Making our way into Ocean City, Maryland last week, we all knew the risks. Being detained, being arrested, having your car impounded – it all comes with the territory when you choose to attend the unofficial party formerly known as H2Oi.
The only thing we didn’t know, was what we could get away with when it came to shooting the ‘event’. There was only one way to find out – holler at Capt. John Ludwick Jr., grab a seat in his 19-foot-long Toyota Century on Air Lift Performance suspension that I road-tripped to the seaside resort town in, and hit the Ocean City strip…
How much interest the Ocean City Police Department would have in John’s very long and very low Century was immediately put to test, and the initial result was promising. We made a few laps up and down the strip, and none of the OCPD cruisers we encountered (and there were many), seemed interested in pulling us over. A good result given the stories we’d heard of cars with factory performance options being targeted, let alone those with actual aftermarket modifications.
Maybe it was that the Century looks somewhat OEM (but slammed), or the fact that it would be too big for any of Ocean City’s regular tow trucks to haul off to the impound yard? I like to think it’s the latter.
We celebrated with a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts.They Ain’t Playing
The next morning, I didn’t even walk a block before seeing an impound in progress. Within a matter of minutes, a tow truck was on the scene – they were definitely prepared this time around.
Before the truck’s wheels had stopped turning, an operator was out and pulling wooden ramps off the deck and onto the ground in front of the Lexus SC. Just as quickly, the car was loaded up.
Similar scenes would play out in front of me many times over the course of the next few days.The Early Birds
One of my favourite reasons for visiting H2Oi is to meet up with old friends and make new ones. It’s a social event above all else, but amidst this pandemic, I tried to keep my group tight and vetted.
For much of my time in Ocean City, I hung out with Sam of Schwaa Films. Sam had many plans for his event after-movie, but figured that with the OCPD crackdown in full effect, it was wise to get it done as quickly as possible. Just in case.
The last time Sam and I shot H2Oi together, we received moving violation tickets for shooting out of a minivan with its sliding door slightly open. As we both had our seatbelts on I don’t believe we were breaking any laws, but the OCPD essentially told us ‘tough luck,; come down and fight it in a couple of months.’
This time around Sam wasn’t taking any chances, and the solution came in the form of a simple homemade mounting system and gimbal that attached to the tow hitch and a custom front bumper mount.
After knocking out some rollers, it was time to shoot a few features and prep for the night ahead. But first, a proposal…
A few months prior to H2Oi, a guy named Scott reached out to John and asked if he could propose to his girlfriend, Kylie, while they were taking some photos of the Century – her dream car. After what felt like an eternity of taking photos around the car and talking about it, Scott got down on one knee and popped the question. Kylie said yes!Cue The Music
Thinking back to previous Thursday nights at H2Oi, it used to be quite relaxed with a low-key police presence. Those days are definitely gone now.
The Ocean City Police Department were out in full force with a plan to shut down anything and everything H2Oi related. But the OCPD and tow truck drivers weren’t the only ones slated to make money this year…
Local attorneys were posting advice, hosting Q&A sessions, and most importantly – offering their professional services via numerous ‘H2Oi’ Facebook groups.
And you best believe it didn’t take long for their phones to start ringing…
A short cruise down the strip revealed what we had suspected – any car that looked slightly modified was ripe for impounding, and their occupants, ticketed or arrested. And the event hadn’t even really begun yet.This Is America
Friday kicked off with one of the most American things you could imagine – donuts for breakfast at one of the most famous joints in Ocean City – The Fractured Prune (an odd name for donut shop, I know). Parked outside, John’s Century was attracting plenty of attention as usual.
After a bit of chit-chat and a few too many sweet fried dough rings, there was a long list of features calling my name (lookout for these in the coming weeks) before sunset and chaos erupted.The Beginning Of The End
As day turned to night, John had found himself back in the driver’s seat of his classic Ford Dually. With the strip relatively quiet, we made haste with a few ‘Murica-spec rollers before heading into what was soon to be a war zone.
One of the hardest things to capture in photos on the ground at H2Oi, is the sheer volume of traffic, something that makes it really hard to get places. For those who don’t know, the Ocean City strip is reasonably long with more than 100 blocks. Sam and I started our walk from the 72nd block, our destination being the 56th and 30th blocks where most of the madness goes down.
It soon became obvious that OCPD’s plan was to shutdown the strip – or at least one side of it – which created a massive traffic jam.
With the OCPD having slowed down the traffic light phases and with cars backed up in all directions, the drive from 100th to 56th street was an almost two-hour jaunt. But when you made it there, you were sent out of Ocean City over the bridge (which was also backed up), around the island and back up over the southern bridge – a journey that was reputed to take four hours all told.
Boredom obviously set in for many who were stuck in traffic and not going anywhere. Burnouts and fireworks seemed to be quite popular distractions.
Getting closer to the closed lanes gave us a better taste of what the general public thought of the lane closures. Here’s a hint: they hated it.
On top of this, the OCPD appeared to be using some type of mobile surveillance camera, set up on the back of an unmarked truck. No one official I talked to could tell me what exactly it was being used for, however there were rumours that it was recording license plates, while others said it capturing faces. Perhaps it was just monitoring what was going on, although there are plenty of traffic cameras around Ocean City for that.Friends In High Places
Many H2Oi attendees were making lemonade with the lemons they were handed, which meant mostly hanging out on the side of the strip waiting for action.
However, as soon as the OCPD caught wind of any gathering, they stepped in with a rookie and a side-by-side with a tank and pressure washer strapped to it. What was sprayed had a truly awful smell that left some people physically throwing up. Who knows what it was…
If the smell wasn’t bad enough, the police hadn’t stopped impounding and ticketing anything that caught their attention.
Trucks, motorcycles, and even a cyclist were all targeted. And yes, that garden tractor has a matching ‘Carolina Squat’.
As the night went on, tensions between attendees and the police only continued to build, and it was only a matter of time before all hell broke loose.A Sign Of Things To Come
Despite the heavy police and state trooper presence, the shenanigans continued. In fact, I think the heavy-handed response only encouraged people to misbehave.
At one point, police, fire trucks and ambulances all converged on one block for an unknown but obviously quite serious incident.
With the OCPD blocking off most of the strip and now stopping all foot traffic, we ended up meeting a few new friends, including Austin who invited us up to his balcony for some snacks and a new view on the strip and the commotion below.
And this is where our Friday night in Ocean City ended. After walking over 16 kilometers and seeing our fair share of automotive mischief, we decided to call it a night and save any remaining energy for what Saturday could offer…