On July 4th, Todd and I decided to do something together that we’ve never done. The kids were away at their dad’s, and we actually had a weekend to be ALONE! We took a road trip to Ocean City, Maryland. I haven’t been there since my last “family” vacation with my ex in 2010. I haven’t been there without children since 1999.
I fell in love with OCMD (as we East-coasters fondly refer to it) on a trip there with a bunch of guy friends in 1992 (another post for another day). I loved the white sandy beach just beyond the sand dunes, just wide enough to avoid being on top of strangers but not so wide that you couldn’t see the ocean until you’d walked a mile (Wildwood, anyone?). I loved the atmosphere – safe, friendly, clean. I loved the bus – yes, the BUS – that you could ride all day for a buck – especially good for bar-hopping. I loved the bars, especially the now world-famous Seacrets. I loved the big pink hotel that towered over us on the beach… deciding that one day I would stay there (and I did – every year I went back).
Todd used to go there every year, including that first year I went. He was there the week I was. He was in Seacrets that week too. But alas, the universe had decided we weren’t ready to reconnect then, I suppose. I don’t know why the hell not – we were both single and both looking for that “one.” Sigh.
So, we drove to Ocean City. There was the serious threat of rain in our area for the day, and the weather forecast for the beach two hours away had rain expected only in the evening. We drove along old country roads and saw some beautiful places to visit another day… and then jumped on the highway. We missed the exit for the first bridge and ended up coming in on the lower end, which is really no big deal… except, we were in a two-lane line of cars for forty five minutes to cross that bridge into Ocean City. The traffic on the island was ridiculous, and finding parking was beyond ridiculous. We decided to stop at a popular restaurant – which, by the way, had undergone an amazing transformation from a little crab shack with picnic tables to a pretty, 2-story restaurant with a rooftop bar and dining area.
Afterward, we walked to the beach and took our first stroll together on the sand, and tested the water. We drove up to Fischer’s Popcorn and bought a huge bucket of caramel corn. We finally found parking in the municipal lot by the library, and walked a mile or so until we caught the bus.
Ah, the bus. It was a terrific idea when we were young 20-somethings, to get around the town without driving. A bit different when you’re over 40 just trying to get down to the boardwalk and it’s packed wall-to-wall with people in all manner of dress and disposition. Two older women got on right after we did with their granddaughter – she was about 4 – and, this is her first bus ride! Say hello to Mr. Bus Driver! Hi, Mr. Bus Driver! More people filled the bus, including this group of shirtless young men, normally no big deal unless one of them is literally standing over your seat and you’re this close to his tattoos.
The boardwalk – though not nearly as colorful as Wildwood on a Saturday night – was full of excitement. It has changed a bit. There is now a paved area on the beach side of the boardwalk, presumably for the tram, and we noted that there appears to be no smoking. Well, except for this one time – I looked at Todd and said, you smell that? I didn’t know there were skunks at the beach.
The Christian Ministry sand sculptures are still there. There’s something so beautiful about these, the intricacy and the message, at once both enduring and ephemeral. And the humor of its juxtaposition with a young gangsta just yards away – with his pants impossibly clinging to his knees – was not lost on me. I don’t exactly live under a rock, but I had no idea this was still a thing. I need to get out more.
We walked a bit further on and then decided to head north to Seacrets.
Ah, Seacrets. This was the coolest place I had ever seen when I was 23. An open air restaurant/club under thatched roofs full of palm trees the owner had flown in from warmer climates strictly for the summer season, sand floors, outdoor bars reminiscent of old Jamaican bars, illuminated at night by strings of colored lights that barely brought you out of the darkness, Reggae music drifting over the breeze coming off the bay. Back then, there were huge round rafts on the bay you could wade out to, and waitresses would bring you drinks. At night it was crowded with people drinking rum runners and pina coladas and scoping each other out, and so dark it was easy to lose your friends if anyone wandered off.
Today, the lines are no shorter to get in but you have to pass through security just a step below FBI clearance. There are metal detectors and huge bouncers directing the lines and checking IDs and searching bags, and booths where you pay your cover charge and get your hand stamped. I carry a wine key with me in my purse, and I was worried they wouldn’t let me in with it. They didn’t see it, and barely searched me anyway – probably because I’m a middle-aged woman (Gasp! No!) Even the bouncer didn’t card me – as I approached I gave him a look like, really? and he just waved me past.
Inside, I noticed how the outdoor bars appeared to be enclosed – in fact, the entire place had the feel of being under lock down, the open air feel having given way to breezeless and stuffy recycled indoor air. I didn't see any rafts, but then, I never did see the bay. The bathrooms are still the same, and I found myself volleying for a sink to wash my hands as one girl (I can do this – I’m a hair stylist) was trying to pull a knotted wad of weave out of this nearly 6 foot tall blonde’s hair (Oh my God, I love you), and knotted girl’s much smaller, much drunker friend was supervising the delicate procedure (it’s going to be alright, it’s okay, we’re gonna get it out, you’re gonna be okay) from the position of the sink I needed to use, swaying in an unnerving way with a beer in her hand.
Todd and I grabbed a beer and decided to go shop – which is the real reason I wanted to go – I wanted a t-shirt. We bought some shirts, including one celebrating 27 years (TWENTY SEVEN YEARS!) in business. Lord, I’m old. We navigated around the bars in an attempt to see the bay and find a true breeze, and ended up standing next to a group of guys who were watching drunk girl dancing by herself just a couple of yards away. She made eyes at one of them and weaved her way over. The nature of the conversation is now lost to my memory, but it still makes me sniggle.
We left soon after, stopping at a Candy Kitchen for salt water taffy and peanut butter fudge, and stood out on the street and watched fireworks. Pretty spectacular day. We walked 8 miles, ate dinner outside under an umbrella, dipped our toes in the ocean, drank beer, held hands, bought Fischer’s popcorn and peanut butter fudge, saw a skinny young black kid with his entire upper body tattooed and a mint-colored top knot (which the boys on the bus referred to as a Swiffer mop), saw fireworks, and visited Seacrets for probably the last time.
The best part? No whining, demanding, complaining kids.
But, that’s coming.