They had a plan:
“None of this drink-drink and pass out right away,” said the kid with the trucker cap askew and the lollipop-stick legs.
“Yeah,” agreed his even lankier sidekick. “So what do we do?”
I was dodging herds of bikini babes and packs of panting young men to keep eavesdropping on the pair.
Lollipop was excited. “Long, sustained drinking. Sustained. We just keep drinking and drinking.” He took a swill of his Cherry Coke.
This was zero hour in a rite of passage for thousands of high school seniors: the month-long bacchanal in Ocean City known as Senior Week. And these two characters were on the ground early, making their plan. And Cherry Coke wasn’t part of it.
Senior Week is a tradition that has been dreaded by Washington area parents for decades. It’s the annual migration of newly graduated, newly liberated, barely legal teens to the shore, where they party, plot, puke, hook up, scheme, swim, roam, dirty dance in foam and — for about 10 percent of them — get locked up for everything from underage drinking to drug possession to assault.
For the kids, it’s a week-long dress rehearsal for college frat parties. For their mothers and fathers, it amounts to a parenting final exam.
“Do I let them go to Beach Week?” is the senior parent anthem sung for months beforehand. On discussion boards, at PTA meetings and swim meets, it’s usually split about 50-50.
They will be in college soon; why can’t you trust them for one week with their childhood friends?
Vs.: No flippin’ way.
You can understand their hesitation. This year, one 15-year-old running across the street with a pack of friends died after being hit by a car, and another teen was injured after falling from a hotel balcony.
Kids begin grinding down their parents early.
“I’ve been planning this since my freshman year!” hollered one 17-year-old from Northern Virginia, both fists in the air, triumphant after a police pat-down that didn’t get him locked up.
“We had meetings once a month since February,” said a 17-year-old Catholic school grad from Lebanon, Pa. “We met about plans, payment, what we were going to do, who was coming.” And, of course, how to get the alcohol. (It was provided by a 22-year-old boyfriend and a 21-year-old big brother.)
“I had to beg, beg my mom to go,” said a 17-year-old from Leonardtown. She and her two friends had matching henna tattoos of Chinese characters on their hips and matching short-shorts in three neon colors. I was drawn to interview them because they looked 12.
“My mom is calling me, like, every hour,” pink shorts told me.
I’d been sent to Ocean City on a reconnaissance mission, with orders to spy on your children and report back on exactly how heinously they were behaving. So I embedded myself with the partiers for a weekend.
Wow. Nothing will make you feel old like trying to keep up with 17- and 18-year-olds.
“Yeah. They have stamina," said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “We usually really hope for good weather, so the the sun tires them out.”
My experience — which ended one night with a 4 a.m. chase after two guys who were hauling a potted palm down the boardwalk (why?? I wanted to know) — was that hours in the hot sun and pounding surf mean nothing to them.
Their days are spent much the way they were when they were 7. Swimming, volleyball, sand castles, ice cream. But once the sun tips to the 5 p.m. position, they begin to hunt. Back and forth on the boardwalk, prowling.
Boys break off from the pack to surround a string bikini victim. They whip out their phones, exchange numbers, turn and fist-pump: “Yesssss.”
Then I met the undisputed master of the boardwalk stroll, Eric Graft, 18, from West Virginia. He walked shirtless on the boardwalk, getting text after text from girls. The count was 26 when I first met him. “Oh yeah,” he’d say, clicking on one photo of a comely texter. “No thanks. Delete,” to another.
Eric had a henna tattoo of his phone number across his back. Brilliant.
Far less amusing: the presence of an unsavory herd of older Senior Week repeaters, macking on the bird-boned girls, advertising their alcohol-filled hotel rooms from balconies.
“Class of 2010,” one guy screamed at the teens gathered at one park bench.
“Class of 2006!” yelled another dude from above the crowd.
Then there were guys like Austin Geithner, 20, who came to Senior Week from Annapolis to kinda-sorta keep an eye on his little sister. She was furious, but it was better than Dad, right?
In years past, Geithner and his pal Peter Carrico, 21, had seen people jump from balconies into hotel pools and Spider-Man from balcony to balcony. There’s skinny- dipping, drinking and sex.
Occasionally, someone will bust out the eight-hosed Octabong, which I gather is made solely to hasten the drink-puke-rally cycle.
There were some parents there besides me. I met one chaperone, Curtis Boyce, outside H2O and H202, renowned under-21 dance clubs that do a booming business during Senior Week.
Boyce was waiting outside for his 17-year-old daughter, who was supposed to leave the club at 12:30 a.m. At 9 p.m., he was already positioned to pick her up.
No one over 21 is allowed inside the club, and owner Robert Rosenblit enforces that outside, every night. A reverse ID shakedown. Too much ID and you’re out.
Parents sometimes ask to come in. He obliges, though reluctantly. “I ask them, ‘Have you ever seen you daughter dance?’ And if they haven’t seen it, I tell them that I don’t recommend it,” he said.
There are cages inside. And in those cages, your daughters are dancing like the nastiest strippers ever banned from TV.
Amid the raunch queens, I spotted Lollipop, who was screaming to his pal: “I got two [girls] I know, two [girls] I just met, and one [girl] I wanna know at this party.” Only instead of girls, he used the word for female dogs. And he headed out to find the party.
Then the foam started piping in from two giant tubes overhead.
I saw a familiar, skinny girl sandwiched between two other girls. They were in a triple grind, the middle girl spanking the one in front of her, cowgirl style.
“Newspaper ladeeeeee!” middle girl squealed. She was part of the short-shorts trio from the boardwalk, the one whose Mama kept calling her.
Oh, Mama must have been going crazy. No calls were being answered in the den of grind dance.
I felt old. Surely, I was the only mom in the entire nightclub.
Then I discovered a girl who’d decided a bikini bottom was appropriate clubwear. She had her shirt tucked up into her bra, so you could see the tattoos swirl around her middle, her dangling belly chain and the sparkle of an eyebrow piercing.
“I have a 2-year-old!” announced Kayla Mauz, 18. “And I just want to let loose for once, you know?"”
Okay, not the only mom in the club. Surely, I was the only one wearing Spanx, then.
Outside, Papa Boyce collected his daughter an hour early.
“At least he waited around,” cracked a 16-year-old local boy, who was my wry and observant field guide throughout much of the weekend.
“Usually, the parents get sick of waiting. They go over to Guido’s Burritos and get drunk off margaritas,” he told me. “I see the kids after closing, looking for their parents. Lost. I take ’em to Guido’s to find their parents.”
Time to head out and check out what the rest of the teens were doing.
We spotted phone-tattoo-dude Eric, who was running across the street with a pair of girls who had fashioned bikini tops out of paper plates and yarn. Something was working for him.
At the 7-Eleven, we watched the clerk reject ID after fake ID.
“Dude, you’re 19, I see it right there,” the clerk yelled at one kid trying to buy a can of Four Loko.
“There’s a party on Third Street,” one pack yelled to another.
But Third Street was quiet, except for the confused packs looking around.
At 3 a.m., I saw Lollipop a third time. He’d lost his cohort and his Coke. There were no [girls].
He was eating a slice of pizza. He sustained!
Every summer, Washington heads to the beach, decamping by the tens of thousands to shore towns that stretch from Delaware to South Carolina. For many, the surf and sand are accompanied by beloved rituals. This occasional series will explore those touchstones of summer, what they mean to us and why the beach beckons year after year. For more, go to washingtonpost.com/beachguide.