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A Trip Report, by Tim Melvin

It started as these things with the simplest of statements, pure of intention and seemingly a wonderful idea. The current incantation of the one true love of my life ( for those of you following along at home, yes she s back. Each time we split for a period, I patiently and resolutely stand my ground explaining all the logical, rational reasons we should not be together. Half an hour later I am drunk and naked and we are reunited once again. Somewhere there is an explanation for this but I ll be damned if I have one) suggested we trip on down to the beach this past weekend to spend a little time hanging out enjoying a relaxing weekend. She wanted to visit some old friends who now lived down there, one of whom had heart surgery a few weeks and she promised the guys wife we d stop by to see them. Ok ay, I can go with this. I love the beach in the winter. Ocean City is fairly deserted, but the better eating and drinking establishments stay open. A couple of nice nights on the town, drinks by the fireplace at one of the beachfront establishment watching the eternal dance of sand and foam as the ocean crashes to shore, perhaps a little romance and hanky-panky. Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered for a cold winters weekend. Then. After I agreed that this indeed sounded like a wonderful idea she produced the hook, the buzz killer, the killjoy, the downer. By the way, she smiled sweetly, I found a place where we can take the dog with us.

THE DOG. The damn dog

Dog is too simplistic a term for this beast. How does one refer to a 130 pound spoiled rotten rottweiler with a temperament somewhat reminiscent of the offspring of a chance encounter between Attila the Hun and bozo the clown? She thought he was so cute when we adopted him from the pond fours years ago. I recall looking at this fur ball with paws the size of Amazonian snowshoes and thinking. This damn dog is going to be big enough to eat a small village. And indeed he has. But in lieu of villages he has over the years developed a taste for steak, medium rare, seafood Norfolk, as well as turkey and dressing, hold the cranberry and eggs (scrambled) with bacon. I confess heartily and mightily to you, gentle reader, this is entirely my fault. She feeds him at home good old Alpo and pedigree and doggie treats.. Albeit by the forklift full. I have discovered however that a well fed dog will tend to sleep leaving me free to indulge my taste for non canine involved activities am not now nor never have been a pet person. Walking a dog at first thing in the morning regardless of weather or hangover level does not make Tim s list of really great things to do. The one and only time I ever had a dog I found myself in the air over the Midwest on a spur of the moment Vegas trip before I remembered that I forgot the dog.$125 of air phone minutes later I found someone to walk and fed him for the weekend. Upon return home I found him a more normal home where canines and their lack of opposable thumbs that leave them unable to operate a can opener or doorknob are more appreciated than in my humble abode. She on the other hand thinks that no home is complete without a dog and a cat in attendance. What in the hell it is about dog hair everywhere and a littler box that completes her sense of home escapes me, but nonetheless where she goes the rottenwilder goes. The dog is her protector and in the grand tradition of rotties loyal to her and her alone. I f I want to argue with her while the rottenwilder is in a attendance I must go in the other room and close the door lest he be tempted to take her side and forcefully make the point that I am an idiot. She does so quietly. He does in the manner and character of a 130 pound rottie. Much safer on the other side of the door. Lest I paint too bad a picture of the beast I confess that some 61.3% of the time I am fond of the slathering slack jawed terror and take amusement at his antics. He s a good dog. I am not however a dog person but have learned to adjust sort of.

