Photos: People Return to the Ocean City Boardwalk, ‘Normal’ Does Not
With not a cloud in the sky Sunday afternoon, I hit the Ocean City Boardwalk to check out the sights and sounds of Mother's Day, 2020.
But unlike the thousands of other times that I've been on the boardwalk, this time was different.
When I got into Ocean City, I parked at 9th & the Boardwalk. The first thing I noticed: people were socially-distantly parking. Every car had an empty space between it as if staying six feet apart from people was now applying to cars. There were no signs that said to park apart. Quite amazing that people thought to do that by themselves.
Lots of people in the parking lot had masks on. The number of people with face coverings dropped as you got closer to the boardwalk and passed the non-touristy 'closed' barricades which were pushed aside in some places and still blocking the ramps in many others.
Once on the boardwalk, every Ocean City police officer was wearing a mask. Every one I saw was a younger class-II officer. I couldn't help but think that these officers were starting their careers during a global pandemic. That's a pretty heavy weight to carry even in America's greatest family resort.
Maybe a tenth of the people that I saw were wearing masks in the open air and sunshine. Everyone was giving everyone else their own personal space. No big crowds were gathered anywhere. People were just happy to be out of the house and walking in the sunshine even with a screaming wind coming in off the ocean.
I do have to stop and recognize the lady that jogged past me wearing both a mask and gloves while running. I'm not so sure running with a mask on is a good idea, but I'm not a runner so what do I know.
I mentioned this time was different on the boardwalk. We're two weeks away from Memorial Day weekend and practically nothing was open. And nothing was getting ready to open.
No Johnson's Popcorn, no t-shirt stores, no arcades, no screams coming from the big blue roller coaster at Castaway Cove. The spinning letters in front of Wonderland Pier were not spinning and neither were the rides. No mini-golf. No french fry grease building-up on the boards in front of Curly's Fries or at Chickie's and Pete's. And practically no pizza in the middle of May.
And no Shriver's Candy.
Some stores, like Shriver's, announced they were not open while the store right next door still had a message from last fall in their window. Think of how different things were when that sign was printed eight months ago.
And speaking of signs, I couldn't help but notice the neon pizza sign at Manco & Manco was trying to come out of quarantine, peaking-out from below it's own mask.
As I was walking, a 5-year-old (without a mask on) and his mom (with a mask on) rode past me on bikes. The kid in utter shock proclaimed, "even the ice cream store is shut down?!" -- a true shock to a kid but a true sign of the times. Kohr Bros. was still shuttered.
And new this year: hand sanitizer on the boardwalk. It's everywhere. Like, several dispensers per block.
One candy store was open noticeably without the person standing out front with free samples. And you weren't going in to get candy -- the candy you want was coming out to you.
Two pizza places were open, one being Manco & Manco. And yes, even in a global pandemic there's a line at Manco & Manco. But unlike normal times where the line of people waiting impedes the flow of people on the boardwalk, the line is now at a side door for take out only.
And the new popular thing to do in Ocean City? Take your pizza, walk back to your car, and have a picnic out of your trunk. Lots of people were doing this (thus making the empty space between each car quite nice).
I left Ocean City and drove down to Strathmere to check out the beach there. I was one of three people on the beach when I arrived. Like the free sample guy at the candy store, noticeably absent from the beach were other footprints. No half-washed away sand castles. No crap left behind by people who didn't want to clean-up after themselves. The beach was spotless. And seashells were everywhere (no one's been on the beach in two months to disturb them). And the seashells are huge.
Regardless of what becomes of this summer and how the "new normal" becomes a part of it, there is still nothing better than standing (not sitting) on the beach and watching the waves.