One of Us: Marty Moss-Coane of WHYY’s Radio Times


Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Marty Moss-Coane, with a hyphen. I was a Marjorie, named for my grandmother. And I was a Marge or Margie until I was 10, when I said I was not going to be called that for the rest of my life. People went along with Marty. I was a bit of a tomboy, so that helped.

I grew up … in rural Massachusetts and rural Delaware in the ’50s and ’60s. I’m that old. And I grew up on boarding-school campuses, because my father was a teacher and then headmaster of a boarding school. You’ve seen Dead Poets Society, right? That was the campus I grew up on.

I came to Philadelphia … in 1969, when I dropped out of George Washington University. I had some friends in West Philadelphia who had an extra room.

If I weren’t doing this … I would be an elementary-school teacher in a Philadelphia public school with a good principal.

I live … in Bucks County, in a little Victorian with a wraparound porch.

One song I always turn up as loud as I can … is Gogol Bordello’s “Start Wearing Purple.” I love the gypsy punk sound. There’s just something about it. I saw them live, and I now have tinnitus. I blame it on them.

The thing most people don’t understand about my job … is how much homework is involved. Two hours live every day, five days a week — 10 hours a week. There’s a lot of preparation for what happens on the air. Since I never did my homework in high school, it’s my lot in life to do it now, as an adult.

My parents taught me … different things. My mom was an incredible listener. She had what we called “excessive attention disorder.” She paid hyper-attention to everything. And my dad had a great love for life.

If you come to my house for dinner … we will probably start the meal with soup. I’m a really good soup maker.

My first concert ever … was in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1970. It was Carole King and James Taylor. I was in Atlanta because as part of my dropping-out-of-college years, some friends and I had started a cooperatively run macrobiotic vegetarian restaurant. These days, I’m mostly vegetarian, although I sneak a piece of steak a few times a year. And fish. And hot dogs, because it’s not really meat. God knows what a hot dog really is.

One habit I cannot break is … biting my fingernails. It’s embarrassing. But I think I secretly enjoy it.

I think that Facebook … is losing its luster. Seemed like it was going to be more fun than it is.

When I arrived in Philadelphia, the city was … so drab. It is so much more colorful, younger, hipper and more fun now. I don’t even know what we did on the weekends back then.

If you really want to piss me off … run a red light when I’m trying to cross the street. It happens every day.

My favorite interviews on Radio Times have been … Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, James McBride, Maurice Sendak, and an Indian writer named Sherman Alexie. Interesting that they’re all men.

This summer, I hope to … play more tennis. My game is pretty good. I play a few times a week. But not nearly enough for my taste.

My secret talent … is that I’m a really good liar. I don’t do it every day, but I can use it very strategically.

I will do this until … I can’t remember important, everyday things.

Originally published as “One of Us: Marty Moss-Coane” in the June 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Profile: Where in the World Is Sean Agnew?

Sean Agnew, who grew up in Ardmore, named his influential company after the SEPTA regional rail line. Photography by Gene Smirnov

Sean Agnew, who grew up in Ardmore, named his influential company after the SEPTA regional rail line. Photography by Gene Smirnov

He looked every bit the unassuming tourist, discreetly dressed in a blue oxford and sporting a brimming vacation beard. He was trying to explain to the immigration desk at Beijing Capital International Airport why he had no ticket. So he pulled up on his iPhone a PDF of a passenger list with his name — SEAN AGNEW — atop a manifest for a North Korea-bound plane that would be carrying foreign diplomats, a North Korean government official, a handful of semipro street-ballers and Dennis Rodman. Yes, Sean Agnew was on that flight.

Only a few thousand Americans have entered North Korea since the 1953 armistice, presumably none with more dubious credentials than Agnew. Though he’s the most influential tastemaker within Philly’s independent music scene, Agnew’s passport photo shows him with a shock of mangy hair, gaunt cheeks and a puffy lumberjack beard, as if the shoe-bomber and Cher had a love child. He didn’t fly overseas until he was 30, though he quickly discovered that booking concerts literally has no boundaries — it can be done from anywhere on Earth with available wi-fi. That led him on a series of peculiar globe-trekking adventures: getting mugged in the London riots, visiting Sri Lanka in the wake of its civil war, amassing maybe the best Japanese punk-rock record collection in America. Par for Agnew’s course.

So in early January, Sean Agnew found himself in Beijing en route to his latest offbeat escapade. Despite no visa, no itinerary and a passport that practically screamed No-Fly List, Agnew easily maneuvered through immigration. And just in time. He’d been invited to attend the birthday party of Kim Jong-un.

This trip had begun when Agnew received a mysterious email in his inbox, one that held the promise of a Willy Wonka golden ticket:

This is your chance to be present at an event that will go down in history, a genuine once-in-a-lifetime happening that will leave you the envy of all your well-traveled friends and give you stories to tell future generations, that you were there, and you saw it with your own eyes!

When it arrived, Agnew was in a hut on a Thai beach, enjoying a shoe-less Christmas vacation. He recognized the sender — a travel agency he’d contacted six years earlier, when he’d made plans for a tour of North Korea that never materialized. This new VIP package included a seat at the Dennis Rodman Basketball Invitational, a bizarre olympiad pitting ex-NBA players and street-ballers against the North Korean national squad that would kick off with Rodman singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un. Agnew, an NBA fanatic who grew up playing pickup ball in Ardmore with Kobe Bryant, was already in Southeast Asia. Why not extend his vacation four more days?

“That night I go to bed and have a dream. The game happened, and Allen Iverson was in it,” Agnew tells me. “I don’t remember too much, but A.I. was there, and they needed one more player. He asked, ‘Do you want to play?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I want to play!’”

Agnew plunked down 6,000 euros, or roughly $8,300. He landed in Beijing and scrambled to find his traveling companions. That’s when he spied a gang of foreign journalists orbiting around Rodman like puppies surrounding a pit bull. Agnew tweeted an exhaled sigh of relief:

Dennis Rodman is wearing silk pajamas, a grey vest, the dirtiest vans, a neon pink scarf all while drinking a beer at immigration

For the next three and a half days, after he and the rest of Rodman’s entourage entered the world’s most isolated country, Agnew’s phone went straight to voicemail. Friends and family had no idea where he was. When he reemerged, it was in spectacular fashion — on international television. With the players declining interviews, the media descended on the tourists, eyewitnesses to the bubbling international imbroglio over U.S.-North Korea relations. A hammy Agnew jovially broke it all down for CNN, even pantomiming the motion of Rodman smoking a cigar for the cameras. Later, on his way home, he caught his interview on television and saw a man in a blue oxford identified as: “Sean Agnew: Tourist.”

He later spilled more on Instagram about Pyongyang’s unfinished skyline, pizza parlors, subway stations and child performers. (“Ain’t nobody fucking with my clique of North Korean child performers,” he wrote.) And the snapshot of Agnew piss-drunk with washed-up NBA players Doug Christie and Cliff Robinson was priceless: the three of them at the hotel bar, a dozen Bavarian lagers deep, staring into space and wondering how on Earth they’d ended up there together.

Agnew was the riddle within the riddle of Rodman’s caravan. As soon as he appeared on CNN, Philadelphia had one burning question: What the hell is Sean Agnew doing?

