We Got Kicked out of Ocean City ...
Wednesday morning, Bobby and I got up early--having dropped the Goldens off at our friend Dawn's house the night before--and drove to my parents' house, where Dad was miraculously awake already. We sat on their back patio and had our traditional pre-trip commiseration. I was hopping excited--I mean, nearly bordering on hypomania, which has not been an issue for me for some months now. We left at about 9. Dad had made a special CD to play in the car with enough songs to last for the whole trip. He claimed to have made it for me, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. I asked him if he put songs he thought I would like on it, or songs he thought I wouldn't like. He said a bit of both. Turns out it was a mixture of party music, show tunes, and Christmas music. I can hang with the first, can tolerate some of the second, and don't care for the third. Not in August, anyway.
But, like I said, I was flying like a kite and was so bouncy and goofy through the whole trip that I didn't much notice some of Dad's more interesting musical selections. (Although "The Peppermint Stick Parade" as we drove through Rehoboth Beach nearly made me pass out from hyperglycemia.) We normally stop for lunch on the way, but a combination of circumstances (having left earlier than usual) and pie-eyed daughterly pleading convinced the folks that we should try to reach Ocean City and go to Piezano's Pizza for lunch. My parents had never been to Piezano's, but it was a favorite lunch spot when Bobby and I used to go down the ocean with our now-defunct couple friends Dave and Angel.
Down Coastal Highway, there were all the familiar sights from dozens of trips to this little strip of land: all the garish-hued hotels and flashing neon signs and familiar landmarks. We parked in the Inlet and there it was: the smell of Ocean City: hot boards and sunscreen and sweets. We made the short walk down to Piezano's, which isn't much to look at but has delicious food. We kicked off the trip in true Ocean City style: cheese fries, pizza, and stopped for a frozen custard at Kohr Brother's on the way back to the car, then drove back up Coastal Highway to the Seabay Hotel (where they allowed us to not only check in early, but there were no dead bodies in the pool--huzzah!). We dragged our luggage to the room and then did the typical preliminary sniffing around of the new hotel: found the pools, restaurant, breakfast menu, and a table for playing Uno.
Having just eaten, we had a few hours before we'd be ready for dinner (one eats every few hours in Ocean City), so we headed down to the beach. The weather was absolutely perfect. It's normally blazing hot when we go to the ocean, but while the sun was warm, the breeze off the sea was cool enough that Dad and I--who started in the shade of our umbrella--soon scooted our chairs out into the light of the sun setting behind us. We've been going to Ocean City at the beginning of summer, and I have to say that the warm seawater was infinitely preferable to that in which one's feet become numb within a matter of minutes, which is more typical of the early summer. I decided not to take anything school-related to read, so I settled in with John Irving's The Cider House Rules while my family napped or listened to music.
What a perfect afternoon! A delicious (albeit very unnutritious) lunch, a pleasant hotel sans dead bodies, and a beautiful time at the beach! Everyone was happy, even Dad! It was doomed not to last.
Mom picked Brass Balls for dinner, and Bobby and I remembered the street number wrong and ended up schlepping poor Mom and Dad like a mile up the Boardwalk. Whoops. The dinner was great, though, and everyone's good spirits remained. We had a meandering walk back down the boards and took a stroll out on the fishing pier. I couldn't help but feel the thought tickling the back of my mind that this might be my last time walking out on this particular incarnation of the fishing pier, if Irene hit hard enough to knock it out. (I'm sure they'd build it back. Where else would OC visitors go to catch skates and small sharks? I've never actually seen anyone catch anything else out there.) We watched a fishing boat go out to sea and listened to the buoy chiming. The winds were high. A fisherman cast his line with a confident flick of the wrist and watched his bait come drifting back to drop right below him in the water.
The pier rides at OC are owned by Jolly Roger, and a few years ago, they put in this ... I don't know quite how to describe it. It's called The Slingshot. (There is a video of it on the Jolly Roger website, second video down.) It's a ball with two seats inside. Kind of like a giant hamster ball. The giant hamster ball is suspended between two wires attached to two very tall posts. The giant hamster ball is pulled down to the ground, stretching the wires so that, when the ball is let go, it goes zoinging up into the air like a rubberband pulled back and released, flinging its occupants high into the air, tumbling ass-over-tin-cup through the air. Dad asked if I would ride it. Because I'm stupid and have never found a ride I won't get on or can't stomach, then I said, sure, except that it's expensive and I'd honestly rather take a couple of turns on the rollercoasters than pay an arm and a leg for a 30-second ride on "The Slingshot." (Which I only recently learned the name of. In Felagundish, to this point, it has been the Ball Bungee Thingy. Indeed, I found it by searching "bungee ball ride ocean city.") So Dad was going to put Bobby and me on the Ball Bungee Thingy at some point during the trip.
