Maureen Skelly remembers her trip to the beach after she graduated from high school. She and her friends spent every last nickel and didn't have enough cash to pay the toll on their way home. They had to go into the toll office and fill out a form promising to pay the money at a later date.
Now that her son, Sean, is a senior at River Hill High School, she is hoping he will make wiser decisions during his Senior Week in Ocean City.
"I wanted Sean to come and hear and get educated about appropriate behavior," said Skelly, sitting in the auditorium at Reservoir High School on Wednesday before a two-hour talk.
"Better to be informed," she said. "I think it's important to hear the mistakes others have made."
Sean, though, had a slightly different take on why he was there. "It was more like -- `If you don't come, you're not going to Senior Week,' " he said.
Whatever their reasons, about 100 students and parents attended the talk, one of the most popular annual events put on by HC DrugFree, a nonprofit Howard County organization with the goal of keeping children away from drugs and alcohol.
HC DrugFree Executive Director Laura Smit said the annual talk has been offered for about five years and always features an Ocean City police officer. "It gives parents more confidence in all the things the Ocean City police are doing," Smit said.
This year, the talk was held at two locations -- Reservoir and Oakland Mills high schools -- with the hopes of attracting more participants.
The speakers at Reservoir were Howard Caplan, a 34-year veteran of the Ocean City Police Department, Josh Wasilewski, who is a health teacher at Mayfield Woods Middle School during the school year and a member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol during the summers, and Donna Thewes, a parent who has steered her three children toward alternative postgraduation celebrations.
Wasilewski talked about dangers related to the water, while Thewes, who is running for County Council, spoke of family trips to Europe and other places, describing the benefits of doing something as a family before the kids go off to college.
It was a particularly cold and windy night, and a sunny day at the beach probably seemed a long way in the future. But many seniors have lined up their rooms for Senior Week, an annual rite of passage in Maryland.
Claudia Groh said her daughter, Sarah, a senior at Mount Hebron High School, has reserved a house with five other girls.
"She has a good head on her shoulders, I think she'll make the right choices," Groh said.
Yet she is aware that the environment in Ocean City can cause even the most level-headed teenager to become addled.
"I'm just interested in learning more about everything," Groh said, explaining why she had braved such a cold night to attend the meeting.
Caplan, who spoke about an hour, commended the parents who did make the effort. "It shows, when you're here, that you're involved and you really do care about your kids," he said.
Then he gave specific advice, based on his many years of experience with Senior Week. He told the students to check out their rooms and note any damage before they move in. He told them not to sleep in cars. "You'll get cited," he said.
He acknowledged the two elephants in the room -- sex and alcohol -- and provided warnings and advice. Regarding alcohol, he told the audience that anyone older than 18 would be treated as an adult and anyone younger than 18 would need to be picked up by their parents.
"Are you going to drink?" he said. "Sure. I'm going to ask you not to. But I know you will. So I'm begging you at this point, if you have to drink, stay in the hotel room."
He said Ocean City has a bus that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so there would be no reason to drive during Senior Week.
And as for sex, he told several horror stories, including the tale of a young man who slept with a girl who said she was 18, but was 14. "It's amazing what you can do with fake IDs," he said, as the audience gasped.
"Guys -- no is no," he said. "When you're out there and you meet the love of your life for the night, for the week, no is no."
Caplan continued: "You're going to meet a lot of people down there. Know who you are with."
He said Ocean City is overflowing with wholesome activities. He directed the audience to the Web site www.playitsafe oceancity.com, which lists events such as karaoke, midnight bowling and basketball games.
Patricia Young has been through the worried-parent-during-Senior-Week-routine before. Her two oldest children survived Senior Week. But it has been seven years, and she decided she wanted a refresher course now that her daughter, Tricia, is a senior at Wilde Lake.
"I want to make sure I have it straight in my mind about the transportation options," she said. "I want to know all the various things Ocean City offers."