IT’S SUPER BOWL SUNDAY, a month later, and a sign is affixed to the door of Boot & Saddle on Broad Street in South Philly: NO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES TO BE SERVED FOR THIS SHOW. In the back of the country-western saloon lies a 150-person concert hall, normally packed with patrons guzzling craft beers and cocktails. Today, though, it’s an all-ages concert — a rarity not just for Boot & Saddle, but for live music in general in this city. It’s a throwback to Sean Agnew’s roots.

Starting in the mid-’90s, Agnew began booking all-ages shows in unlicensed warehouses and subterranean spaces, mostly in West Philly. The embodiment of do-it-yourself music, he handled just about everything — ticketing, security, even the wheeling-in of the PA system. He operated frugally, sometimes poaching goldenrod paper from Kinko’s for flyers, and even borrowed the name for his enterprise: R5 Productions, a nod to the regional rail line that runs from Paoli to Thorndale. At first it was a joke (appropriation of the Main Line!), but R5 Productions wound up sticking around, just like Agnew.

Indeed, soon enough, indie bands were no longer skipping over Philly, and on any given night, local music fans wanted to know where Sean Agnew was — because he undoubtedly was at the must-see concert, often his concert. He imbued R5 with a Zen-like ethos of Find the right venue to fit the show, turning conventional promoters’ logic on its head: Rather than forcing a concert to conform to a particular space, he picked the appropriate space for each concert. It was crowd-pleasing curation that was in part a necessity, because R5 didn’t have a stage of its own. Agnew had to book shows everywhere, from a bungalow in Overbrook to Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown to the Academy of Music. He defined himself as a tastemaker by introducing original artists and breaking down the barrier between performer and audiences, transforming not just who we listen to live, but how and where we experience a concert.

Today, after slowly scaling up over the years from basements and churches to bars, Agnew owns stakes in four major venues around Philadelphia — Boot & Saddle, riverfront Morgan’s Pier, late-night dive Dolphin Tavern and concert hall Union Transfer. At 36, he has a measure of financial security, and the former DIY guy suddenly finds himself with very little hands-on work to do.

Which explains why he doesn’t arrive tonight until a half hour into the first set, taking a stool across from me and ordering a water. He’s just biked over from his bachelor pad in Center City (he split two years ago with his longtime on-and-off girlfriend) and is hung over from beers and karaoke last night. Agnew calls this concert “giving back,” and “goodwill.” For the better part of a decade, all-ages concerts such as this one — selling $12 tickets and no alcohol, making a small profit — were his bread and butter. “Right now, there is a real dearth of places to go see a show if you’re under 21,” he says, perking up. “There needs to be a small, dedicated space for all-ages music.”

You’ll hear Agnew return to this credo again and again. His enthusiasm for all-ages shows seems indicative of his general avoidance of the gravitas of adulthood. In his nonchalant manner, he speaks more vividly about his travels than about his day-to-day job, and often recounts stories of younger iterations of himself. When I asked, almost none of his longtime friends could pinpoint exactly how old Agnew was, and to a person, they told me endless tales of his punk-rock 20s and his unchanging knack for pranks and shenanigans. One of those friends was Dan Gross, the former Daily News gossip columnist, who’s unsurprised to see Agnew’s stock soar. “He was always really good at this shit,” Gross says. “It just took him a long time to get his act together and make it a professional business.”

Agnew became known for booking
diamond-in-the-rough artists — mainly in the genres of ska, electronica and indie rock — that later became household names. Utilizing nontraditional venues like the First Unitarian Church near 22nd and Chestnut, Agnew booked Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons for their first concerts in Philly years before either won Album of the Year at the Grammys.

And now these breakout bands are coming back to play at Union Transfer, his 1,200-
person-capacity concert hall. City Papernamed Agnew the “scene builder of the year” in 2011, following Union Transfer’s opening. He and his partners have created a destination on that derelict strip of Spring Garden, in the ruins of the old Spaghetti Warehouse. Even though Agnew has the smallest financial stake out of the owners, he’s the face of Union Transfer. But his partners — Bowery Presents, an East Coast powerhouse that operates in Boston and New York, and Avram Hornik’s Four Corners Management, which owns a Philly consortium of bars, including the trio of Drinker’s establishments — lend credence to the idea that Agnew, after booking some 4,000 shows, has finally decided to cash in.

The operative question is how far he’ll push R5. Agnew says no further than Philly (except “maybe a taco stand in Bali”), but it’s the same dilemma faced by every independent promoter at a mid-career crossroads: Can you grow big and still be … authentic?

WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING with that question, Agnew has some impressive company. In the late ’60s, future mogul Larry Magid was still an endearing upstart, the guy who introduced Philadelphians to bands like the Grateful Dead, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Band. Magid drove a psychedelic ’59 Cadillac and drew the ire of Frank Rizzo, who accused him of corrupting youth by normalizing rock-and-roll. But within a decade, Magid’s Electric Factory Concerts had a hammerlock on the busiest venues in town, in a swift ascent from underdog to target of a federal grand jury for anti-competitiveness.

Then along came Stephen Starr — yes, that Stephen Starr — who in the ’80s began siphoning shows away from Electric Factory and putting on his own concerts at the Spectrum and elsewhere. Starr eventually succumbed to a buyout from Magid and signed a non-compete agreement. After Starr took the money and headed into the kitchen, Magid’s company was eventually absorbed by Clear Channel, the national concert-industry behemoth, in 2000. And surprise, surprise: Clear Channel (since spun off into Live Nation) in turn became Agnew’s nemesis.

If Agnew is the next heir in this lineage of prolific homegrown music promoters,
his path to the title has been less orthodox than his predecessors’. “I do shows and concerts for bands that no one will care about in five years in weird and unusual spaces,” his seriously outdated LinkedIn profile reads.
It’s this unprofessionally professional at-titude that’s let him fly under the radar.

A decade ago, Philadelphia Weekly was calling Agnew “the last indie man standing” in this city; now he’s gallivanting to North Korea, raking in low-six-figures a year. All of which has led to the inevitable criticism that, like Magid before him, Agnew has “sold out” and shed his up-by-the-bootstraps DIY bona fides. Witness this exchange on Twitter two summers ago between the impresario and a disgruntled customer, on the steep vegan tacos at Agnew’s Morgan’s Pier:

Hater: with a menu/price list & u vaguely mock the radical left — are u officially coming out as capitalist?

Agnew: I can’t read these tweets. Too busy counting money and buying property and donating money to Romney

Whereas Magid was open about his desire to make money, profits are more of a plot twist in Agnew’s story. Booking concerts began as a hobby and didn’t become his profession until quite recently. He held down second jobs until he was 30: waiting tables, clerking at a record store on South Street, serving as a research patient at Ivy Labs near Drexel. He once underwent a skin biopsy that netted him $1,000, which paid seven months’ rent.

Agnew initially felt it was unethical to make money on his shows, and when he started out, he gave 100 percent of the profits to the bands. “I never really went into this being like, ‘We’re going to crush everything and have this humongous venue!’” he says. “It all seemed to happen organically.”

Today Agnew sounds like a savvy businessman, concealing his future ambitions while preserving his former personas. He continues to blast Ticketmaster as an “awful company,” and asserts, “I hate Live Nation.” As he sits across from me at Boot & Saddle, I ask him to differentiate R5 from its rivals in the small- and mid-size concert markets. He draws a metaphor with the fast-food industry: Live Nation (which books the TLA) is McDonald’s; AEG (the second-largest promotion company in town, which books the Trocadero) is Burger King. “What’s that make Union Transfer and R5?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe Chipotle?”

