By the time the fireworks popped and fizzled farewell over FedEx Field, Teresa Carey was on the lookout. She stood outside her SUV, trying to locate her daughter, whom she had ordered to start the pilgrimage to the parent pickup zone before the fiery finale. This was a Taylor Swift concert; this was no time to mess around.
The glow of Carey’s iPhone bathed her face as she prodded it. “Follow signs to red lot,” she mumbled as she texted. “No, not Red Lobster! Come on, spellcheck.”
Carey had driven her adult daughter and a friend to the show after she discovered that venue parking cost $60, as much as a cold-shoulder Taylor Swift tour T-shirt, but drop-off and pickup are free. Determined to avoid the post-show madness, Carey arrived half an hour early and brought a cooler of drinks for the Swift fans. She was preparation personified.
“I just knew they were going to be hot and tired, and everything’s so expensive,” the Lanham, Md., resident said, shaking her head.
Soon, her daughter and the friend emerged from the darkness, breathing hard from the 15-minute trek. They hustled into the car and peeled out of the lot, just as the chaos set in.
Legions of sweaty teens spilled out of the arena, filing into a nightmarish parade. The unofficial uniform appeared to hinge on crop tops, fishnet tights and . . . snakes? They wore snake earrings, sequined snake shirts, snakes painted on their cheeks, an allusion to a tweet in the singer’s feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West.
All discourse was shouted: how hot the fire was, how “unreal” the performance was, how impossibly deep Swift’s wardrobe was. The teens were funneled past booths designed for Instagram, past the fleet of semi trucks being loaded with Swift’s bountiful pyrotechnic equipment, to a semicircle of police whose primary job consisted of assuring them that their parents were, in fact, this way.
Their destination was the parent pickup lot, where the myth of the night’s freedom gave way to reality: the tug-of-war between teen’s struggles for autonomy and their dependence on Mom and Dad. The kids might have played dress-up and entered the arena unsupervised, but it was their parents, who had paid for the tickets and T-shirts, who were getting them home.
In the ill-lit parent pickup lot, moms exchanged grievances about the traffic and the inadequacies of Waze. Several complained about having gotten stuck in the Uber line on the way in. A few brave parents, unsure of their kids’ abilities to follow the abundant signage and roped-off path, headed toward the arena to try their luck in the throng.
The hour was getting late. One mom dragged her hyper daughters toward their minivan, as one of them yelled, “Yay, it’s almost midnight and it’s not even New Year’s!” The mother was less thrilled, just wanting to make a quick exodus.
One man, Phil Panzo of Arlington, was unusually unhurried. He was savoring the final moments of solitude as he awaited his wife and niece, who’d gone to the show for the girl’s birthday. After dropping them off, he’d enjoyed a blissful night of nothingness.
“It was really nice,” he said with a grin. “I just watched reruns of ‘The Office.’ ”
A few cars away, Chris Vest, also of Arlington, tested an avant-garde pickup technique — he stood on top of his Jeep 4x4 and flailed his arms like an inflatable outside a car dealership in an effort to catch his teen daughters’ eyes. It worked: The girls confirmed over the phone, so Vest leaped down to the pavement, adjusting his ball cap and dusting off his “Carpe Diem” T-shirt.
Dressed in matching sequined tank tops, the girls gushed about the show. It was their third T-Swift experience, they explained, but again she’d exceeded their expectations. Vest took their bags of merchandise, which they admitted had been wildly expensive. They were not bothered by the price even though they footed the bill themselves.
“Anything for Taylor,” one of the girls said with a shrug.
By midnight, the lot had emptied out and the last of the unclaimed teens sat on the curbs, awaiting their rides. A group of 17-year-olds from North Carolina were among the last left. Months ago, one of them had bought the tickets on a whim before they’d even asked permission. They’d done their share of pretty-pleasing before somebody’s parents had been gracious enough to make the eight-hour trip from their town outside Charlotte to take them.
“We just YOLOed this,” a girl with a ponytail said.
As one girl struggled to describe her location to her parents, the group’s indulgent chauffeurs, the rest of them dissected the show’s most magical moments.
“I loved when she rode in that star basket,” one dark-haired girl said. “She looked like a floating angel.”
Finally, the girl on the phone hung up and announced that her parents were stuck on the far side of the stadium.
“It’s gonna be a hike,” she announced.
The friends set off in search of the girl’s parents. As they walked to the edge of the lot, the glitter they’d mixed in with their hair gel caught the light and glinted like tiny beacons.