There was a moment on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field that captured what it’s like to be an Eagles fan. It didn’t happen on the field, it was not recorded by cameras, I’m sure, and I doubt it was noticed by anyone but me.
The Eagles were leading the Browns 22-10; about six minutes remained in the third quarter. Carson Wentz, in his debut as Eagles quarterback, had just floated a 35-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor, the kind of throw that his predecessor, Sam Bradford, had struggled with.
The building felt like it was swaying, and strangers were hugging and high-fiving and screaming unintelligibly. Whole sections of the upper deck were competing to see who could scream “E-A-G-L-E-S” louder. An unopened bottle of water soared like a missile down from the upper reaches of the stadium, narrowly missing the young fan quietly occupying the aisle seat next to me. That was odd enough, but it was not the moment I’m talking about.
Amid all the exultation and exhortation, the game had resumed. I noticed a middle-aged man sitting in front of me, in the first row of the section, a few seats to my right. He was wearing an Eagles hat spun backward, his graying sideburns peeking out. He leaned forward in his seat, silent, hands folded over his mouth. It looked, almost, like he was praying, except with his eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. It was a pose you’d expect from someone whose team was losing by 12 points in the third quarter, not winning.
I thought to myself: That is what it’s really like to be an Eagles fan. It’s not a franchise for the faint of heart. And it hasn’t had many days like Sunday. Yes, the opponent was the bumbling Cleveland Browns, who had a couple of very Browns-like moments (including calling an aimless direct snap on fourth-and-five from their 41).
But the Eagles had not started a rookie quarterback in the season’s first game since 1939. This is not a team with a history of success with rookie QBs; in fact, entering Sunday’s game, rookies had won only 11 games for the Iggles in the modern history of the league (in other words, since 1950). Several QBs (Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson come to mind) have won that many, or more, games in their rookie season alone.
And consider: Wentz had thrown only 24 passes in the preseason before he broke two ribs. Not to be forgotten is that he started only 23 games in college, and that was at North Dakota State.
But the kid had himself a day in front of about 70,000 fans at the Linc. On the opening drive, his second throw appeared to be wide to the right but was caught one-handed by tight end Zach Ertz as he spun to the ground, turning a looming third-and-10 into a first down. The play was huge, especially after Jordan Matthews’ drop of Wentz’s first-ever pass gave fans flashbacks to last season. It was the first of 22 completions for Wentz, (37 attempts) for 278 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-12 win.
Sitting in the 21st-century version of the 700 Level, I got the sense that a lot of fans were holding something back, though. They’ve seen too much in recent seasons — the departure of Andy Reid, the rise and fall of Chip Kelly, the turnstile at the quarterback position — to get smitten easily. They won’t get fooled again, or so they think.
I can only conclude that’s why that fan was watching Sunday’s game so intently. Like all of us, he’s seen too much over the years to get his hopes up, at least just yet.
I’ll be looking for him in two weeks, when the Eagles host the Steelers. But win or lose, I don’t expect him to be smiling.
I drove two hours through rush-hour traffic to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night hoping to see something I hadn’t seen before.
That did happen, though it wasn’t the performance of Carson Wentz, who made his Eagles debut in a preseason game that had all the excitement of a bowl of vanilla ice cream. (Idea for the Eagles PR staff: Give away free ice cream to fans willing to come out and watch a glorified scrimmage on a sweltering day).
It was an odd thing that occurred as my friend Jim and I made our way through security on the south side of the stadium.
As we walked up, we saw that there was no line at the gate (in contrast with the typically packed north entrance). Wth kickoff about 15 minutes away, we were hoping to breeze through security and make our way to the upper deck.
As a sports fan, I rarely go to a game without bringing food. It’s a rule I live by. On this night, I didn’t have much, just a few things to snack on as I slowly roasted in the 90-degree heat.
I set my see-through (by Eagles edict) bag on the security table and dropped my wallet, keys and cellphone into the gray plastic tray. I eased through the metal detector and reached over for my belongings. A group of security employees stood around killing time.
I heard one of them, a petite woman, say something. I thought at first that she was talking to one of her co-workers. I noticed that she was looking at me expectantly, so I quickly realized that whatever she said had been directed at me.
“Would it be inappropriate for me to ask you for your seats?” she asked.
Huh? Why was an Eagles security employee asking me for my seats? Was she secretly a scalper? Did she really want to watch the game?
I was befuddled. You don’t want to be asked strange questions at the security checkpoint.
“I’m sorry?” I said.