Still, in a concert industry flush with bogus service fees and overly muscular security, R5 is hailed for its crowd-friendly mystique. Union Transfer has comparatively casual security at the door, reasonable ticket prices ($20 on average), and concessions ranging from Little Baby’s Ice Cream to Bufad Pizza. The adjustable stage guarantees an intimate experience at every show, no matter how much capacity is filled. But for Agnew to keep calling R5 a DIY promotion company — as its webpage proclaims — is something of a farce. He owns stages that are elaborate and permanent, not jerry-rigged, and they’re equipped with artificial haze and strobe lights when the occasion demands.

You can’t stay the underdog forever, but Agnew still operates by a code that includes refusing to accept corporate sponsorships. He’s been lured with thousands of advertising dollars and turned down offers to simply send out an email blast to R5’s 66,000-strong mailing list. He recalls one of only two exceptions to date: “It was a free event at World Cafe Live,” Agnew says. “I took a check for about $2,000 to send out an email with a link. And within an hour or two after, it was filled up.”

That corporate sponsor? Dos Equis. The brand behind the Most Interesting Man in the World couldn’t get it done without the Most Interesting Man in Philly.

AGNEW MEETS ME at Suburban Station one chilly Saturday for a day trip back to his hometown of Ardmore, on the train formerly known as the R5. Today he’s wearing jeans and an olive winter jacket, but 10 years ago, his wardrobe would have undoubtedly included some combination of camo shorts, a custom-made ARDMORE hoodie and a mesh trucker cap reading DORM SLUT. “It was my uniform for like two years,” he says.

Underneath Agnew’s hoodie, there was always more middle-class grit than suburban gentility. That becomes clear when we hop into a Ford Focus Zipcar in Bryn Mawr, Agnew riding shotgun, and he directs me to maneuver into the Merion Cricket Club, the first stop along a sightseeing tour of his childhood. “I just got nervous, like I was going to work again,” he says as we pull into the parking lot behind the tony country club. Agnew was a silver-plated server here for three years, right across from Jeffrey Lurie’s former
multimillion-dollar mansion. Agnew’s grandfather was a longtime groundskeeper who maintained the Wimbledon-style tennis courts.

It was his grandparents, who lived next door to Agnew and his parents (both health-care professionals), who wanted him to attend Archbishop Carroll rather than public school. “I was so anti-religious,” he laughs. He became a quintessential loner in Catholic school. Most classmates rebelled by flocking to keggers in Overbrook; Agnew listened to hard-core punk like Minor Threat and abstained from drugs and booze. Outside of school, he was a regular gym rat at the Ardmore Avenue Community Center, known colloquially as “The Shack.” For two summers he played league basketball with Kobe Bryant. “I remember he would roll up in an Isuzu jeep, and he’d be like, ‘Man, I gotta go practice with the Sixers today,’” Agnew says. “So a lot of time in our summer-league games, he’d leave in the first quarter or second quarter and go to NBA practices.”

Our tour concludes at 313 Locust Avenue. It’s a small lot occupied by an oak tree and a two-story property with a cinder block wedged against the front door. As we stand on the front lawn of Agnew’s childhood home, he recalls his neighbor’s miraculous rosebushes and games of two-hand-touch football, and points to a bird feeder that has remained unchanged. The house has been deserted since Hurricane Sandy, foreclosed on and bank-owned now. Before I know it, Agnew is ambling through a foot of snow toward the rear, where he finds the one-car garage and pokes his head through a busted nine-panel window. “Yo, check this out,” he says, motioning me to look inside. There it is, plainly scrawled out in charcoal across the wall of the garage: SEAN AGNEW.

He enrolled at Drexel in 1995 and became a DJ at WKDU 91.7. Older station members introduced him to West Philly’s vibrant punk-rock locus, a group of warehouses named Kill Time, Fake House and Stalag 13. He commuted on the R5 until a sudden derailment: He was banned from WKDU for stealing a record from its library. (He says he owned an identical record, and that he accidentally brought home WKDU’s copy.) After two trimesters, he dropped out for good.

Shortly before that, he launched R5, at a moment both opportune and ominous in the concert industry. It was a perverse era in which to be a ticket-buyer: Between 1996 and 2003, the average price for a live-
concert ticket shot up by 80 percent. The result was a tsunami of DIY music, which is why Agnew sees himself as a product of luck and zeitgeist — right place, right time and all that. “Around the early 2000s, indie rock starts becoming really popular,” he says. “The website Pitchfork starts getting really popular and big. I just happened to be doing shows around this time. All of a sudden, half-popular bands are playing at the First Unitarian Church or the warehouses, and that’s not happening everywhere in the country. It was only happening in Philadelphia.”

After he ditched his information systems studies, Agnew moved into a group house a few doors down from Stalag and spent several years promoting shows there. By the early 2000s, he had inherited the mantle of punk-rock promoters like Robby Redcheeks, Tony “Pointless” Croasdale and the Cabbage Collective, all of whom were booking shows at the Calvary Church in West Philly and in spaces they could rent on the cheap.

“What the Cabbage Collective did, along with other groups of the late ’80s and well into the ’90s, was take the underground music away from clubs, bars … and into tiny, nontraditional venues like churches,” says Joseph Gervasi, who was one of its founders. Gervasi now operates a self-described “DIY” horror-movie business called Exhumed Films and has chronicled the local punk scene in an oral history project called “Loud! Fast! Philly!” One theme that emerges from the recordings, which include an interview with Agnew, is the inherent cyclicity of the underground music scene. Each generation has organizers who age out. Agnew has remained a constant far longer than most.

“The coolest thing about R5 is that there’s a dozen spaces they’ll do stuff in, whether that’s 20 people or 200 people,” Dan Yemin tells me. Yemin spent parts of three decades touring in hard-core punk bands, including the popular Philly-based Kid Dynamite. He credits Agnew with the popularization and continuation of the First Unitarian Church. “All of these other places that were legendary or successful have been paved over, turned to rubble, or converted into student housing,” he says. “But not the basement of the Unitarian Church.”

Agnew broke up fights, quieted cops. He once stopped a firearm from getting drawn. When he discovered a girl passed out after a show, “I drove her to the hospital. And I don’t drive. I didn’t want some girl to get alcohol poisoning and close down the Church.”

Not getting shuttered used to be a constant battle. On a summer evening in 2002, L&I officers pulled up to the Church with a notice for Agnew to cease operations, right before the headlining band reached the stage. A second series of complaints was raised about R5’s ticket office, operating from a record store on South Street. It, too, was shut down. (Suspicions persist to this day that Clear Channel, now Live Nation, was behind those complaints, although no record exists with L&I.)

This is the point at which most underdogs call it a good game and reevaluate life. Not Agnew, who had the stubbornness and grit to get the Church up and running again within months. The closure of the Church attracted coverage by everyone from MTV to Howard Stern, and the 15 minutes of fame were priceless for the 24-year-old fledgling promoter. In the December 2003 issue of Harper’s, Agnew appeared as the protagonist of a story that painted him as the Robin Hood of a concert industry run amok. Now, on the brink of middle age, such publicity shadows him, has made him, perhaps unfairly, fodder for those people who think he’s gone corporate. “I know I’m not the punk-est dude for owning a nice venue,” he tells me. “And I don’t mean to sound cocky, but for 15 years I was booking shows in basements and warehouses and art galleries. And that’s still what I’m most interested in.”

