On Friday, August 21, my family and I were “stranded” in Hartford for the weekend. We are observant Jews, and therefore riding in cars is forbidden to us during the Sabbath, from Friday evening through Saturday night. We were on our way home from New Jersey to Boston on that day, and we realized as we drove through Hartford that because of unexpected traffic delays, we were not going to make it home in time for the Sabbath. With less than an hour until the start of the Sabbath, we stopped in Hartford and started looking for a place to stay; we ended up at the downtown Marriott, right next door to the Science Center.
We are also forbidden from watching TV on the Sabbath, nor are we permitted to spend money or write. Therefore, as you might imagine, finding a way to occupy our five children for the entire Sabbath in these unexpected surroundings was a substantial challenge.
On Saturday morning, desperate for something to do with the kids, we walked over to the Science Center, explained our situation to a member of your staff at the admissions desk, and asked if it would be possible, given our unusual and difficult predicament, to visit the Center without paying. She called over a supervisor, to whom we explained the situation again. The supervisor said that she could not let us in without paying “in fairness to our other guests who pay.”
Let me be blunt: That’s stupid, antithetical to your mission, and unlikely to help you to draw more visitors in the future.
As your Web site notes, you already offer “courtesy discounts (with valid ID) for active military personnel, educators and college students,” so your policies are already “unfair,” if indeed allowing some people to pay reduced rates is “unfair.” Furthermore, I hope that you have some sort of arrangement for reduced or free admission for people who cannot afford to pay your rates; the Boston Museum of Science, for example, has free entry passes that can be checked out from all Boston Public Library branches. Finally, if you are not accessible to people who cannot afford to pay for admission, then clearly you are failing to live up to your mission of “engaging students and families from all social and cultural backgrounds,” then clearly you need to be accessible to people who cannot pay.
On rare occasions, my wife and I have been in similar situations in the past, and when an institution is kind enough to let us partake of their services without paying because of the Sabbath, we always send them a donation afterwards equivalent to what we would have paid if had been able to do so. However, I can’t offer to pay after the fact, because Jewish law views an offer to pay later as equivalent to paying, and it is therefore prohibited on the Sabbath.
If you had let us in, we would have paid $84 after the fact and talked about how great your museum was to all of our friends in Boston. Worst-case scenario, we might not have paid after the fact, but we would still have had a good time at your museum and told our friends about it, as well as telling them that you were accommodating to our religious observance in a time of need. Instead, what we are telling all our friends is that while the staff at the downtown Marriott was astoundingly helpful and accommodating and made what could have been an extremely difficult experience into a pleasant one, the folks at the Connecticut Science Center were unhelpful and inflexible. Is this the message you want to be sending?
One more thing I would like to mention is this offensive statement from your Web site:
We think we’re a pretty unique place. We have exhibits no one else in the country (or the world) offers. And we like to think our members are one-of-a-kind, too. That’s part of the reason we don’t extend reciprocal admission to other ASTC members or regional destinations. So, consider yourself part of an elite group.
Aside from the fact that “pretty unique” is an oxymoron, do you really not realize how offensive it is to every other science museum in the country, and to the members who patronize and support them, to suggest that you’re just too special to offer reciprocal admission as thousands of them do? Oh, please, get over yourselves. (We are members of both the Boston Museum of Science and Mystic Aquarium, so were it not for your misguided policy of not offering reciprocal admission, I would have had no reason to write this letter.)
We drive through Connecticut on a regular basis, and you can be sure we won’t be including the Connecticut Science Center in our travel plans in the future.