Like the magnetic force of the sea crashing toward the shore, I’m drawn each summer to the beach at Ocean City, Maryland.
Some time ago, when my family was discussing what we’d do if we were deluged with an avalanche of money from a lottery win, without hesitation I fantasized about buying a nice little beach house —on the water, of course — “down nee ocean.”
“Of all the beaches in the world, why would you choose Ocean City, Maryland?” my daughter asked, knowing that, during the years, we had been to many beautiful beaches throughout the Bahamas, Caribbean and Bermuda.
I couldn’t help but laugh at her reaction which led me to wonder why on earth WOULD I choose Ocean City over Punta Cana or St. Thomas?
Counting the reasons, I noted that It takes us 3 ½ hours to drive to Ocean City, versus about six hours, total time, driving to the airport, waiting to board the plane, and then flying to the tropics. Heck, we can hop in the car on a whim (though we haven’t done that once) and never have to go through airport aggravations and customs.
Besides, where — other than Maryland — can you get a really good crab cake? Have you ever been out of state where you ordered “Maryland crab cakes” from the menu and you couldn’t find the crab meat? For that matter, where — among all the U.S. and foreign seaside resorts — can you eat steamed blue crabs with enough Old Bay seasoning?
And do any of these places offer Thrasher’s fries with vinegar? Or Fisher’s popcorn?
Food, however, is not the real reason I love Ocean City.
Going all the way back to my teens, way before high rise condos and a 2.25-mile boardwalk, Ocean City has always been our mecca. As girls, we traveled there with our chaperoned high school sororities during spring break, Memorial Day or Labor Day, hoping to meet a cute guy we could dance with at what used to be The Pier Ballroom (now Ripley’s Believe It or Not). Sometimes, there were bands or well-known singers. Other times, we danced to records playing the current Rock or Doo-Wop music.
For some reason, 9th Street was our gathering place, with hundreds of young sun worshipers — cramming the beach like seals. We rarely strayed from the boardwalk area, though I do remember the Castle in the Sand Hotel which still exists. At the time, it looked like its name, planted in the middle of a vast stretch of sand and located on 37th Street, way out where there were no other buildings or signs of life.
But as I grew up and put away my cat’s-eye sunglasses, I got married and continued to go to the place of our youth with a group of our peers — 20-somethings — where we rented apartments that were further out, somewhere around 25th Street. We continued to work on our tans, play cards, and visit night spots where we could dance.
Flash forward to our first visit to O.C. with our 9-month-old son and good friends — another family of three. We rented an apartment together for a week of solid rain which produced a sick baby and our trip to an urgent care facility nearby. Our son had a cold and I almost had a breakdown but we survived.
A year later, our daughter was born and so we continued our trek to the beach — this time loading the car with an additional portable crib, Pampers (they had just come on the market), bottles, stuffed animals and never enough toys to keep a baby and toddler occupied for a week.
And so it continued. Every succeeding year, we spent our family vacations in Ocean City making memories. We went to Jolly Rogers, Frontier Land, numerous putt-putt courses and, of course, the boardwalk. Our days in the sun were spent building sand castles, collecting shells, and watching our children splash in the surf.
As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around,” and we became the somewhat apprehensive parents of two high school graduates who headed to the O.C. beach during Senior Week, repeating the activities of the generation before them.
When they entered college — as did their neighborhood friends — we empty-nest parents decided to rent a beach house together, in September. It was reminiscent of our B.C. (Before Children) times with our 20-something friends, so many years before.
About 32 years later, we still make our annual September visit, meeting up with our former neighbors to visit our favorite restaurants, golf and catch up with the latest news about our children and grandchildren.
Several years ago, our son and daughter-in-law purchased their beach place — facing the beautiful bay — and have been making their own memories with their son and friends ever since. They have invited us to stay there whenever we like and we’ve taken advantage of that several times each summer.
Perhaps their choice of Ocean City for their summer getaway is not too far from my own reasons for vacationing there — tradition and memories.