A recent picture taken of the Corbster, at the beach this summer
Sunday afternoon, Corb and I took our first visit to Bally's in three months.
Now, before you start thinking that we're incredible exercise slackers or something (which, of course, we actually are), I should point out: there actually is a reason that it's taken us a whole trimester to get back into the gym. That reason, of course, has to do with lying, underhanded sales techniques, apathetic customer service reps, and corporate greed. But that's just another day in America, right?
But let me start from the beginning. Around October of last year, Corb and I made a shocking discovery. We were growing rotund! Yes, I'm talking corpulent. Three years of blissful domestic happiness had settled around our mid-section like a swan on Bjork. It was time to face facts: we needed to get out there, and try to work off some of that happy fat.
So, we did a bit of searching, and after about a week of phone calls, decided to visit Bally's in North Providence, Rhode Island. It brought back a lot of memories for me, because it's located on Mineral Spring Avenue, a busy road that I used to drive down, every day, on my way to college. My bud Pauline and I had many an evening eating pizza and drinking beer at the Pizza Hut, located perhaps 500 feet from this gym.
When we entered the gym, we were met by a girl in her early twenties, who showed us into a private office to discuss Bally's many "benefits." And it did look really nice. It had a huge room for the exercise bikes, private classes, two rooms for the wights, a pool. It seemed ideal, although I was worried about the drive from North Providence to our apartment in Massachusetts. I was afraid it was going to get draining after a while.
I was also afraid of the payment arrangements. Much as I love Corb, we had decided that we wanted to pay the bill separately, so that the $60 charge wouldn't get assigned to my credit card, each and every month.
"Aw, come on," said the sales lady. "You really need to give this a try."
"I'm just worried about the charge," I replied. "My roommate and I want to pay separately."
"Well, you really should sign up on one membership, since you'll be coming in together," she said.
"But can't we be billed under two credit cards?" asked Corb.
"After the first month, you can," she replied. "But you have to pay under one credit card today. Then, just call Bally's main line and ask them to split the payments."
"Why can't they just do that right now?" I asked.
"They require only one credit card when you sign up," she replied. "But it's easy to have it split after that!"
"Hmmm...I don't know..." I said, unsure of whether this was a good idea, even though I really, deep down inside, wanted to jump on those treads.
"Just try it," she said. "What do you have to lose? And if you're not happy in the next three days, you can always cancel the membership."
"But I'm going away on Monday," I said. "I really won't be able to cancel until Thursday, if I'm not happy."
"You'll be happy," she assured me. "And if you're not, you can always ask to get out of the membership. You live in Eldredge, right?" (Disclaimer: Eldredge is just a make-believe name for the town I live in...surprise!)
We both nodded.
"Well, one of you, give me your work address. I'll put that down as where you actually live. If you're not happy and want to get out of the contract, for any reason, just reference this part of the contract..." At that point, she circled, with a highlighter, a section on the second page of the huge contract she held in her hands. "Just tell them you moved to Eldredge, and because it's more than 15 miles away, you'll be able to cancel, without any questions."
By now, you might have a small clue regarding where this story is going.
Well, a while went by, and sure enough, after our first payment, Corb called to ask that the payments be split to two credit cards.
"How did it go?" I asked, later that night.
"They were really rude," replied Corb. "They said that they don't allow a membership to be split like that, and that they'd only consider something like that after a year has gone by."
I tried calling Bally's myself, but I had the same response. And, the same level of rudeness, too.
I have to admit, I really felt taken in, at that point. And, I made the decision not to make any more payments until the situation was straightened out. Also, I decided that I wanted to cancel my contract with Bally's.
So, after about a month went by, and I started receiving rude calls informing me that my account was unpaid, I called to cancel.
"You owe money on your account," said the person on the line. No hello, no how are you. Right to the point.
"I know," I said. "There's a reason for that." And I explained what was going on. "So, I want to cancel. And, once the cancellation goes through, I'll pay you for the time that we were members."
I was told that in order for a membership to go through, I needed to fax my request in writing. And, Corb would also need to do the exact same thing.
So, I proceeded to do exactly that. I composed a letter, citing the exact clause and article of the contract. I made sure to include the exact name on the contract and membership number. And, I emailed the letter to Corb, so he could do the same.
A month went by, and I didn't hear a word. However, the harassing phone calls started up, once again.
So, I called back.
"You owe money on your account," said the person on the line. No hello, no how are you. Right to the point.
"I know," I said. "There's a reason for that." And I explained what was going on. "So, I tried to cancel. But I haven't heard from anyone since then."
"We sent you a letter," said the lady. "Your request was denied. You didn't include enough information."
"I didn't receive a letter," I said. "And I sent what you told me to send."
"Well, it says here we sent you a letter," she said.
Yes, I heard you the first time. Clearly, this wasn't getting me anywhere. "Well, I can resend my request," I said.
"Okay," she said. "And when you do it this time, make sure that both of you fax the letter, and include some form of identification, and also, a Mapquest showing the address where you both live."
Which we did. Three days later, I received a letter: "Your request for cancellation is denied. Our records show that there is a Bally's location closer to you, in East Providence, and that it's 14.2 miles away from where you live."
They couldn't spare me the .8 miles.
