62 Blocks of Chaos- Is This The End of H2Oi As We Know It?

Billed as “the story of a gang of hot-riding hot-heads who ride into, terrorize, and take over a town”, 1953’s “The Wild One” is likely the best film representation of how many Ocean City residents, casual observers and cynics see the yearly gathering of car enthusiasts on Maryland’s coast, which runs concurrent with H2O International.  While we see something like that as more of a caricature of the scene as a whole, the Ocean City Police Department’s statistics point to it having some validity.  In 2013, OCPD reported that they performed 1,584 “traffic enforcement actions” over the weekend, up significantly from the 901 from 2012.

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So what has happened in those last two years to cause such a spike in citations?  From our experience, its directly tied to growth.  More cars.  More people.  More police.  To those on the outside, south of the Route 90 bridge might as well be a free-for-all. Burnouts. Trash. Heckling. Drunks. Fights. The assault of a Police horse. Unfortunately for us- this year more than ever, social media was there to capture it all.  Which is a shame, because outside of a few extreme cases, it wasn’t as bad as some made it seem.

Local and State Police were out en masse enforcing motor vehicle laws, some of which arguably were passed to specifically target those cruising the Coastal Highway.  Windshield banners, excessive camber and stretched tires were common targets early in the week.  Many saw it as unjust profiling, others saw it as a Police Department doing whatever they could to discourage attendance at a locally unpopular event that isn’t sanctioned by the town, as Bike and Cruise weeks are.  Restaurants seemed to push back as well, with many that I personally spoke to commenting on the terrible service they had received at numerous establishments along the strip.

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Seeing it all go down from a distance, our Friday Afternoon trek was an uneasy one.  We made it as far as Wilmington, Delaware before seeing any other cars on their way to the event.  Around the same time, we’d see the occasional cars headed north.  An Acura TSX running double digit camber.  A B5 chassis Audi S4 with no front bumper.  The cars that I could only assume to be ticket fodder, based on what we had seen online. They had to be coming from Ocean City.  Could it really be that bad?

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A few hours later, we stood in front of the Ocean City Brewing Company on 56th street, watching cars roll by as we waited for friends.  Congestion was definitely worse than in past years, but those near the sidewalk were quiet and respectful.  In fact, the majority of people there were just that.  Morale was even high for those sitting in traffic.  Comments and conversations from car to car while gridlocked were positive in our experience, aside from the occasional diesel truck trying to “roll coal” into our open windows.  To be honest, we were pleasantly surprised.

Saturday was an entirely different story.  Sure, we’d seen some things on Instagram during the day, like a Police vehicle being blocked in with bodies at the Convention Center, but people don’t do things like that.  It had to be a clever angle and some crafty wording as an attempt to gain a few followers.  Most likely a few bad eggs spurred on by mob mentality and cheap beer.  Then the crashes started happening.  An S2000 and a Pontiac collided.  A few rear-endings.  A Subaru in bushes.  With the roads being completely dry and a posted 35mph speed limit, there was no excuse.  At best, it was negligence.  After the sun went down, it got a bit more rowdy, but then again, it always does.  This year, Police and Security were quick to take action, resulting in the normal gathering at 45th street to be forcefully shut down by 11:30pm.

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…But it wasn’t all bad.

A vast majority of attendees were kind, courteous and respectful at the show and on the strip.  Over at Fort Whaley, the Top Dawg class was phenomenal, perhaps the best ever.  H2O’s vendor area was also larger and frankly better than in previous years.  Attendance at the show seemed higher too.  The weather was amazing.  The level of cars cruising the strip was insane, regardless of your personal taste.  When possible, the Police were quick to respond to those engaging in dangerous or illegal behavior.  Both service calls to Police and arrests were actually down (slightly) from the 2013 event.  When things went well, they went extremely well.

Its a shame that so few can make so many look, as Ocean City’s The Dispatch put it, “disappointing.”

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So what can we do?

Unfortunately there is no one thing that will ‘fix’ what goes on in Ocean City, but we can make a few suggestions.

1. Use better judgement.
Things can get out of hand quickly, and its easy to get caught up in the moment.  We certainly aren’t immune to that.  But take a deep breath and think about what you are about to do.  Follow laws.  Obey police.  Be courteous.  Don’t heckle people from the hotel balcony with a bullhorn.  Don’t set off fireworks. This goes for everyone, regardless of the logo on their car key.

2. Self-police.
See someone disobeying suggestion number one?  Don’t take their picture.  Don’t record them.  Let them know that you disapprove of their actions.  Destroying a Cayman in broad daylight on a straight road should not make you Internet famous.

3.  Leave it better than you left it.
My parents drilled this one into my head as a tyke, and again, it’s something very simple.  Clean up after yourself.  If you walk away from something and its in worse shape than when you arrived, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Patronize businesses where you have get togethers.
Hanging out at Roses on 94th?  Go inside and grab a drink.  Taproom at 45th?  Grab a beer, or a soda if you’re driving.  Just something simple to say thanks for letting you use their parking lot without loitering.  This seems to have somewhat caught on, and I’d like to see it continue.

5. Don’t get in the way of Police.
Like it or not, they’ve got a job to do.  Even the ones that look shockingly similar to a certain celebrity (seriously, it was uncanny).  Each time you interfere with that job, they will understandably get more annoyed and will likely take out their frustrations with the ticket book.  Let them do their thing, and OCPD will likely hand out a few more warnings instead of tickets.

If we are granted the privilege of H2O International again next year, let’s try to clean up our act a bit, regardless of what you drive down.