The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 29, 1998 · Page 824
Get access to this page with a Free Trial
Click to view larger version

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 824

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 29, 1998
Page 824
Start Free Trial

Page 824 article text (OCR)

THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 1998 w fJ Ws? i Sometimes, the direct approach works. Five guys from Toronto advertise for companionship by hanging a hand? painted banner on their motor home. HIE&iii74.v?l-3i. 4 lU'- V.. ) X ki ' v and loud, loud, loud. Conversation is nearly impossible, but there are other ways to communicate. State beverage: bartenders and security guards alert for fake ID cards. Most clubs let in 1 8-year-olds for a higher cover charge. ; . : f ( Jv.V 1. I . .. ; SPRING BREAK From ID slapping against my Gulf-front door. I decide to check out the scene before the ' weather gets worse. B ' ' Club La Vela bills itself as the largest nightclub in the country: 14 dance floors, 48 bar stations, nine theme rooms. Capacity: 7,000. This is where MTV set up its Spring Break headquarters for the past several years, the ultimate youth culture endorsement. This year, MTV is branching out to Jamaica; Cancun; and South Padre Island, Texas. But Panama City Beach is still its Florida choice, and a crew is headed for La Vela today, signaling that Spring Break '98 is officially at full steam. The rain has turned to light mist driven by a steady, cold breeze, nothing that would keep college kids away from the pool. On the club's broad, wood deck, a man with a blue plastic fin strapped to his head is instructing young ladies to put on T-shirts and then reach underneath and take off their bikini tops. ' Advertising banners hang all around. In case anyone misses the point, the Party Shark announces that Spring Break fe being brought to you by Nair, Arid XX, Trojans and Jeep. ' - After a good bit of PG-13 banter, the Shark drills the mostly male audience in ways to offer encouragement. : ' "Gentlemen, say, 'Wet and wild!' " They do. He sprays the T-shirts. Everyone screams with delight. . I catch up with the Shark after the show. His real name is Stephen Joyner, he's about two weeks shy of 40 and he's the club's marketing director as well as emcee, second in command of what appears to be a booming enterprise. . Joyner is a little pressed the MTV crew will be here any minute but he steps into the dark recess of an empty concert room to talk. The slightly daffy poolside persona stays behind. Joyner explains the demographic imperatives of a youth market American business cannot ignore. His job is to connect those businesses with his club. I want to know: How is it that with an entire country really, an entire world to choose from, so many kids happened to zero-in on this particular stretch of the Florida Panhandle? "It didn't just happen," he says. Joyner runs through a quick history of Spring Break, from Fort Lauderdale's decision in the early 1980s to forsake the kids for a more upscale adult crowd, to Daytona Beach's fast rise and retreat. Panama City offered advantages, including a closer drive from the Midwest and a beach so clearly separate from the mainland that no one would mind the fuss. This sort of thing is reviewed every year at a national Spring Break convention, where corporations decide which locations to promote, Joyner says. Then MTV and other media are drawn in. The kids think it's all their idea. I'm stunned. I thought spontaneity was the very essence of Spring Break, and now I find out it's all as scripted as a beer commercial. ; I ask Joyner who could organize something on that scale. n "It's a man named Richard Tarzian, he says. B Back at Bikini Beach, the girls from Central Michigan have just hit town and 'already it appears a hurricane hit Room 113: Floor and beds are covered with clothes, shoes and towels. Three of the girls are primping. The fourth is crying. . "I cannot be-lteve this! This isn t happening! What am I supposed to do?" Why is she asking me? "You should know about these things," she insists. The reason for tears is that Kim, who says she's 22, left her driver license on the plane. She can't reach the airline and can't try to get a local ID until Monday. "So what do I do? Sit here in the room all night while everyone else goes out?" J . , . I offer sympathy, but no advice. I excuse myself and wander over to the motel's game roombar. Kim follows. "He was no help," she tells Art the bartender. "What do I do?" Art tells her to let someone else buy beer and drink it in her room or on the beach. Kim shrieks. "You don't get it! I lied ever since I was 16 to get into bars. I had a whole wallet full of fake ID's. Now I'm legal and you're telling me I still can't get in? No, no, no!" She turns to a man drinking a Pepsi at the bar. "How close do they look anyway? Can't I just use one of my friends' ID's? Can I sneak in? I can just say I'm not going to drink and then get someone to buy drinks for me, right?" V ' Vs. other wiggles just enough to signal interest Then all heads turn and the voices rise and the rhythm picks up. Every wiggle from then on drives up both volume and tempo. Eventually, the wiggler must choose: retreat or reveal. Not many retreat and quite a few return the challenge. The boys don't take nearly as much persuading. Five guys on the eighth floor offer an elaborate rendition of the Full Monty to wild cheers. Earlier, the hotel security people stationed around the pool were trigger quick with reminders that guests are expected to keep their private parts private. But the storm has driven them back under the Tiki's cover, and the show roars on for hours. Why stop it? They all seem content to stay on their own balconies. For all the talk of Spring Break debauchery, this has to be the safest sex imaginable. Except for the lightning. B It's a little after 9 p.m. and I'm ex- hausted, but prospects for quiet are comically dim. So. I go down to the hotel bar and order a Scotch on the rocks. James the bartender serves it up in a Cash. '. "Why didn't you ID me?" I ask. ! James laughs. - - r- 4,. If " 0 The Spring Break club scene is agents are frequent visitors, keeping bars. "You just don't get it! The whole idea of spring break is to go out!" Kim runs out, then hesitates a moment before deciding which way to head for more advice. B I walk up and down the beach road, where