“Would it be inappropriate for me to ask you for some seeds?” she asked.
One of the things in my satchel was a small bag of sunflower seeds, Old Bay flavor. I opened the bag months ago and have been slowly working my way through its contents.
What do you do when a stadium security employee asks you for some of your food? I’d never had that happen to me. It felt like an “Impractical Jokers” skit. You can’t really say no there, can you? You’d look heartless. You’d be a bad person.
So I plucked out the bag of sunflower seeds, popped it open and poured a small pile into her open hand.
But then it became like feeding the birds. A second security worker who had been manning the empty line crept over and furtively held out her hand; apparently she didn’t want to be seen by her superior taking food from a fan. I smiled and poured her some seeds.
Then a third hand appeared. I was like the Oprah of Old Bay sunflower seeds: You get seeds! You get seeds! And you get seeds!
They thanked me, and we all laughed.
“Enjoy the game,” they said. It’s the standard Lincoln Financial Field greeting.
“Only if it’s a win,” I said. It’s my standard reply.
I thought about asking them for a picture with me and the bag of seeds, but thought better of it. After all, they were apparently afraid of getting caught seed-handed.
Thankfully, it all took less than a minute and then Jim and I headed up to our seats to see a “train wreck” of game — the word choice of a fan in Section 211 whose shrill voice is seared into my brain from last season.
I didn’t eat a single sunflower seed that night. It’s a long season ahead, and I want to be prepared if I happen to see those workers again.
I was the only kid I knew who read Reader’s Digest.
For some reason, my parents saved old issues of the once-iconic magazine going back to the ’70s, with a few scattered issues from the ’60s. These paperback-size copies lined a couple of bookshelves in our perpetually darkened den, which we called the “family room,” even though as a family I don’t remember spending all that much time in there.
Starting sometime around age 9 or 10, I would sidle up to the bookshelf, which was all but blocked by a dormant organ and an itchy couch, and pick out copies of Reader’s Digest at random and decamp to my bedroom or the living room — or pretty much anywhere else in the house that had better lighting — and read the magazine from cover to cover. My grandparents usually subscribed, so I mixed contemporary copies with ones that had sat untouched on that shelf for years.
Reader’s Digest was my encyclopedia and World Wide Web. Before we had dial-up Internet access or satellite TV, that’s where I got my roots in storytelling, world events, politics and even bad jokes (courtesy of the “Laughter, the Best Medicine” page). I believed most everything I read, because, as I was told, “They can’t print it if it’s not true.”
The truth is, and this is something the 10-year-old me would not have understood at a fundamental level, is that much of what I read was misguided, biased or wrong. (Coincidentally, I remember reading the July 1983 copy of RD depicted above. I probably skipped the article on the “amazing” F-Plan diet, but that turned out to have a lasting impact.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that Reader’s Digest was intentionally deceptive — it wasn’t. RD was simply an amalgamation of other publications — publications that had their own biases, angles and flaws. Add to that the truth that the “certainty” of the immediate present is always outdone (trumped?) by the perspective that only the passage of time can offer. Surely the 1980s seemed like a good idea at the time, but …
Now, I get my news and information a very different way. Most of it comes via my phone, which the 10-year-old me would have found unimaginable, through push alerts, tweets, Facebook posts and headlines — all of which are, by nature, very short. Much shorter than the Reader’s Digest articles that I would challenge myself to finish.
One of my main information-gathering apps is Twitter, and I have a widget on my phone that provides quick access to my timeline. It is populated mostly by news sources and those familiar themes of politics, features and world and national news. (The bad jokes have been replaced by memes and GIFs.)
While years ago I puttered through Reader’s Digest believing almost every word, I now can look at everything with a sharp skepticism.
Two recent tweets caught my eye; they popped up within minutes of each other on a quiet night. The first was an article from The New York Times with the headline “Turns out, flossing may be overrated.” The second was a piece from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site that proclaimed “There’s probably nothing that will change Clinton or Trump supporters’ minds.”
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) August 3, 2016
The next night, another New York Times story popped up in my Twitter feed: “Why Useless ‘Surgery’ Is Still Popular.” It turns out that several common surgeries, including spinal fusion and meniscus surgery, are not scientifically proven to work better than physical therapy alone. Yet some doctors continue to recommend that their patients go under the knife rather than trying therapy. Why?
“I think there is a placebo effect not only on patients but on doctors,” a Mayo Clinic doctor is quoted as saying in the article. “The successful patient is burned into their memories and the not-so-successful patient is not. Doctors can have a selective memory that leads them to conclude that, ‘Darn it, it works pretty well.’”