NEITHER LARRY MAGID NOR most of R5’s competition would comment for this story. Which made me wonder if that’s because they genuinely don’t take Agnew seriously as a peer, or because he’s maturing into the most prominent promoter in town. Stacie George, who until last year was the senior talent buyer for Live Nation in Philadelphia, downplayed R5 as a direct competitor and would only say, “Sean rode that indie-rock wave, that’s what he did. But there are so many bands today that there is enough business to go around.”

Colleagues see Agnew in another light. “He had to become really smart and develop an amazing sense of the market at a young age,” says Avram Hornik, who has been Agnew’s business partner since they opened Union Transfer in 2011. “He’s like a giraffe growing a long neck. He became what was necessary to succeed in his market.”

Gervasi, writing in an email, praised Agnew’s dexterity of genres, adding, too, that Agnew “is a goofball. … [H]e’s always engaged with life in a playful and silly manner.”

A Google search substantiates this point:

There was the 2003 Inquirer article reporting that Agnew was considering a run for City Council. Ed Rendell’s office called him up, and Agnew immediately said no thanks to help with his campaign, because it was imaginary.

Then there was the infamous report about Agnew getting busted outside a rave for carrying 400 pills of a new prescription drug called “Kalpax.” A subsequent post claimed that Agnew was fulfilling his 50 hours of community service by booking shows at a senior center — this time spelling the drug “Cowpax.” A practical joke by Agnew and a friend.

In 2006 came the “Sean Spotter” blog, which provided updates on Agnew’s life, like a “Where’s Waldo?” of Philly hipsterdom. Many assumed Agnew was at it again, but it turned out this was the work of a legitimate cyberstalker. “The only reason I stopped was that Sean became aware of it, so I felt he was perverting the innocence and purity of the experience,” says Ryan Creed, the Agnew obsessor, who now is a senior editor at NBC News in Los Angeles. Why stalk Agnew back then? “There’s something irresistible about a man who is handsome and kind of a douche.”

Over a dozen interactions with Agnew, I came to realize that being a rock promoter is nothing like being a rock star. The oddities that make Agnew so interesting — his travel, his geeky love of the NBA — are also what keep him sane. “It’s a lot of the same day-in, day-out,” he says. “My traveling is somewhat of a reaction to that. I still love music, still love going to shows, but I can book shows while going to a crazy temple or riding a motorbike through the countryside.”

Agnew and his partners have begun discussing a larger venue than Union Transfer. But he’s more interested in talking about his vacation bucket list, showing me pictures on his phone of Socotra, a small Yemeni island that’s next in his sights: “It looks like Mars! It really looks like nowhere else on Earth.”

The Rodman adventure is just the latest chapter in Agnew’s ephemeral life. When he got home, there were calls from the New Yorker, USA Today and others waiting. Agnew grew tired of calling them all back. Turns out the Most Interesting Man in Philly has a rather mundane ego. He lives for the experience, not the publicity or the payoff. Getting called a “tourist”? He loved that. But, of course, there is a caveat. “Yeah,” he says, “I had no idea I was talking to CNN.”

Originally published as “Where in the World Is Sean Agnew?” in the June 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Profile: Kyle Scott of Crossing Broad


Scott paid $150 for the video of the Eagles’ Cooper, which exploded Crossing Broad’s traffic. Photograph by Ryan Collerd

Kyle Scott is showing me Terrell Owens’s penis.

We’re sitting in the upstairs office of the two-bedroom twin Scott shares with his fiancée, on the curve of a cramped cul-de-sac in Horsham. This is the headquarters of Crossing Broad, the sports blog Scott started as a lark five years ago and grew into a full-time gig (and, by his accounting, a six-figure income). It’s also where the biggest local sports story of 2013 was born — the video of Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper spitting out the n-word at a Kenny Chesney concert. Even if you’ve never read a sports blog, you probably saw that clip on the news, or on ESPN, which ran a crawl that credited for the footage and milked the scandal for days. A few hours after Scott posted the video last summer, Cooper held an emotional press conference, saying he felt “ashamed and disgusted.” The aftershocks are still being felt a year later; when the Eagles gave Cooper a new contract and then released fellow receiver and reputed wannabe gangsta DeSean Jackson, comedian Chris Rock tweeted: “So Reilly cooper gets a raise for saying nigger and Desean Jackson gets fired for being a suspected nigga.” From the comfort of his IKEA office chair, with the click of a mouse, Scott launched a blog post heard round the sports world and beyond.

His reward? Offers of dick pics. Lots of them. “After the Cooper thing, I had messages from people saying, ‘I have photos of such-and-such Phillie, do you want to buy them?’” Scott says. The most tempting was a naked photo of a current batsman. Scott explains his thought process as he considered buying it: “Okay, obvious question here — is it impressive? And they said, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty darn impressive.’ I thought about it. There would be a ton of page views.”

Scott passed on the snapshot, he says, mostly because the player was single. (“You’re just outing a guy for being a guy.”) Still, as rational and well-mannered as he seems here in his suburban home, Scott is something else online: a cross between a take-no-prisoners sports media critic (sample headlines: “It’s Only A Matter of Time Before Robots Replace Flyers Beat Writers”; a running series titled “Shut Up Wheels”) and a poor man’s Perez Hilton, with the snark turned up to 11 (a photo of a player shopping for clothes is captioned “Seriously, I’m beginning to question his sexuality”).

Which brings us to this moment, as Scott tells me of a photo from an X-rated Skype session with Terrell Owens that had been shopped to TMZ and other sites. Google it and you’ll only find the shirtless ex-Eagle lying down and making weird come-hither faces, but those photos are cropped at the waist.

“I have the full version,” Scott says.

“It’s definitely T.O.?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Scott says with a laugh. “You want to see it?”

He searches through his white iPhone 5. “Don’t want you to think I’m B.S.-ing,” he says. “Here it is.”

I can confirm that Kyle Scott possesses a fully nude photograph of T.O. He hasn’t published it; he says it has no “redeeming quality.” But since Crossing Broad bills itself as “Philly’s most irreverent sports blog,” he’s not above posting back-and-forth emails from beat writers bitching about the teams they cover, or slide shows of more-than-half-naked women, or pics of athletes with beers and babes in hand.

Blogs now influence the way old-school media covers sports and even, to some degree, the way front offices run their franchises. Of all the local sites, none has made a bigger splash than Scott’s. And no one is more loathed by those who cover Philly sports — even by his online peers. When I compare Crossing Broad to the national sports site Deadspin — where dick pics are always de rigueur — rival Philly blogger Enrico Campitelli Jr. of The 700 Level says, “That’s insulting to Deadspin.”

IT’S NOT QUITE 8 A.M. at Wing Bowl in late January, and Kyle Scott is on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center armed with a press credential and his cell-phone camera. Dressed in jeans, navy Pumas and a gray striped hoodie, the slim 30-year-old could still pass for a college student, and is indistinguishable from most of the drunkards who’ve packed the house before sunrise. “I feel like such a perv,” he says. “Just taking pictures of strippers. But it’s instant page views.”

