Ocean City: Behind the Summer Scenes
November 4, 2016
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Ocean City: Behind the Summer Scenes
Around the spring of my sophomore year, my parents bought a nice little trailer in Montego Bay, Ocean City. A customer of theirs was getting rid of it, as she hadn’t used it in ages, and even let us keep all of the furnishings still inside; couch, beds, tables, armchairs, silverware, cups, washer and dryer, everything.
Since we bought it, my family has gone down to the beach much more often, but more frequently, my mom and I will just pack up and leave after school to flee back to our little respite tucked between the bay and the ocean.
I almost prefer it, going with just my mom. She’ll ask me, especially during the summer, if I want to take any friends down with us, but I almost always say no, because while my friends are quite a riot, there’s something about our little place on Atlantic Boulevard that’s sacred to me, and it’s something that I’m a little selfish about.
Ocean City during its off seasons is only a small echo of its summer self. The streets are bare of any traffic, hotel parking lots are deserted, and more than half the restaurants and shops are closed. After a while, though, I grew to yearn for the offseason visits; I’m pretty sure anyone would after having to suffer through traffic that makes crossing a 20 minute city into an hour affair. Now I like the quiet walks and the quiet diners, the lack of lines and the kind of Ocean Highway where you can see straight down for almost two miles and only see cars here or there.
The attractions available outside of the summer months are few and far in between. Once the winter settles in, it’s too cold to fully enjoy the beach, and the boardwalk is practically useless to anyone, aside from a couple bars still open. It was kind of eerie, walking down the boardwalk one chilly afternoon with the steely ocean and the gray sky, wearing a thick coat, my breath escaping me in clouds. We were the only ones walking down the boardwalk’s length, and the ones we came across they were gone as quickly as they appeared. It felt rather dystopian.
Since we have a residence in the city, we don’t have to eat out as much since we have our own kitchen. We’ll ride bikes to the little outlet to pick up some things from the grocery store, and then pedal back to make ourselves dinner. On Sunday’s there’s a farmer’s market, so on weekend visits I often wake up to my mom walking in the house, grocery bags crinkling and full of fresh vegetables and fruits. Even though we can make our own food at the place, we still like going out to the restaurants that are open year round for the locals. A favorite of ours is the Crab Bag, which has a little bit of everything and is only a five minute walk from our place. In the outlet near us there’s some little restaurants like Squarz, which is a pizza place; Primo’s Hoagies, which makes excellent subs; Duffy’s, an Irish pub; and Tequila Mockingbird, which is a Mexican restaurant with a bar. Some mornings we like walking to the McDonald’s about two blocks down from us and getting breakfast, and if it’s a weekend morning, there’s a little group of elderly men and women sitting together chatting amicably over hot cakes and coffee. We call them ‘The Silver Circle’. Once, one of the older men stopped by our table to chat with us, and eventually we learned about his daughter, who hadn’t visited him or even called him since he moved, two years before. Whenever we pass the McDonald’s, I still wonder if she ever called him.
Sometimes we’ll walk up the street to Northside Park, a little place we call ‘Ocean City’s Best Kept Secret’, just to feel the breeze as we navigate through the cleanly cut paths and enjoy the sights of the rippling water from the bay, the running children, the strolling locals, the screams and cheers from the baseball diamonds, the lights shining loudly in the pink dusk. I like seeing kids play baseball games on the open field in the park like a scene from The Sandlot. My mom thought it was funny to see my eyes glued to their little game, muttering ‘It’s just like a movie’ in disbelief, making sure not to trip over their discarded bikes and baseball gloves. On Sunday’s during the summer they often have a band cover old songs from stars like Elvis and The Beatles in the park with free sundaes. In the winter, they have Winter Fest, which is a big light show where you get on a ‘train’ and pass through the lit up park with decorations taller than houses, and when you return to the ‘station’, there’s hot chocolate and a DJ playing pop music, with a little shop to buy souvenirs like T-shirts and hoodies and mugs.
A twenty minute walk from our place, there is a little shop called Sea Shell City. It’s a pretty long store, with one half containing typical beach souvenirs and trinkets, and the other dedicated to a massive collection of sea shells and sponges that can be purchased. However, this shop is a hidden gem: in the upper right section of the store, there’s a wooden staircase. Ascending, there are photos of ships and maps with soft music playing. At the top of the staircase is something you would’ve never expected to find in such a quaint shop: it was a shipwreck museum. In glass cases, a man’s collection of items salvaged from shipwrecks up and down the east coast are on display. Spoons, plates, tea cups fused with coral, jewelry, pistols, bullets, cannonballs, coins, even a lock of hair preserved in a glass bottle: all are on display. Once, I was there with my cousins, and the diver who found all of the items in the museum noticed us staring at a gold bar amongst the discovered jewelry, and asked us if we wanted to touch it. Before we could answer, he disappeared into the back room and came back with an armful of gold chains and little bars, putting the chains over us and letting us hold the little nuggets. After we took pictures of it all, he told us ‘That’s all worth like three million bucks you know’ and smiled smugly at the dumbfounded looks on our faces, the gold suddenly feeling heavy on our shoulders and in our hands.
My favorite place in the whole city, however, is something quite mundane. It’s not a certain pier, it’s not a restaurant, it’s not a mini golf course. Quite simply, it’s the Sun & Surf movie theater about two blocks down from us. When we first walked into it, it was in the middle of winter, and it was awful: there was barely any insulation in the theater so we still had to keep on our coats, and the seats looked like plastic beach chairs bolted to a concrete floor. After going once, we swore off ever returning. Yet, months go by, and as we’re visiting, we notice that it was under some renovations on the inside. Then, in December we decided to check out the fully renovated movie theater and go see the new Star Wars. We joke about how ‘Oh they just added some beach towels to cushion the seats!’ and ‘They must have just put in a heater in the corner of every theater’. We were still skeptical even as we bought our tickets outside and walked in, and dread clutched my soul when I realized that we had accidentally ordered seats in the second row from the front (at this theater you reserved your seats ahead of time), so now not only were we gambling on the theater’s quality, we were going to be sitting down for almost two hours with our necks painfully craned up to look at the screen. But, when the doors were opened, and we walked in, we were astonished. The floor was carpeted, the seats were nice and plush…and the seats were big, red, recliners. We couldn’t believe it. We were floored. We went to our row, Row B, and got to our designated seats, speechless. The rows were wide, and we found out why as we sat back and reclined our seats so that we were practically laying down, and the Front Row Crisis was completely averted as we were comfortably postured enough to see the movie with zero strain on our necks. Now every time we come down to the beach, we try to catch a movie just so we can revel in those sweet, sweet seats.
Our car rides home have always been pretty lethargic. We usually arm ourselves with caramel iced coffees from Dunkin’ Donuts to fuel our spirits, and we chat comfortably as we drive past giant fields, windmills, abandoned houses, farms, and sleepy towns that look like something straight out of an old postcard. If we leave early the sky will just get bluer and bluer, but when we leave just before dusk, the sky will slowly glow with cotton candy clouds strewn across it like they were being torn by a boy’s teeth at a carnival.
When I’m back in dreary, gray high school, my thoughts will often drift back to that trailer, with its beds and its kitchen and the radio speakers scattered throughout the house, and I’ll often lose myself when I remember how in the fall, the ocean air is neither sticky nor rancid with the smell of saltwater and fish, but rather soft and sweet, and I think of the strange smell in the trailer that my mom hates but I secretly like, the smell of a place closed away for years before suddenly being made a home again.
If you always think of coming back, isn’t it a home?