While enjoying the primitive bliss of Assateague, the most contradictory indulgence into which one might plunge is a night on the boardwalk of the National Seashore’s neighbor to the north, Ocean City, Maryland. We give it an evening every year–we’ve got it down to a science: we drive 7 miles up the road, grab some ice for the cooler at the grocery store, leave the car at the Park and Ride lot and take the bus into the city. It used to be a great deal–but they raised the price from $1 to $3 for the fare, and it’s now $12 just to ride the bus, and not really economical compared to just driving into the city and parking in the cheaper, plentiful spaces near the bus depot–at least, on a weekday night. In the daytime, or on a weekend, it’s probably different, but here’s one way institutional greed has quashed a good thing.
Back to our default tradition: we’ll walk slow up the boardwalk, playing an oral version of Boardwalk Bingo…sort of like those old travel bingo games from my childhood, only we make the categories up as we go. Subjects include: Worst Outfit, Tackiest Ever, Snaggletooth!, It’s A Man Baby–A Man!, Inappropriate Touching, Cover That Up, He’s Wearing Her Jeans, and…well, you get the picture. We dig on the strange and questionably talented buskers, magicians, “artists,” musicians and so forth who draw crowds at every corner, and generally have a fine old time at the freakshow.
The Ocean City Boardwalk is the beach equivalent to a NASCAR race, a County Fair on Tractor Pull Night, and Christmas at the Branson Mall (full disclosure: never been to Branson, don’t know if they have a mall), and the sideshow acts at any second rate touring circus you’ve ever seen. In short, it’s like any gathering of average Americans–although, as prices rise and developers continue replacing the old run down places with glimmering middle-class air conditioned condos the whole “redneck riviera” (apologies to Myrtle Beach) vibe is slowly vanishing. The swarms were actually quite well turned out this year, comparatively speaking, a distressing personal realization–I’ve got some dubious fashion sense myself, and no great ambition to cut a slick figure in a crowd, nor any understanding of what I’d have to do if that suddenly changed–since I appreciate a place where I can fit in unobtrusively.
For years we ate mediocre pizza at Tony’s, but our allegiance has shifted to that other boardwalk icon, The Dough Roller, mainly because the bathrooms at Tony’s just broke our hearts. I know it’s busy, but man, I’ve got children and I can’t be responsible for them being exposed to…that. Dough Rollers is a fun place, and the staff always seems to have the nuances of moving tremendous numbers of customers through the place with maximum service and efficiency without seeming pushy–and the ubiquitous eastern European hotties working the tables seem to speak a more intelligible derivation of pigeon English. And the onion rings with the horseradish sauce are spectacular. Supposedly, they have very good pancakes and other breakfast as well, but we’ve rarely sucked it up enough to face the crowds twice in one trip.
For the rest of the evening we walk, joke, talk about past years, and shop without buying much at all, and play some skee ball at the arcade, bestowing our meager winner’s tickets on the closest cute urchin who’s trying to win himself a Minion plush doll–then make our way back to the bus, the car, the park, and finally our tent.
This year, the bugs were bad enough that we stopped at the visitor center to change into sleeping clothes, use the flush toilets (never underestimate a facility where it doesn’t sound like something might be crawling around beneath your seated ass) and brush teeth. Although the temperature was still 79 degrees, I slipped into sweat pants and a long-sleeved shirt, which doesn’t really fool–let alone deter–the bugs, but did make me feel better. The rest of the drive was gorgeous. We didn’t really even need headlights, so huge and bright was the full moon.