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  • Claire Fogarty

Off-Season OCMD: A Good Time to Travel

The off-season in Ocean City, Maryland is like an early death. At that point, the beach hasn’t quite reached its prime, it’s still budding into its full potential. As spring develops into summer, Ocean City’s personality blossoms from the high expectations that lay ahead. In the Spring of 2011, I wondered what OCMD would be like in a few months, what a little more time would do for it, what it would develop into. Luckily for OCMD, it would have the chance to do just that.


When my three friends and I arrived that early May, many stores’ “Closed for the Season” signs still clung to their doors like sand on moist skin. A few lights flickered in surfboard shops, gas stations, and Sunsations, but for the most part Ocean Highway was dark that afternoon.


“Well, we’ll have the beach to ourselves tomorrow,” said Nick, flipping the blinker to turn into the Sand Bridge’s parking lot.


“If we even go to the beach. It’s pretty cold,” I said.


“Of course we’re going! We’re all going,” said Will. He made a point of turning around and looking directly at his sister and me.


Even though Maddy and I were in college, and Will was four years younger than us, his word was final. He was the kind of person you couldn’t argue with, even if you wanted to. But no one wanted to. Even before Will was diagnosed with cancer the previous year, no one ever wanted to argue with him. It’s not that he was commanding, or that you felt guilty disagreeing with him. Simply, his attitude was contagious. His enthusiasm and positivity were impossible to resist; he was the reason we were all at the beach. Will had suggested we take the impromptu trip, reasoning that since no one else would be around, it would be the perfect time to go.


The thick, salty air tickled my nose as I grabbed my bag and headed up the Sand Bridge’s staircase after Nick. Their grandparents’ condominium was very small. Its two bedrooms were always at maximum capacity, often accommodating many more people than they should have. But even with the tight space, I never felt crowded. The tan building’s balcony faced the oceanfront, opening up to a panoramic view of the ocean and beach.



View of the beach from the Sand Bridge Condo's beach access
View of the beach from the Sand Bridge Condo's beach access

Nick swung open 302’s door and we all walked into the familiar, summer home. Their family’s pictures lined the walls leading into the family room. Sun-faded, younger versions of Nick, Maddy, Will, and their cousins were tacked onto the walls with pushpins. Alongside them, older, sepia-colored photographs preserved their grandparents and parents as young adults. I stopped to look over the familiar faces as I made my way to the balcony.


As I stepped onto the balcony, the sun was beginning to set over the ocean. The bright bulb reflected eerily against the dark blue water. I shivered at the thought of actually getting in the ocean. The water was rough because of a storm, and I could only imagine how cold it was.


“The boys are so happy the lifeguards aren’t around this time of year,” said Maddy leaning against the railing with me. “They’re getting excited to try surfing and skimboarding.”


Nick, Maddy, and Will have been my second family for as long as I can remember. The Levasseur family and my family had grown up together. Despite the age gaps, distance, and different stages of life, we all stayed exceptionally close. They were like brothers and sisters to me. But over that past year we’d gotten even closer. I guess it’s true that tragedy brings people together.


We retreated inside to unpack and prepare for dinner. Sitting down on the twin-sized bed, I surveyed the room. The bed sat against one wall while the queen-sized bed hugged the opposite wall. Separating the two was a small wooden nightstand with a simple white lamp. A wooden dresser was wedged between the foot of the queen bed and the closet. I guessed the carpet didn’t originally used to be off-white, but the gallons of sand tracked into it had transformed its color.


“How’s your headache, Will?” Maddy asked.


“Fine!”


“Mum packed all your medicine so just let me know if you need it.”


Will nodded. “Okay, so let’s get a move on these burgers- I’m starving!”


After winter, Ocean City is born. The ocean awakens the beach, bringing lively energy to the shore with each crash. Yet few people currently inhabited the area during spring. Most people don’t see the point in coming to Ocean City before summer. Instead of boring us, the deserted atmosphere excited us; we didn’t think twice about breaking the rules.


The boys and I grabbed the small grill we’d brought along and headed outside. During the summer months we would never get away with grilling on the beach, but that was a perk to the off-season, we were free to do as we pleased. Luckily no one was around to see how cooking that night was mostly trial and error.


None of us had anticipated the wind, and how difficult lighting the makeshift grill would become. After we finally got the flame going, we thought we were mostly done. We sprayed the tinfoil with cooking spray, put the meat on the grill, and waited for our dinner to cook.


“Uh, Nick,” I pointed casually at the sizzling patty and aluminum. “That one is on fire.”

