No one will know with any certainty how many visitors flocked to this resort town for Memorial Day weekend until Tuesday, when the flushes are counted.
Other resorts, faced with the notoriously difficult task of estimating crowds, count cars or monitor hotel occupancy rates. Not in Ocean City, where the gauge of popularity for three decades has been wastewater -- every shower taken, every load of laundry washed and every toilet flushed.
The result is a figure called "the demoflush," a term that combines demographics and flush, and only when it is announced today will Ocean City know whether or to what degree it has emerged from the weather-induced slump that has marked recent Memorial Day weekends.
"I'm sure the number had to have been better than last year," Donna Abbott, a town spokeswoman, said Monday, which began with chilly rain. "Last year was dismal."
Abbott had said the town expected more than 200,000 for the weekend. The actual number, she said, must await the "unbiased measurement" of the demoflush. Until then, decidedly less comprehensive figures and the stated beliefs of individual merchants must suffice.
The boardwalk shop Hot Stuff, for example, sold no fewer than 15 gas-powered scooters, miniature motorcycles that start at $500, from its storefront near First Street. That, along with hot sales in hooded sweatshirts, made for a strong weekend, manager Ram Tal said.
Business was "pretty slow" at the Rave, a clothing and souvenir shop, about a block away. The store sold none of its colorful inventory of oversize foam hats. Nor did it sell a single one of the "FBI" shirts that elaborate in smaller letters: "Female Body Inspector." According to a store clerk, the Rave did unload "four or five" gag pens, at $9.99 each, that deliver mild shocks to their users.
Steve Petix at the boardwalk business In the Shade said Monday afternoon that he had applied perhaps 50 temporary Henna tattoos over the weekend, including three that day. Indeed, a 63-year-old customer sat on a bench nearby, waiting for the Henna unicorn on her ankle to dry.
Figures that might be more telling -- funnel cakes sold, french fries fried or roller coaster rides taken -- proved elusive. Merchants said they didn't know the numbers or wouldn't share them.
"There's too much competition in this town," said Rick Smith, manager of Pier Rides and Games, one of the three largest amusement parks in Ocean City. "We don't give up any trade secrets."
Patrick McGonigle, owner of Love's on the boardwalk, was similarly vague on details. "I had a record funnel cake [weekend] except for July 4," he said, declining to be more specific.
At Crazy Cooter's, a beer and wine store, there were signs of a slower weekend. Cases of beer remained stacked everywhere, and the walk-in refrigerator was far from empty.
"Weekend was a bust," said owner Scott Schrider. "I didn't even sell what I had in the cooler. They just weren't steamrolling through the door."
Still, he said, cigarette and other sales helped offset the below-expectation demand for beer. Overall, he figured, his numbers were better than last year's. Joe George, manager of the Avelon Inn, said he filled his 44 rooms Saturday and Sunday. "It was a complete rebound from last year," he said.
Last year, the cold weather and rain that persisted through May and much of June left Ocean City with one of its most dismal starts in years.
Erica Laufer said she was doing brisk business in photography Saturday and Sunday at Erica's Photo House, where she dresses customers in vintage clothing. Monday morning, however, brought rain -- and no business, not even the three customers who had appointments.
"All you need is one clap of thunder, and everybody leaves," she said. "There was an exodus. You would think there had been a disaster." Monday morning's cold rain, however, was not the norm for the weekend. For that, Laufer and almost everyone else seemed grateful.
"This is the first Memorial Day weekend where we didn't have a storm where everything was washed out to sea," she said.
Some businesses benefited from Monday's rain. At L'Officiel Salon for Hair and Tanning, 20 customers in six hours came in for the bronzing they could not get on the beach, owner Chris Vega said.
"The girls from Pennsylvania are not going to go back without a tan," Vega said.