For some Eagles fans, life is a 50-year bus ride
At 10:23 a.m. yesterday, Art DeSolis yelled, "Let's load up!" and the crowd assembling and imbibing in the Park & Ride lot in Malvern took seats on the bus.
Ann Smith was the last one on, sitting in the well by the door, and she immediately began serving the Linchouse Lemonade and Playoff Punch.
Smith took over last year as bartender when Billy Wagg retired after 44 years. She took the job only because she was tired of sitting in the back of the bus. Because all seats are assigned - passed down over the years among families and friends - this was her only way to move forward.
For 50 years a group of fans has been riding what they call the Lamplighter Express to Eagles home games.
All the originals, who first embarked from the old Lamp Post Inn, are dead or retired now, but many have been replaced by children or grandchildren.
A.J. DeSolis, for instance, is 25 and has been riding since he was 8. He lives in Center City but still drives out to Malvern to take the bus.
His favorite memory is sitting in the back as a boy and helping men lock people in the bathroom by sticking a wooden spoon through the door handle.
"Back in the '70s," said his father, Art DeSolis, 54, who came aboard in 1977, "this used to be labeled the drunk bus. Now it's the gourmet bus."
"When I joined it was ring bologna and pretzels," he added. "Now we have paté."
Paul Myers, 61, of Chester Springs, another passenger since the 1970s, put on an Eagles apron as the bus pulled onto Route 202 yesterday and began serving food and drinks up and down the aisle.
Some passengers, like veteran Dean McGowen, prefer to stay in the back. He won't even share his wife's brownies with anyone up front.
"These are back-of-the-bus baked goods," he insisted.
Chris Packer, 46, a second-generation rider, took his daughters, Laura and Colleen, yesterday. His favorite bus memory is as a 10-year-old smuggling beer into Veterans Stadium for the adult passengers. He was too young to be frisked.
A generation later, his daughters would not be smuggling beer for him.
"No. No," he said. "Different times."
Indeed, years ago, four-letter words flowed like beer, but now, with more a family atmosphere, one of the few bus rules is that when you want to curse at someone, you must say, "I love you."
So when discussions get heated, lots of love gets professed.
This is a tame crowd by Eagles standards. But Ron Smith, the bartender's husband and another longtime passenger, did admit that years ago that he smashed a window after a loss to the Cowboys when a Dallas fan outside the bus saluted him with a finger.
The bus is chartered from Werner Bus Lines of Phoenixville, and each seat costs $33 a game. There was discussion years ago about buying a bus, painting it green and all that, but the charter is just too easy.
And everybody adores the driver, Carmen DiGuiseppe, 80, now in his 19th year.
He is alleged by those on the bus to have a special magic that can make red lights turn green and always find the fastest route.
At Veterans Stadium, the bus always parked in the VIP lane, and one police officer, old-timers say, was given a pack of Marlboros - empty except for $500 - before the first and fifth games in exchange for the premium spot.
Now the bus crowd pays $125 a game to park in the Jetro lot, in front of the Stadium Grill restaurant, and backing into such a tight spot is such a skillful feat that each week, just like yesterday, the passengers break into a cheer upon completion.
The bus arrived at Lincoln Financial Field by 11:30 yesterday, and passengers set up a table and tent that had been stowed underneath. Most of the fans tailgated and visited in the mist for about an hour before heading in to the game.
They do not sit together. Each family or group of friends has its own seats.
The bus left right after the final gun.
The ride home is always fun, but always more fun when the Eagles win.
Anticipating yesterday's Eagles victory, Paul Myers, another veteran and organizer, packed an extra case of beer.
The ride home was bedlam, perhaps best summarized: E-A-G-L-E-S!
Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or email@example.com.