Full from burnt burgers, we decided to all hunker down and watch The Hangover for the five hundredth time. Outside a storm was building. The wind whistled and flecks of sand whirled around, but inside laughter howled as movie quotes were casually passed back and forth like a beach ball.


When we woke up the next morning, the storm was over. Against the odds, the sun had managed to come out. A few seagulls circled the beach as we hiked out in our bathing suits and sweatpants. The sand was warm on the surface but each footprint brought up a cooler layer. Up and down the beach we could see an endless line of flipped lifeguard chairs. The water was rough; white foam streaked the dark waves as they pounded onto shore. Besides the occasional older couple strolling by holding hands or a jogger, it was just us.


As I closed my eyes, I imagined us being in OCMD during the summer. To ensure our entire five-square-feet of sand, we’d have to go out early and stake a claim on the crowded beach. If we arrived too late, it’d be a frustrating game of stalking potential exiting guests and swooping in before another group snagged the precious space. I could hear the continuous, annoying tweets of lifeguard whistles, signaling to groups of boisterous teenagers in the ocean to swim in closer to the shore and stop roughhousing.


I pictured the kaleidoscope of colorful umbrellas shading a multitude of families and smothering the scorching sand in rainbow shadows. I saw groups of people walking and jogging along the shoreline, making the rest of us beachgoers feel lazy for sprawling out on our towels and taking a nap.


Shivering, I opened my eyes and spread my towel out on the deserted beach. After a short nap, we decided to play volleyball in an attempt to warm up. Normally, playing volleyball in the summer is a rare luxury. But since we had the entire beach to ourselves, we set up our volleyball net and split into teams, boys versus girls.


“Whoever loses has to get in the ocean!”


Maddy and I lost. We put up a good fight, but to no avail. Nick and Will were clearly better. Especially Will. Anything and everything athletic he excelled at. In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a professional athlete.


The rule was we had to be completely submerged in the water before we could come out. Taking a running start, Maddy dove in ahead of me. As my skin touched the water, it felt like a thousand small daggers were digging into every goose bump on my body, but at the same time I felt invigorated. No one was around to see our foolish behavior. We were completely alone and content.


By the time we got out of the water, our skin was bright red and our teeth were chattering. While Maddy and I huddled together under a blanket, Nick and Will got out the surfboard and took turns trying to stand up. Neither of them were really successful, but they had a good time trying to out-last each other in the violent current. Once the boys got tired of being “wrecked” by the waves, we filled the rest of the afternoon by playing Phase Ten, trying to find the warmest section of sand to nap on, and practicing volleyball.


The next day it was too cold to even try going to the beach, so we ventured down to the Boardwalk. Few vendors were open, but still the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the coming season engulfed us. The air was laden with energy as workers scurried around setting up their stands. We sampled deep-fried Oreos and Snickers while we walked along the uneven, wood trail. I’d never noticed the simplicity of the Boardwalk until that point. Normally, it was crowded with hundreds of noisy people and loud music attacked your eardrums as you pushed through the sea of people. However, today the sounds of the ocean replaced the obnoxious music that generally reverberated through your skull the second you stepped on the premises.


On our last day, the wind had picked up and clouds settled in. Determined to not let the weather keep us from the beach and our fun, Will and Nick taught us how to skimboard in our long pants and sweatshirts. With no lifeguards around to reprimand us, only the infrequent seagull squawked at our falls.


“Don’t lean down so much, you need to stand up tall to balance,” Will shouted to me over the wind. “Here, I’ll show you.”


Balancing is difficult when you’re afraid of falling, but I knew he was right. I watched Will glide over the glossy water and do tricks with the skim board; he stood up tall. At moments like this, it was hard for me to remember he was balancing something much greater. His half-shaved head featured a six-inch scar, and a Chemotherapy tube poked out from his chest. But with his Ravens hat and surf top on, he looked like any other lively teenage boy.


Leaving the next morning, I didn’t look back because I knew I’d eventually return. Once summer started we would all be back to the Sand Bridge. The sun would be out every day, the sand would be hot, and people would swarm onto the beach. The beach would reach its prime and we would be there to see it. It’s not that I was taking our trip for granted, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that in two short months Ocean City would transform into its next phase, and Will would not.


Looking back, I now see the importance of those few days. We traveled to Ocean City before most people would have, and we enjoyed every second of it. It wasn’t the ideal beach vacation, but it was the perfect time to travel. There’s something to be said about enjoying the off-season. Waiting for summer might have been easier, but it wouldn’t have been as memorable. Because of Will, I’ll keep savoring the off-seasons.


Claire, Will, Maddy, Nick posing on the beach
Claire, Will, Maddy, Nick

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