It's that time of year again, Spring Break. Each year, the young and beautiful pack up their bathing suits and bikinis and head off to glorious destinations with infamous names like Ft. Lauderdale, Daytona, South Padre Island, Cancun, and Grand Cayman. What is the object of this massive seasonal migration, you might ask yourself? Apparently, each spring, our best and our brightest are overcome with an urge to venture off to some tropical destination so that they may practice hedonism on a scale that would make a Roman blush.
I sometimes look back nostalgically on my own hedonistic journeys south. The nights of ecstatic and feverish coupling with scantily clad coeds who, for one week only, had cast off all pretense of moral obligation. Waking up the next morning or afternoon to the breakfast delights of day old pizza and ice-cold Budweiser. Oh, those were the good old days.
Those would have been the good old days if I had actually gotten to participate in this heralded spring ritual, but unfortunately for me, I did not.
During my many years at university, the thought of traveling hundreds of miles to be a heathen for one week really did not appeal to me very much. I was a heathen every week. Spring break actually offered a much-deserved week off from drinking and womanizing. I could actually be alone with my thoughts and do things I never got a chance to do during the regular year like studying.
No, the time in my life when I most wanted to break out was my senior year in high school. This was the time when I was living under the oppressive rule of my parents and needed a carnival to repair my much-injured spirit.
I first became aware of the full delinquent potential of spring break when I was a fearful little freshman. I was "hanging out" in the student lounge with these two guys who, at the time, I thought were gods. As I look back on it now, I realize they were only seniors in high school. It's funny how no matter how old you get those guys will always be older and wiser than you ever could be. Anyway, I quietly sat in the farthest, darkest corner of the room so I could listen in on their conversation and remain unbeaten at the same time.
"Hardy finally got laid for the first time," one of the gods said as if he were talking about the weather.
"You're kidding." The other god responded nonchalantly.
"Yeah. By two chicks at once!"
"No kidding. That's awesome!"
"So, how was your trip?" The first god inquired.
"Great! I drank over two gallons of beer in one night and didn't pass out."
"What about yours?" The second god asked.
"Really great! This one night, a bunch of us were swimming at the pool, and then some girl pulled off my suit and . . . well, you know, one thing led to another and we all ended up . . .."
I couldn't listen to the rest of that story for all the blood rushing from my brain.
"I must go on this 'Spring Break!'" I exclaimed to myself. "I want to drink three gallons of beer and lose my virginity over and over and over and over!"
Well, a couple of years passed and I too was promoted to a god. I didn't feel very much like a god, but I wanted to have all the laurels befitting a god anyway. I wanted to journey to the Ithaca of the modern world. I wanted to go to Ft. Lauderdale Beach on "Spring Break."
So, I went to my dad to lay down an ultimatum.
"Dad, a few of my good, upstanding friends from school would like to take an educational trip to Florida this spring break. Do you think I might be able to join them for this spiritually uplifting journey?" I asked while striking my best estimation of an apostolic pose.
"No, son," my father said as he scooped up the remains of his newspaper and sauntered out of the room. My father is a man of very few words.
So picture this, it's the Thursday afternoon of the final spring break of my high school years. I am shoveling chicken shit into a wheel barrel when my father's red pickup truck pulls into the driveway.
"Go throw some things into a bag, we need to hit the road." my father said hurriedly.
"Where are we going?" I asked as I ran back to the house.
"Hollywood, Florida," my father said.
"Oh my God! Hollywood! That's a only a few miles south of Ft. Lauderdale." I thought to myself. "Could my father have finally seen the error of his ways?"
"We need to repossess a truck," my father expounded.
"Huh!" I responded with what must have been a dumb, contorted look upon my face.
My father simply looked back at me with his trademarked expression of "I already told you once, if I have to tell you again, you're gonna' get slapped."
My father's business was manufacturing truck bodies. Sometimes, people failed to pay and my father would have to go get the truck.
So, let us fast forward to twelve hours later. I am driving eighty miles an hour down the Florida Turnpike with the window rolled down, music cranked up, salt-water air blowing through my hair, and my father snoring away in the passenger seat. I pretended that I was heading towards the biggest beach party on earth: girls clawing at me, friends pouring cocktails down my throat, and me, absolutely powerless to stop it. When I finally awoke from my dream, I realized that I had been asleep for the last eighty miles!
