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Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Connecticut Yankee in Ocean City's Court

“A Connecticut Yankee in Ocean City’s Court”
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved. 4/19/10   
Ocean City, MD – It was mid-April -- Spring Break time in Connecticut -- and my school-aged boys and I were ragged. Some well-earned fun in the sun was called for. A brochure from the Holiday Inn Suites in Ocean City, Maryland seemed to offer the perfect panacea. Titled “Destination Vacation” and full of visual eye candy, a reasonable pre-season rate and enticing phrases like “Spacious” and “Luxury”, it tipped our hand. We booked a 3-night stay and set off at sunrise on a fine Thursday morning.

The five-hour trek down, broken up by a roadside stop for delectable chicken kabobs at Balan’s Smoked BBQ in New Castle, DE, went quickly enough and soon we were inching down the Coastal Highway to the hotel at 17th Street and Baltimore Avenue. Our suite, on the hotel’s top floor with separate rooms for the boys and me, a full kitchen, large bathroom with Jacuzzi tub, dual TVs and a three-direction oceanfront view, was everything promised and more.

The adjacent beach was our first order of business and we plunked down near Becca, a raven-haired lass visiting from California. She was also on her Spring Break and visiting her welder husband who was here on a contract job. We chatted about a memoir-style book she was reading while gentle waves lapped at the shore. Nearby, the boys tossed a Frisbee back and forth and scrambled around in the sand. It was a promising vacation start.

Pursuing a tip from the front desk, we b-lined to the Sunset Grille on the flip side of the Route 50 bridge spanning Isle of Wight Bay. It was Happy Hour and the outdoor bar, Teasers, hummed with activity and reggae tunes. Head Teaser, Megan the bartender, guided me to cheap $2 Yuenglings and a value-packed Seafood Feast offer. The latter included a selection of three courses all for an astounding $11 price tag. I opted for crab & corn chowder, shrimp fra diablo on grilled artisan bread and a poppy seed crusted Atlantic salmon.

The crowd around us was a mix of locals and out-of-towners, like American-bred Wayne and his coffee brown Costa Rican wife Isabella. They were enjoying Miller Lites and told me how they met in her native country where he operates a sport fishing boat. I figured he felt right at home at this establishment, which was adorned with dozens of photos of fishing excursions, boats with names like “Hammer Time” and “Reel Addiction” and trophy catches like mako, blue sharks and tuna.

Back over the bridge and up the C.H., Dumser’s old-style burger and ice cream shop spooned out dessert: a soft serve cone, shake and sundae. From this vantage point, we eyeballed adjacent Seacrets, a Jamaican-style sand bar/restaurant and flagged it as a point of later visitation.

Parking the boys in the room, I ventured to Pickle’s Pub. Milling about was a local crowd, about 90% guys and fisherman types all with almost identical “uniforms”: hat with fishing logo, polo shirt of varying color, sunburn, PBR in hand. It was open mic night and some hacks had the stage. I looked on as heaped plates of bar food motored from grill to hungry yaps, grizzled guys fist pumped to “Cat Scratch Fever”, shots in wee plastic cups were tossed back and some awkward, highly amusing dancing ensued.

Transferring to the earlier-visited Seacrets, I encountered at the sand bar Pittsburgh-produced Lauren, 23, and pal Jenna, 24. These brunettes, professionals by day, were here to blow off steam. They were a potpourri of ethnicities between them including Croat, Scotch, German and Czech and had dads who were home winemakers. “We are so multi-dimensional, it’s ridiculous,” they boasted while telling me about a self-hatched drink concoction they called a “Peach Bellini Winerita”: fresh squeezed peach juice, champagne, chardonnay and ice. We enjoyed a couple rounds of cheapie Coors Lights while Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” played in the background. We also admired bottle bottoms that were embedded in the bar’s cement foundation, which glowed with different colors. The warmth these emitted attracted the girls; I admired the design – classic opposite Mars vs. Venus perspectives.

