He was tall, with a muscle shirt and a wispy goatee, and almost from the moment he walked into Crazy Cooter's, a liquor store, owner Scot Schrider was suspicious.

The patron gathered up a 12-pack and a six-pack and headed for the counter. Schrider carded him and reached for a catalogue of driver's licenses, a compendium that has stymied untold numbers of would-be underage drinkers. He flipped to K, found Kentucky and shook his head.

"Sorry, I can't accept this license," Schrider said.

"Really?" came the response, ending on a high note that suggested extreme surprise.

"It doesn't match what I got in my book," Schrider said.


The patron, defeated, walked out.

It was the first time this year that someone tried to use a fake ID at Crazy Cooter's, a sure sign that Memorial Day weekend rush, with its mix of commerce and inconvenience, was coming to Ocean City.

More than 200,000 people are expected to arrive here for what, in contrast to the last two years, has been forecast as a sun-drenched weekend. For the local year-round population of fewer than 10,000, it is an event to be celebrated and avoided, exploited and lamented and, finally -- because for many there will be no other choice -- beheld.

The visitors are drawn to three miles of boardwalk and 10 miles of beaches, gobs of saltwater taffy and fists full of Thrasher's french fries. They will clog the roads and pack the restaurants, marking the first major weekend of a tourist season that generates an estimated $2 billion of business for Ocean City.

"A lot of it is driven by Mother Nature, and the weather is supposed to be beautiful," said Deborah Travers, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. "I think we're going to see a lot of people."

Adding to Ocean City's appeal this year as a vacation destination is it status as a self-declared "cicada-free zone." According to the town and its public relations consultants, the periodic insects that have swarmed Washington's suburbs do not like the soil conditions here. Town officials did not miss what one of the ad campaign's creators pithily described as "a once-in-a-17-year opportunity to remind people to come to Ocean City."

The ad has Mayor James Mathias declaring in radio spots that it has been determined cicadas do not like sunshine, saltwater taffy, caramel corn, sand castles, steamed crabs or miniature golf.

"All of which," the mayor intones, "proves that the cicada isn't just annoying, it's stupid."

Residents and business owners, spared the cicada, are preparing for another kind of onslaught.

"It gets so crowded I hate it," said Joan Compher, a retired interior designer who splits her time between Baltimore and Ocean Pines, just outside of Ocean City. "I can't wait for the end of the season."

At the emergency room of Atlantic General Hospital, additional doctors and nurses will be on duty this weekend to handle, along with more serious injuries and ailments, the weekend fare of jellyfish stings, fishing hook impalements and really bad sunburns.

Hotels were booking up fast, Travers said Thursday, with most availability now limited to multi-night stays.

For locals not in tourism-related businesses, the weekend is more pain than pleasure. They adapt, altering their routines and employing a variety of survival tricks: Grocery shop late at night or early in the morning, memorize the drawbridge schedule for the Route 50 bridge, use back roads.

Retiree Carlton Adams was among the locals who hit the grocery store Thursday morning to avoid weekend crowds. "I thought I was going to get a jump on it this morning, but it was crowded already," he said. "Tomorrow night and Saturday it'll be a rat race."

Crazy Cooter's, by late Thursday, had taken on the look of a badly planned bunker, with cases of beer stacked high in the aisles, in the office and in front of the windows.

"It's a little tight, but it's legal," Schrider said.

Sales representative Rex Dunt dropped in, and Schrider ordered still more beer. Dunt said at least six delivery trucks for Anheuser-Busch alone will serve Ocean City daily through the weekend.

"This is it," Schrider said. "This kicks off summer for sure.

"I can't wait for Labor Day."

Billy Spencer of Frederick leads the city beach patrol run as lifeguards prepare to man their stations for hundreds of thousands of tourists.Employee Nicole Kressin takes advantage of the calm before the storm on the boardwalk Thursday at Dumser's Dairyland.