I sat up straight, slapped myself around a little, and lit a cigarette.
I wasn't terribly over concerned by my condition. I was the best sleep-driver I knew. I drove forty miles to school every morning, and most days I had no recollection of ever doing it. One morning, a friend of mine, who had to make the same drive, was passing me on the way to school. He looked over and honked the horn to get my attention and found me fast asleep, head on my chest, drool dripping from the corner of my mouth, and still driving forty miles per hour in the middle of rush hour traffic. To this day, he says it's the craziest thing he has ever seen.
At 5:30 a.m., with the sun breaking over the Atlantic Ocean, my father and I arrived in Hollywood. My dad had the address given to him by the private detective and a key made by the truck manufacturer. We navigated the industrial section of town and found the truck parked exactly where the P.I. said it would be. My dad held out a hand with the key.
"Oh, no you don't," I said with panic in my voice. "It's your truck, you go get it!"
My father just gave me that look again.
"Damn it, Dad!" I said as I grabbed the key and climbed out of the pick-up truck.
"Try to be quiet," my dad added as I walked away. "A lot of times these guys have guns."
"Thanks for the tip!"
I quickly tip toed across the street to the truck and proceeded to unlock the door, all the time, keeping my head on a swivel for a pissed off truck owner with a gun. I managed to get inside and insert the key into the ignition. I turned the key to find the truck won't start. It just made that loud, screeching sound of an engine trying to turn over when it can't. I looked over to my father for some assistance and he simply put his finger to his mouth and signaled for me to hush!
"Damn it!" I screamed out as sweat poured off my face. I turned the key again and it still wouldn't start. "Jesus!" I frantically looked around to see if an angry assassin was coming my way. The street was completely deserted except for this older man sitting in a red pick-up doing absolutely nothing to help his son. I took a deep breath, offered up a prayer to God, and turned the key.
I quickly threw it into gear and tore out of that street as fast as I could. When my father finally caught up to me I was ten miles away and completely lost.
"Jesus, dad!" I screamed as I jumped out of the truck. "Do you think you can throw a guy a hand when he's about to get shot!"
"I had a gun." My dad shot back.
My father's confession was so incredible and so completely irrelevant that I couldn't think of a worthy response. I just threw my hands in the air, uttered a sound of total exasperation, and stomped off.
With my clothes soaked with sweat, I helped my father load the pick-up into the back of the moving van. We both climbed in and headed north. I was driving again on Interstate 95 when I saw the exit sign for Ft. Lauderdale Beach. My father was asleep again in the passenger seat when the truck just steered itself off the highway. We were in a beach parking lot when my father awoke.
"Where the hell are we?" He asked as he groggily looked around.
"Ft. Lauderdale Beach," I said firmly.
"What? He asked as he sat up. "Why?"
"Because I am going to have a spring break even if it's only for thirty minutes, damn it!"
I must have made my point because my dad said absolutely nothing. He just laid his head back, pushed his baseball cap forward to shield his face from the sun, and closed his eyes.
I climbed out of the truck and started walking towards the ocean. The smell of salt water filled my body with excitement. I have always loved the ocean. The sound of the waves striking the shore soothes me in a way that nothing else can. The sounds and smells somehow hearken back to something primitive and fundamental to being human. I always feel like I am home.
I pulled off my sweaty shirt, took off my shoes and socks, and rolled up my pant legs as far as I could. Van Halen's Beautiful Girls was blasting from a car full of screaming chicks who were cruising the beach. I smiled. They smiled back as they moved passed me in slow motion. As they disappeared into the ocean of cars, I suddenly became aware that I didn't belong here. I was merely a transient crashing the party for a quick beer.
I continued onward to the beach, found a suitable spot, and dug my toes into the sand. I let my head fall back and the sun's warmth penetrated deep into the skin on my face.
I opened my eyes to see a couple of guys my age laughing and throwing Frisbee amongst the waves. Gorgeous young girls in bikinis bathing in the warm spring sun. Airplanes flying overhead pulling huge banners advertising the hottest clubs in town.
My mind wandered to what could have been. Where were my friends? What stories would they have to tell? What adventures would I have had? I could only shake my head in wonderment. I stood up and slowly walked back to the truck, climbed in, and started it up. I drove back to the interstate and headed north towards home.