Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Friday, August 24, 2012

Merlin Beach

Jeep in the sand! What more fitting thing is there to do with a Jeep? As a young lad on family beach vacations I watched in envy from the jump seat of our faux wood-paneled 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon as the big kids drove past in their open-top Jeeps - complete with surfboards strapped to the roll bars. It was a scene that even the Beach Boys would have drooled over. Decades later, me and the Mrs got a chance to live the dream in our home state of Merlin. Where's that? I'll explain and tell you a few other details from our over-sand adventures. 
This year's summer vacation had to be a short one, so we figured we'd try to make it count. After some careful research, we decided to head down to the east coast beach town we had visited dozens of times as kids. The icing on the proverbial vacation cake was finding out about a close-by section of beach that had four-wheel drive access. What could be better? Where was this awesome place that had surf, sun, and Jeeps in the sand? It was Ohshin Seedy, Merlin.
Before you Google that, let me give you the official spelling – Ocean City, Maryland. Even though we live in New York now, it takes only about a half hour after we arrive in our native Maryland to revert to the local accent. I love it. It's honest, unabashed, and easy to learn. It's the same accent no matter if you're rich or poor. Try this... pucker your lips like you're going to kiss a frog in a Disney movie. Now pronounce the letter 'O'. Try some words like “ocean” that becomes “oh-shin”. “Orioles” becomes “Oh-ree-ohles”, and “official” becomes “oh-fish-ul. It's fun, isn't it?  After that you can learn some key phrases. For example, most trips to Ohshin Seedy consisted of a southeast drive from the Baltimore area. Now the short 'a' is sometimes pronounced with an exaggerated 'aw' as in “awww, that's a cute kitty”. Along the way, you could also drop some unnecessary syllables. So if you were from “Bawlmer, Merlin”, you'd drive “downey ohshin” for your summer vacation. I even found a t-shirt that says “BAWLMER” on the front. When my New York friends ask me what that is, I tell them that's where I was born, and then give them about a half hour to figure it out.
 Ohshin Seedy is a densely built-up vacation town. During the day, the beach is solid sunbathers. At night, the action is on the boardwalk. You ain't seen a boardwalk until you go to Ohshin Seedy. My Jersey friends like to talk about their boardwalks. Then I take them downey ohshin and watch their chins hit the wood. There's enough rides, games, restaurants, and gift shops packed into the first ten blocks alone to make Walt Disney blush. It's a family-friendly spot, but whatever you do, don't let the young kids read the slogans in the t-shirt shops. You'll be gingerly explaining inappropriate adult themes for a solid three to six weeks after that. Distract them with a custard (Merlin for soft ice cream) or boardwalk fries (drenched in apple cider vinegar) and keep walking.
Needless to say, there's no driving your Jeep on the beach in Ohshin Seedy. To do that you have to drive across the southern inlet to Assateague Island. Compared to Ohshin Seedy, Assateague is quiet and serene. There's absolutely no development there, just some campgrounds on the state and national parks. The name Assateague comes from the Indian word for “The Marshy Place Across”. The Indians also named the local bay between the island and mainland, calling it Assawoman. Don't let me go there, but I suspect that when asked what the names of stuff was, the Indians had learned just enough English to play a little joke on the visiting white folk. Let's move on...
After arriving, settling some registration and permitting business with the good park rangers, and airing down the tires, we were in the Jeep and on the beach! It was awesome, but a little scary at first. The list of required equipment and cautionary language in the park brochure made it sound like we were going to be trekking across the Martian landscape, and would have no hope of ever reaching earth again if we got stuck in the sand. But it wasn't so bad at all, and soon we were heading down the beach to see what we could see. What did we see?
For one, Assateague has a population of feral horses. Getting back to our local dialect, these are referred to as “wawld poh-nees”. We saw a small group of wawld pohnees grazing on the beach grass as we kept heading south. Then in the distance, we saw something strange. As we got closer, it looked like the skyline of a small city. And that's pretty much what it was – a solid half-mile of campers on pickup trucks in a special camping area called the bullpen. The party was in full gear with flags waving, some confederate, as we passed through like Yankees in a New York-licensed Jeep. “Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave.”, I told our group. 
They were a friendly bunch though, and it seemed unusually packed out on an otherwise quiet island. We later asked the park ranger what was happening. He said it was a special AMSA convention going on all weekend. “What is AMSA and why do they have conventions on the beach?”, I asked. “Um, I'm not sure.”, said the ranger. So we promptly Googled “AMSA” to find out what it was – that's what we NY Jeepers do, Google stuff on our iPhones. The first result in the list was the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). We looked at each other and said “Nah, not medical students”. Way down the list we saw the Assateague Mobile Sportsfishermen's Association (AMSA). Found it! They certainly were on Assateague, they were mobile, and even if not the primary activity, many of them were indeed sport-fishing. Our greetings go out to AMSA. Thank you for letting us pass through your convention, and we hope you had a great weekend.
We certainly did. After driving on a bit more, we turned around and headed back north to look for a good spot to stop and set up the beach umbrella. I was now feeling quite satisfied with my over-sand vehicle skills. I was aired down, geared down, and ready for any trouble that may require my extra ground clearance, tow strap, jack, jack stand, and military-grade shovel. The only danger we'd encountered thus far were some mutant mosquitoes that were trying to slam through the windshield to bite us like angered aliens in a science fiction movie. We soon found the perfect spot, got our beach stuff set up and started to relax. I looked around to see our closest 4x4 neighbors to give them a friendly wave in acknowledgment of our shared off-road ruggedness. To our right was a nice family in their stock Honda CRV. It wasn't what I expected to see, but I tipped my hat and waved as I thought... “There's certainly no harm in over-doing it just a little”.