Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog…

I’m going to take a little break from my England blogging to post about a more recent excursion. Last Saturday was my 52nd birthday and Mr. Kim and The Child decided to do it up in style!

While I have been to some beautiful beaches in my life – Bermuda, Key West, California, the Bahamas, the Outer Banks – I have to abashedly admit that my favorite is still the beach I grew up going to: Ocean City, Maryland. I love the ticky-tackiness of the place. I love the boardwalk, the junk food, the souvenir shops, the carnival rides, etc. The sounds of the waves fighting with the loud music, the vying aromas of funnel cakes and French fries, the contrasting beauty of neon and endless sand. I love the variety and paradox. Being me, I also love that there are food stands that have sold only one or two items in their almost 100 year history. I love all of the hotels from the 1950’s with their Vegas-esque names. And I love staying right down in the middle of it all! As a kid, we mostly stayed farther up the strip – sometimes as far as Rehoboth, Delaware (a smaller, quieter community north of OC) as it was more family friendly in those days. Or, when I was a teenager, we had a place on Chincoteague Island and went over to OC for the day. This weekend, our hotel was at 1st and Philadelphia streets – a couple of blocks up from the beginning of the boardwalk.

As you can see, they chose well for my birthday celebration. We arrived late on Friday night and took a short walk down the boardwalk and out to the surf – just a taste as it was late even by the open-til-all-hours standards of OC.

Saturday morning, I let them sleep and slipped out early for a walk. Mr. Kim felt bad later that I’d been alone, but I told him that it was actually wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a solitary walk around there.

I finally got hungry and went and woke them up and forced them out of bed. We got a quick breakfast and hit the beach:

See how close we are to the action:

We fried in the sun for a few hours (The Child and I are practically albinos) and then grabbed some lunch. It is a truism that all food tastes good outdoors. And it is also one that foods from one’s childhood hold a special place for us. I know that I have tastebuds that just adore the not-so-great pizza I grew up eating. But there is a place in OC that even newcomers are stunned by. That would be Thrasher’s French Fries:

They have been open since 1929 and they sell French fries. No burgers, no hot dogs. And they offer two things to go with your fries: salt and vinegar. That’s it. If you want catsup with your fries, you have to go steal it from some other place. As a matter of fact the place around the corner from Thrasher’s has a funny sign up about that very thing:

Actually, I love catsup on fries. I dip and squiggle with the best of them most other places, but catsup on Thrasher’s fries is just wrong. I remember when Momma and I first met Ted and his girls (newly arrived from England), we laughed at them for putting vinegar on their fish and chips. How weird! How foreign. Didn’t they know what catsup and tartar sauce were for? Then we all went to OC together and they saw us sprinkling vinegar all over our fries. “What is THAT that you are putting on your chips?” they asked. “Um…” we replied. And never looked back – it was vinegar with fish and chips from then on out.

The best part of being a Thrasher’s aficionado is introducing new folks to them. The first time Mr. Kim and I went to OC, I insisted that we drop our bags at the hotel and RACE to Thrasher’s. He suggested that since it was after 11pm, they were probably closed. I told him to not be a fool and to shake a leg. We speedwalked the one mile down the boardwalk (I am a big girl and we big girls do NOT speedwalk), Mr. Kim pointing out all of the places that sold ‘Boardwalk Fries’ and me sneering at his naiveté. He balked again at the long LONG line. I held fast and waited. His face when he tasted his first salty-vinegary-crisp outside-tender potato-y inside Thrasher's was indescribable. Astonishment, joy, avarice and greed. I barely got enough for myself!

We actually met an adorable little guy who was obviously having his first Thrasher’s experience and not caring for it one bit! The Child was sitting next to him on a bench and we were all eating fries. She asked him if they were good and he said “NO!” He said they tasted like strawberry and vanilla. They don’t, of course, but he was probably four years old and trying to explain to her that these fries were NOT what he was accustomed to.

When I was a kid, lunch was always at Thrasher’s corner. One adult would stand in the fry line and the other would go around the corner to stand in the fried chicken and corn on the cob line at the place next door and the kids would grab a table. Thrasher’s doesn’t have tables, so if you wanted to sit, you kind of had to get chicken and corn. Everyone did it. The funny thing is, is how GOOD the chicken and corn was. It certainly didn’t have to be. We all would have gladly eaten a McDonald’s burger just to be able to sit in the shade and enjoy our fries. But the chicken was amazingly crisp and tender and juicy and the corn was fabulous. [An aside: as much as fried chicken is considered a SOUTHERN dish, the best fried chicken that I’ve ever had has been in two not very southern states – Indiana and Maryland. Odd.] The chicken place is gone, but there is a good pit beef place. Lunch:

Back to the beach to finish crisping up and then to the hotel for a dip in the pool. I love the ocean, but like to finish up with a refreshing pool swim.

