So what's new at the beach this summer.
Not much. That may be a disappointment to jaded sensaton-seekers, but it was something of a relief to an old curmudgeon who spent three days hauling the family from Ocean City to Rehoboth.
There being about 7.53 billion arcades, shops, restaurants and whatevers along the strip, what follows is necessarily a willful, sketchy and rather random series of notes. OCEAN CITY -- One of these days a just and merciful god will smite OC with a tidal wave, leaving the aboriginal sand spit cleansed and once again inviting. The debris from the grotesque high-rises and murderous Ocean Highway will become spawning reefs for the fish in Big Assawoman Bay.
Some things will be missed, however, most of them on the boardwalk: Thrasher's french fries, which are oddly tasty, the Sportland Arcade, where a family of five can run riot for a couple of hours for $5 each and redeem fistfuls of coupons for bags of neat junk; Trimper's funhouse, scaled for kids; Boom-Boom Ball on the pier, at which the old curmudgeon is unacknowledged world champ; Fractured Prune donuts; the T-shirt shops; and Stanley Unger.
Stanley Unger? He's the guy at the foot of the pier who offers to guess your age, weight, occupation, length of marriage, birth month or date, make of car and just about anything else, for a dollar a throw. When Unger isn't there his apprentice, Barry Ennis, fills in admirably. They are witty, canny judges of strangers, and a relief from the surly louts and loutesses who now seem toman (person?) half the boardwalk.
Even the teenagers in the family were happy to leave Ocean City behind for FENWICK ISLAND -- which features the still-struggling Fenwick Village, a mix of shops that hasn't jelled after all these years. There also used to be a great restaurant there, but the famous Fenwick Crab House has gone to hell. Fresh-faced young women still wait cheerily on the tables, but the food has gone downhill even faster than the prices have gone up. The process has continued for at least three years, and after the latest dismal meal -- shell-riddled, tasteless sauteed crabmeat, virtually meatless and overcooked but cold steamed crabs at $1.25 each, brown-and-serve rolls that hadn't even been warmed, a clam order that never came -- we have crossed it off our list. For us, sadly, Fenwick Island now is just a place you pass through on the way to BETHANY BEACH -- where a quiet boom is under way. This is Bethan Proper we're talking about, not the high-rise horror south of the corporate limits. You now can get a good meal in Bethany. Gigi's Hungarian goulash is a delightful change after seriatim shore dinners, and old residents say you can't go wrong eating in town now so long as you stay away from the ever-popular Holiday House. There are several enticing shops in the new mall, and the gift shop in the Sea Crest Motel may be the best along the shore. It was a relaxing drive along state-owned seaside lands to DEWEY BEACH -- Yes, Dewey Beach, which if it were a person would be diagnosed as schizophrenic. It's the only one of these beaches where open drinking and what used to be called lewd conduct apparently are condoned. It has a brazen gay community and the wildest nightclubs on the shore.
It also has some of the ritziest estates south of Martha's Vineyard and modest beach houses occupied by modest families. Across the main drag from a club where boisterous patrons are said to spill almost as much as they drink, it has Mezick's Shell Garden, where a child's dollar can buy a whole bagful of beautiful seashells form around the world.
The center of Dewey Beach is the huge new Rusty Rudder, which is trying -- and on the whole succeeding -- to be both a hangout for young people and a family restaurant in the style of Washington's Flagship. The roomy deck is acrawl with hard-drinking , high-spirited youth, while inside friendly and efficient waiters serve from an ambitious menu. But stick to simple dishes and uncomplicated drinks; the Rusty Rudder's reach thus far exceeds its grasp.
From Dewey it is only a few minutes' drive to the last and best, namely REHOBOTH BEACH -- "Rehoboth" means "room enough," and there still is. While by no means prim, the town retains traces of the simplicity of the Methodist retreat it once was, and nobody bothered a stentorian gent who strode the boardwalk intoning "Repent!" We resisted an impulse to direct him to Ocean City.
Rehoboth people are so friendly it's almost eerie. At sundown, after the youngsters have stuffed themselves with great Grotto pizza, the beach patrol organizes games that keep kids and teenagers twittering happily as gulls on a garbage scow. This frees the older children to go bopping along the well-patrolled boardwalk and their parents for leisurely meals at any number of nice restaurants or, for a price, two fine ones.
Habitues will be happy to know that the Sea Horse and the Dinner Bell are maintaining their customary standards. At the Dinner Bell the breads, pastries and desserts still re the sole province of the legendary Miss Edna, who has outlasted the original owners. The Bell has added a crab deck, where the atmosphere is appropriately casual. It had serious service problems the first few nights it was open but was running farily smoothly by our second visit.
We ordered extra rolls and enjoyed them in the morning while gathering energy to walk to the Country Squire, where the food is cheap and good and the service is almost as zippy as the flies. The new Sports Complex just outside town was the best thing of all. The little guy still hasn't forgive his big sister, who beat him out by going 13-for-14 in the batting cage, nor his middle sister, who lapped him on the go-cart track. But he was the boss of the bumper boats.