(Oct. 5, 2018) The difference between Atlantic City, New Jersey and Ocean City last weekend was the Jersey shore got a well-behaved H2O International car show and Ocean City got the people who forced it to flee to that venue.
From last Thursday to Sunday, Ocean City was flooded with the modified small cars that never were part of H2Oi in the 19 years the event was staged locally, but showed up at the same time and gave it a big black eye because of their owners’ rowdy and dangerous behavior.
In a social media-inspired protest designed, ostensibly, to defy Ocean City’s deployment last year of the unwelcome mat, the H2O pretenders brought more of the same this year, but were met by the strongest law enforcement effort yet to muzzle the anticipated bad conduct.
Police, aided by the new Special Event Zone law that lowered the speed limit to 30 mph and raised fines for violators, set a five-year record in tickets written over the four-day weekend, while warnings were down significantly.
The Ocean City Police Department, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Police, Natural Resources Police and other agencies stood ‘round-the-clock watch for four days and issued 1,280 traffic citations as compared to the previous high of 858 last year, according to preliminary data supplied by the OCPD.
Total arrests were up by one over last year, with 79 people taken into custody last weekend. Although that just nudged past the 2017 numbers, arrests last year reflected the beginning of the tougher stance by law enforcement and were more than 40 percent higher than they were year before.
The number of accidents, however, fell from 28 last year to 16 this year, even though two of them, as seen in videos on social media, were on the extreme side.
One showed an out-of-control Mustang going airborne after hitting the Coastal Highway median and landing upside down on the other side of the road. The other near-disaster involved a driver who lost control of his car when he attempted to spin out while making a U-turn and plowed up onto the sidewalk next to a bus stop.
On the upside of the stricter enforcement effort, car-related alcohol citations dropped to zero, no serious criminal incidents occurred, and calls for service — initiated by the police themselves and citizen complaints — declined from 2,735 in 2017 to 2,140.
But despite what might be viewed as a successful operation statistically, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro, sees it differently.
“Despite the event moving to another location, we continued to see disorderly and disruptive behavior similar to previous years,” he said.
“Moving forward, we will take a close look at the weekend and evaluate what changes need to be made to help us in the future, including future attempts to bolster the Special Event Zone legislation even more.”
He will issue a final report on the multi-agency exercise when the Ocean City Police Commission convenes next Wednesday.
In the meantime, Ocean Pines resident Jay Shoup, the organizer of the real H2O International event, said the 20th edition of his car congregation saw no wild antics in the two days it spent at its new location.
“Atlantic City loved us, the Atlantic City Police Department loved us, and the Showboat hotel loved us,” Shoup said. The Boardwalk hotel especially so, he said, since his participants took all its 900 rooms for the two-day stay.
Acknowledging that attendance at his rally was down slightly from last year, when local criticism of the entire tuner car armada reached outrage level, Shoup said the move was worth it in one major respect: “We got rid of the riff-raff.”
Having his group lumped in with the “riff-raff” continues to aggravate Shoup, who has protested for years that the show-offs and scofflaws who appeared concurrently with his event never were a part of it.
Even though last weekend’s vehicular madness was labeled an “unsanctioned H2Oi” event, the real H2O is restricted to water-cooled Audis and Volkswagens (the Beetle was air-cooled, and the first water-cooled VW didn’t appear until 1970).
Most of the cars on Coastal Highway last weekend were modified “JDM” cars — Japanese Domestic Market — Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Subarus, and Nissans — popularized in movies such as “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
(The “drift” is when a driver takes a turn at high rpms and oversteers to control the car while the wheels spin. Sometimes it works; sometimes the car flies over the median and lands upside down in the highway).
From a commercial standpoint, the modified car fans had little economic impact, according to Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant-Association. She said some of the less expensive eateries might have seen a boost in business, while the effect on the lodging industry was insignificant. Her take on the crowd was that many of its members preferred Airbnb-type rentals.
Based on demoflush reports, the size of the four-day crowd was down from previous years, and much lower than what it was in 2016. Even though demoflush is not considered a highly accurate population indicator, the percentages of change between recent years is relatively valid.
The biggest decline showed last weekend’s resort population was 33 percent smaller than it was in 2016, and 20 percent less than 2015. Crowd size was down not quite 6 percent from last year, and about 1 percent off from 2014.