Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 20
May 18-24, 2000
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Ocean City:
Abandon All Cash, Ye Who Enter Here

There’s a sucker born every minute.

—Phineas Taylor Barnum: 1810-1891

Perhaps this is an unusual way to kick off a few words of advice concerning summer vacations, but contrary to the advice of John Babsone Lane Soule (1815-1891) who said “Go west, young man,” methinks one should go east to best understand the thinking of Phineas Taylor Barnum. Go east to Ocean City. There even P.T. himself — the most celebrated huckster of all time — would be envious.

Oh, yes, bring money. Where Maryland meets the Atlantic, they don’t want you on the beach, the boardwalk, the streets, in the condos, motels, restaurants or anywhere else — unless you bring a lot of the folding green stuff.

Take a nap in your jalopy parked along the street, and you might end up in the slammer. Ditto, if late at night you take a stroll on the beach of which you as a citizen of Maryland are also part owner. If you ain’t spending money, get out of town.

Ocean City, home port of Maryland’s most voracious hucksters, a skin-cancer Mecca, the most overrated of the Free State’s (what an inappropriate reference) summer destinations is an overpopulated tourist trap where even a sardine would feel packed too tightly.

So now in a nutshell you clearly have this writer’s thinking about what is Maryland’s second largest city from before Memorial Day to after Labor Day. Yet people young and old, rich and poor, male and female, single or married with a covey of offspring flock there for day trips, weekends long and short or vacations of a week or more. Old P.T. was right.

The Faster We Get There …

In 1789 when we were a fledgling nation, 80 percent of Americans lived within 20 miles of Atlantic Tidewater. Today, go to OC in weather warm or hot and you’d think that percentage of the nation’s citizens lived there.

Much to the glee of hundreds of merchants, more than eight million tourists invade Ocean City each year. That’s more by a half million or so than the entire U.S. population at the time of the War of 1812.

Moreover, they spend more than that whole war cost. Probably more than what the nation’s citizenry paid in annual taxes at the time the British fleet was sailing up the Chesapeake to burn Washington.

At Ocean City, they have the white sandy beach, the Atlantic, the bars, night clubs, hostelries, fancy eateries, fishing centers, the fabled boardwalk, the high-rise condos, the amusement parks, the traffic, crowds and everything else associated with a summer resort. Other than parking spaces for the vehicle that brought you there, the only thing missing in Ocean City is the word “appreciation.”

Via taxes courtesy of their elected officials, the gullible citizens of Maryland have re-fashioned Route 50 as a straight-shot gateway not to the ocean, but to Ocean City — and probably not to make the drive more convenient to motorists but to make more prosperous the businesses by the sea. With the Ocean Highway’s limited access, we don’t have the opportunity to spend much cash en route, which means more to spend there.

The faster we can get there and the later we can stay before heading home, the more moola we have time to squander on the east side of the Harry Kelley Bridge.

We, the taxpayers of Maryland, under the guise of promoting tourism and business, pay to pump sands from the ocean to rebuild beaches washed out by storms. We pay in a roundabout way to reinforce the infrastructure that holds the fragile barrier island together so that the condominiums won’t be washed into Davy Jones’ Locker. We pay so we can go there and pay inflated prices just to enjoy what is basically ours: the beach, the surf, the ocean, the sun, the fishes.

Now tell me this. Have you or has anyone you know ever heard from the lips of the hawkers, the businessmen, the officialdom, the part-time or full-time residents a single word of appreciation for all the money we’ve poured via the tax route in a rat hole? The only words a visitor hears between the time of arrival and departure are “that’ll be $69.88,” or “you can’t park there.”

… The More We Can Spend

So now I see by the Sun, the moneymakers of Ocean City are busy preparing for another banner year as a community of 7,500 year ’round residents is about to, at its peak, inflate to a population of 325,000 — which means an economic impact of $1 billion to $1.5 billion.

The 10-mile stretch of land from the inlet north will fill to overflowing 10,000 rooms and 25,000 condos — mostly rentals — despite hefty hikes in prices from rooms and food to the boardwalk train, parking and the amusement tax, which incidentally is doubling — and which isn’t amusing.

The increased costs are the only things the politicians and businessmen of Ocean City aren’t advertising as they gear up for the summer of 2000.

And the visitors? They won’t know the extent of the financial impact until they’re already there. Then, what do they do? Herd a bunch of screaming disappointed kids back into the car and head back home? Again, old P.T. was right.

Better Choices

Perhaps it’s time for those who promote Maryland (also at our expense) to drop their ongoing publicity campaign that Ocean City, vacations and Maryland are one and the same. The beach is more pristine and less crowded at Assateague Island and easily available at a fraction of the cost. At Deep Creek Lake, the water is more blue — and there are no bugs and sweltering days.

Crisfield, the gateway to Smith and Tangier Islands, is quaint and far less costly. Tilghman Island has great seafood and fishing. Likewise Ridge and Wynne near the mouth of the Potomac where Point Lookout State Park has some of the best camping and public crabbing — not to mention a Civil War museum and a haunted lighthouse.

At Herrington Manor State Park in Garrett County, one can be cool in the mountains and rent a cabin for a week at the price of a one-night stay at OC. One can re-live the days of the frontier at Fort Frederick State Park in Washington County or walk the well marked easy-terrain nature trails of many other state parks.

And there’s the Chesapeake Bay, our miniature version of the ocean: good fishing, crabbing, boating, some beaches and swimming, traditional waterfront eateries and lodging, most at much less the cost at OC — and with more traditional hospitality to boot.

Ignore all that malarkey that enjoyment of the outdoors, the sun, the water, the beach, the fish, the thrills, the satisfaction is all at the eastern terminus of Route 50. West of there, from Deal Island to Deale and beyond, there’s much to do, see and enjoy, while also enjoying more reasonable prices and attitudes.

After all, Phineas Taylor Barnum gave us fair warning. Enough said …

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly