The reopening of Maryland’s oceanside mecca of bad decisions was banging.
And that scared the bejeezus out of some of the business people.
You’d think the owners of funnel cake places and T-shirt shops (some already peddling corny coronavirus-themed shirts) would be giddy about the crowds after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) began reopening the state.
Logan and Hallie Freeney spent their birthdays — 11 for him, 8 for her — at home near Salisbury. So a day trip to the ocean and that bucket of fries was heaven.
“We needed our Thrasher’s,” their mom, Dawn Robertson, explained. “We know an employee at the Wawa who just died of this. So it hits close to home. But we needed this break today.”
The boardwalk on Sunday was busy.
“I’ve been closeted for months!” yelled Sean Tormey, 33, between his jerky Ys and Ms. The Marine from Salisbury who saw combat in Afghanistan got his friends to join him as “YMCA” blasted into the ocean air.
“Dude, they’re all gay, the guys who sing this,” his friend told him. “I don’t think that’s what you mean.”
Guffaw. Guffaw. Snort laugh. Fist bump.
“I mean, I’ve been stuck in the house for two months. I lost my job as a tree climber,” he said, catching up to his friends with the “A” during our interview. “But I just got back to work. People want their trees trimmed again. I’m celebrating.”
His shirt said “Bad Decisions Make Great Stories,” and he lifted it to show me the goblin tattoo on his arm that’s dedicated to his dead brother, who was stabbed by a lover.
Classic Ocean City.
He wore no mask, and all but one of his wrecking crew were equally unmasked. He danced over to the one guy who did have one on and yanked it down. “Come on, man, smile!” he said. He kept touching my arm and embracing everyone around him.
Dude. Really? No social distancing there.
There were signs everywhere warning people to stay six feet apart. Some stores had signs that said “Masks Required for Entry.” Some said “Masks suggested.” Most picked the latter as their North Star.
Two benches along the boardwalk were wrapped in caution tape and blocked off with two-by-fours for every bench that was open. A guy in a sombrero perched on the two-by-four. Another guy tried to tightrope-walk it.
It wasn’t exactly Senior Week. The octa-bongs weren’t fired up, and hotels barely opened.
But it was lively, in pandemic terms.
“What else am I going to do? The bars are closed,” said Britney Lynn, 26, whose gem-studded claw nails sparkled in the burst of sunshine we got that moment. “Of course I’m going to the beach.”
While most people strolled on the boardwalk in shorts or walked the shorebreak on a windy, partly cloudy day, Lynn was in full beach mode. Her string bikini top showed off all her tattoos; much of the bikini bottom was tucked into body parts that helped minimize its existence. And of course there was no mask.
“I don’t want tan lines this early,” she explained.
She lost her food service job when the restaurant she worked at in Iowa shut down, so she moved back in with her parents in Cecil County. She’s driven an hour and a half every day since Ocean City opened to get to it.
“I’m sick of it. Sick of being inside. I feel like it’s all unnecessary. People get the flu every day. People get cancer every day,” she said. “And you don’t see everything closing up because of that. What’s the difference with this one?”
Um, maybe read a newspaper while working on that tan, hon.
It’s the people like Lynn — though they’re bringing him business by buying his fried Oreos and funnel cakes — that scare business owner Teoman Aksu.
“We are happy to have everything go back to normal, of course,” he said, while serving my son a ball of fried ice cream soaked in chocolate syrup. “But we are also scared of it. I’m just curious what’s going to happen in two weeks. And what this means for our summer.”
I asked him what the mask ratio was. I was seeing about half the crowd in masks on Sunday.
“Nah. I’d say it’s 10 and 90,” he said. “Only 10 percent are wearing masks.”
Aksu wasn’t the only business owner I spoke to who was withholding unbridled joy. He’s worried that it may be too soon and a second wave of infection could shut down the summer traffic he’s counting on.
Maryland has had more than 39,000 people who tested positive and 2,023 covid-19 deaths as of Monday. There is a huge infection hot spot not far from Ocean City, where an outbreak at a poultry plant in Salisbury got at least 240 people sick.
But with its slow open, Maryland is also attracting visitors from places still shut down.
“New York. New Jersey. They came from all over,” said Madison McLain, who runs a piercing shop on the boardwalk. “That’s what I’m worried about. We’re going to get a second wave with all these people coming down here.”
The signs tried to tell them.
On that long stretch of highway to Ocean City, the overhead signs didn’t welcome people to the beach or warn them of beach traffic jams. They read:
“Stay home, hon. It saves lives.”
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