Today’s content loosely fits into Scott’s editorial strategy of covering “all the stuff going on outside the game.” Sometimes that’s a critique of a player (“Ryan Howard is Already Super Defensive About Your Skepticism”) or a reporter (“Hack: Here’s a Really Dumb Tweet by Flyers Beat Writer Sam Carchidi”), or a drift far outside the lines of sports, like a ranking of the best local weatherperson Twitter accounts. Scott says his target audience is broader than the lite-beer-backwash degenerates currently flipping him the bird at Wing Bowl: “I make it for guys in their 20s and 30s like me who were bored at work.”

With an average of 250,000 unique visitors a month, Crossing Broad isn’t successful, loath as his competitors may be to admit it, just thanks to one viral video or snapshots of women in cheap lingerie. Indeed, Scott’s career path reads like a blueprint for success in cyberspace. The Malvern Prep grad majored in communications at Villanova and interned at Comcast SportsNet, then took a sales job with the Inquirer, mistakenly thinking he’d leap from ads to editorial. The gigs that followed — with an online marketing agency, and with GSI Commerce, where he handled Major League Baseball’s e-commerce account, including the Phillies’ online store — taught Scott how to monetize a website, a lesson many Web writers learn the hard way, if at all. He asked another blogger if he wanted to accept an ad that would run on both of their sites. “He said, ‘How would that work? Would I pay them?’ I was like, oh my God.”

Crossing Broad was largely unknown at first, and Scott was the flesh-and-blood blogger stereotype, living at home with his parents in Springfield and posting from their basement. The night the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay in December 2009, Scott made a Facebook fan page for the ace pitcher that drew 10,000 followers in three days — which he then used to drive traffic to his fledgling site. Scott’s first hit was a weekly feature called “Your Morning Carts,” with photos of then-Flyers forward Jeff Carter, usually with a drink in hand and a “douchebag friend” in tow, sometimes posing with girls in bikinis at his usual haunts in Sea Isle City.

“The posts people always talk about, and say they found my site through, are from when I started picking on Jeff Carter,” Scott says. “It wasn’t hard to find pictures of him. I knew it was working when people started sending me pictures — ‘Here’s Carter drunk again and taking shots.’”

Crossing Broad’s traffic jumped, and Scott realized he was not only generating an audience, but having an impact. “Carter’s friends would reach out to me and tell me how much he hated it,” he says. “That was my first holy-shit moment. I never expected this to make it to an athlete’s screen.”

There’s more than a hint of pride and satisfaction as Scott tells me these stories. He enjoys wearing the black hat, though he says it weighs on him at times. “It may read mean-spirited, and sometimes it is,” he admits of his writing, “but I’m very tongue-in-cheek.” His proudest moment came when he helped the police find a high-definition video of the attack on a New York Rangers fan at Geno’s Steaks in 2012, which eventually led to an arrest. “That’s a story I felt good about,” he says. “I don’t always feel good.” Scott has toned down his combative tone and innuendoes a bit, but still takes pride in pushing the envelope. “People think it’s an insult to say ‘You’re the TMZ of Philly sports,’” he explains, referring to himself as a “publisher,” not a blogger. “I think, ‘That’s awesome. TMZ is doing really well.’”

Crossing Broad’s biggest scoop was actually something of a fluke. On a Monday last July, Scott heard from two guys who claimed to have video of Cooper, the Eagles wideout, at a concert, shouting at a security guard and threatening to “fight every nigger here.” The pair had already contacted talk-radio host Mike Missanelli, who discussed the clip with his bosses at The Fanatic and feared it could end Cooper’s career. “We thought it was more of Crossing Broad material, something salacious,” says Missanelli, who suggested they take it to Scott. The video peddlers wanted thousands of dollars for the footage — and one of them made it clear he wasn’t a fan of the site for all its Sixers bashing. Scott talked them down to $150, and on Wednesday, the video went up.

In five days, Crossing Broad tallied 800,000 hits — nearly as many as it usually earned in a month. And had Scott hosted the clip himself, rather than posting it on YouTube, where it’s been viewed more than five million times, his numbers would have been even greater. “I thought it would be a local story, someone would ask him about it, and he’d apologize,” Scott says, noting that Cooper was a marginal player at that time. “I didn’t expect that three hours after it posted, it would be on SportsCenter.”

SCOTT ADMITS HIS TRAFFIC drifted back to Earth after the Cooper controversy died down, putting Crossing Broad more in line with the rest of the Philly sports blogs, which fall into two very basic categories. Most are sites for casual fans, ranging from quirky pages like Zoo With Roy and The Fightins, which mix analysis with goofy GIFs, humor and random thoughts, to Crossing Broad and its top rival, The 700 Level.

Launched in 2004 with a post about Donovan McNabb’s “4th-and-26th” game, The 700 Level began as a hobby for Enrico Campitelli Jr., who worked as an IT consultant by day. Friendly shout-outs from WIP and links by Deadspin and grew Campitelli’s site, which he describes as written in “the voice of a fan,” without Scott’s vicious snark. Just as Campitelli was thinking The 700 Level could be a full-time job, Comcast SportsNet approached him with an offer; in March 2010, CSN acquired the site and hired Campitelli to run it. As further proof that old media is paying attention to the success of this model, now has “Pattison Ave.,” with a staff of eight bloggers who are essentially following Scott and Campitelli’s playbook. The teams themselves have adapted, too — all four have an online presence, churning out content straight from the sports complex to your screen.

Then there are the analytics sites, like Beerleaguer (Phillies), Liberty Ballers (Sixers), Broad Street Hockey (Flyers) and Birds 24/7 (an Eagles blog owned by Philadelphia magazine). They examine teams with a Moneyball eye for stats and trends and mock drafts. While the Inquirer and Daily News haven’t taken to posting photos of drunken athletes at the Shore — at least not yet — their coverage has been influenced by the popularity of number-geek sites. To wit: The Inquirer’s lead Eagles writer, Jeff McLane, started a column last season with a focus on film of the previous week’s game, routes, schemes and assignments.

You’d figure the analytics guys would dislike Scott’s gossipy style, and most of them do. But so do the casual-fan-site webmasters, some of whom refused to discuss Crossing Broad on the record. (One sports media source said writing about Scott would cheapen this column.) Their beefs arise from the sense that Scott, the guy in Malvern, is actually not much different from the cocky, aggressive voice of Crossing Broad. There’s also the notion that no headline or topic hangs too low for Scott to grab in hopes of attracting page views or a mention on talk radio. “You go to a Phillies game, and there are smart fans, and there are fans who are blackout drunk by the fourth inning,” says Campitelli. “Those people will find the content they’re looking for. I like to write for fans I’d want to talk Phillies with.”

Most of Scott’s allies are found on the radio, at both WIP and The Fanatic, where the ability to stir up controversy and a hey-look-at-me temperament are job requirements. Scott’s peers resent the way he trolls other media on Twitter, but his methods get results. When Scott called out ESPN analyst Cris Carter for claiming he was sober when Eagles coach Buddy Ryan released him back in the ’80s (“You’re so full of shit,” Scott tweeted to him, showing typical restraint), WIP’s Al Morganti mentioned Crossing Broad’s shot on the air minutes later.

Sports beat writers used to be the opposite of sports-radio hosts — plugging away in relative anonymity. Now, thanks to Crossing Broad, the guys with the notepads are stories themselves. So Scott wrote about the time Les Bowen of the Daily News punched the Inquirer’s McLane at the Eagles training facility, and chronicled the beef between John Gonzalez, then an Inquirer columnist, and Daily News scribe David Murphy.