My perfect day at the beach is this:
Back to the room for a shower and a nap
Hit the boardwalk for the rest of the evening

I didn’t get the nap, but did manage a shower.

Walking down the boardwalk in OC really is a stroll down memory lane. So many of the stores and sites and food stands are the same as when I was a little girl:

One of my favorite places when I was a little girl was Trimper’s Rides at the end of the boardwalk. They have an outside area with all the regular rides:

But what is really special, magical to the little girl in me is the inside area of Trimper’s. This area is for children. The centerpiece is a beautiful carousel from 1912:

It is one of the most gorgeous carousels I’ve ever seen and the animals are positively fantastical:

The large carousel is the one inside ride that adults and children can ride, but the rest of the rides are all for the little folk, including this beauty:

This Lilliputian carousel, sized for the tiny, was dates from the 1920’s and is utterly charming.

There is even a calliope:

The rides are all vintage and entrancing:

This, though, is possibly the most charming item in the whole place:

The lovely lady on top of the antique ticket booth presided over so many of my favorite childhood memories. Trimper’s was THE goal of all my childhood trips to OC and this lady was the siren who lured me to the shivery pleasures of scary rides, the haunted house and the mirror maze.

It was time for dinner – Thrashers again and hamburgers this time. My peeps:

Replete with fatty, carby goodness.

Off to the pier to wander with all sorts of folks. Lots of weirdos – OC is great for oddball watching. The pier in OC is loaded with all of your basic carnival rides and games, complete with an enormous assortment of hucksters, cheats, pickpockets and clean cut, polite international students working for the summer. It’s loud and fragrant and the lights are INTENSE. Wonderful place:

My girl and me:

We wandered (not too far – yay!) back to the hotel – full, sleepy and ready for bed and some AC!

Sunday was much quieter. We had breakfast – another BIG, full breakfast. It’s a funny thing - but at the beach, when I’m getting ready to spend the day in unbearable heat and scorching sun, I should be craving a light refreshing breakfast. I should want fruit and juice and maybe cold cereal or a doughnut. Not me. I’m ready for the works – bacon, eggs, creamed chipped beef on toast (especially creamed chipped beef on toast!).

We wandered around a little more and admitted to one another that we just couldn’t face riding home in the car after another hot day on the beach. So we did a little shopping, had one last box of Dolle’s caramel corn, fed all of our leftovers to the seagulls (a family tradition) and headed out.

The drive home was full of talk and singing and eating (of course). We stopped for lunch on the road at a church that was having a pit beef sandwich fund raiser. Gorgeous sandwiches, but I was really hoping for some of that Maryland men’s club BBQ chicken. Anyone who has spent any weekends in Maryland knows exactly what I’m talking about. The Kiwanis, the Moose, the Elks, etc. raise money by selling BBQ chicken. You can smell them miles away. They set up these huge screens over charcoal and baste the chicken with, as best as I can figure, liquid crack. It is literally the BEST grilled chicken I’ve ever tasted. But we didn’t get one single whiff, so, Catholic pit beef it was.

We were sad to see that a MD institution seemed to be no more. This was sitting by itself in front of an empty lot:

Named Wall’s Bakery, but called the Wigwam by one and all, it was one of the highlights of a road trip down US 301. Fabulous cookies, cream horns, Napoleons and especially the largest, most delicious éclairs ever. Happily, I did some research at home and discovered that they have moved, not closed. But seriously, Wall family – could you put up a ‘Moved to…” sign instead of giving everyone a heart attack?

We stopped for dinner at Captain Billy’s in Popes Creek. Crabs, peel and eat shrimp (we actually heard some crazy lady berating the teenage waiter for telling her that she had to peel her own shrimp!!!), fabulous oyster stew. All enjoyed at sunset beside the Potomac River:

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday. Thank you so much to my sweet family for thinking of it and making it happen for me.


  1. Wow, what a great time you all had. I am so jealous and my mouth is watering with the wonderful descriptions of the OC food! You are a true blog queen! Glad you got to get away. Take care and tell everyone hey. Love you guys!

  2. Oh, we DEFINITELY have to do OC together sometime! Y'all will LOVE it!