Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring Break!

The calendar says it’s spring, and most of the nation is a'tingle.
As a native of snow-free Florida, I don't see the big whoop. I
never got the crucial concepts:
Spring Fever. Spring Thaw. Spring Cleaning.
I am, however, intimately familiar with one seasonal tradition:
Spring Break.
And let's just say I'm grateful the cameras from "Girls
Gone Wild'' weren't around in the distant decade of my misspent youth.
Combine a tiny bikini with a quart of Harvey Wallbangers, and almost
anyone might be prodded into entering a Hot Bod contest.
Well, anyone who was born in Fort Lauderdale, that is. My
hometown set the original standard for all the sun, sin, and
booze-soaked Spring Breaks that came after. Partaking was a family
tradition. My older sister was an extra in the 1960 movie, "Where the
Boys Are.'' That picture conferred Lauderdale's Spring Break Crown.
And we kept it, too, for more than a quarter century. At least until
civic leaders, as if awakening from a long hangover, finally shut down
the party. Last call for Fort Liquordale. Next stop Cancun.
Now, Fort Lauderdale's college-kid glory days, like my own, are
long gone. It's been 20 years since the campaign to kill Spring Break
finally succeeded. And longer still since I retired my string bikini.
I took a stroll along the beachfront the other day. A single cop
leaned on his motorcycle at Las Olas and A-1-A. Once, there were
legions in riot gear, trying to contain a crowd of 350,000 beer- and
hormone-addled spring-breakers. So many were arrested, kids started
wearing t-shirts: "Come on Vacation, Leave on Probation.''
Now, families picnic where the world's largest inflatable beer
bottle once swayed. The crowd is positively sedate at the Elbo Room,
where spring-breakers used to take a running start outside to slide on
their bellies across a beer-flooded floor. A banner on the bar's
balcony promotes the Humane Society's "Walk for the Animals.''
In the old days, spring-breakers didn't walk for the animals. They
WERE the animals!
Finally I arrive at the biggest symbol of change: The ultra-posh St.
Regis hotel. It opened last year where the Candy Store once stood. In
case you missed 1983's cinematic masterpiece, "Spring Break,'' the
Store's poolside bar was Fort Lauderdale's Bikini Contest Central.
"Good evening, ma'am,'' the doorman nods politely.
I look at him and realize he wasn't even born when the Candy Store –
and I – had our heyday. There's no way he could know that almost
thirty springs ago, that was me by the pool in a purple string bikini.
And, on that long-lost Spring Break, nobody was calling me ma'am.

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