Row, row, row your ego Boaters: For those who enjoy basking in the perceived envy of landlubbers and other water speed fans, Ego Alley in Annapolis provides the stage.

June 23, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Sometimes folks give Chris Hargrove and his 90-mile-an-hour speedboat a big thumbs up. Other times, they hold up a less friendly finger.

This is how it goes at Ego Alley in Annapolis. They either love you or they hate you. In Hargrove's case, all that matters is that they envy you.

"See that guy in that small little boat over there?" says Hargrove, 40, pointing to a speedboat that looks like a mere dinghy for his $450,000 Cigarette Revolution 188. "We're way faster than him."

The narrow waterway by City Dock at the foot of Main Street fills every Saturday and Sunday in the summer -- and on some steamy weeknights -- with flashy water creatures like Hargrove and his 42-footer. The idea is to strut those boats, those bods, those bodacious boatmates.

It's a loud, bikini-clad beach party. Boats with names like "Restless," "Insanity" and "Strokin'" idle their way down the spit of water. At the helm are the tan-all-over people who seem to be staring impassively at the crowd (it's hard to tell what they're really looking at behind those reflector sunglasses.)

"Now believe me, I'm not trying to show off," attests Hargrove. "I'm just trying to show everyone how awesome this boat is."

Watching Ego Alley is almost as big a deal as cruising it. Every spectator on the docks offers a different profile of the typical alley dude, whose only common trait is a mega-desire to be seen.

A small measure of disdain is a necessary element for any on- looker.

"It's usually men going through a mid-life experience, most of them have a big nugget chain around their wrist and tight-fitting Speedos which they shouldn't be wearing," said Bob Lewis, 59, who brings out-of-town guests to Ego Alley as one of the first stops on his Annapolis guided tour. "This is the fun. This is why we watch. Plus, they don't know how to operate the boat."

A couple of years ago, an alley-side bar used to give Lewis and other spectators free pitchers of beer if they agreed to hold up cards reading 1 to 10, rating the Ego Alley traffic.

"When I did it, I got breasts and buttocks flashed at me," said Lewis. "It was a really wild time."

But now many Annapolis folks are trying to tone down the alley. The restaurant changed owners and ditched the score cards. Last year, Harbormaster Rick Dahlgren decided the term Ego Alley gave Annapolis a cheesy image, so he ordered his crew to call the waterway "Market Slip" on VHF radio and during dock patrol.

Still, it would be hard to silence people such as Hargrove, with his 23 speakers and volume joystick at the helm. Sometimes, he tools down Ego Alley with the pulsing music up high and his passengers dancing on the long white, turquoise and fuchsia bow.

Hargrove, a native of Deale who works for his family's convention service business, has been going down Ego Alley for the past 20 years, every few years with a bigger speed boat. Now Hargrove's on his fifth -- a boat that can go so fast it makes his face distort.

Not everybody's such a hotshot. A guy in a speedboat next to Hargrove could only bob in Hargrove's wake as both boaters idled in the alley.

A friend of his in a nearby speedboat added: "We do it to get boatloads of women." The two buddies idled for a few minutes, compared engines, and then moved out.

Spectator Steve Betz likes to watch the high-speed cruisers who aren't talented enough to navigate the narrow channel and end up bumping into pilings.

"If you can't do anything but go fast, you go down Ego Alley and get people to look at you," said Betz, 27, who tied up his 25-foot fishing boat at a slip on the alley. "No really skilled boater would come down here just to cruise."

The crowd often has something in common with the cruisers: A desire to party. Betz and a pal arrived at Ego Alley at 10: 30 a.m. and immediately began drinking beers. "Why not?" he asked. "It's beer-thirty. Every 30 minutes on the hour."

Ego Alley got its name, by some accounts, when pleasure boaters began taking over Annapolis harbor more than 20 years ago, edging out the watermen.

After watching their flashy outfits, dodging their chugging speed engines and smelling their suntan oil, the locals exacted revenge with a withering nickname.

Now some folks are upset that the name -- and the image -- has stuck. Harbormaster Dahlgren doesn't like many of the boaters' attitudes.

"People are blowing up in my face more and more often," said Dahlgren. "They're really sort of pushy. And I'm trying to keep this place friendly and open to family activity."

Concerns about the wet and wild crowd started in the late 1970s, when the local government renovated City Dock and made downtown into a greater tourist attraction.

To control the alley crowd, Robert MacLennan, the city's first harbormaster, patrolled in a self-styled policeman's outfit -- complete with fake badge, cowboy hat and long cigar.

"I drove a little patrol boat with a flashing light -- it contributed to the image," said MacLennon, 70. "I'd say, 'You're in violation of the law, mister.' It was all a fake, but it worked very well."

But the boom-box crowd today is not easily intimidated, and old-timers say don't feel like the channel is theirs anymore.

Longtime local Oliver Dietz can't watch the Ego Alley crew without looking like he just smelled spoiled fish.

"They come down here with all their big money," sniffed Dietz, 67, sitting on his old wooden fishing boat on the alley. "They're just showing off. Not like us. We're just everyday people."

But folks like Hargrove insist they're everyday people, too -- just everyday people who move really fast.

"Super-charged," he said as he pulled into the alley. "Only a few things can really push my buttons. This is one of them."

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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