The common thread of these news stories, as well as my Reader’s Digest reminiscences, is the idea that so much information we are exposed to is blatantly wrong, mistakenly wrong or so incomplete it might as well be wrong. A study by the American Press Institute, a nonpartisan media watchdog, found that incorrect information on Twitter outnumbers correct information by a ratio of 3-to-1 and that many Americans are “confidently wrong.”
There was another tweet that popped up in my timeline between the floss and the politics: It was a New York Times obituary for the writer James Baldwin. Baldwin died long ago, in 1987, but the Times has taken his and many other luminaries’ obituaries and published them in one place (the kind of aggregation that Reader’s Digest capitalized on). The Times’ tweet displayed a timeless quote from Baldwin:
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they be forced to deal with pain.”
Substitute “opinon” for “hates”/”hate” and “ignorance” for “pain.” Bingo.
What ties all of this together? Let’s start with a bit of flossing, but of the mental variety. Why do we feel compelled to buy reels of string, wind them around our fingers and pursue flecks of food in front of the bathroom mirror? Because we are told to.
Why do we espouse certain beliefs? Because we are told to.
The “conventional wisdom” pervades our society, and not just ours. We are creatures who are built to do what we are told, especially by our parents, teachers and others in positions of responsibility. We carry this formula past our earliest years and into childhood/adolescence, in the form of peer pressure, and adulthood, in the form of “keeping up with the Joneses” and other facets of life in an ever-accelerating rat race.
We do so many things a certain way because, hey, they worked for your father or your great-uncle or someone else, so it must be right, right?
We cling to our conventions so stubbornly because if we admit that they could be wrong, we would be forced to rethink things. And rethinking things is hard. From an evolutionary perspective, we are programmed to not want to rethink things. Doing so uses up a lot of time and energy and … we could be wrong! It feels so much safer to stay with the current mode of thinking — even at the risk that it could be harmful or wasteful.
Eleven years ago, a scientist named John Ioannidis published a paper in the journal PLOS One titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” Not to get too deep into maths here, but studies rely on something called a p-value, which is so complex that even scientists can’t explain what it really is. It also can be manipulated to confirm researchers’ preconceived notions, which is completely against what the scientific method is all about. Lies, damned lies, and statistics, as they say.
If I were to go back through all those years of Reader’s Digest, I think I’d find some neat nostalgia (and some fine editing), but I also think I’d find scores of stories that have, in due time, been proved to be misleading or simply wrong. In fact, I’d have had the same problem if medical journals had lined the shelves of our family room instead of Reader’s Digest.
Human progress is a process. We have volumes of information at our fingertips now, but how much of it is reliable? How much of it is perilously incomplete? How much would we gain if we paused to consider how much of this “content” that is buzzing all around us is true, useful, lasting information that will retain its value in 10, 20, 50 years? Everything on the Internet gets saved in some form or other, but how much of it is really worth saving? How much of it would be worth putting on the shelf for future generations — who will have the benefit of learning from our errors — to read?
I was recently going through my notes and found these entries, written (for the most part) during a trip to Spain with my wife at the end of April:
April 29: Driving on the E-5 highway that slices from southwestern Spain directly through its middle, the feeling hits you: This is a big country.
As we are finding out today, it takes more than five hours to drive from Sevilla to Madrid, with a mandatory half-hour rest stop for the driver, a genial, earthy man named Paco.
The E-5 really does cut through the heart of Spain, too: About a half-hour south of downtown Madrid, the highway travels just to the west of a monument that marks the center of the Iberian Peninsula.
As Americans we are a nation of drivers, and it’s clear that Spain also loves its driving: This is a holiday weekend, as Paco points out, and traveling up through Andalucia we see a wall of traffic backed up for miles and miles. The cause is a cloudburst that had causes some flooding on the southbound side of the highway. Thankfully we are going on the opposite direction, toward the Innside Luchana Hotel in Madrid, where they don’t operate the HVAC system in the springtime. *Shudder* Had we been headed south, I’m not sure we would’ve made it there by midnight.
Even with good traffic, the day has been long enough. In the end, we will have been on the road for over six hours, having toured La Almuzara horse farm, walked in and around La Mezquita in Cordoba and returned to the capital city.
There is graffiti everywhere, on buildings, overpasses, sheds. Ron’s Crew and El Ron’s Crew have emptied untold cans of paint for miles between La Mancha and Madrid, probably well beyond. In New Zealand, graffiti was rare; when it popped up, officials raced to erase it as quickly as possible. But here in Spain, it seems to bother no one.
