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Between you and your magical moment at the beach: long lines, sunburns, and your great expectations.

Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

Text by Jason Cherkis

The Wave Runners are in no hurry to leave the waters off Ocean City. They are rented by the hour—at $76—and the hour is up. But no one is willing to ride the rentals in so quick. Some of the runners dawdle in neutral 100 yards out from shore, bobbing in the water. Others do one doughnut, one last jump, and then finally come in.

The slender guides hop on the Wave Runners, revving the engines good and hard over the water. They move in quick circles, spraying walls of water for the beach crowd. This is their last ride of the day, too.

The speedboats follow the Wave Runners to shore. Even the boat dubbed Strokin’ pulls in for the night.

By now, the lifeguards have split. So two boys draped over purple inner tubes paddle way past the waves and into the fat of the Atlantic. After a few scary moments, they paddle over the minimoguls and past the obnoxious hum of tourist pleasure boats and come back to dry land.

The boys and their inner tubes are greeted with long lines: for Thrasher’s fries, for Paul Revere’s Smorgasbord and its “Delmarvalous” starch-based products, for caramel popcorn and Playboy-bunny henna tattoos.

As the sun finally sets, a cover band marks the occasion with a way-too-energetic version of Santana’s “Smooth.”

By 9 p.m., the last of the bathers have migrated from the sand to the boardwalk. They crook their feet under tiny shower heads to clean the last of the sand from their feet. Transplanted palm trees wilt next to the showers.

Little kids are the first to vacate the boardwalk. They pass bigger kids making out in the public parking lot and then cram into minivans. They still have sand between their toes.

At the Pier, the carnival barkers start to pack up

their stands. A small young woman with a weathered face stops trying to blow up balloons to be slaughtered by darts. Another woman gathers up all the lost

whiffle balls.

Girls, a lot of girls, ogle 23-year-old French Canadian buskers Francis Bonneau and Yoan Cyr. They have just strummed their last chord on their nylon-stringed guitar and ended their last drum fill on their little snare. Cyr will count up the singles and put away the phone card he uses as a pick.

The girls giggle up to them: “We’re big fans,” they say. They have their picture taken with the French Canadians. The musicians look as if they’ve never had their picture taken with aggressively cheery 13-year-old girls. They have to play another set in 15 minutes. They have already given Ocean City at least two sets of irony-free oldies, such as “Please Please Please” and “La Bamba.” They lament that their groupies are all underage.

The girls drift away, glancing back at the French Canadians.

Maybe they’ll smoke their first strawberry- or coconut-flavored cigarette, sold at the smoke shop just off the boardwalk. Or maybe they’ll get pressured into going on an insanely rickety ride.

Just down the strip, about midnight, the only things making any noise are Playland and the Funcade. A couple of teenage boys crowd around the drum simulator “Drumscape.” They watch as one skinny friend lays down the tightest of simulated beats. Another buddy freestyles the following: “Do it in the ass! Do it in the mouth! I don’t care as long as she shouts!”

The night has set on Ocean City even if the neon doesn’t. The Sun Tan Motel goes quiet. And the Carousel hotel, too. The minigolf courses cut off the Kool-Aid-colored lava flow and put the gigantic plastic Paul Bunyan to sleep.

But everyone’s still awake in Dewey Beach, just up the Coastal Highway.

A drunk woman and her beach boyfriend stumble toward the lines at Grotto Pizza, just after last call. “Your place? Your place fucking sucks,” she tells him.

Drunk men still have a good hour to lure women up to their motel balconies with the promise of light beer. And the men stuck stumbling below try to eke out a second, last look from the women as they pass. A lot of eye pong.

“What?” they ask. “What?” being the universally approved Dewey Beach come-on.

“What?” the girls say back and keep walking.

The last Grotto Pizza serves its last slice, and the girls at the cash registers close up for the night. These are the girls who came all the way from Russia for this long summer. They ride home on cheap bikes, gliding soft and easy on the wrong side of the highway. There are maybe four, five, six of them, still in their tucked-in Grotto uniforms peddling above their seats—young and beautiful and finally without pizzas. They turn off the Coastal Highway and race out of sight toward the shore. CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.