The question wasn’t if his car would get impounded. We knew was going to happen the moment we saw the police cruiser follow his Honda S2000, slammed, on chrome, into a gas station off Ocean City’s main drag. The question was how.
I don’t mean that it was going to be hard for the cop to find a reason to impound his car. The guy’s Honda (his name is Junior, you can become one of his 14,000 followers on Instagram here) was what’s called “static.” Most of the cars that were as low as Junior’s were on air suspension. That meant that they could sit their frame on the floor while parked and raise their ride height for driving around.
Air suspension means you can clear bumps, and air suspension means a tow truck driver can get a jack under your car to tow it away. Junior’s car did not have air suspension. It could not lift up. For an ordinary single-axle tow truck, Junior’s car was too low to tow.
Wisely, the cops called a flatbed.
Even still, Junior’s buddies had to borrow tools to get the entire front clip off of the long-nosed S2000 just so it could even clear the gentle flatbed ramp. The whole ordeal must have taken half an hour.
And this is not because anybody was out of practice. Every year in the last week of September bleeding into October, cars like Junior’s swarm Ocean City, Maryland for what’s called H2Oi.
If I were one for grand declarations, and I am, I’d call it the most ticketed car show in the country, if not the world. Take a single drive down the city’s main drag, Coastal Highway, and you’ll see a good four or five cars, at least, pulled over and getting cited.
And this is true day or night, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before even H2Oi officially starts on the weekend. Then, expect to see a good four or five cars getting pulled over on any drive longer than two blocks.
I asked Junior what, exactly, got his car impounded. It was too low, his headlights were too low, he had excessive camber (to get his wheels to fit under his fenders), and the cops had declared his car “unsafe for the road.”
“The reason we tow some of the vehicles often associated with this event really boils down to public safety,” said Ocean City police spokeswoman Lindsay Richard. “Many of these vehicles have equipment and modification violations made to vehicle suspensions, headlight and bumper heights, and tires cambered to unsafe levels. We follow standards set forth by the State of Maryland to ensure that our roadway remains a safe environment for our residents and visitors and some of the modifications that we see do not meet those safety standards.”
Lindsay also noted that OCPD made no fewer than 1,222 traffic stops from Thursday through the Sunday of H2Oi, including 38 tows, a good 23 of which she expected to be H2Oi-related.
I will point out here that Ocean City only has a regular population of about 7,000 people. I’d say the numbers we’re looking at here are unbelievably high, but anyone who has been to H2Oi will tell you not to be surprised.
Some kids seemed halfway proud of their tickets. One dude in a white Subaru STI gleefully pulled up for me an Instagram post on the now-tragically-deleted OCPDRollCall to read a laundry list of offenses costing him just over a thousand dollars. At H2Oi, the line between life and Instagram blurs.
Junior was less enthused. It sucked, he explained, but it was the cost of showing up. I asked him what he was going to do now that his car was getting sent to an impound lot. He needed to pay to have it trailered back out, but after that it was going right back on the road. He had a photo shoot his car needed to be in the next day, and he was going to make it one way or another. I did see him the next day, partying at a makeshift frat house for the kind of car club called CamberGang that he was a part of, car completely unchanged. Oh, I think he also got a ticket for the huge “CamberGang” sticker mounted on his front windshield.
He was just here to be with his friends, to show off his car as they showed off theirs. For a lot of the people I talked to, their only friends were ones they knew through cars. And for many, this was the only vacation they could take all year. They spend thousands renting hotels and condos, buying food, driving hours from across the Eastern Seaboard for their week here. I met a couple kids who flew in from Chicago and Toronto, others drove from Quebec, proudly showing cars not yet legal to buy here in the United States.
The tickets won’t stop them. They come anyway. Smoke some weed, do some burnouts, cruise the strip; that’s what they were there to do.
It was weird. These cars are built to grab attention. They’re barely even cars anymore. Everything functional about them is stripped to get them lower, flashier, harder to drive, easier for everyone else to see. It’s not hard to get the impression that these stanced car owners are showing up specifically to get tickets, to brag about them.
But nobody I talked to wanted tickets. Kids actively tried to avoid the cops as much a possible, at least within the context of the show. The tickets, the impound fees, it’s a price for attendance, not a provocation.
It all fed into a kind of mad, nervous energy at Ocean City. The sheer number of cars that show up. The extremism of the builds. The way that the cars overwhelm the town, the cops. Too many cars to ticket them all. No matter how punitive the Ocean City Police Department gets (I even saw them write up a kid for taking a picture of a car), the cars persist.
It was almost like a 1950s feel, like American Graffiti but with more neck tattoos. A cat and mouse game between the cops and the hot rodders. Police watching you to see what you’re doing. Other drivers taking pictures of your car next to theirs in traffic. Everyone not sure what’s about to happen next, halfway egging each other on.
It’s this nervous energy that defines the show. Fog hung over the town when it wasn’t pouring rain. Everything felt small. Bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of the night, deafening, cars two-stepping and shooting fire out their exhausts. It feels like its own world, without consequence.
As Junior’s car finally made it onto the flatbed, kids started to mull around again, not sure of where the action was. Junior’s car getting impounded was a kind of event. The gas station had turned into a kind of impromptu car show.
I heard everyone gasp, and turn, and rush out towards the street. One of Junior’s friends at the gas station, a guy in a polished, immaculate, slammed cherry red BMW M3 pulled out onto the strip just after the tow truck and was immediately pulled over before he had even made it across the intersection. The crowd lined up along the sidewalk, clapping and jeering. A couple doddering kids from Canada were the loudest among them.
“Stick to drugs and violence,” one screamed, drunk, “because cars are illegal!”