As they drifted off to join a “pants on the ground” crowd that had gathered to enjoy DJ Wax on the dance floor in the adjacent wing, I sauntered over to Katie, a slim, petite Asian woman who was amongst a group of friends. A Miller-Coors marketing rep based in Baltimore, she used to handle Ocean City accounts and was having a little reunion with her old bosses and co-workers. While marketing was her way of paying bills, her passion was free-hand drawing, especially people portraits, and she wished to pursue this interest. I thought about Katie’s as-yet unfulfilled dream as I returned to the hotel, perchance to do some of my own dreaming. It was a good first day away.

The dominating morning news was about a volcano in Iceland that was pumping into the air a huge plume of ash that was drifting across Europe, shutting down airports and grounding flights. I was glad to have found a great getaway that didn’t require air travel or that I don protective respiratory equipment!

We breakfasted at the hotel’s Coral Reef Café enjoying fare like pancakes and eggs. As the day was a bit overcast, we walked off our food strolling along the ocean’s leading edge plucking up a wide variety of shells including clams, snails, oysters, mussels and scallops. Mid-walk, we encountered Dale from near Allentown, PA. He was poking along with his young daughter, whom he referred to as “our shell collector.” I showed her a seahorse carcass I had found, which she thought was cool.

Dale claimed to be a contractor, which he described as “stressful”, and this short getaway was helping him relax. “The Poconos are right in our backyard,” he said, and it would have been easy for him to go there, but his daughter likes the ocean.

Beach walking morphed into plodding along the boardwalk that divides the beach from the strip of waterfront hotels and retail shops. In a pizza shop at the Grand Hotel, a striking-looking auburn-haired woman was making pies. The dough was obviously fresh and she kneaded it with her long narrow fingers. When I detected an accent and asked her about her heritage, she said, “I’m Armenian.” Then she added, pointing at co-workers, “He’s from Turkey… he’s from Moravia. You’re going to see a lot of people from many different countries during the coming months here.”

We returned to the beach, where my 10-year-old raced around by the water, playing tag with it. He then dug a big hole and lined it with a hotel towel – a pseudo bomb shelter. He also planted five dried bamboo stalks by the water and watched the sea wash in and recede around them. Simple amusements courtesy of Mother Nature!

Midday rolled around and intestinal nudges told us to go hustle food. Subway, adjacent to our hotel, called. Juliana, the Argentine counter girl, was only too glad to accommodate. Subs secured, we noshed on the beach then the boys – the aforementioned tenner Phil and 14-year-old Evan – went for another trot down the shore. They were best of pals on this trip, tossed sand chunks, and wrestled with each other as they went. I realized they only had about 3 ½ years left together before my elder son would be headed off to college. This trip would be a lasting, cherished memory.

The beach meter expired, showers followed and a Happy Hour search ensued. Up and down the C.H. we cruised. Seacrets? No. Macky’s? Not open. La Hacienda? Just opening. We came all the way back down to the point by the Route 50 bridge, parked and continued our quest. O.C. Frogs? A little warm. Harrison’s Harbor Watch? Wasn’t doing the trick.

We drifted back up the boardwalk past pizza stands and t-shirt shops, stumbling on Davey Jones’ Locker Room, boasting a second floor aerie affording a boardwalk birdseye on one side and distant ocean view on the other. Best of all, it featured the green-eyed Kim, a waitress extraordinaire, both the daughter of a Mike and mom of a Mike. I figured that, with the common thread of names between Kim and me, it was karma for us to roost here.

There was another connection, writing related: Manager L.B.’s (Lawrence Bell Steele IV of the Charleston, SC Steeles) mother Nancy Lynch (maiden name) is writer/author of “Vietnam Mailbag”. The book features letter excerpts from servicemen on tour in Nam from 1968-1972. An informative pamphlet at the bar gave a full topline.

