OCEAN CITY -- Because Michael Gentz doesn't want the summer to end, he has decided to drop out of Harford Community College and stay on this sliver of island sand when most everyone else starts going home tomorrow.
Mr. Gentz is 19, and for $6.50 an hour he has sold submarine sandwiches all summer in between learning about real-life issues such as eviction, poverty and love.
"The biggest lesson I've learned is how not to manage money. Just the other day I had two bucks left," he said. "You can't save when you're paying for partying, food and rent.
"I just decided [Thursday] that I wasn't going back to school. When I called my parents back home in Fallston to tell them I was staying, they were worried. My mother said that time was running out for me to decide what to do with my life. I told them I'm staying because I like the environment."
He means the ocean. The more immediate environment just outside the sub shop on Sunset Avenue, where he works with his summer girlfriend, is chaos. "Every night," Mr. Gentz said, "there's been a fight or an accident out here."
What has been a memorable rite of passage for Mr. Gentz and other young people who have waited on tourists all summer is being remembered as a relatively quiet and uneventful season by others.
Merchants complained about unpredictable sales.
"I call it a yo-yo summer, some good days and some bad, with the good really good and the bad really bad," said John Oregon Crosby II, owner of a surf shop, BB Bombers, on Eighth Street.
"We had a good Memorial Day, and it slacked right off. People were scared to buy, everybody looking for bargains, they just wouldn't get off their money. But it loosened up a little bit because by now everything is cut-rate. June and July were soft except for a few good weekends," he said.
"I don't know any other reason besides the recession, because the weather has been good."
Not all the summer news here has been economic. Two pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, police responded to over 20,000 calls for help, including 7,952 in June for their busiest month ever, and police also reported the most noticeable increase in the sale and use of LSD since the hippy days of the late '60s when it was illegal to walk the boardwalk wearing a blanket.
No ocean drownings were reported this summer, but one lifeguard candidate, Allan C. Mrozinski, 22, of Baltimore, drowned in a pool while trying out for the Beach Patrol over the Memorial Day weekend.
And the search continues for Mildred Louise Williams, a 55-year-old cleaning woman from nearby Berlin who disappeared from a West Ocean City supermarket July 29. A psychic used by the woman's family told relatives she believed that Mrs. Williams, recently widowed, was alive and well, and police here believe her disappearance may have been a deliberate decision to drop out.
"Considering that at any given time in the summer Ocean City has 250,000 [people] in it, it could be pretty hard for us to find her," said Tfc. Paul Frick, the state trooper investigating the disappearance of Mrs. Williams. "You have to live down here to believe the transformation that takes place between June and the fall."
Come fall, submarine sandwich-maker Mike Gentz plans to still be "down the ocean" enjoying the environment while a lot of his friends sit in a classroom.