Scott is particularly tough on the Flyers beat corps, which he calls “among the laziest, most unimaginative and out-of-touch in the business.” In one post, he published a series of tweets in which the reporters were incensed that the Flyers announced the season’s starting goaltender via Instagram — a move that marked a shift away from old media to the world in which Scott thrives. (One writer threatened to pull coverage of the team’s charity carnival in retaliation.) Scott also jousted with Randy Miller, then with the Courier-Post, in an epic Twitter exchange, including this ink-stained-finger-wag from Miller: “It’s hilarious how this kid knows the pulse of the dressing room … by reading quotes that myself and other people who actually cover the team get.”

Tensions in the Daily News and Inquirer newsrooms over Crossing Broad were high, and Flyers beat writer Frank Seravalli was presumed to be Scott’s inside source — a claim Seravalli denies, pointing to smackdowns he’s received from the site. At 26, Seravalli is the youngest beat writer in town, and admits he sees his work — and blogs like Crossing Broad — differently than his peers in the press box might. “As journalists, the nature of our job is to hold players and coaches accountable,” he says. “We’re not above being held accountable, too. Crossing Broad is like the sports media watchdog, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t know Kyle Scott, but he’s got a successful thing going, and I don’t see it going away.”

BACK IN SCOTT’S OFFICE, Phillies pennants hang from the wall above his desk, where sports books, a Jimmy Buffett bio and a Chase Utley bobblehead line the shelves. He shows me the glare-reducing glasses he wears to protect his eyes from long days of staring at his two computer screens and his phone. For a guy one sports media insider calls “an egotistical prick,” he’s particularly friendly and well-mannered — apologizing when his Lab mix, Hayley, jumps up to say hello, offering water or a beer, and laying out a box of Philly Soft Pretzel Bites.

Scott says his goals are fairly modest — he plans to hire a full-time writer, then build a small staff, including an ad sales specialist. That, he hopes, will free him up to write longer reported stories, à la the website Grantland. He’s also looking to buy a house with a little more space; he’s getting married this month and hopes to start a family. The Kyle Scott talking about his honeymoon in Mexico looks and sounds exactly like the kind of guy who’d live in a suburban cul-de-sac with a sensible car and a patch of grass to cut. But if you’re a pro athlete photographed playing beer pong, or a beat writer exchanging f-bombs, he’s more like Larry Flynt — an agitator of the lowest denominator.

To the latter crowd, Scott says: Lighten up. “Sports is entertainment,” he tells me. “When you get the Riley Cooper stuff, it’s real life. But you have rich people doing stuff for the entertainment of others. Why not make it fun? Let’s talk about how awful the post-game show is, or how great an announcer is. Be entertained. There’s so much else about the sports experience that’s not on the field.”

Originally published as “The Score: Hating Kyle Scott” in the June 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

One of Us: Charlie Manuel

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Charles Fuqua Manuel. The “Fuqua” comes from my grandmother’s doctor. It was my father’s name, and back where I grew up in Virginia, there was one doctor in the county. He delivered my grandmother’s children, and she named my dad after him.

I am a … baseball man. I’ve been in baseball for 52 years.

My usual breakfast … is egg whites, two slices of bacon, dry whole-wheat toast. Coffee, black.

I hit my first major league home run … in Chicago, 1969. I was on the Twins. It was at Comiskey Park. I was hitting fifth in the lineup. They walked Harmon Killebrew to get to me, and I hit it off a left-hand pitcher.

When I had my heart attack … it woke me up to what life’s all about. Sometimes you forget about things, wrapped up in who you are and things around you. Later on, I had kidney cancer. I have been in remission for 13 years. These days, my doctor tells me to slow down and watch what I eat.

This season, the Phillies … have a chance for success if they can stay healthy and some of the young pitchers can improve.

My job with the team … is senior adviser to the general manager. I go see free-agent high-school and college players, the ones considered top prospects in the country.

If I weren’t doing this … I would be hunting and fishing out West.

One game you will never beat me at is … gin.

My secret talent is … cooking beans. Cranberry beans — which I call October beans — green beans, pinto beans, Spanish beans. Just about every kind of bean.

I met the love of my life … about 18 years ago. Missy and I met at baseball practice in Winter Haven, Florida.

The best baseball player who ever lived was … Willie Mays.

The best Phillies player right now … has got to be Chase Utley.

My favorite restaurant in Philadelphia is … 4th Street Deli. I get their hot corned beef.

The biggest problem with baseball today … is that it is too much of a show. Huge salaries and egos play a big part in it.

The best movie ever made was … The Sound of Music.

I drive … an ’85 Ford F-150 truck, an old one. It’s not restored or anything. I own a Cadillac Escalade but drive the Ford.

On Sunday mornings … I go to church. Not all the time. My dad was a Pentecostal preacher.

I am deathly afraid of … snakes.

My most prized material possession … is my coin collection. My most valuable coins are gold coins, old silver dollars, and some Civil War coins and tokens. The most I’ve ever spent on a coin is probably $9,000.

When we won the World Series in 2008, I thought … that was absolutely the highlight of my career. It’s hard to explain how you feel, because it was one of the greatest things that ever happened, not only to me, but also to our fans and to our team.

When I am gone, I hope people will say … that I was a winner.

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Ajay Raju Profile: The Big Raju

The Dilworth Paxson CEO in his $3.1 million Society Hill home. Photography by Chris Crisman

Dilworth Paxson CEO Ajay Raju in his $3.1 million Society Hill home. Photography by Chris Crisman

Might as well start with the hair.

“My life,” he says, “is driven by my obsession with my stupid hair.”

“My wife,” he says, “hates my hair. She wants me to have no gel.”

“When I discovered gel,” he says, “it was like Aha! Caveman discovers wheel.”

“My brother,” he reports, “says, ‘It’s a previously frozen raccoon that died on the road and was tarred over and then they put it on Ajay’s head.’”

“I’m the Indian Don King.”

Born near Bhopal, brought by his parents to Northeast Philly at the age of 14 speaking no English, Ajay Raju has transformed himself from a kid who felt insecure ordering at McDonald’s to a polished 44-year-old law partner who is quickly and deferentially seated at his preferred table (rear corner near the bar, where he can see everyone come and go) in the posh 1862 dining room at the Union League. He nonchalantly requests dishes not on the menu — tonight, grilled salmon and salad, since his weight is his other obsession. “I’m a peacock,” he’ll say, again and again.

“He has one quality that you definitely do not see in the legal class — pizzazz,” says one of Raju’s friends. “They buy their clothes at Joseph A. Bank. And obviously Ajay does not shop there.” In fact, Raju appears in advertisements for Boyds; his shoes, which can run up to $12,000 a pair, come from Tom Ford.

“We’ll see whether the personal flamboyance undoes him in this town,” this observer says. “At this point, it seems not. He’s going to be a player.”

It’s not as if he’s waiting on the bench now. On this late-winter night, Raju is little more than a month into his new job as CEO and co-chairman of Dilworth Paxson, one of Philadelphia’s most storied law firms. He moved there after nearly a decade at Reed Smith, a much larger firm with an international presence, where he managed the Philadelphia office and was acknowledged as a top rainmaker among 1,800 partners worldwide.