Kim was, unfortunately, checking out for the day, but not before I persuaded her to join me in a shot of her choice: Lemon Drop (Ketel One vodka, sugar and lemon). It went down easy.

As the crowd was sparse here, the boys and I decided to help the bar recruit revelers. As such, we banged on the picture window overlooking the boardwalk and pointed to my Yuengling pint to attract attention. In this way, we were initially successful in pulling at least eight people.

The first pair was brunette Blythe (not “Blith” as some mistakenly call her) and longhaired boyfriend Willie, of Scotch descent, both from Poolesville, MD. Set #2 were two couples, one of which were parents of one Katelyn Rushe, a Robert Morris University student and author of “Deer Lake” about a hunting trip gone wrong and in which the deer become the hunters.

Pulling up the tail end was Charlie and Brenda from Dundalk near Baltimore, who were down in OC for the week. Brenda has been coming here for the past 54 years and recalled staying in a place as a youngster that was $150 per week and included three meals a day! Between them, they had 10 grandchildren and a great grandson. Charlie, a retired GM mechanic, calls Brenda “the best woman in the world”, has decided that “If I ever get a tattoo I’ll get a ‘W’ on each cheek so that when I bend over it’ll spell ‘WoW’” and calls himself “the luckiest son of a bitch to sh** between two shoes” for surviving a tour of Vietnam.

As I chatted with this entourage and gratefully accepted the beers they sent my way, the boys went up the boardwalk to Playland arcade, scoring a trove of booty that included a plastic jumping frog, purple rabbit’s foot, helicopter thingy and micro projector.

I returned the boys to the hotel again, hopped in my jalopy and headed uptown, hearing a Hooters radio spot promoting the 123rd St. and Bayside location. Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn in and soon challenging diminutive blonde hostess Rachel to Hula Hoop. After a couple of gyrations, she passed me along to the accommodating Trish, who sent in a Yuengling mach schnell. While I made a dent in it, I gazed upon this brilliant franchise with its wide range of branded merchandise from calendars and t-shirts to glassware and even golf bags. The Mid-Atlantic Hooter girl uniform appeared to be black with tank tops toting the adage “Having Fun in the Sun”.

Twenty-year-old Trish, an accidental Steelers fan, sidled over and sat a bit, showing me the tattoos on the underside of her wrists – on one, a lily, dedicated to the elder sister that raised her; on the other, a rosary, in tribute to her grandmother who taught her how to say the rosary. Trish’s dream was to become a wildlife biologist and work at a zoo. “I really want a pet panda. I would name it Danger. If I had a tiger, I would name it Cuddles.”

My next stop-in was Kirby’s Pub, though just to use the restroom, labeled Irish Pointer (the Ladies’ Room was labeled Irish Sitter). I was lured to Seacrets again, figuring that the featured live band would draw a crowd with which I would better mesh. I fell in with Terry, 45, and Connie, 46, from Beaver and Midland, PA, respectively. We joined the crowd in the packed Marley Dance Hall to shuffle our feet to ‘80s tunes. Blonde Terry, in particular, kicked up her heels while Connie played den mom and held our drinks. Overhead, confetti rained down at intervals, a helium-inflated ball bounced about, and balloons dropped, getting stomped underfoot. The good vibe here carried me back to the hotel.

Rain during the night dotted the beach with pockmarks and stirred up the ocean, but the forecast for the day called for “ample” sunshine. For now, though, the skies would be streaked grayish-blue like the coloring I had seen on many a clamshell.

There was a collective hankering for pancakes that would not be quelled, so after performing our morning ablutions, we ventured out to Happy Jack at 26th Street and Coastal Highway. The facility’s sign features the restaurant’s namesake – a kooky jester – lying on his back with legs straight up in the air and a plate with a tall stack of pancakes balanced on his feet. Jokers that we often are, the come-on had appeal.

“We’re here to get happy. Can you help us do that?” I announced to the hostess, who oddly resembled last night’s Hooter’s receptionist in size and personality – but sans Hula Hoop!

