Wave of tourists just part of O.C's endless summer

THE BALTIMORE SUN

OCEAN CITY -- After tomorrow, after the hordes have gone back to whatever they do in real life, another season by the shore will be over.

Said Ocean City Police Sgt. Jay Hancock: "Come Tuesday, even if the weather is still hot and sticky, the air will be a little fresher, the streets a little cleaner and the skies a little bluer."

Local folks will enjoy beaches without crowds -- maximum capacity for the resort is now put well over 300,000 -- and businesses will continue to do a good trade as the geriatric generation comes down on bus tours to replace the kids who have gone back to school. The summer of 1991 will be behind Ocean City.

Because Michael Gentz does not want to acknowledge that end, he has decided to drop out of Harford Community College and stay on this sliver of sand when most others point their cars west for the mainland.

Mr. Gentz is 19, and for $6.50 an hour he has sold submarine sandwiches all summer in between learning about real-life issues such as eviction, poverty and love.

"The biggest lesson I've learned is how not to manage money. Just the other day I had two bucks left," he said. "You can't save when you're paying for partying, food and rent.

"I just decided [Thursday] that I wasn't going back to school. When I called my parents back home in Fallston to tell them I was staying, they were worried. My mother said that time was running out for me to decide what to do with my life. I told them I'm staying because I like the environment."

He means the ocean. The more immediate environment just outside the sub shop on Sunset Avenue, where he works with his summer girlfriend, is chaos. "Every night," Mr. Gentz said, "there's been a fight or an accident out here."

What has been a memorable rite of passage for Mr. Gentz and other young people who have waited on tourists all summer is being remembered as a relatively quiet and uneventful season by others.

However, Ray Charles did perform at the Convention Center over the Fourth of July holiday, Gregg Schmehling of Ocean Pines caught the largest big-eye tuna taken off the coast of Ocean City in recent memory when he reeled in a 335-pounder two weeks ago, and last Wednesday saloon disc jockey Dereck "the Bub" Vanreenan, 24, of Ellicott City, and more than 80 of his fans were arrested for running to the beach at 2 a.m. for a dip in the ocean after last call at the bar where they were drinking and carrying on.

More than 20 local police were called to the beach at 28th Street to arrest the crowd for unlawful assembly and breaking the midnight beach curfew.

Merchants complained about unpredictable sales and offered the nationwide recession as the catch-all reason.

"I call it a yo-yo summer, some good days and some bad, with the good really good and the bad really bad," said John Oregon Crosby II, owner of a surf shop, BB Bombers, on Eighth Street.

"We had a good Memorial Day, and it slacked right off. People were scared to buy, everybody looking for bargains, they just wouldn't get off their money. But it loosened up a little bit because by now everything is cut-rate. June and July were soft except for a few good weekends," he said.

"I don't know any other reason besides the recession, because the weather has been good."

Sergeant Hancock said a local hotel chain did a computer analysis of its summertime restaurant receipts and found that its employees were serving the same number of people and charging about the same price for meals as last year, but each check showed a reduction of a dollar or two as tourists watched their vacation budgets more closely.

Tony Russo, owner of Tony's Pizza at North Division Street and the boardwalk celebrated his 30th year of business in the resort this year and said the gigantic increase in other restaurants since the early 1960s has not hurt him.

"Ocean City just gets better, everybody is supposed to make a living," said Mr. Russo, 50. "Competition is good, everybody stays awake that way."

Not all of the summer news here was about the weather and economics.

Two pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, and as of noon yesterday the police had responded to 21,843 calls for help since Memorial Day, including 7,952 in June for the busiest month on record. Most of those calls, police said, were for noise, intoxication, and disorderly conduct.

Police saw the most noticeable increase in the sale and use of LSD since the hippie days of the late 1960s, when it was illegal to walk the boardwalk wearing a blanket.

In other neo-counterculture news, the Book World Bookstore on the boardwalk reported that the most requested reading material was information on the defunct rock band The Doors and its dead lead singer Jim Morrison.

What could have been the most violent assault occurred without injury last Monday when a gun pointed at the face of a 24-year-old English tourist misfired.

The tourist, Jonathan D. Allen, who was strolling on the boardwalk, made the mistake of discarding a scrap of paper that almost touched the gunman, who then walked up behind him and smacked him on the back of the head before pulling the trigger of a .25 caliber pistol several times as he aimed the gun at the man's face.

The weapon never fired.

Willie James Morton, 19, of Plover Road in Salisbury, was released from the Worcester County Detention Center in Snow Hill on $25,000 bond on charges of assault with intent to murder.

No major fires broke out this summer and no drownings in the surf were reported, but one lifeguard candidate, Allan C. Mrozinski, 22, of Baltimore, drowned in a pool while trying out for the beach patrol over the Memorial Day weekend.

And the search continues for Mildred Louise Williams, a 55-year-old cleaning woman from nearby Berlin who disappeared from a West Ocean City supermarket July 29. A psychic used by the woman's family told relatives she believed that Mrs. Williams, recently widowed, was alive and well.

State police investigators say her disappearance may be a deliberate decision to drop out.

"Considering that at any given time in the summer Ocean City has 250,000 people in it, it could be pretty hard for us to find her," said Tfc. Paul Frick, the trooper investigating the case. "You have to live down here to believe the transformation that takes place between June and the fall."

After a very busy and hectic summer, Nick and Isabel Barbella of Oakton, Va., wanted their family to be a part of that transformation, if only for a day.

"All summer long we've been taking care of the have-tos," said Mrs. Barbella, who packed up the car at 5 a.m. yesterday for a muggy and humid and overcast day on the beach with a blanket in front of the surf as their only accommodation.

"And this," said Mr. Barbella, "was the last chance to go to the beach. I'd feel like I'd been cheated out of the summer if I didn't even get my feet wet."

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