By this point, our day had caught up with us, so we went back to the hotel and to bed. I love traveling but disdain hotel beds because the mattresses are always too hard and aggravate an old skating injury to my right hip. Alas, the Seabay had extremely comfortable mattresses, and I slept fine and could walk the next morning without looking like Quasimodo.
As I said, it was doomed not to last.
The next morning dawned hotter than the last, but it was still a beautiful day. We used our breakfast vouchers for the hotel's restaurant. Dad tried the chipped beef and liked it and was planning to get a proper serving later in the trip. Dad is picky about chipped beef. Like I said, doomed, doomed, effing doomed. We planned to take a shoreline cruise later in the day on a speedboat; Bobby and I went to the beach for the first half of the day, and Mom and Dad walked the Boardwalk. Mom got another homemade ice keem (#2). Bobby and I had a fabulous day at the beach. It was warmer than yesterday, so I could huddle in the shade (I inevitably burn if I sit too long in the sun) without getting cold, and the muses and I had a most pleasant conversation whilst in the waves. We saw dolphins. We saw the OC Rocket speedboat that we were to take later in the day go by about a half-dozen times. The wind was high, and the surf was strong but not perilous. (We've been to the beach on days when beach patrol has to rescue someone just about hourly.) We went back to the room and got dressed for our speedboat ride.
Upon arriving at the pier for the boat ride, though, we were informed that the rides were cancelled until further notice because the surf was so rough. Although the sky was cerulean blue and dotted with tufts of the friendliest little cumulus clouds you could imagine, the shadow of Irene began to creep in on our holiday. While walking earlier in the day, Mom and Dad had heard that shops were not being allowed to open the next day (Friday), so we decided to go up to the boards to get the shopping done that we wanted. Bobby and I both wanted to pick up some posters for our classrooms from Ocean Gallery, and I always get a piece of funky costume jewelry from a particular store. Dad wanted Fisher's popcorn to take back to his friends at work. And Bobby wanted this dragon-kite-thingy from the Kite Loft. (We've named it Irene.)
As we walked the boards, some of the shops were beginning to board up. Seeing Hooters with its big front windows boarded over and the Hooters girls in their tight T's and barely-there cheery-orange shorts standing in a little knot in front of the door was a surreal experience. The infamous Paul Revere's Buffet had only question marks on their chalkboards for when early bird would begin and a posted notice that, because the international student workforce had already been evacuated, they didn't have enough staff to offer full service. The whine of saws cutting plywood slabs competed with the surf and seagulls for our attention. As Joseph KroArt wrapped up our posters at Ocean Gallery, I looked around at the number of paintings stacked on the floor at Boardwalk-level and wondered what he'd do with them all.
As we made our purchases and stood in long queues of everyone else with the same idea, the rumors started floating. Back in the car, we flipped on the Ocean City emergency station and listened to the hurricane report--Bobby had been following it religiously, weather-nerd that he is (even as I type this, he is downstairs comparing the different models that NOAA releases)--and were told by the female announcer's cheerful voice that Phase 3 of the evacuation plan would be instituted at midnight by order of the Ocean City mayor, and all visitors and residents would be required to leave the city. Alcohol sales were discontinued. Businesses had to close at midnight. After midnight, only emergency services personnel would be allowed to enter the city.
We, of course, had known that evacuation was a very real possibility. None of us had been through it before, so we assumed it would take place Saturday, the day we planned to leave. Of course, that doesn't make sense, I now realize; it would be impossible to evacuate the visitors and residents at the same time since the visitors depend on the presence of the residents for their shelter, food, petrol, everything. So evacuation had to occur on Friday. Bobby flipped the radio back to XM and a buoyant '60s song replaced the crackly emergency announcement. We all sat in silence for a moment, then my mom said, "We're getting kicked out of Ocean City!"