“Yes, we certainly can,” she assured me.

“Money-back guarantee?” I chided, like Happy Jack may have joked.

She led us to a table in this family-style joint, which had a warm feeling to it like waffles just out of a waffle maker. Slender, café-au-lait skinned Brie became our Purveyor of Happy, quickly shuttled juices and took our orders. While these were accommodated, we took a gander at the wall décor. In one corner, a BEER 5-cents sign, horse yoke and bugle; near the menu/condiment station, “Head to the Beach”, “Home Is Where the Beach Is” and “Our Beach House” signs; on another wall old signs for Butter (39 cents) and Eggs (27 cents) and Ward’s TIP-TOP bread.

The crowd here was mixed – seniors, young sweats-clad couples, parents with their offspring, and some quite heavyset folks that looked like they enjoyed the free buffet circuit.

Evan ordered Belgian waffles – Frisbee disks topped with strawberries. Brie, who spoke with a smooth creamy accent like the related cheese, toted a can of whipped cream and offered it up to Evan.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” I asked her, knowing Evan’s penchant to use the topping excessively.

“Should I stay?” Brie asked, smiling.

“I think it would be best,” I replied.

To our surprise, or perhaps because we were supervising, Evan created a conservative pod.

As we dug into our meals, a reunion sparked near us between two friends that hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. They exchanged hugs, life highlights and cell phone numbers, “happy” to see each other.

Brie noticed Phil’s empty plate – “Can I take this outcha way?” Evan and I had not made as much progress. “I think we’re getting full,” I explained. She knew what I meant, saying, “the food has a way of getting inside and swelling up.”

When we finally could not put away any more, Brie brought us – or rather 10-year-old Phil – the bill.

“Here’s your check,” she said to him. “You can pay it up front. If you don’t have the money, you can go in the kitchen and work it off.” Phil got the joke and smiled in response.

As I paid up front, the cashier let me know that both Brie’s (or Brianna more formally) sister and father work here and that, in fact, much of the staff is related. “One server’s been here 22 years,” she noted. “This must be a happy place to work,” I concluded.

Next stop: Beer. Although only 10am, Anthony’s Beer, Wine & Deli at 33rd and Coastal had its door thrown wide open ready to satisfy thirsts.

“I need some Natty’s,” I said to the guy manning the front register, referring to the Baltimore-bred National Bohemian brand. My Northeast friends and I were fans and it would be inappropo of me to visit Maryland and not carry back Natty Boh’s. The clerk pulled three cases, priced at $14.99 per. As I was paying, I mentioned our brand worship and the owner pulled some “merch” from the archives – a Natty Boh “Cyclops” pin and two mini bottle keychain/openers. We toted this booty to the trunk of my large sedan. “Whoa, that’s a huge trunk,” the guy remarked. “You could put bodies in there.” I mentioned my aim to fit it with a liner, fill it with water and affect a hot tub in which to sit. “Really? That’s cool!” he said, envisioning it.

We moved up the way sort of aimlessly until Phil spotted a sign: INDOOR GOLF. As there was still a gray, chilly tinge to the day, it seemed like a worthwhile activity to pursue. Old Pro Golf was the facility and it had both an indoor sea-themed course and an outdoor Jurassic Park-like set-up. We began indoors, putting through a submarine, dodging a giant green eel, eluding a deep-sea diver and ultimately chipping a ball into the gob of a man-eating oyster to score a free game. We used the credit to play the outdoor course, fending off cavemen, avoiding Brontos and veering past Velociraptors. There was even a large volcano that reminded us of the Icelandic cone that had been pumping out ash and fouling flight plans over Europe. When the smoke had cleared, Evan had defeated Phil and me both rounds.

