If you can imagine the angst of the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens as swarms of barbarians prepared to pounce on Rome, then you have a rough idea of how Clearwater Police Chief Tony Holloway must feel right about now. Spring has sprung, and so begins the seasonal storming of our beaches and bars, albeit the warriors will be armed with swizzle sticks rather than spears.
While one rum runner too many may result in a spring breaker touring the city's drunk tank, our police force actually isn't all that worried.
“In the last couple of years, spring break has been less of an issue,” said Lt. David Dalton. “Historically, our department developed a plan to deal with it along with increasing deployments of officers.”
Even so, some historians proclaim that the word “spring” in spring break is actually an acronym for Students Partying Relentlessly, Irrationally with Nonstop Guzzling. Moreover, I postulate that “break” more readily applied to past generations when drink cups were made of glass instead of plastic.
Local views about spring break range from zero to 10 on the anxiety meter. Although seagulls don't seem to mind the invasion of their air space by volleyballs and Frisbees, car- traveling issues can really get arms up in flaps. Residents already burdened by roads swelled with winter tourists and school traffic often gripe about the added presence of out-of-town college kids. However, most beach-area business owners beg to differ and view the additional volume through green-tinted glasses.
“Spring break is definitely a big plus — we love it,” said Alan Ebbert, general manager of Frenchy's Rockaway Grill and vice president of Frenchy's Clearwater operations. “It's good for the beach and good for us.”
The old image of spring breakers arriving broke or only in the company of their pals is also changing.
“Unlike the days when spring breakers were mostly college students looking to take a break from the books, we're now welcoming more families seeking multigenerational getaways,” said Brian Kramer, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.
A memorable incident from my college years occurred during a spring break in Daytona Beach. Seated at a tiki bar with my then-girlfriend, at one point I excused myself to use the bathroom and noted a biker arriving on a Harley. Upon returning to the bar, I found the biker occupying my stool and hitting on my girlfriend. When I politely tried to reclaim the stool, the biker sternly said, “Once you leave a seat, it's no longer yours.”
I nodded, thought a moment and then made a beeline to the biker's Harley and sat on it. “Hey, what do you think you're doing?” came the loud exclamation.
Smiling, I retorted, “Once you leave a seat, it's no longer yours.” Fortunately the biker laughed and a confrontation was avoided, although I wasn't all that worried because she was a lot shorter than me.
Realizing that I needed to update my spring break awareness, this past week I visited several Clearwater Beach hotels and popular waterfront watering holes. The experiences resulted in five poignant observations that seem axiomatic:
• Don't use words like “poignant” and “axiomatic” when among college-age revelers. Instead, sprinkle your conversations with “dawg” and “that's sick” to earn respect.
• The more clothes someone is wearing, the older they are.
• When someone says “nice dimples,” they're not always looking at a face.
• Don't waste time repeatedly wondering whether those covered in tattoos and body rings will regret it when they're older.
• If you wear a logoed T-shirt of a college currently on break, you'll often receive free drinks from alumni. Not that I would stoop to such a thing.
Let's face it, dawg, spring break is really what you make of it. Just enjoy the high energy of a youthful crowd having fun in a sick setting like Clearwater Beach and appreciate all the local economic benefits. And if, like me, you're not being carded anymore, well, that's downright axiomatic.