“SEND IT!” the kid next to me screamed into the night, as three cop cars tore through the intersection where a slammed Volkswagen had done a front-wheel drive burnout only moments before. A police helicopter buzzed over the bay nearby. H2Oi was technically cancelled this year. But 78 arrests, 2,735 calls to police and one charge for attempted murder later, it’s clear that the most ticketed car show in America only got rowdier than ever before.
(Full disclosure: We went to H2Oi to shoot an episode of Car vs. America, premiering Oct. 18 on Fusion. You should watch it.)
Every year at the close out of summer, tuned and stanced Volkswagens, Audis and youth cars of all types descend on the hokey little beach town of Ocean City, Maryland.
The Instagram-famous cars that the show is known for are illegally low, and every year the cops come out in force to rain down tickets on every chrome-wheeled vehicle that cruises the town’s one long main street.
Over the past few seasons, the originally subdued VW/Audi-specific show morphed into a week-long car party. Every night is lit up in red and blue, catching a mix of ocean fog and tire smoke.
I watched a Miata do a burnout in front of a cop standing, on foot, in the middle of the road. The driver was pulled over instantly. The crowd watching from the sidewalk was a hundred kids deep, at least, all of them cheering.
The Ocean City Police Department, infamous in the car community doling out well over a thousand tickets during the week of H2Oi, put out this press release that gives a sense of how nuts this year was.
“There were a handful of visitors this weekend who came to simply enjoy our city,” Chief Ross Buzzuro said in the statement. “Unfortunately, it was the vast majority of the participants that quickly ruined it for everyone, with unruly behavior and zero respect for our laws and property.”
The OCPD cites preliminary reports of 2,735 total calls for service made from Thursday, Sept. 28 through Sunday, Oct. 1 alone. They racked up 78 arrests, mostly for “disorderly conduct, open container, 2nd degree assault and other similar charges.”
That’s 1.5 times as many as last year, which had 46 arrests out of 2,527 total calls. Those numbers are from Ocean City Police Department statistics compiled after last year’s H2Oi, when the official car show was still held 22 miles outside of the town.
There was one exception, one charge for attempted murder, as the press release describes:
On Saturday night, one of our officers and a Worcester County Sheriff’s deputy were struck and thrown to the hood of a fleeing vehicle, forcing officers to fire their weapons. Thankfully, no officers or suspects were seriously injured as a result of this incident.
I went to the show this year, as I did last year. And I am of two minds about this statement given by OCPD.
On the one hand, yes, even I was glad the cops were out for the event, and I think they were instrumental in keeping the show from getting even more out of control. I never saw cars doing donuts in the midst of crowds like you see at completely un-policed street takeovers in other parts of the country. I saw a lot of burnouts, but I never saw anything that made me really fear for any pedestrian’s safety. The OCPD’s omnipresence felt like it kept things from really going off the rails.
But on the other hand, what the OCPD is saying here is bullshit.
The event wasn’t ruined by “the vast majority of the participants.” That’s not true at all. Most of the people who brought cars down to the show were there just to cruise the strip at a safe and respectable speed, principally to see their friends.
Lots of kids did burnouts, including an extremely adventurous minivan driver I spotted at about one in the morning, but they weren’t unruly so much as enthusiastic.
But the idea that Ocean City was ravaged by outsiders doesn’t square with what I saw that week; the worst offenders in terms of street racing and next-to-the-sidewalk burnouts came from Mustangs and lifted pickups with Maryland license plates.
These weren’t traditional H2Oi attendees; these were locals looking to get wild at a giant car show. All in, what made the event look the worst for everybody else had nothing to do with stance or burnouts at all.
The full scope of the drama still hasn’t been fully released to the public by the OCPD, but the local Maryland Coast Dispatch had most of the details. As the news site reports:
The expanded police presence had its hands full all weekend, which reached a crescendo on Saturday night when a vehicle intentionally drove at and struck two police officers. The officers fired shots at the suspect and the fleeing vehicle to no avail and the suspect was later arrested after jumping in the bay and has been charged with attempted first-degree murder.
Up until Saturday night, all anyone was talking about the OCPD was how one cop allegedly hit a pedestrian:
But the mood of the night changed when it was the cops who got hit. A police helicopter came out, searching the water for the suspect. Everyone watched as cop car after cop car blared down the bus lane Coastal Highway, next to the gridlocked stance car traffic on the main strip’s other lanes. I got a harried text from a buddy of mine saying he was going to stay in for the rest of the night; he heard rumors that a cop got shot. Things went from feeling like living inside an Instagram story to being a non-player character in some Grand Theft Auto mission.
Again, that all had nothing to do with stanced cars being too low, having too much camber, or doing a burnout to look cool on Snapchat. This wasn’t a stancepocalypse of savage carbarians wreaking endless havoc upon innocent townsfolk.
This was one moron who hit two cops and tried to make a run for it by leaping into the bay.
I halfway wonder if the official event getting cancelled only made things worse. There was no actual show for anyone to go to, so everyone could only stunt on the street—no outlet for their desires. Worse, the city and many of its businesses intentionally blocked off a number of parking lots that would have kept cars off of the town’s main drag. Ocean City went so far as to physically block off a giant municipal lot by parking city buses end-to-end.
So I don’t mind that as I write this, I already miss H2Oi. You don’t appreciate it fully until you leave. At any time driving through Ocean City during the week of H2Oi, a good four out of every five cars you pass is customized in some way. All these cars are living their full automotive lives. Every car that can do a burnout, does. Every vehicle that can be modified is. Everything is a personal expression.
Now, back outside of the show, every car I see on the street looks boring. The way cars take over Ocean City is like an alternate universe where everyone dares to express themselves through their cars. It’s a brighter, louder world.
With a little more organization, a return of the actual event behind it, and with any luck, far fewer idiots willing to endanger people’s lives, I hope it continues.
Reputations in the car scene are frail, and it’s too easy and too common for a whole culture to get ruined by the actions of the few. This doesn’t need to be one of them.