It was beach time finally and we trekked down. To combat some blustery winds kicking up sand, the three of us each built and lined our own foxholes. Like groundhogs, we peered around, notably spying an adult sand project in action at the hands of three women and their male construction supervisor: Erin, Emily, Katey and Emily’s brother Matthew, all late 20-somethings. The girls are former co-workers from a Wal-Mart in Brookings, South Dakota, and live near each other in that state. They had flown down to Baltimore, where Matt had met them, and initially toured D.C. Then Matt, a Bethesda, MD, resident, surprised them and brought them down here for a two-night stay at the Quality Inn, next door to our hotel.

Their sand project: a pirate ship. To fully complete the effect, Erin and Emily walked over to a nearby gift shop and hornswaggled a Jolly Roger and a pirate dog stuffed animal. We lashed the flag to a couple wooden stakes, secured with tightly twisted plastic bags and some old wire. A series of photos ensued before they abandoned ship and returned to port, to scheme a later Happy Hour excursion.

Down the beach, we noticed four grizzled surfers tackling the waves. They would straddle their boards, wait patiently for a swell, paddle into it, stand and ride it as far along as they could, collapsing back into the surf, per chance to ride again.

The dinner hour approached and we set out on foot on the boardwalk headed downtown. As we went, we saw a mix of beachgoers wrapping up, late day sunners just reporting for duty, cyclists, dog walkers and baby strollers. We even saw a couple of surfers carrying their boards and asked, “Caught some curls?” The reply: “Rode some waves anyhow.”

At 6th Street, we came upon a henna tattooist and I decided to go for this temporary body art. From a catalog, I chose an image of a wolf howling at a crescent moon and star then released myself into the capable hands of Kimbel Fay, a dreamy brunette who cautioned, “If you wiggle, I will squiggle.”

Several people stopped to observe the process as she recreated the design on the back of my left hand. The ink would be bubbled at first, dry over the course of an hour then flake off, leaving an ink imprint that could last as long as two weeks if left fairly undisturbed. When she’d completed her work, the Wisconsin-bred mom (and grandmom) said, “If you like it, remember I’m working for tips. If you don’t like it, don’t tell anyone where you got it.” Fair enough I said tossing a few dollars into a bucket and continuing on down the way.

The boardwalk began to take on a San Diego-like air with a balloon animal maker, a pair of guitarists working for tips and some old hippies. Then we came to the most curious building, the Ocean Gallery. Every bit of exterior space on the place was covered with an odd sign, bit of artwork, strange object, etc. The building itself was a work of art. Parked beside it on the side street was also a Batmobile, to which was attached a whole other set of bric-a-brac and “Please Touch” signage.

Inquiring within, I met one of the more unique and enthusiastic people I’ve ever encountered, owner Joe Kro-Art. Calling himself the “P.T. Barnum of Fine Art” after discovering many similarities as a showman and man between himself and the legend, Joe founded Ocean City’s only recycled building and his business in the 1960s after a period of time selling paintings on the boardwalk. Now this original location (and eight other spin-offs) enjoys global attention attracting press, celebrities and tourists. Joe’s lifelong philosophy is simple: “Fine art is fun and should be enjoyed. No barriers… it's what art should be.”

Recognized as a visionary, Joe maintains between 30,000 and 40,000 individual pieces of art, which range from the most simple of posters to the most elaborate fine paintings. There is literally something for every taste, and this location, with its three levels of inventory, was a great demonstration of this. It seemed only appropriate to buy a print depicting the gallery and have Joe autograph it to memorialize our meeting. The print was particularly appropriate as he and the rest of the “Ocean Gallery Family” were integrated into the piece. The boys, meanwhile, bought their own keepsakes – a Yellow Submarine Beatles poster and a Bob Marley poster.

