There were a lot of big names at FedExField yesterday during the Skins–Eagles game: Betts. Campbell. Garcia. Randle El. But for any fan who had to park at one of the field’s distant lots and take a Metrobus shuttle to the stadium, there were two names that were more important than any on the field: McCormick and Apollo. These are the names of the two stadium-shuttle routes, and though a newbie fan wouldn’t know it, the pleasure of his NFL experience hinged almost entirely on knowing one from the other.
Let me explain. As my girlfriend and I drove with anticipation to our very first Skins game, we were steered by an attendant into the parking lot of a building called the Orthopedic and Wellness Center, where Skins fans were coughing up $30 for the privilege of parking more than a mile from the stadium. A lot attendant told us to hop on “the shuttle,” which he said would promptly return us to the lot after the game. What he didn’t mention was that we would be riding on the “Apollo Drive shuttle”—not to be confused with the “McCormick Drive shuttle.” Nor did the bus driver mention this as we boarded.
Hours later, after the Skins clinched their last-place finish in the NFC East, we filed out of the stadium with the rest of the masses and made our way to the shuttle launch. There we were all corralled into a chain-link pen that eventually split into two lanes: McCormick and Apollo. We didn’t know which one we wanted, and neither did a lot of our new friends in line. It didn’t help that only about 14 percent of the crowd would have passed a field sobriety test.
I asked an attendant in a yellow jacket if the McCormick shuttle would take us to the Orthopedic and Wellness Center. He looked at me as if I had asked to be dropped off at my apartment back in the District. “Orthopedic Center?” he said. “Never heard of that.” With a sense of impending disaster, I phoned a friend and had him Mapquest the orthopedic center and give me the cross streets. He didn’t see any McCormicks or Apollos on the map. “You’re pretty far, dude,” he told me. “I wouldn’t walk it.” When I relayed the street names he gave me to the attendants, they looked ever more befuddled. “Were the buildings where you parked red or white?” one of them asked. “I think maybe you want Apollo.”
We waited nearly an hour to reach the front of the shuttle line, the crowd growing more agitated by the minute. When the attendants let our group through, people scattered to the different buses in a disorienting, Pamplona-style dash. Drunk people asked their slightly less drunk friends whether they wanted Apollo or McCormick; many of them were greeted with shrugs. We had a 50-50 shot, I figured, so we hopped on Apollo. I asked the driver if he was headed to the orthopedic center, hoping he might set me at ease. “Orthopedic center?” he asked, looking pensive. “I think maybe you want McCormick.”
We stepped off, waded through the teetering throng of windmilling attendants, and hopped on a McCormick bus. I asked our driver about the orthopedic center. More unpromising looks. “I don’t know where that is,” he said, “but I think it might be Apollo.”
We hopped on yet another Apollo, this one with a new driver. I knew better than to ask, but I did anyway. This guy looked pretty sure of himself. “You don’t want this bus. You want McCormick.”
We boarded our fourth bus, this one a McCormick, and we declined to ask the driver anything. We were resigned to the possibility that it wasn’t going where we needed to go, but at least the people we were sitting with were as confused as we were. As the driver put the bus in gear, I asked the one sober-looking Eagles fan if he knew where we were heading. “No,” he said flatly. He added, “I can’t believe you guys pay 30 bucks for this shit.”
As we crept slowly through gameday gridlock, plastered Philly fans started a chant of “Redskins suck!” A young blonde in an Eagles jersey, eyes glazed over, shouted between hiccups that her boyfriend was a “hottie.” Washington fans sat silently in various states of misery, and parents poised for a melee to break out in the aisle. I noticed my girlfriend texting a friend: “This is the worst.”
When the bus reached its destination, maybe 90 minutes after the game ended, fans stepped off and looked around hoping to make out something familiar in the dark. I saw nothing I’d seen on the way in. I ran down an attendant and asked him the question I’d been dreading: “Is there an orthopedic center around here?”
He looked at me with a hint of pity. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure you want Apollo.” He looked down at me as I crouched in despair. It was about five hours after kickoff. “The only thing I can recommend is that you hop on one of these empty McCormicks, take it back to the stadium, and get on an Apollo.”
I walked off in a daze, then called my Mapquest friend and gave him our new address. He plugged it in and said we were about a mile and a half from the orthopedic center. We went to a nearby Radisson Hotel and called a cab. When the cabbie arrived he told us we were lucky.
“I got stuck in here,” he said, otherwise we never would have gotten a cab. He had just given a ride to a distressed Skins fan who didn’t know where she was in relation to her car. It had taken about a half-hour to get her a short distance, netting him a measly fare. After dropping her off, he couldn’t get out of the stadium traffic. “It’s terrible,” the cabbie said. “Nobody knows where they are.”
He dropped us at the orthopedic center, near the Apollo shuttle launch, and wished us luck. As we walked to our car, we saw a confused-looking woman in a Skins jersey standing in a nearly empty parking lot. She was turning in slow circles, trying to get her bearings.
I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure she wanted McCormick.