There are those who think Raju’s move to a smaller, more Philly-focused shop is really about having a home in a politically connected firm and dressing himself in the double-breasted, pin-striped aura of Richardson Dilworth, the legendary mayor and political reformer. He already sits on a dozen nonprofit boards around town, ranging from the Art Museum to the Zoo. He has his own political action committee — Center PAC — that has helped raise money for Tom Corbett and Bob Casey. Raju, possessed with what he calls “immigrant impatience,” has been raising money for politicians since he was a teenager. (As a young peacock, he disguised fund-raisers as fashion shows.) Raju calls Center PAC an “incubation platform” and plans eventually to help launch the political careers of civic-minded business types. People like him.

During talks about his move to Dilworth with its longtime partner Joe Jacovini, who stepped aside from running the firm for Raju to move in, the two men had a number of meetings right here in full view at the Union League. “They thought a merger was happening — this crowd,” Raju says, glancing across the table to the full and noisy bar area. “It’s almost like they analyze your stools to see what you ate this month. In New York, nobody would give a rat’s ass. Here, they watch everything.”

Of course, he’s a guy who doesn’t mind being watched. Peacocks don’t try to hide. While he may not be ready to run for mayor, he’s long been running for something. At this point, he has a self-appointed position; call it ch­eerleader-in-chief. Ajay Raju is making a deliberate effort to make sure people don’t just look — he wants them to look and listen.

It’s the reason he’s spending hours tonight dining with someone who can bring him no legal business, who offers no new connection in the guarded back corridors of power and influence. He’s here despite the objections of those around him.

“I can honestly tell you that every friend and adviser tells me not to talk to you right now,” Raju tells me just before — diet be damned — ordering dessert, his third helping today of Union League brownies with peanut butter ice cream. (It’s a long story that involves having two lunches.) “‘You can gain nothing with a profile of you; nothing good comes out of it. It doesn’t get you anywhere.’

“But I think it’s the perfect time. I have this idea, and I want the message to get out there.”

Dominic Pileggi: The Grown-Up

Pileggi outside his home in Chester. Photography by Colin Lenton

Pileggi outside his home in Chester. Photography by Colin Lenton

At the Court Diner in Media, the rest of the table orders chipped beef, pancakes and omelets. Then the waitress asks Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi what he’d like to eat.

“Wheat toast. Dry.”

Dominic Pileggi, 56 years old, is the straight man of Pennsylvania politics, a figure who at first blush is as dull as his breakfast in a statehouse overpopulated by the corrupt, the comical, and a large and growing cohort of ultra-conservatives.

By design, Pileggi rarely makes headlines. By nature, his thinking is nuanced and his politics are precise. He smiles and talks far less than most politicians. Actually, he smiles and talks less than most morticians.

No matter. When Pileggi, whose district includes parts of Delaware and Chester counties, does speak, the entire capital listens — very closely. “He is the most powerful person in Harrisburg,” says Ed Rendell, within seconds of being asked about Pileggi. “He may have been the most influential person in Harrisburg when I was governor.”

It would be hard to argue with Rendell. At the Pennsylvania Society, that annual December bacchanal of the state’s political class held at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, Pileggi stood at the front of a receiving line hundreds deep at his invite-only affair, the queue chockablock with lawmakers and lobbyists and executives keen to pay homage. That speaks to Pileggi’s political talents, of course, but it’s also a referendum on the sorry state of governance in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth has rarely been known for better-than- average public-sector effectiveness. But the current rot goes well beyond the state’s middling norm.

Tom Corbett is among America’s least popular governors. Our Supreme Court is riven by a vicious feud and tainted by corruption. Tea Party conservatives have hijacked the House, and in the past five years, the General Assembly as a whole has lost five of its most ruthless — and effective — operators to scandal, including Philadelphia’s own Vince Fumo and John Perzel.

Indeed, Philly’s standing in Harrisburg has arguably never been weaker. Worse, every few weeks brings fresh news that the city’s delegation is not just impotent, but venal: In January, State Rep J.P. Miranda and his sister were charged by District Attorney Seth Williams with conflict of interest, perjury and criminal conspiracy. In March, State Senator LeAnna Washington was hit with felony corruption charges by Attorney General Kathleen Kane for allegedly dragooning her taxpayer-funded staff into campaign work. A week later, the Inquirer broke the story that Kane had dropped a problematic probe into four more city lawmakers alleged to have been caught on tape taking cash from a lobbyist-turned-informant.

And Pileggi? In this field of scrub pines, he stands out like a redwood.

Ask around, and you’ll find precious few serious Pileggi critics. He has fans in the press, who appreciate the remarkably strong open-records law he pushed through a reluctant Harrisburg in 2008. His caucus, though more conservative than he, knows he won’t charge ahead without them. Democrats are almost pathetically appreciative of Pileggi’s willingness to include them, to seriously think over their arguments. And Philadelphia’s leaders consider him nothing short of the best friend the city has in the state’s Republican power structure.

“He’s the competent grown-up,” a Democratic Senate staffer says, sighing reluctantly. “You have a dysfunctional House, you have a governor and administration that after four years don’t know what they’re doing. And you have Pileggi.”

Suburbanista: Food Fight in the Wegmans Parking Lot

Photograph by Clint Blowers

Photograph by Clint Blowers

At 3 p.m, on Saturday, the day before Winter Storm Titan was due to bury the entire Delaware Valley in a foot of snow, my friend Mandy did the stupidest thing any human being could ever do, ever.

She went to the Cherry Hill Wegmans.

I have long held the belief that the Cherry Hill Wegmans is the meanest place on earth. It’s not the people who work there. They’re quite lovely. Not only do they give you samples of brie with fig preserves on a freshly toasted baguette; they smile while doing it. No matter how many times management forces them to reorganize the store, they always, always know where to find canned whole clams. And if they make the error of doing their own shopping while still wearing their Wegmans employee golf shirts and you mistakenly ask them for help, they won’t hesitate to abandon their carts to go to the storeroom and find tahini for you. They are saints. And they have to be. Because the people who shop at Wegmans are evil.

Case in point: At 3:22 p.m. on said Saturday afternoon, I received this text from Mandy:

I am in Wegmans and a woman is SCREAMING at a man in the cheese section!

Mandy and I often share stories about the wickedness we witness at Wegmans. It started one Sunday a few years ago when we randomly bumped into each other there, near diapers and wipes, both unshowered and proud of it, moments before my wallet was stolen out of my purse in bulk food. (My own Wegmania may have been partly to blame for that. I’m not exactly myself there. Just a few weeks ago, Mandy happened upon me in the Asian food section, dazed and confused, mumbling to myself about low-sodium soy.)

And then there was that time during a school holiday when our friend Kris had no choice but to bring her four kids to the store. Her middle son accidentally nudged a woman’s cart into the kale, and the lady whipped her head around and shouted, “Those children do not belong here!” (Calmly, Kris replied, “Well, how about this: Next time I need to go food shopping, I’ll just drop them all at your house, ’kay?”)

And then there was that other time when my friend Maya bent down to snag some instant oatmeal off the bottom shelf in the gluten-free wing and was run over by another cart, then left there on the floor, prone and flailing, while the driver sprinted around a corner, executing a textbook Wegmans hit-and-run. And, of course, the time a woman F-bombed a man waiting at the prepared-foods counter because she thought he’d cut her in line and the man’s wife practically had to cover his mouth to prevent him from F-bombing the lady right back, all of this going down on Christmas Eve, the time of year when all our troubles are supposed to be miles away.