Tony’s Pizza, billed as “The Best on the Boardwalk since 1962”, at the corner of North Division, offered up some fine-looking pies and pulled us close. Limber waitresses in red polo tops and tight short shorts, one of who, Carmen, became our waitress, were also a lure. While serving us a large pizza and mozzarella sticks, she told us she was from Romania, professed to know Spanish and taught us a couple of words in her native tongue. Further chat revealed that she was a journalism student in college and came to the U.S. with a work and travel program. About the large number of foreign-born residents in the area, she reasoned, “Why I’m tinking dey’re here: economical, school… marry, fall in love.” On a whim, I had her and her waitress pals – Johanny, Carissa, Katie and Zoe -- line up like a chorus group for a photo, dubbing the team “The Rockettes of Pizza.”

Temps had dropped and a blustery wind had blown up when we stepped back out on the boardwalk, passing Joe at Ocean Gallery who was closing up. He spotted the Tony’s Pizza box I was carrying and remarked, “Tony’s Pizza! You’re doing it all,” then added, “Tony and I started out together.” I would have liked to have pursued that info but I had to catch up to my hurrying boys and find warmth.

Entering the lobby at the Holiday Inn, I noticed some commotion at the pool, signaling Kids At Play, and went and grabbed Phil to take a plunge. He blended in merrily with the dozen or so kids swimming and splashing about. Meanwhile, I took up residence at the adjacent Coral Reef Café bar, with Adults At Play. A young woman beside me, an area resident, was socializing with her dad and friends, who had spent the day golfing at a course called Bayside just over the border in Delaware. In contrast, she’d spent the day schlepping to Annapolis, to return a pair of shoes.

Cassie called her dad (Bill) and company’s excursion their “Man Trip”. Bill was just one of 14-16 men that were participating in the weekend, of which quality dinners were also a part. The group included regular guys with names like Frankie, Brian, Chris and Mac, who were sucking back brews, watching sports and telling Man Stories. “I come for the fun of it,” said one. “The wind burn, sun burn…” We left them at this 19th hole and retired for the evening.

I arose with the sun, a beautiful orange ball inching into a virtually cloudless sky. The day, our last in O.C., looked like it would be a good one. Following some “stuff” organizing, we sedan’ed down the Walk to the alley by Ocean Gallery, vexing for a moment with a pay-to-park system until an adjacent bike shop manager just opening up informed us that we didn’t have to start paying until 9. “It’s in the fine print,” he said. We thanked him and went around the corner to The Dough Roller, a Pizza & Pancakes purveyor.

An odd combo (pizza and pancakes), you think at first glance, but both products require base ingredients like flour, and the name also speaks to the restaurant’s ability to provide both breakfast and dinner. Chelsea, a brunette with hazel eyes as colorful as the surrounding sea and warm smile that could melt butter over a short stack of pancakes, greeted us at the entrance and plopped us down in a sunny window-side booth.

Our meals came in a blink of an eye – cinnamon and raisin French toast, Hawaiian pancakes and your standard short stack (from the kids’ menu) for Phil. Chelsea (“like Chelsea Lately” she said, “but without the vodka,” I added), 21, lives in Willards, about a half hour’s drive away. She admitted to having been out at a bar called Station 7 last night and was a little dazed as a result. “I don’t feel hungover so much as still drunk!”

Chelsea introduced me to her younger sister Tay, 17, a fellow waitress. They said things are usually busier here but that the “Pork at the Park” Fest at Winter Place in Salisbury may be drawing people away.

I noticed Chelsea had a tongue stud. “I have a lip ring, too, but they don’t let me wear it.” I also noticed a pendant around her neck, with a phrase on it that seemed to sum up this moment perfectly: “One person can make a difference… and that person is you.”

It seemed only just that we rent a bike from the bike shop guy we encountered earlier. Todd, at Jo’s Bikes, Gifts & Collectibles, greeted us in overalls he’d donned to help bear the chill, which had continued from last night into this morning. The boys and I set off exploring, stopping first to eye a stately installation at North Division that was dedicated to the firefighters of the world, in particular the 343 that lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001.

