This is the second installment of Pat Jordan's dispatch from Spring Break. Jordan, the author of A False Spring, took his gun and his cigars to Daytona Beach and filed this report over the mojo wire. Part 1 is here.
Part 2: Working hard at having fun ... Can't you smell that smell? ... In search of naked chicks ... Mother Teresa is going to Hell ... "Yeah for fornication!" ... Caught in a near-riot ... "I don't want you in here," the strip-club bouncer tells me ... "What the fuck?" the rent-a-cop tells me
* * *
I parked the van up against a wall looking out over Daytona Beach; beyond, the blue-green ocean and the gray sky on a cold, drizzly afternoon. I got my suitcase out of the back and struggled with it up the stairs beside the big swimming pool that was almost deserted, only a few kids swimming, determined to get their money's worth in Florida on a dispiriting day, and approached an open-air lounge with only a roof for protection against the rain, about 20 kids playing beer pong, the co-eds screeching and the boys shouting and banging against each other's shoulders until they saw me coming toward them, an old man with a white beard, smoking a cigar, wearing a black leather jacket and struggling with his suitcase, the kids silent now, in disbelief, their jaws dropping open, staring, until I walked past them into the lobby, and they went back to their beer pong and screaming, the fattest girls screaming the loudest, shaking their asses, working hard at having fun on Spring Break.
The sign at the reception desk said all the balcony doors in every room would be locked, presumably so kids wouldn't fall or throw themselves off the balcony in a drunken stupor. I checked in and went to the elevator, where a group of kids waited, the elevator door opening, the kids stepping aside, "You first, sir," I nodded, and then inside, a co-ed asked, "What room, sir?" and punched my button as I hid my lit cigar low at my hip. The girls were quiet until the elevator stopped at a floor and two handsome boys stepped in, one of them looking like a male model, all gleaming teeth and tousled black hair, the other less handsome, but more self-aware, wearing narrow shades and a straw hat, the brim tipped strategically over one eye so he could watch himself gavotte, the kid doomed already to a life of excruciating self-awareness, a Cool Dude with a towel tossed insouciantly over his shoulders. Now, the girls got loud, giggling, getting the boys to notice them, as I stepped off the elevator to my floor and was immediately hit with the smell that I would soon learn pervaded the entire hotel, disinfectant bought cheap in 10 gallon drums. And I was worried about my cigar smell? My room had two queen-sized beds and smelled of disinfectant. I dropped my bag, took out a plastic bottle of Jim Beam Black, a carrier, poured myself a drink, and called A.J. at Deadspin. I woke him up. "You're just getting up?" I said. "I've been up since four fucking o'clock." Then I said: "Why do you guys at Deadspin hate me? This is the assignment from Hell." He said the boys at Deadspin didn't really hate me, and I realized that kids of his generation have no concept of sarcasm or irony, or maybe they just think that all old guys are only literal.
About 4 p.m., I left the hotel to look for a restaurant. I walked up the deserted main drag, A1A, past a few co-eds freezing in the drizzling rain, the co-eds dressed in bikinis with bare, dirty feet, and found an oyster bar. It was mostly a locals' place, with older guys with beards and trucker caps, and their chicks with huge store-bought tits. I sat at the bar, had some fried oysters and a Jim Beam Black, and realized I had forgotten how bad Spring Break really was in Fort Lauderdale, because in those days, when it got too much for me on The Strip I could escape back to my apartment. Here, I was trapped, with no exit.
After lunch, I went back to the hotel and watched the kids have beer-chugging contests in the open-air lounge, the girls screaming, the boys shouting. There were a few kids in the pool screaming and shouting, too. None of them actually talked, they just communicated in screams and shouts. I sat down and immediately my jacket stuck to the back of the chair. A boy came over to me, a kid with a Dale Earnhardt t-shirt, and asked me what I was doing here. I told him I was writing a story for Deadspin.com. "What's that?" he said. I explained: a bunch of guys sitting around their mothers' basements, hunched over their computers, trying to be terminally hip with their clever ideas. He looked confused. "I thought college kids were Deadspin fans," I said. He shook his head. "Never heard of it." He said he was from Toronto and had come here to see naked girls. "But what the fuck!" he said. "The girls don't even get naked." I said, "Well, maybe tomorrow at the wet t-shirt contest." He brightened. "Yeah, right, dude," and he gave me a high-five.
I got up and found Jimbo in the bar. Jimbo was the hotel's event coordinator, in his 40s, baseball cap, beard, Hawaiian shirt, gruff. "Where the fuck'd you say you were from?" I pulled out my Deadspin assignment letter with the Gawker name at top. He read it, then said, "I never heard of Gawker, or Deadspin. But what the hell, you're welcome to go to the wet t-shirt contest." He grinned at me. "You sure as hell will stand out."