Apparently, those troubles reside permanently at the intersection of Route 70 and Haddonfield Road. At first I assumed that people who live in Cherry Hill and its environs were especially vile humans. But I run into the same clientele at other stores in the Wegmans shopping plaza, and I’ve never heard anyone in, say, Home Depot, shout, “Get the fuck out of my way, bitch!”

I’m pretty sure this new villainy comes hand-in-hand with the recent dawning of the Age of the Fancy Market. People who shop at Acme? Civil. People at ShopRite? Giddy. But go to Whole Foods, and someone wearing a NAMASTE t-shirt will smash her cart into your heels until they bleed to beat you to that extra-firm tofu on sale for $16.99 an ounce.

Still, Wegmans is worse. It’s where the twain meet — where you can buy the cheapest milk in town and organic medjool dates. Like the Shore, everyone is here, except they’re hungry. And they use their carts as weapons.

Why Is Everyone in Philadelphia So Stressed?

Illustration by Leslie Herman

Illustration by Leslie Herman

I have a knot.

It lives between my shoulder blades, a little to the right of center. I feel it when I sit at my computer, when I walk through the grocery store, when I’m stuck in traffic on the Schuylkill: a small hard knot, like a kink in a cord. Twenty times a day I bend down and touch the ground, trying to untie it. Twenty times a day I stretch — this way, that way, down and around — to try to work it out.

I know what tied my knot: deadlines, bills, two kids, a leaking roof, that long hard winter. Modern life, in other words. Chances are you’ve got a knot of your own. Or maybe your problem’s in your stomach. Maybe you can’t sleep at night. Maybe you drink too much, or eat too much. Get headaches. Grind your teeth. All of the above.

We call what tied my knot “stress” — the accumulation of worries, fears and doubts that bedevil us daily. We know it isn’t good for us. We’re told we should avoid it. (Yeah, right.) The entire $27 billion-a-year U.S. yoga industry is pretty much one giant stress-coping strategy.

Every day, it seems, science implicates stress in some new bodily disorder — obesity, depression, infertility, not to mention good old-fashioned high blood pressure and heart attacks. Now, research being done here in Philly says our stress-ridden lives are reprogramming us at a cellular level, affecting mankind’s future ability to cope with worries and regrets.

Other local scientists, however, say that conquering stress is surprisingly quick and easy — and that the power lies within our own minds.

I hope so. Because right now, my knot is killing me.

LET’S START WITH A QUICK recap of high-school biology. Remember the fight-or-flight response? Bunny sees fox. All on its own, bunny’s body yanks itself out of its customary equilibrium, drawing resources away from every function except those needed for escape. No sense expending fuel on digestion, reproduction or even cognition at a time like this; all that matters is speed.

Inside bunny, a cascade of nutrients — glucose for energy, endorphins to dull pain — is delivered to the muscles via a circulatory system hyped up by “stress hormones” that quicken heart and breathing rates and increase blood pressure. Once bunny makes it safely back to its burrow, the heartbeat slows and breathing calms via a release of counteracting hormones. The body returns to stasis, and resources can again be allocated to long-term work.

Fight-or-flight is expensive, in terms of bodily fuel. But it worked well enough for our ancestors that we made it through to here. We get into trouble with stress because contemporary life doesn’t offer the same sorts of challenges the Stone Age did. Instead of encountering rare instances of physical danger, we’re bombarded by continual alerts: Phone’s ringing! Email’s beeping! Baby’s crying! Bill’s due! We’re in a perpetual state of “anxiety,” which is what we call an abnormal response to stress. And we’re taking pills for it: We spend $2.1 billion annually on anti-anxiety medications like Xanax. Psychologist Robert Leahy says high-school kids today show the same anxiety levels as psychiatric patients in the 1950s.

Rape Happens Here


In the early 1980s, staff members in one of Swarthmore’s libraries began hanging reams of white computer paper in the bathroom stalls, which students would use to gossip about cute boys or gripe about homework. A few years ago, pieces of white paper of a different sort began appearing in campus bathrooms. They’re printed up by the administration and emblazoned with the words SEXUAL ASSAULT RESOURCES. One of those resources, as of a couple years ago, was a student named Lisa Sendrow. Last spring, for the first time, Sendrow herself needed to reach out to someone whose name appeared on the white piece of paper.

Sendrow is a 23-year-old brunette from Princeton, New Jersey. Her mother is from Mexico; her dad is a Jewish guy from the Bronx. She graduated last spring and works in health care in Washington, D.C. If 3,000 smiling Facebook photos are a good barometer, her four years at Swarthmore seem to have passed by untroubled. But in the midwinter of 2013, Sendrow says, she was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months. They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. “I basically said, ‘No, I don’t want to have sex with you.’ And then he said, ‘Okay, that’s fine’ and stopped,” Sendrow told me. “And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.”

A month and a half went by before Sendrow paid a visit to Tom Elverson, a drug and alcohol counselor at the school who also served as a liaison to its fraternities. A former frat brother at Swarthmore, he was jolly and bushy-mustached, a human mascot hired a decade earlier to smooth over alumni displeasure at the elimination of the football team, which his father had coached when Elverson was a student. When Sendrow told him she had been raped, he was incredulous. He told her the student was “such a good guy,” she says, and that she must be mistaken. Sendrow left his office in tears. She was so discouraged about going back to the administration that it wasn’t until several months later that she told a dean about the incident. Shortly thereafter, both students graduated, and Sendrow says she was never told the outcome of any investigation. (Elverson, whose position was eliminated by the school last summer, emailed me that he would answer the “great questions” I raised, but never wrote back.)

As the issue of campus assault gains national media traction, stories about incompetent or callous administrators have become bleakly — almost numbingly — familiar. But Sendrow’s account is also quite specific to Swarthmore. The unrest that’s roiled the little U.S. News & World Report juggernaut 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia over the past year — including dozens of allegations of student-on-student sexual assault, two federal investigations, two student-filed federal lawsuits, and four (unprecedented) expulsions for sexual misconduct — nominally revolves around a campus rape problem and an administration accused of abetting it. But the conflict in fact runs deeper: Swarthmore’s 150-year-old Quaker-inspired governing philosophy has collided with the far less forgiving demands of contemporary campus life.

Swarthmore College Title IX Complaint and Official Response

There are 11 additional student testimonials contained in the Title IX complaint filed against Swarthmore College in 2013 — which Philadelphia magazine obtained earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act request and is embedded below — that were not detailed in “Rape Happens Here.” According to the complaint, the administration discouraged victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment from reporting incidents, didn’t take student testimonials seriously, and didn’t adequately punish perpetrators. One student who says she was discouraged from taking her case to the local police also claims she was told “Swarthmore doesn’t expel people.”

Swarthmore provided the magazine with the following response to the complaint:

“Please note, these items are allegations only. While the Department of Education agreed to investigate the allegations, it has stated explicitly that its investigation ‘in no way implies that OCR has decided merit.’ We are cooperating completely with the Department of Education, and it is up to them to rule on the allegations’ veracity.

“At Swarthmore we care passionately about the health and welfare of our students. Since the complaint was filed a year ago, this college has worked tirelessly to institute a comprehensive series of major, intensive and expansive changes meant to turn Swarthmore into a model of proactivity in preventing, addressing, responding to, and adjudicating sexual assault and harassment. We are determined to let no instance of any such behavior exist unaddressed on this campus. We fully embrace the letter, the spirit, and the essence of the Department of Education’s ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, and other guidance.”

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