April 30: We receive a private transfer to the train station, which was another perk provided by Friendly Planet, our travel agency. The train station is beautiful and cavernous, with an indoor arboretum on the ground floor; dozens of turtles swim and clamber about in a small pond. Kacey and I wished we could have viewed the arboretum from up close, but once we had our baggage scanned — a cursory check compared to the security process at airports — it was unclear whether we could exit and make our way down to the arboretum. We decided not to chance it.
We are at the station to board the AVE, Spain’s high-speed train. Relative to the price, I cannot imagine a better way to see the Spanish countryside than a trip on the AVE.
Spain may be, like the United States, a country of drivers, but it also has advanced public transportation, like most of the rest of Europe. To travel 385 miles from Madrid, in the center of the country, to Barcelona, on the northeastern coast, we take the AVE (Alta Velocidad Española). The train looks no bigger than Washington’s Metro, but that is where the similarities end. The AVE zooms along the track at speeds up to 300 km an hour or 180 mph; the line between Madrid and Barcelona first opened in 2008. Once we left the outskirts of Spain’s capital, the train hovered near that speed for most of the ride. By comparison, the Metro has a permitted top speed of about 60 mph and an average speed of only about 30 mph. (Those numbers don’t reflect the widespread delays and closures in the Metro system this summer, part of a yearlong project to fix the crumbling system.)
While the ride on the bus on the E-5 was often bumpy due to the hit-or-miss condition of the road, the AVE was incredibly smooth — especially considering that we were traveling nearly as fast as a NASCAR driver running “wide open” at Talladega Superspeedway. And the AVE is quiet — so quiet that it took me an hour to realize that the noisy ride that I expected wasn’t coming. I suppose I am inured to the bone-rattling comforts of the Metro and the New York subway. The first two rooms we had at the Innside Luchana hotel in Madrid were much noisier than the AVE.
At 180 mph, the scenery immediately in front of you is just a blur; blink and you will miss it. But as you look off into the distance, from 500 feet away to as far as the eye can see, the view is unforgettable. Brown rolling hills sprinkled with green give way to darker mountains. The fan blades of white windmills spin; from afar they look like children’s pinwheels whirling lightly in the breeze.
White, puffy cumulus clouds hang low, beckoning mortals to reach out and try to touch them. But we are moving past them so quickly that even if we could, we would not catch even a wisp.
On screens hanging down from the ceiling of the train cars, one of the “Night at the Museum” movies plays. Just before the train departed, attendants offered headphones to riders.
Curious, I plug in a pair of earbuds left over from the flight; a jaunty big band number flows through the speakers. There are eight radio stations in all, from rock and roll (en inglés!) to classical. Can you imagine a train service in the United States offering an in-ride movie as well as a music selection?
It’s clear the U.S. has a deficit compared to much of the rest of the developed world when it comes to public transportation. We are addicted to driving and we have little incentive to do less of it or give it up entirely, even though the average American spends 42 hours a year stuck in rush-hour traffic. And there’s also the fact that some of the most negative effects — mainly, carbon emissions that contribute to global warming — are all but invisible and so incremental that we never see their direct impact.
If there’s any consolation, in 10 years we might be riding at 800 mph on this thing.
>>Here you’ll find a bit more from the Spain trip, including a strange little tale about a cellphone, a plane and a paranoid woman.
There are two sides to receiving health care in the United States: one is finding, and getting, the actual care itself; the other is dueling with insurance companies to make sure they pay what they owe.
It is difficult enough to find top-notch care, so the fact that we in the United States are regularly required to fight against our own insurance companies — which are, in theory, supposed to be overseeing our well-being — is frustrating and even shameful. It’s a topic I wrote about more than two years ago, when I began to see firsthand how fractured the health care system is.
Anyone who faces this kind of patient vs. insurance situation needs inspiration. So here’s a little story to show that this battle is winnable and that the fight is worth fighting:
Last December, I received the last of my dental implants. As I found out, there is a bizarre relationship between dental implants and health insurance companies in this country. Even though implants are increasingly common, health insurance companies often do not cover them. And those that do cover them will typically not pay for the whole thing. The usual procedure is for insurance to pay for the implant post — which is drilled into the jawbone and anchors the new tooth — and the piece (called an abutment) that attaches the crown to the post, but not to pay for the crown. The crown is the responsibility of dental insurance, according to their line of thinking.