"I've been kicked out of better places," Dad added, which would become the motto of the trip.
We still weren't clear exactly what the announcement meant. Bobby said that we'd all be made to leave at midnight; this didn't seem logical to me, to force people hours from home to commence traveling in the middle of the night with only a few hours of notice. I figured people would be allowed to stay the night but would be made to leave in the morning. We headed to Phillip's for dinner, where everyone--visitors, residents, summer workers--were all equally clueless, having heard the announcement, of course, and various rumors and interpretations. Mom went outside to smoke and I went with her, and a man from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, firmed his jaw and insisted that the OCPD would have to make him leave before morning; he had young grandchildren with him and a six-hour drive home. "They can't make 100,000 people leave at midnight!" was his reasoning.
We stopped back at the hotel to find out the full story. I was right. We were being allowed to stay the night, if we wanted, but no one was allowed into the city after midnight, and by 5 PM tomorrow (Friday), everyone had to be out of the city. None of the businesses were allowed to open after midnight, so there'd be no food, no gas, no reason to stay.
We all put our heads together and, eventually, turned the decision over to Dad, who would have to drive home late at night if we decided to leave that night. "Let's go," he said. There was no point in staying, and we expected the traffic to be awful the next morning.
Back in the room--a mere 30 hours after unpacking--we were throwing clothes into suitcases, piling untouched beer and wine back into the cooler, then wedging our new purchases amid the baggage in the trunk of the car. I wouldn't get a second night on the comfy mattress, Dad wouldn't get to put Bobby and me on the Ball Bungee Thingy, Mom and Dad wouldn't get to see the Assateague ponies for the first time, Dad wouldn't get his cream chipped beef, we wouldn't get to go to La Hacienda--my favorite restaurant--for supper, I wouldn't get to use my sand toys to build a castle, I wouldn't get but a third into Cider House Rules, Mom and I wouldn't get to ride the Zipper, we wouldn't get a giant biscuit for breakfast at Brass Balls. A weather report on the television as we packed showed a severe thunderstorm headed our way, so we went to Dumser's for one final homemade ice keem (#3) and to wait out the storm. As we drove, each gas station had a queue a block long, plugging the bike/bus lane of Coastal Highway. Many of the buildings were boarded up and piled high with sandbags. One of the Dumser's stores was boarded up but had sprayed OPEN across the boards. The flashing, twinkling marquees of Ocean City--each of which competes with one hundred others for the fleeting attention of tourists zipping down Coastal Highway--reflected the seemingly instantaneous change in circumstances. "Mandatory Evacuation! Return All Keys NOW!" flashed in red in front of a real estate office, while a motel announced, "Closed Due To Hurricane Irene." Others had different priorities: "Buy Alcohol NOW!" beckoned one liquor store's sign, since the ban would be soon going into effect. Others managed humor; Shenanigan's Irish Pub's sign read, "Hurricane Irene is here / Come try our 17 draft beers!" Others were scoffing: "Irene Blows!" But the most memorable was J/R's the Place for Ribs' marquee, almost pleading in its tone: "Irene Be Gentle."
Around 9 PM, we joined a long line of cars traveling up the Delaware coast and away from the defenseless shore. Despite the disappointment I felt at having to cut the trip so suddenly short, I couldn't lose my perspective, watching as owners boarded up their windows, knowing that lives and livelihoods were at stake, knowing that landmarks that stood as such important symbols of our local culture and formed the nexus of many of my childhood memories stood on a delicate spit of land that might be erased if Irene angled herself just so. I found myself echoing J/R's in my thoughts: Irene, be gentle.
Of course, I don't yet know the outcome. My weather-nerd husband probably has all the details*, but I know Irene was due to make landfall today, in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and the first rain bands will hit Ocean City tomorrow evening, with the worst hitting Sunday morning. I checked the Ocean Gallery webcam, but it doesn't seem to be working; it shows a sunny daytime scene, and it is neither daytime nor sunny. Not that I probably would want to see the Boardwalk boarded up and abandoned, but curiosity compels.
*ETA: As of 11 PM on Friday, Irene is now larger than the continent of Europe. She is still a Cat 2 but is verging on a Cat 3. She continues on the expected path, moving N/NE at 13 mph. This per Weather-Nerd Bobby, bearing the 11 PM reports from NOAA.
Irene, be gentle.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!