So off we go on our grand adventure, piling into her expedition for the hour and a half trip to the beach. An uneventful journey on a late Saturday afternoon, a pleasant journey through the eastern ashore of Maryland arriving just about dinnertime. I am looking forward to checking in getting the dog settled and a nice steak and adult libation or two. We were staying at the Clarion resort and I really liked the place when I stayed there some years back for a convention. As a bonus, the Ocean Club with a nice bar and grand views of the rolling surf is in the hotel I am looking forward to a nice evening in spite of the winds that had started to gust and howl down the beach at rather impressive levels. I note as we cruise up Coastal highway that most of the hotels are virtually empty this colds winters night so it should be fairly easy to check into the hotel with our rottenwilder. This would of course be another time when such sunny optimism would be bitten squarely in the buttocks by the fickle jaws of fate. As we pulled into the clarion, the place was packed. The only place to even park was in the overflow lot on the other side of coastal highway. Two .. count them folks, two conventions were in attendance at the only hotel in Ocean City that allows dogs over 25 pounds. To make it more interesting one was a gathering of faux bikers, a Honda gold wing club with little leather vests stretched tight over middle aged paunches, complete with various patches and pins like the real Harley riding types .. as well as a gathering of sales reps for a well known cable company. True to form I felt fates teeth sink in deeper as virtually everyone in the hotel s was in the lobby for some fool reason. Now, the rottenwilder is not really mean but he does scare easily in crowds and he looks menacing as hell. The crowd parted in form that recalled a fellow named Moses and the red sea as I dragged the beast .. and I must say that watching me at 155 pounds try to drag and cajole this mountainous animal anywhere is a scene funny enough to be worthy of a Jim Carrey movie but we did make it to the elevator without too much effort. A crowd of ladies in full evening apparel stepped off the elevator and stopped in a frozen second of shock and awe at the grand sight that greeted them. On their way to an elegant evening out they step to find themselves confronted by the hellhound of the youthful dreams. They tippytoe around our fair rocky the rotten wilder and with a heave and ho worthy of a pyramid laborer of ancient Egypt I drag my current incantations faithful companion into the elevator while praying no one else gets on. Up to the sixth floor, into the room and sigh with great relief. Mission (temporarily) accomplished.

Now, to feed the monster who has settled in on the bed watching his favorite football team (for reason I cannot explain the dog favors the redskins .. no accounting for taste), a quick change and down to the ocean club for dinner and drinks. I look forward to a pleasant evening. In doing so I have, naturally, again exposed my bare backside to the snarling jaws of the fates and furies. As we leave the room from the hallway we can hear it begin .. the whimpering whine of our faithful rottenwilder upset at being left alone in unfamiliar circumstances building in tone and tempo until yes, there it is the culmination the full throated bark of a scared rottenwilder. Loud enough to equal the sound of intense artillery barrage, intense and consistent in nature. Loud enough surely to get us kicked out of a crowded hotel with thin walls. We will have to take him with us. So we replay the lobby scene of hustling the beast through a crowd of cable salesman and middle aged rice burning pretenders who view rocky as one might view the lost city of Atlantis or perhaps bigfoot showing up to sip martinis at a park avenue cocktail party. No wonder the dog has issues. Out to the truck dashing through temperatures dropping faster than Dorothy parkers knickers after the 4th martini and winds beginning to howl off the ocean with gusts of force equivalent to one of my ex wives tirades about what a worthless ne'r do well I am, we jumped into the truck and headed off to find an open dining establishment with the dogbeast settled comfortably in the back head on the center consol, a big old happy dog, where we going grin on his canine face. We both want a steak so we head to the Bonfire, park near the back. For his part Rocky settles happily in the back snuggled in his blanket and awaits our return. While we never leave him alone in the truck during warm weather, it s nowhere near warm and the interior of the truck is fairly comfortable for him so it s off to dinner. A decent steak and an Irish martini or two I m feeling a little better about the evening.

Back to the truck, two satisfied diners and a happy rottenwilder. Now however comes the sweet smile and new idea. Lets take the dog down to the inlet for a quick walk on the beach. We ll just bundle up and it will be fine. He loves the beach, the cold and the exercise will wear him out. I m a little dubious on this one, but you will note that this gentle suggestion contains no option to refuse. It has, in other words the force of one General Patton s orders to advance upon Bastogne. No choice but into the breach for my little skinny Irish Butt.

