More than 225,000 surf-starved tourists swarmed to this seaside resort town over the weekend, filling up nearly every hotel room, triggering runaway sales in everything from bath towels to suntan lotion and causing near-standing-room-only conditions on beaches from First Street to 145th.
Ocean City is a boom town again.
Only one month ago, the townsfolk were fearful that the gasoline shortage would leave their beaches and their cash registers empty. But today - from the noisy arcades along the boardwalk to the luxury condos on the northern rim - the euphoria of August was everywhere.
"I was never scared of any of that gasoline stuff in the first place," said Bob Roberts, of Glen Burnie, Md., who sojourns at Ocean City nearly every weekend. "I was mad, but never scared. The beaches, the women, the nightlife - nothing could keep me from this place."
The beaches this weekend were blanketed with bodies, beach towels and umbrellas. The smell of beer and fried chicken returned like a forgotten friend and the blare of portable radios completed with the noisy surf.
Ocean City's biggest weekend this summer came ten weeks after the gasoline shortage hit Washington and other metropolitan areas, making would-be seaside visitors hesitant to journey far from home. As a result Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach and other resorts suffered their worst June in recent memory.
But as the shortages eased during July, Ocean City and other resorts experienced gradual but steady increases in tourists. Last weekend was the first time Ocean City has had as many as 200,000 visitors this summer.
The smiles have returned to merchants here but so have some of the headaches for weekend travelers. Traffic backups Saturday and yesterday extended for four miles on approaches to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, causing travel delays of up to 1 1/2 hours.
"You just wouldn't believe it. For 50 miles it was bumper to bumper," said Ron Sisk, a Hagerstown, Md., resident who arrived here Saturday after an eight-hour drive. Sisk said the drive usually takes four to five hours.
Still, the highway hassles did not appear to blunt the seaside celebration.
"When I'm in Washington working it gets so frustrating sometimes that I daydream about all the places I'd rather be," said Georgia Peters-Dennis, a legal assistant who was picking her way past sunbathers heading for the waves. "This is one of the daydreams."
Perched high on his wooden tower, lifeguard Vic Velton squinted through reflector glasses at a flock of swimmers and surfers. "It's good, it's crowded," he said. "I like being busy. Makes the day shorter."
On the boardwalk, Laurance Mungnai, rang up a few sales on the cash register at his Jo-Mar souvenir shop and beamed, "You can always tell when it's a good day. We've sold 60 surf mats so far."
Libby Murray spent the day renting out dozens of beach umbrellas, chairs and surf mats. "The only complaints I've gotten are from people getting hit on the head by the mats. That's when you know it's crowded," she said.
Some merchants and hotel managemers maintained that business, despite recent gasoline shortages, has been good throughout the summer. "It's the bigger places up north that have been squeaking and complaining," said Betty Frame, president of the area hotel and motel association and manager of a small hotel. "We've been booked real good all along. This weekend doesn't seem any different."
Only in the last two weeks, however, have larger hotels such as the Carousel and the Sheraton consistently reported no vacancies. "June was really bad. Cancellations were heavy particularly from people in New York and Pennsylvania," said David Bryant, manager of the Beach Plaza. "But for the last 21 days we've had no vacancies at all."
For some people, the crowds, the heat and the bother of traveling were just too much. To Vienna resident Edward Curran, Ocean City has symbolized tragedy. Within the last two years Curran's mother, father and father-in-law have either died here or died shortly after leaving here after short vacations.
Yesterday his vacationing daughter awakened after a two-hour nap on the beach and found her purse, money and car keys stolen.
"I have to drive here all the way from Vienna to pick her up," said Curran."Three and a half hours. I think we'll spend the rest of the day at Rehoboth." CAPTION: Picture, Beach is jammed with portion of Ocean City's 225,000 weekend visitors., By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post