It’s been years since I’ve been down to Ocean City, Maryland for vacation but on the drive down I quickly remembered how thankful I was that they opened that new stretch of Route 1 that runs adjacent to Route 13 past Philadelphia. It literally saves you an hour in drive time through Delaware by not having to stop at all those pesky traffic lights every damn block.
This time around for vacation my wife and I allowed our daughter Jillian to take a friend along which was another thing to be thankful for. She’s at that age now where she needs to be moving or doing something constantly and only another human being of her age, sex and stature will keep her parents from going insane.
We made exceptional time for a Sunday. In fact, I think we hit Route 50 (the main hub into Ocean City) in a little over three hours and coming from Easton that’s quite an achievement. However; my driving, and parenting skills would be put to the test just three miles from our resort. Traffic came to a crawl as we approached and at some points even a complete stop for several minutes. As the heat of the early July summer pounded the car the air conditioning did little to bring down the rising temperature of my rage as I was forced to listen to Jillian and her friend make up all kinds of scenarios on how they could get to the resort faster if I would only just let them out and walk. After sixty minutes of bumper to bumper traffic and listening to how they could jog, ride a scooter or hitchhike there quicker, we finally arrived at our destination.
Spending the Fourth of July holiday in Ocean City, or any vacation destination for that matter, can definitely wear you down. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like a vacation. Aside from the traffic and lack of parking there’s the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the long lines at nearly everything you want to do or see but we made the best of it.
I have to say that the fireworks display on the Fourth of July in Ocean City rival those in Philadelphia and other big cities. They definitely did it right. There’s nothing quite like celebrating America under a brilliant display of color coming off the boardwalk while simultaneously keeping vanilla soft serve from running down your arm. A hot summer challenge I think every one should take at some point in their lives.
The next day was “Beach Day” and was spent with Jillian and her friend braving the waves of the Eastern shore as we watched the wild ponies mingle with guests. It’s certainly one of the strangest sites you’ll ever see. Big, brown horses that just roam wild along the beaches of Assateague Island.
The way they majestically stand on the beach always reminds me of the covers of those Harlequin romance novels my Mom used to read. All that was missing was Fabio and some beautiful blond female in need of rescuing. I was more than happy to just sit there and read my own novel near them, provided of course, that they had the courtesy to not relieve themselves in my vicinity.
Perhaps the best day of the entire trip was the following one: “Boardwalk Day”. This is the day most parents dread because it depletes the bank account quicker then a stock market plunge. Jillian was quite adamant about playing those so-called games of skill. You know the ones, where you spend a million dollars to win a paper airplane.
As I gazed high above the booth at the humongous stuffed creatures you would “win” if you could only sink just one over-sized basketball into a tiny basket I wondered how many people have actually accomplished this feat. My guess was zero and it dawned on me that the way children mindlessly spend money playing these near impossible to win games on boardwalk piers and carnivals only preps them for the years they will mindlessly spend money in casino slot machines during their adult lives.
Turns out though, Jillian was actually quite good at a few of the games. Not enough to sink a basket or popping a balloon with a dull dart (games we thankfully avoided) but enough to win a few stuffed animals that will no doubt collect dust back at home with no recollection of where she got them from.
After spending her college tuition the day finally came to close and we walked passed the dreaded water gun game. This is the game where you shoot a continuous (monotonous) stream of water at a target and see whose LED light status board gets to the top the quickest.
As we approached the booth I noticed a little girl, who could be no more than 4, getting ready to play the game with her Mom and Dad standing by. No one else was around as Dad helped prop her up onto a seat and tried to show her how to operate the water pistol.
It was at that moment, over the smell of funnel cake and french fries, that I heard the catcalls from the vendor: “One more person to win any prize…I need one more person to win ANY prize”.
Well that was all that Jillian needed to hear. As she quickly sat down and assumed the shooting position I noticed Dad suddenly taking a reluctant interest in the game himself. I noted that his motive was now to help ensure victory for his little girl. He ponied up additional funds and took his place next to his daughter.
Ready. Set. GO!
The streams of water hit their intended targets and I watched the LED lights go up neck and neck between my daughter and Dad. Obviously, there would be no challenge coming from his little girl. This was a “two-man” contest. I could feel my heart race watching my little girl take on a challenger at least three times her age. It was a battle of David and Goliath proportions. Ok, maybe not that extreme but it was exciting none-the-less.
The alarm sounded ending the game and the flashing light above Jillian’s head indicated she had vanquished her foe. As Jillian chose a big stuffed purple dog as her prize I noticed that Dad, now a bit dejected, was packing up his little girl and with Mom in tow began the slow walk of shame. Jillian noticed too. She looked at me and with a quick smile turned and walked towards the little girl.
I watched her ask the little girls’ Mom and Dad if she could give her the prize she had just won. “Hailey, look what this little girl wants to give you”, her Mom said. Hailey took the purple dog from Jillian and gave it the biggest hug I’ve ever seen. Had Hailey “won” the water pistol game, her prize would not be anywhere near as huge as the one she had just been given. As the family walked away I knew that Jillian had just made that little girl’s day just from that one little act of kindness.
It was then that I recalled a memory of my own from our last trip to Ocean City. Ironically enough, just a few blocks down the boardwalk from where we were standing the exact same situation happened with a then four year old Jillian.
As I tried to win a prize for her with our last bit of money we were both bested by another water gun expert. The winner then offered up her prize to Jillian, a stuffed Elmo doll that she still has to this day.
Strangely enough, with all the time we spent that year at the beach, walking the boardwalk and seeing the wild ponies, that stuffed Elmo was the most memorable thing about our trip to Ocean City. So I’m pretty sure that what Jillian did today for Hailey will also be a memory that family will treasure for years to come.