We arrive at the pretty much deserted inlet and I bundle up to hop out and walk the beast. I note that she is fiddling with the heat and putting her Bon Jovi cd in the player. I ask her if she wants her coat and she gives me that look that women give their men when we say something incredibly stupid. I ll just wait here in the truck while you walk him .. It looks like the wind might have picked up again. And indeed it has complete with sleet being blown sideways by gale force winds giving it the velocity and feel of charging a machine gun nest. But, ours is not to reason why. Ours is to walk the damn dog.

Out we go across the sand and the dog initially is overjoyed. He does love the beach and is impervious to cold. I move along behind him, taking furious fire from the blowing sleet and sand wondering if I ll least get a silver boyfriend star of perhaps even the coveted congressional medal of really good guy out of this when the dog takes off for the truck at light speed. My arm rips from the socket with a pop that is audible over the howling wind and I have to run full speed to keep up with him. He caught a wind driven burst of sand full in the face and does not wish to play any longer. So back to the hotel and play the lobby game again. At least now he doesn t fear the elevator and it s an uneventful trip.

Back to the room, feed the dog his leftover steak. Mix drinks. She turns on a movie and settles in. I sigh knowing this means I m going to miss the late game. She cashes in my medal earned in the fierce beach encounter and sends me off with her blessing to watch the football game down in the Ocean Club.FREEEEEDOM.

While sitting happily at the bar, Irish and water in hand, a nice bowl of peanuts and the Patriots losing to the Broncos ending the wearisome dynasty talk everytime they step on the field, I fell into conversation with a near retired high school technology teacher from central Maryland. As we talked, one he found out I m involved in the markets he told me the typical tale of gruesome losses in 2001. He has since reinvested and pyramid ocean city condos,. He proudly told me he now owns 4 of them. Rather than pay a property manager for seasonal rentals he rents year round. I figure this little move has saved him about 3 grand a year in fees and cost him about 10,000 annually in rentals. He confesses it is a negative cash flow situation. The words make me flinch internally as I can conceive of owning a rental property that didn t cover the basic costs of ownership. Not, in other words, a math teacher. The kind of guy who cashes in his successful fund to do it himself at ameritrade and is thrilled by the low fees he is paying to lose all that money. We have a nice conversation but I cannot help but think that with the forest of for sale signs I saw along coastal highway earlier in the day and the 6 or 7 new condo projects in town that Ocean City was on the verge on a serious supply demand problem .. one which happens here every decade or so counting on appreciation to bail one out a negative cash flow condo empire is very, very close to owning The Internet Fund in 2001.Counting on the unlikely to continue forever seems to me to be a precarious retirement plan. He asks for no advice however and I offer none, content to enjoy the game and cocktail before me. I wont predict a dire real estate crash, but at least in ocean City , Maryland I think the basic laws of supply and demand will very soon spell the end of the bull market in vacation homes. Simply put the market is glutted with for sale and new offerings.

Back to the room. Guess who wants to go outside? Well .. its not me, lets just put in that way. She of course is asleep. Off we go. Through the lobby out into the howling ocean winds. At least, the sleet has stopped. Replaced of course by snow. Down to the beach, run in frantic happy circle, do the necessaries, back to the room. At last sleep. Of course not. The hotel has run down in recent years and the sliding glass door is shaking and pounding in its frame due to the high wind it sounds like a small town theatre group doing the third act of rent. At long last however, sleep does indeed come. Until the 7am dog nose in ear that means its potty time again. I have never understood how the dog has always made the choice to wake me for his morning constitutional. IT S HER DOG. But .. no she sleeps blissfully unaware while I take the beast out into the cold morning. By now however, we re pros at this. Zip down to the beach back to the hotel. The rottenwilder does everything but push the elevator buttons . He has this down to a doggy science. He knows where the elevators are and which room is his.