On the wall in the alley at Caroline Street there were blow-ups of old postcards depicting whimsical scenes like a voluptuous female beachgoer faking distress to capture the attention of a hunky lifeguard. The image was captioned, “Just a mere maid looking for a lifeguard!” We found the same type of images a street over, but showing historical glimpses of the boardwalk – Victorian homes where hotels now sit, people strolling with sun parasols and beachgoers in full “bathing costumes.”

The boys sucked me into the Playland arcade to game play. Camilla, an engaging senior citizen who pronounced her name “CAH-muh-la” (with the emphasis on the first syllable unlike Prince Charles’ beau), served up ten dollars in quarters using a meat grinder-like device wherein each pump of the handle delivers a set of four. I remarked that the machine was cool, to which she said, “Sometimes the old things work better… and they don’t break.” Reading “Lady Killer” by Lisa Scottoline, Camilla called herself an Eastern Shore girl and had certain opinions about the country’s current leadership and society. “There are too many crooks, too much greed. Everyone wants to be a millionaire, and they want me to live on $100 a month! People could live well if the charitable money was spent right.” She introduced me to Pica (pronounced “peeka”), her Shih Tzu dog named after an Ecuadorian woman she met on the boardwalk, then summed up, “I’m a friendly person. I treat people like I would like to be treated… I would like to show people our “Land of Pleasant Living.”

There was still a chill in the air, Dunkin’ Donuts called and a tall, nimble-fingered Asian counter girl was there to rescue me. “Light and sweet,” I said to Fai the Thai, with regard to my coffee preference, though it could easily have described the beautiful barista. In the U.S. on a work visa through the summer, Fai said she chose O.C. because “a friend came here last year.” Why did her friend choose O.C.? “Her sister.” Why did her sister choose O.C.? I could see this line of inquiry was only going to go round and round and changed gears to speak with a quad of young women that walked up to the counter.

They were from Delaware and I thought all were college students. I was right in 3 out of 4 cases – the fourth in the party was actually a 36-year-old mom who betrayed her identity when she admonished one of the girls (her daughter) for putting too much sugar in her iced coffee.

Our lunch stop – the last meal we would enjoy in O.C. this visit – was Shenanigans Irish Pub. Lovely blonde lass Natalie ushered us in, entrusting us to brunettes Casey and understudy Megan. I was promised “two free smiles” if I could guess the correct spelling of the latter’s name and scored same. A special, “Marty’s Magic Mushroom Panini”, piqued my interest especially when Casey explained that it was named after an entertainer that plays here often – “a one-set acoustic Irish gig who gets up there with a guitar, high hat cymbals and harmonica, and sings. He must be good as he had a sandwich named after him.”

Noting two Gaelic phrases at key entry/exit points – “Fearadh Na Failte” (A Hearty Welcome) and “Go Raibh Maith Agat” (Thank You) – I challenged the staff to correctly pronounce them. This brought manager Nick on deck, who was at a loss as well, so I vowed to do research and follow up. (see

While waiting on our fare, I scoped the place, finding my O’Brien family crest among two hundred-plus wooden plaques affixed to the walls, and eyeballed all the Guinness promotional signage both new and vintage. Casey then brought me a most welcome sight: a Guinness draught with a shamrock imprint in the foamy head. In turn, the boys received lime green Mountain Dews, about which Evan felt the need to say, “You know, you drink enough Mountain Dew and it lowers your sperm count.” Like Kirby’s Pub a few nights ago, the restrooms were labeled Pointers and Setters and the former had Irish jokes above the urinal.

As the short hand on my watch pointed at one o’clock, we reluctantly pulled up stakes, put the pedal down on the Grand Marq, bid O.C. a fond adios and beat it back across the Assawoman (I kid you not) Bridge headed to points north. As we went, we were serenaded with Beatles tunes spun by DJ Batman and Sister Sara (Our Lady of Perpetual Motion) of the “Hair of the Dog” show on Ocean 98.1 FM. It was the only way to bow out from this fun, often kooky, never boring, four-day excursion!