At this point, I admit it, I was furious. I felt totally felt jerked around, and suckered into signing a two-year contract with a company that clearly didn't care at all about my concerns. I felt this was ironic, actually, given the fact that we're talking about a freaking health club. I mean, if any company is supposed to care about your well-being, shouldn't they?
So, I decided to simply deal with other things. There were other bills, after all, that actually deserved my hard-earned money.
So, time passed. And, the day that I was to head out to Henniker to perform in Love Letters, I received a call, as I was packing my bags.
"Hello," said the person on the end of the phone. "This is Bally's in North Providence. What's going on here?"
At last! The conversation I was waiting for! I had decided that I wasn't going to tell the Bally Home Office that their North Providence staff had told us to lie on the application, because that might not have sounded very good. I was going to wait to hear from North Providence, and then I would totally open up, and explain everything that had occurred.
"And you know what the thing is?" I said. "I have the money. I can pay this bill. But no one here has actually taken the time to hear my side of the story, and actually try to do something about this. All your Corporate Office cares about is getting paid."
"Yeah," she said. "They can be pretty tough."
"And why am I going to pay them if they're not addressing my concern? And it's not like I'm still going, or anything. We just haven't gone, so you really can't say that we have been using your services for free."
"Well, I'm listening to you," she said, and she actually sounded sweet. "I promise, I'll get this taken care of by the end of the day."
Five days later, I received a payment booklet from Bally's.
Well, this is sensible, I said to myself. Yes, that makes sense. I can enclose two checks with each payment, and that way, Corb and I can keep our payments separate. Exactly what we were told we could do in the beginning.
So, I waited until pay day, and then I asked Corb for a check for two months, and I filled out a check for the other two months. The next day, I placed them in the car, to mail out when I arrived at work.
On the way to work, in Providence, I received a phone call on my cell. From the number, I knew immediately who it was from, and decided to pick it up.
"Mr. Alexian," said a very stern lady on the phone. "This is Bally's. You must make a payment to your account immediately."
I started laughing. "Ma'am, I have an envelope with two checks sitting right here that I'll be sending out today."
"Mr. Alexian," said the stern lady. "Your account is 120 days overdue. We need you to make a payment right this instant."
I paused. "You do realize that there is a reason that it's overdue, right?"
"I am fully aware of the notes on the file," said the woman. "But the fact of the matter is, you have failed to take personal responsibility for this matter. Your account is 120 days overdue, sir, and--"
"Ma'am, you really don't want to continue with this conversation!" I said. "Listen, I was quite upset with the way that Bally's treated me on this. You guys lied to me to get me to sign up, and then told me that I could get out of the contract, and lied about that!"
"I have never HEARD of any associate tell a customer they could split bill an account like that," she said.
"Well, believe it, it happened! To me!"
"Sir, in all MY years of working in customer service, it has NEVER been Bally's policy to split bill an account."
"You're not a very good listener, are you?" I asked. "I'm telling you that's what I was told!"
"Well, we need to take care of this immediately. Don't you CARE about the damage this could do to your credit score?"
"No, not really," I replied, gleefully. "What I want is to be treated fairly, and not lied to. But let me tell you..." Now I was really on a tear. This woman had really worked my last nerve. "Like I said, you really don't want to have this conversation. I was in a really bad place with your company, but I had a very nice lady call me about a week ago. And she actually got me into a place where I was ready to resolve this. Which is why I have the checks, right next to me. But if you keep this up, I'll just rip those checks right up!"
"But sir, we REALLY must resolve this situation immediately! Now, if you'd just give me your account number..."
"You're getting my payment through the mail, whether you like it or not," I said, firmly.
She paused. "And you have the checks right there?" she asked.
"Right by my side."
"And how much are the checks for?" she asked.
"I could tell you," I said. "But they're sitting on my passenger side seat. I'm driving on a highway, and if I opened up the envelope, added up the checks in my head, and read them to you, I might get myself killed. I don't care about myself, really, but I know how much you want to get paid."
"Do they add up to $214, sir?" she asked.
"Yes, they do," I replied. And I thought to myself, okay, it's finally sunk in, she finally gets it.
"Now, sir," she said. "Just to make you aware, you could avoid all of this hassle in the future, simply by having all of your payments directly deducted from one single banking account, if you'd just allow me today to authorize..."
It was at that point, dear friends, that I totally lost it. After the entire screaming match that we had just had about split payments, she totally has to go by script and bring up the whole reason that I was upset with Bally's to begin with? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF CORPORATE DRONE WAS I DEALING WITH?
"Okay, that's it," I said, cutting her off. "Just so YOU know, YOU'RE a complete moron. Bye!" And I hung up on her.
The checks did go out that day. And this past Sunday, Corb and I dared to go back to Bally's, for the first time in months.
It felt good, but I have to tell you, the whole thing has left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't think that there's anything that Bally's could do that would ever get us to sign up again.
I just wish that these company's could see past their bottom lines and quotas to see what is often driving customer behavior. For me, at least, it's pretty simple: Don't lie to me, and I'll treat you decently. Even then, I realize that the lie may not be your fault. But please, listen to what I have to say, and try to do something about it, if you can. I'm really not hard to please, at all.
I wanted to go there to feel better about myself. And I will. But two years from now, I sure as hell won't be doing that at Bally's.