Why would a health insurer pay for only part of a solution but absolve itself of the rest?
That is what I was consistently told is standard procedure by a handful of representatives of my insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, during numerous phone calls over the course of many months.
I never accepted that as a reasonable answer.
During one conversation earlier this year with one of those representatives, I was given a shred of hope. I explained the circumstances of my case and reasoned that because BCBS paid for the implant posts, it also should cover the cost of the crowns. Neither the posts nor the crowns are any good on their own, I said; they are part of a cohesive whole and BCBS should treat them as such.
Even though the rep admitted she’d never heard of a case where BCBS paid for crowns, she said it wouldn’t hurt to submit a claim and see what happens. Why not?
After waiting for late-arriving paperwork from my dentist, I mailed my claim in March. BCBS said I should expect to hear back in 30 days, but that didn’t happen. Around the 30-day mark I called for an update. The representative had no idea what the status of my claim was, but she said she would help it along. She also added to the chorus of “I’ve never heard of anyone getting crowns covered.” It didn’t look good.
While I was on vacation, BCBS called and left a message at my work. Hopeful, I dialed.
“Hey, Jonathan, this is [name redacted] from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. …. I did want to let you know that the review came back and according to everything that I’ve read, it doesn’t look like we’re going to cover the crown portion of your, you know, implant surgery. You are more than welcome to call us back if you want further details. Um, I’m sorry to have to give you this bad news, but uh, give us a call, like I said, if you want more details. Have a great day. Bye-bye.”
A day or two later, I received an email from BCBS saying the claim had been finalized. Without a clear idea of why I wanted more punishment, I logged in to my account. I couldn’t find the claim anywhere. Just as well.
I got home that night and found a letter that had arrived from the insurer. I thought about tossing it directly into the recycle bin, but with nothing better to do at that moment, I ripped it open.
The first page was a chart related to my claim. One line caught my eye within seconds: “Total benefits approved: $2,623.76.”
Below that: “Payment of $2,623.76 was made to JONATHAN C FOGG on 05-05-16.”
“HAH!” I shouted.
I flipped through to the last page. It was a check … in the amount of $3,393.76. Why was it more than the cover page said it would be? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. It’s gravy.
I’m reminded of some incredibly inspirational writing I came across this week. I was reading an article compiling the greatest graduation speeches ever delivered, and No. 2 on the list was Steve Jobs’ address at Stanford University in 2005 (which happens to be the same year I graduated from Susquehanna University):
“Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking,” Jobs told the students. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
I fought the conventional wisdom of an insurance company and won. And after two-plus years of being told by insurance reps and secretaries, and even my own dentists and oral surgeon, that health insurance doesn’t cover crowns, after receiving the “sorry, we don’t cover that” voicemail, I refused to be trapped by dogma and other people’s definition of what’s right.
I deposited the check today. It was the most fulfilling trip to the bank I’ve ever made.
I’ve been trying to reach the traffic squad detective assigned to the case after an unmarked Baltimore cop car pulled out in front of me and caused an accident on Orleans Street/U.S. 40 on March 29.
I talked to the detective at the scene for a minute or so, at most. He gave me his card and told me to follow up with him.
On April 6, I called his number at 2:01 p.m.* A woman answered the phone. “You just missed him — he gets off at 2. Call back about 20 minutes sooner,” she said.
On April 12, I called at 1:05, just to be on the safe side. A man answered; it was not the detective. “He works 5 to 1,” the man said. “And he’s on vacation until April 19.”
“OK,” I said, “I’ll call back then.” The man also cautioned that traffic cases involving city police are sent to internal review and take a long time to play out.
Yesterday, I dialed his number at 12:45. A man answered. Again, not the detective. “He actually works 4 to 12. A lot of people say it’s a 5-to-1 shift, but it’s actually 4 to 12,” he said.
Good to know.
“I’ll call back tomorrow,” I said.
Today I called at 11:22 a.m., quite confident I would get through.
A man answered. I asked for the detective.
“Oh, he’s off today,” the man said.
“Will he be in tomorrow?” I asked.
“Let me check the schedule — hold on.”
There is no hold music in the Baltimore Police Department.
The man returned. “Hello, sir? Yes, I can’t find the schedule. But I’m pretty sure he’s working tomorrow. I mean, I think he is.”
I can’t fathom why someone who works at BPD wouldn’t be able to find the schedule, but that’s exactly what happened and how this attempt ended.
The search continues.
* — Times are exact and are based on my call log.