure to reemphasize these elements to our property teams.  None of our
visitors should feel unappreciated and "ganged upon" by our staff.

Thanks for the feedback and thank you for supporting The Trustees.


Mark Lindsay
Director of Visitor Experience
Pronouns: he/him/his
Trustees  |  Boston
200 High Street  |  Boston, MA  02110
mlindsay@thetrustees.org  | 978-338-1195
  Well, okay, now we're finally getting somewhere.  And his address matches the pattern.  But I thought his answer was a bit noncommital, almost hinting that just because of this interaction, they might try to go off and invent arbitrary rules about footwear for some properties.  "Currently no public policy"?  Is that a veiled threat?  Well, maybe he didn't mean it that way, let's give him the benefit of the doubt for now.  Still. clamping down on barefooters is the last thing they should do, of course, so in my reply thanking him I made that abundantly clear.
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2023 13:31:53 -0500
To: Mark Lindsay <mlindsay@thetrustees.org>
From: hobbit
Subject: Re: Problem at Crane Estate

Thanks for responding.  Let me ask you this, though: without buying into the
typical mythology around barefooting that plagues especially this country,
why would *any* property need some kind of "policy" around footwear?  Would
you include woodland properties like Ward, Rocky Woods, Weir Hill, etc that I
visit, or even the *grounds* of Crane, in the same way?  I think not, frankly,
once a little common logic and myth-busting is applied.  The right answer
is to simply welcome people, period.

This is the essence of the problem: people don't *think* before deciding
that someone is somehow "other" and therefore to be reviled.  That's the sad
state we're in, and I really hope the Trustees can stay above that.  As I
mentioned in the email, I've never run into this at any other property,
indoors or out, and it came as a real shocker especially given my years-ago
prior experience at Crane.

The difficulty in reaching people for followup only added to the frustration,
and "Anna" from Development tells me you're trying to address the phone
system and personnel issues around that.  Yes please, desperately needed.


  So for the moment I will cautiously consider this one solved, even if it took them so damn long and added to my suspicion that they didn't really want to understand the gravity.  I will therefore keep Mr. Lindsay's direct number handy the next time I go visit any of the indoor properties.

_H*   230902

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