Spring Broken (Part 1 of 2)
In which I attempt to keep up with a group of American spring breakers nearly half my age, which goes about as well as you’d expect.
I hadn’t been on my most recent US vacation for long when the Spring Break stories started coming out of Florida. Fentanyl overdoses in Ft Lauderdale. Curfews imposed in Miami. Shootings on the beach. What was going on down there in the Sunshine State?
Since I was already in the proverbial neighbourhood, I wanted to check it out.
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of Spring Break as it appears in films and television shows. Because with the exception of lads’ trips to Ibiza or Malaga – if you knew me as a teenager, it won’t shock you that I wasn’t invited on any of these – it has no real UK equivalent.
To be clear, this was not a premature mid-life crisis. I was not hoping to score with girls who are are now literally (ew) half my age. In the words of Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan, “I’m not really here, it’s research, I’m Louis Theroux.”
But, privately, I did fear it would go something like *that* scene from Friends…
When I make my way down to the beach near my Destin hotel, wearing a Hawaiian shirt that causes one too many drunk guys to flash me the Proud Boys symbol on this trip, it’s packed. With families.
There is no debauchery anywhere to be seen.
I ask a hotel worker who’s about my age where all the “Spring Break stuff” is. Seeming to know exactly what I mean, he replies “oh, all that doesn’t really kick off until the middle of March, dude!” I was almost two weeks early.
But, as it turned out, all was not lost; Spring Break is staggered in the US, so the beaches in Florida and on the Gulf Coast aren’t absolutely overwhelmed for two weeks. Instead they’re just *kinda* overwhelmed for eight weeks…
One side effect of this is that some schools that are smaller and/or further away from the coasts get a head start on things at the beginning of March. Jackpot.
Staying across the hall from me is a group of guys from Kansas State University. There are eight of them, sharing a room the same size as the one that I’ve already managed to fill with the contents of my suitcase. I never do get around to asking them what they plan to do if one of them gets lucky.
I probably don’t want to know.
They pre-game with the door wedged open and their speakers turned up, punctuated by trips to the ice machine. But they’re polite and friendly, and they invite me to join them for a drink one night. Since they’re all just shy of the US’s legal drinking age, I’m absolutely sure that no alcohol is being consumed by them.
At one point in the evening I’m granted the privilege of the aux cord. Under extreme pressure the first song I pick is, inexplicably, by Yellowcard. It prompts one of the guys to tell me that they love “classic rock”, which makes me die inside.
The second is by a Canadian rapper called Sewerperson. They seem to like it but no-one there has ever heard of him, or “fucks with him” in their vernacular. Good to know that I’m out of touch at both possible ends of the spectrum.
We switch to a local country station, on which someone wins a grand prize of a Remington shotgun for being the sixth caller. This is unusual to no-one but me.
“Dude, Coyote Ugly is the spot tonight. It’s gonna be the place to be. You should come!” one of them says later in the evening. I feel like the robot wolf cub in Spy in the Wild being accepted by the pack.
I agree to join them, making a (bad) joke about how we’ll have to do our best to fight the moonlight. Looking at their blank expressions, I work out that the Coyote Ugly movie probably came out before any of them were born.
I’ve been feeling congested and feverish for a few hours, and it’s getting worse as the night goes on. I tested negative for covid the day before my flight, just two days ago, so I’m confident it’s only a case of vacation sickness.
I slip away from the group under the pretence of changing my clothes and I try to knock back a couple more hard seltzers in my room but, shockingly, they don’t make me feel any better.
When I open up Uber I see that, because “it’s extremely busy right now”, the 7 mile journey to the bar is going to cost $40. Each way. I crank up the A/C in my room, pull the covers over my head, and am asleep by 10pm.
It’s said that you regret the things you don’t do more than the things that you do.
I don’t regret bailing on the Kansas State boys, and I doubt any of them actually realised that I wasn’t there that night. I get a subdued rundown from the only one of them who’s in a fit state to talk when we’re at breakfast the next morning.
It surprises me that the focus is more on the group’s own exploits – Dustin’s battle with the (again, surely non-alcoholic) beer bong, Andrew almost getting kicked out for trying to dance on the bar – than hooking up with vivacious co-eds.
Saturday, it would seem, really is for the boys.
I guess you could say that I was surprised by how wholesome it all seemed – although, admittedly, my sample size was tiny – even if the headlines doing the rounds at the time didn’t exactly reflect that sentiment.
The real truth is that when you get older, you start to get an intuition for the things that you won’t regret not doing. As I near the halfway point of my thirties, I’m old enough to listen to that voice...because it’s right way too often. I hate that.
Besides, this would not be my last chance to get spring broken. A few weeks later, I would be at the illustrious, the fabulous, the infamous, Daytona Beach…
My time would come.
Americauthentic is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.