As I drove around last weekend, I predicted there would be an uproar and a call for change regarding the Cruisin’ event. It wasn’t a huge leap because that’s been the case among local citizens for the last three years at least. I was on par there, but I was wrong when I concluded prematurely that all the hoopla would blow over in short order. That’s essentially what has taken place for the last few years.
What was unique about this week was there appears to be a different tone altogether from Ocean City’s elected officials. Enough is enough appears to be the mantra.
The phrasing was much different this week. In the past, there were assurances that changes would be made to specific aspects of the event, such as a trailer ordinance, open container drinking along the sidewalks and more aggressive law enforcement. There wasn’t a lot of that this week from elected officials. They were talking more generally about major changes, and it started at the top with Mayor Rick Meehan, the longest tenured elected official in the city and county.
“If the event is to continue, my suggestion would be to move it back to the middle of April,” he said. “This is a time period much like May was 27 years ago. There are fewer visitors in town and the police department has stated they would be in a much better position to handle the event. With fewer vehicles on the road, it would give the department the ability to maximize enforcement and address the issues we faced with the big trucks, high performance vehicles and renegade cars. I would also think about changing the name of the event to something like Classic Car Show 2018 to get rid of the reference to Cruisin’ altogether.”
Councilman Matt James is in the hotel business. It’s largely believed that Cruisin’ weekend has the biggest financial impact on the lodging industry and the convenience store businesses. James acknowledged the financial plus of the event but also realized the negatives have become too much to look beyond for the beach resort.
“I probably had the most interaction with the Cruisin’ people out of anyone on the council,” he said. “The weekend was profitable, but there were definitely a lot of issues. As a council, we’re not in it for one weekend. I like the cruisers, but I think the volume of people in town already at this time of the year really complicates the event. The council and the city as a whole needs to reassess this event and maybe look at alternative dates. The third weekend in May is a busy weekend anyway. I like the event and I like the cars, but I think it has gotten out of control. If we’re going to have special events like this, we have to take a look at the long-term damage to the image of the resort. We have to hope too many people weren’t turned off this year. Return business is so important, so if a lot of people not related to this event came this weekend and left disappointed, they might not come back.”
That’s the major point here. It’s long been said the event weekend is critical to the economy. It now appears to be driving the right people away while bringing in a crowd of entitled monsters that want nothing to do with the official aspects of the weekend.
It was interesting to note the location of last Sunday’s fatality in Ocean City. The 23-year-old Pennsylvania man was crossing Coastal Highway to the ocean side at 45th Street.
This time next year the State Highway Administration is hoping to have wrapped up a median fence project in that exact area. Although it’s a divisive issue for many because of its appearance, I do think the median fence will be the most effective tool to stopping the problem of mid-block crossings.
While the ongoing public awareness campaigns encouraging safe pedestrian habits should always be a part of this ongoing challenge, they would not have stopped this man at this time of night and in the alleged condition he was in. A permanent structure may have done just that.
As far as an update, the median fence was long expected to be in place by this weekend, but exorbitant bids led to the project being scrapped last winter. Site work is now on track to begin next year and with no hiccups be read for the 2018 summer season.
In the journalism business, it’s easy to become callous when it comes to death.
Reporting on tragic accidents, like last weekend’s in Ocean City, is just part of the job. It’s difficult not to become hardened to death after 20 years as a reporter. However, it’s one thing when it’s a stranger from another part of the country getting killed cross a highway in the middle of the night. It’s another thing altogether when it’s a loss that hits the community hard.
That’s the case with Sheryl Mitrecic’s death this week. Although I had worried things were not going well for her and her family for some time, it came as a shock to hear she had passed on Wednesday.
Some of you may know Sheryl as a pre-kindergarten teacher at Buckingham Elementary for many years. You may know her as County Commissioner and former Ocean City Councilman Joe Mitrecic’s wife. You may know her as the mom to Jake and Madi. You may also know her as the lady with the pretty voice who opened up many benefit runs on the Boardwalk with the national anthem. Those who travel in local cancer fundraising and support circles also know her as a tremendous fighter who confronted her battle with grace, spirit, strength and dignity.
I will remember her for all these reasons but also for her kindness and sincerity. I think anyone who knew her would agree she was in simplest terms a lovely person with a genuine soul.