At 6 p.m., I went up to my room to sleep for a few hours before I went out at night. I was about to pull the covers down and thought better of it. I lay down on top of the bedspread, fully dressed, and dozed off.
* * *
I woke at 11 and went to the elevator in the lobby. Two black chicks were waiting for the elevator, the chicks dressed in skintight dresses that barely covered their asses, and, incongruously, green hospital-like bands around their wrists. I was going to tell them they looked hot but thought it'd be better if I waited at least a few hours before a co-ed called the cops on me. Instead, I asked what the wrist bands were, and they said all the Spring Breakers had to wear them to get into their rooms. One of them said, "How come you don't have one?" I said, "Do I look like a Spring Breaker?" They laughed. Then the other said, "Do you have to pay a $100 security deposit like we do?" I said, no, the hotel didn't figure one old guy was going to trash his room before he left. "Besides, it's already trashed," I said. "It smells." They said, "Ours, too."
In the darkness, I turned right off A1A onto Seabreeze Boulevard, a narrow street bordered by bars and restaurants. The sidewalks were already packed with gangs of screaming kids, some dressed up, like the black chicks, to get into Razzle's, and some dressed down, in cargo shorts and t-shirts, to get into the open-air bars like the 509 Lounge. There was a long line of kids going around the corner to get into Razzle's, the area's hot dance club. I went up to the bouncer at the door and asked if I could speak to the manager. "Why?" he said. I showed him my Gawker/Deadspin letter and said, "I'm covering Spring Break." He said, "Never heard of them." Then he looked at me and said, "Man, I can't let you in." He gave me the manager's telephone number and said, "Call Kerry tomorrow, maybe he'll let you in."
Just then I heard a police siren behind me and saw flashing lights as a cop car followed a 1970 Lincoln Continental into the Razzle's parking lot, where both cars stopped. The Lincoln had a painting of a naked woman on the trunk, and I could see inside. The driver was a big man wearing a t-shirt that advertised Lollipops Gentlemen's Club. The lady cop went up to the driver's window to give the guy a ticket, but somehow he talked himself out of it, the lady copy saying, "OK, a warning this time, but not next time."
Behind me, across the street in darkness, I heard a voice shouting into a bullhorn, "Fornicators and Drunkards are going to Hell! Stop Sinning and follow Jesus!" A small band of protesters was standing on the sidewalk across the street from Razzle's. They had propped up a 10-foot white cross made out of metal piping against a pole. The guy shouting into the bullhorn was wearing a sandwich board that listed all the sins he was protesting against — fornication, drunkenness, sodomy, pot smoking — while he shouted into his bullhorn, "Mother Teresa is going to Hell because she let homos into the church. Jesus Christ is the only one who can offer you mercy." A black dude walked past him and shouted, "You need to shut the fuck up, dude." The guy with the bullhorn shouted after him, "You're going to Hell." The black guy, without looking back, raised his arm and gave him the finger.
I went over to the small band of protesters and struck up a conversation with one of them, a small kid with a beard and wire-rimmed spectacles named Jesse Morrell, who was all of 25. Jesse told me the group represented Open Air Outreach, and they went around the country, preaching anywhere college kids assembled in groups, campuses, concerts, Spring Break. "I've been on the road with my wife for five years now," he said. "My wife loves it. I love it, too. I'm as free as a bird." Jesse said he once preached to Al Franken and once was attacked by a kid in a Batman costume on Halloween, but mostly he preaches to college kids, which he admits is masochistic since they tend to get angry, fueled with beer and testosterone and a need to show off their machoness for the co-eds. "We've been punched and slapped already," he said, "but sometimes we get a few of them to turn their lives around like I did." Jesse said he went to jail for drugs when he was 15, and there he heard a jailhouse preacher, who helped him find Jesus. Still, despite his belief in the power of Jesus, Jesse is still a pragmatist who believes in watching out for himself. "Sometimes we end up in jail," he said, "but we know what our rights are. Before we go to a city we send letters to the police and district attorneys and get all the proper permits." Sometimes it's the places where he preaches that don't look kindly on his group, which has had legal tussles with the cities of New Haven and Hartford, Conn., which is why they have an attorney on call 24 hours a day (like me?), someone from the Alliance Defense Fund, a consortium of Christian lawyers around the country.
A group of kids walked by Jesse and screamed at him, "Yeah for fornication!" One of the kids in the group, an Asian, whispered to Jesse, "I agree with you." Jesse slipped him a tiny bible like a point guard dishing a pass off his hip. A car moved past us, its stereo blasting bass-heavy rap music. Jesse grinned at me and said, "What do you think of my generation's music?" I told him I only listened to '50s rock 'n' roll, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps. "Well, that's not Frank Sinatra, either," he said. He looked at the cigar in my mouth and added, "That's a sin, too." I said, "Yeah, well, at my age, I gotta have some vices." He laughed.