traffic is building. Horns honk. Boys shout at girls; girls shout back. Blue lights flash. I consider investigating other nightlife but feel the need to conserve energy. I stop to chat with Deputy Bibbs, who warns that tomorrow night will be much, much noisier. .... I ask whether there's fury behind the sound, and he says the kids are mostly tame. "They get drunk, but they don't do that much damage. They're afraid to lose their security deposits." Bibbs, moonlighting as motel security, stays in close touch with local cops stationed every half-block or so in the 2-mile heart of the beach strip. The big challenges: keeping underage kids away from the beer, and keeping all kids from hurting themselves. "If I find underage kids in a room with beer, everything gets dumped," he says. "My record is 13 cases. There were a lot of tears that night." Anyone who argues gets arrested, but Bibbs doesn't get many arguments. He didn't make an arrest all last spring. He'd rather not make any this year, but ticks off a list of misdeeds he won't tolerate. "What you really worry about is balcony climbing," he says. "You climb a balcony, you go to jail. Did you know it's illegal to climb a balcony in Florida?" I promise to keep that in mind, and head off to bed. B Midnight, and thunder rattles the windows. A heavy knock rattles the front door. It's Deputy Bibbs. "You left the window open in your car," he says. I walk into a rapidly worsening storm to prove he's mistaken. Lightning illuminates the Pontiac. I left the window open. "Kim solved her problem," the deputy says. "She's getting another ID shipped overnight" I'm happier for her than for me. I'm going to be sitting on a wet seat for days to come. DAY 3: Panama City Beach I leave Bikini Beach for a much bigger hotel a half-mile west. Until 9 a.m there are scant signs of life. But as I approach the Holiday Inn, the Spring Break egg appears to hatch and hundreds of boys and girls spill out Saturday is the big day for check -ins, and the lobby is jammed. Lines form according to school, room, floor and, for all I know, shoe size. I'm expecting a long wait but a stjcurity guard ushers me through the crowd. Throughout my journey, I will be chuckled at and goofed on dozens of times because of my age, but I'll also be accorded a good deal of regard. I am more than a curiosity: I look like a paying tourist, an apparition of prosperity in a community dependent on this annual migration of creatures who sleep six to a room and appear to eat nothing. Everywhere I go, I get swifter service, a better seat and, sometimes, even pay less than the kids. Bartenders waive cover charges, confident I'll drink more than water. Waiters leap at the opportunity for a tip of more than 5 percent. Best of all, I'm exempt from security deposits on hotel rooms and telephones that can add up to hundreds of dollars. But none of this is apparent as I wade into this sea of youth. So far, I'm merely incongruous. "Checking out?" asks the cheerful desk clerk. "No, checking in," I say. She appears alarmed. "Are you sure you want to stay here?" Once she's convinced, she processes my paperwork swiftly, hands me a key card and asks me to extend my right arm. I assume this is some sort of Holiday Inn salute, but she clamps an orange, plastic bracelet around my wrist. "I'm sorry, but you'll need to wear that while you're here so we know you're a guest," she says. For the first time on my Spring Break, I feel like I belong. B Upstairs in my room, I hear shouting. I open the balcony door and meet the boys from Connecticut settling in next door: Vince, Eddie, Norm and Jason. They're tipsy but still alert enough to notice there are girls everywhere. "Hey, baby," Vince shouts toward the sodden pool deck below. "Show us your tits!" I'm amused by his sheer, drunken dopiness. "Vince, you don't really expect that to work, do you?" It's clear from his look that he does. I decide he deserves my best avuncular advice before he gets into trouble. "Vince, this is ain't no truck stop and these ain't no biker babes," I say. "These are college women in the late 1990s. They do not appreciate being being hooted at and they're as likely to call a cop as to take off their shirts just because you tell them to." Vince grins and turns to his left "Bay-6f.f Show us your tits'." A very enthusiastic young woman on the next balcony demonstrates convincingly that Vince knows a lot more about college women than I do. B Late afternoon, the storm is getting ugly again. These kids are being treated to a good, old-fashioned Florida soaker, with gale-force gusts and great white bursts of light arcing across the Gulf. Even the hardiest (and drunkest) finally abandon the poolside Tiki bar. The Volusia County Beach Patrol is quick and firm. An open container in a car brings a request for everyone's ID, followed by the ceremonial dumping of contents when the inevitable minor is discovered in the car. where Gettin'Jiggy Wit It, this year's Spring Break anthem, has been playing over and over for hours. I've been out on the street a half-dozen times, peering into the shops and tattoo parlors, but there's not much of a crowd anywhere except inside the hotel. The lobby's a madhouse, and as I wait for an elevator, two beefy guys rush out each carrying a case of beer. One barrels right into me. His apology hurts worse than the collision: "Pardon me, pops." I go to my room to dry out I lie down, exhausted, but I can't sleep. I settle into a sort of free-fall stupor, twitching to a thumpa-thumpa-thumpa rising from below. No matter. The roar of Spring Break is rising along with the storm's howl. I hear the Connecticut boys on the balcony, their chant confluent with dozens of others. I get up and open the door. Each of the hotel's 350 rooms has a balcony facing the Gulf, and there are at least a half-dozen Spring Breakers on nearly every one, forming a parabola of reverberant revelry'. They are hooting, whooping, waving school banners, drinking beer, spilling beer and dancing. And the boys are at full song with tliir show-us command. It starts off slow, until one girl or Sheriffs deputy Kennetn didds laughs. "Miss, you do realize you re talking to a police officer, don't you?" "Yeah, sure. So you must know all the tricks. What do I do?" Xlie deputy offrrs sympathy, and the ame advice as the jartenden skip the

Get full access with a Free Trial

Start Free Trial

What members have found on this page