The rest of the day is uneventful. We go to visit her friends, with the beast of course. He hangs out in the truck while I sit in a doublewide vacation palace that these folks sold a huge house in southern Maryland to move into , preferring to simplify and be near their kids. Who are over visiting. With all the grandchildren There are 17 people in the doublewide this day happily munching, chomping and chomping on everything in sight. I sit with the husband watching the colts game with a smoke and doggy walk break every hour or so. I am grateful I have to walk the dog. The noise level in the doublewide is akin to the Old Cole field house during a Maryland duke game. I start to get the feeling that there is perhaps too much blood in my alcohol system to withstand too much more of this. Happily over a brief 5-hour visit she is ready to go.

Repeat hotel and beach walk. Get dressed. Repeat lobby. Load dog , off to dinner. Not much open on a Sunday night in the resort down but happy surprise we trip across Fresco a very good Italian place still open. The food is top rate, the service first class. A very nice surprise. Even rocky gave his leftover penne with crab two paws up. Down to Duffy s tavern to watch the bears game and then home again to out hotel. Monday was uneventful except for a nice stroll down the boardwalk in the now warmish winter sun with a surprisingly well behaved rottenwilder before departing for home.

Some weekend observations:

The Indianapolis Colts once again proved that the avoidance of risk is often not the right solution. By resting their starter for the last few games, they basically went a month without experiencing the fierce competition that is NFL football, They lost an edge that cannot only be obtained in games, not practice. They were flat, they made mistakes they had not made all season. By sidestepping injury, they instead gained rust. And as Neil young pointed out rust never sleeps especially in the playoffs.

The Steelers came very close to proving that abandoning a steady aggressive approach that works in order to play not to lose is also a bad idea. After punishing manning the first 3 qtrs with a powerful pass rush from 4 down lineman, they went to a nickel back and 3 down lineman. Manning almost beat them because of it. One shoestring tackle missed and the Colts would have come back from down 21-3 to win the game. ON the last drive Cowher wised up and went back to 4 down lineman and played not to win rather than not to lose forcing Indy to try a long field goal to tie.

Bringing us to the point .. Sometimes it just not going to go your way. Indoors there was no way Vanderjagt misses the field goal 99.7% of the time. But the .03 does have a way of biting you sometimes. Nothing you can do about it except be aware it happens, pick up and move on. They are a great team and next year awaits. Bad trade? It happens. Move on or you will surely suffer more of the same in rapid fashion.

When its crunch time the great ones step up. The Carolina Panthers did beat the bears. Steve Smith did. He was unstoppable and the bear defense, the best in the league all year simply had no answer for him. After losing the NVL mvp and top runner in Shawn Alexander, matt hasselback stepped in the void and simply outplayed the redskin defense.

If like the bears you intend to win by great defense and low risk offense, falling behind means having to alter your game plan in such a way that defeat is inevitable. Once again playing not to lose may get you to the playoffs. It will not however win championships. To lift the Lombardi trophy on the field, in the market or in life one must be prepared to risk it all occasionally. In upsetting the colts, the Steelers went for 3 several 4th down attempts .. something the conservative Cowhers never does. But this was the playoffs.

Don t bother with the Clarion resort in Ocean city unless traveling with a large canine forces you to do so. They seem to have the attitude that since they have a conference center they will attract business regardless of amenities or upkeep. The rooms are not kept up, the beds are undersized and horrendously uncomfortable. There are several other conference centers in town and a new one being built by Hilton. I suspect they begin to lose business rather rapidly with a resulting overhaul of property and managers. Having a near monopoly does not mean you will always hold the market if you don t satisfy the customers.

Do go to Fresco if you re ever in OC. In the midst of all the all you can eat buffets and hamburger joints this place is a delightful surprise. So if you re at the beach take one night and treat yourself.

Those who do understand the basic concepts of their investments and merely chase the current fashion are doomed to failure. My school teacher friend from the ocean club would be cash flow positive and better able to withstand a slowdown had he been willing to pay a property manager to handle his rentals. Likewise owning all tech funds in your retirement plan in 2000 indicates that one follows the herd and expects this lion to never show. Lions like to eat. They always show up.

Lastly Never let your girlfriend go to a dog pound where they have cute rottenwilder puppies unless you like 6 am walks on a snowy beach.