I asked Jesse if the bikers were especially tough on him and his fellow preachers. He said: "The bikers are pretty laid-back. But their women heckle us." Then he said, "I saw you trying to get into Razzle's." I said, "They wouldn't let me in." He said, "If you get in they'll probably think you're a mad prophet like us."
I left Jesse doing the Lord's work and crossed the street. I moved through the crowd toward the 509 Lounge, which already had a long line of kids waiting to get in. At the Seabreeze Fine Jewelry store, I stopped to listen to the music of a guy playing a tambourine and a redheaded chick with lip- and nose-rings playing a fiddle. The guy was white, but had black dreads. Another white guy with red dreads was dancing for them. They had her fiddle case opened so kids could toss in money. There was only a bill and some change in the case. I tossed in a few dollars. When they stopped playing I asked the girl the name of their group. She said, "The Homeless People, because we're homeless." Her name was Christa, the dark-haired guy was Robbie, and the redhead was Brett. They weren't really homeless, she said. They lived in a van and traveled the country playing "gypsy punk music" for college kids. "On a good night," she said, "we make $150." A fat kid walked past them and said, "Get a fucking job." Brett said, "We have a job."
I left them and went toward the 509 Lounge. When I got to a line of bushes separating the lounge from the sidewalk a white kid went flying over the bushes and landed on his back on the sidewalk. A husky black kid dove over the bushes on top of him and began punching him while a girl screamed at him and jumped on the black kid's back, trying to scratch his eyes out until he flung her off into the bushes. Suddenly other kids joined in and a riot was about to break out around me. I got jostled and pushed until I stumbled backward into the street just as four cop cars, their lights flashing, their sirens blaring, pulled up and a bunch of cops leaped out to separate the fighting kids. The black kid and his friend tried to slip off into the crowd but the cops caught them, jammed a baton around their necks and threw them spreadeagled on their cop cars and cuffed their hands behind their backs, then threw them into their cruisers. A female cop was standing beside me. I said to her, "Is this usual?" She said, "There ain't nothing about Spring Break that's usual."
It was almost 2 a.m. now, and I decided to go back to the hotel to get some sleep so I'd be sharp for the wet t-shirt contest the following afternoon. I walked back toward the hotel and passed Molly Brown's Ladies. I asked the guy at the door if they had any kids in there, figuring a strip club was too expensive a proposition for college kids. "Yeah, we got a lot," he said. I smiled and said, "You got any age-appropriate chicks for me? Maybe 65, 68, but without aluminum walkers?" He did not laugh. I decided, what the hell, might as well go in, but he stopped me. "I don't want you in here," he said. I flashed him my Gawker/Deadspin letter, but it did no good. I let it drop and walked back toward my hotel, with two thoughts: No one will let me in anywhere, and kids on Spring Break today are different from the kids in Fort Lauderdale in the '80s. The Lauderdale kids had no money and slept in their vans. These kids stay in hotels, go to strip clubs and nightclubs and bars that are expensive. The Lauderdale kids ate at McDonald's, and if they were lucky enough to have the cash, they stayed 10 kids to a hotel room, which they destroyed. It's the times. There's no free lunch anymore. Only kids with cash and plastic get to play.
When I got to the hotel a group of brothers were coming out, the brothers decked out in hip-hop gear, their pants falling off their ass, a ton of gold chains around their necks, like anchors, and moved past me with their sloe-eyed stare, as if stoned, the brothers fading into the night with that swaggering walk, left-right-left-right, like a flock of lazy penguins.
* * *
When I got to my disinfectant-smelling room with its dirty rugs, I decided not to sleep there and instead went downstairs to the parking lot to sleep in my van. I brought with me my book-reading light, my CZ, and a copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The parking lot was dark and deserted. I could see a couple walking along the beach like black shadows, holding hands, stopping every few feet to kiss. I opened the back doors of the van and was about to climb in when I felt something hard tap on my shoulder, a nightstick. A voice said, "What the fuck you think you're doing?" I turned around to face a rent-a-cop. He was short and fat, and he had his hand on the gun at his hip. I said, "I was just gonna catch a few z's." He shook his head, no, "Not on my watch, buddy." Then he made me produce my hotel key card to prove I was staying at the hotel. Finally, satisfied, he gestured with his nightstick toward the hotel. Before I gave up I produced my Gawker/Deadspin letter and showed it to him. "Participatory journalism," I said. "It's for my story." He read the letter slowly, with a furrowed brow and narrowed eyes. I resisted the urge to offer him a little yellow ruler. Finally, he looked up and said, "Never heard of them, Stalker/Deadspin." I said, "It's Gawker." He said, "Whatever, you ain't sleepin' in the van." I shrugged and went up to my room, where I fell asleep, fully clothed, on top of the bedspread.
The story concludes tomorrow, with the much-anticipated wet t-shirt contest.