Spring Forward

The beach is haunted by the ghosts of spring breaks past

"Why say no when it's so much easier to say yes?"

It was the perfect spring break motto. The fact that it was uttered at the Elbo Room gave it a nostalgic twist. The landmark destination still celebrates its heyday as a spring-break mecca, with vintage photographs around the bar that document it — including several from the 1960 movie Where the Boys Are.

I'm too young to relate to that Connie Francis flick, but I vividly remember the drama in the 1980s, before the 1984 national law raising the drinking age to 21 and Fort Lauderdale's ban on open containers. Those were the glory days, when students took head dives from hotel balconies.

While a free fall into the ever-after isn't my idea of a good time, I figured if something was going on somewhere on a slow Monday night, it would be down on the strip. Personally, I was a little slow that Monday night, with a full weekend of band shows, costume parties, reggae barbeques, and late night carousing under my belt. Even in that mellow, party-sated state, though, I had just gotten started.

So when I heard the guy in the Cubs hat try to finagle a freebie from the young lady with the white plastic doorknocker earrings and matching sunglasses, it was like echoes of the past materializing in the present. She leaned on the long outdoor table, smiling coyly at the horn-dog who was hounding her.

Of course, I had to ruin the moment to satisfy my curiosity: "Are you spring breakers?"

The yes man, whose name happened to be Mike, and his wingman were regulars, 30-something working stiffs out for an early evening brewski. The maybe chick and her fly girl were 22-year-old college students who'd evidently learned the power of not saying either yes or no. Ms. Maybe introduced herself as Jamie, a Milwaukee girl who'd moved to Boca to attend FAU. Her friend Ashleigh was visiting from back home. Both were enjoying a week away from school.

"Everyone in Boca is so mean," Jamie said, ignoring the suggestive quips the guys kept launching. "But I'm too nice. I listened to some guy talk about infomercials for two-and-a-half hours the other night."

It was a smart bit of bait that Mike went for hard, even while the girls ignored him so they could tell me about their cute tourist activities during their break, which included baby alligator petting and a night of karaoke. What should have been a boozefest sounded like a snoozefest. Was this Generation Zzzzzzz?

"I'm too nice," I heard Jamie say again, while Wing Man was spewing his own diatribe on the shallow women on South Florida's dating scene.

"I never want to tell someone they're doing it wrong," Jamie continued.

Was I hearing things right? "Are you admitting to faking orgasms?"

"When guys go down on you or finger you, they never get it right," she said with a little shrug. "It's easier just to have sex with them."

"I could have given her four orgasms by now," Mike griped to his buddies, apparently staking his whole game on Leo Durocher's old adage about nice guys finishing last. At this juncture, though, a couple of nice girls named Jamie and Ashleigh weren't even going to let these guys get started.

Soon the group went their separate ways. Enter the Boomer in the yellow hoody, "Ron from Denver," a landscape architect who had been in town for just four hours. He gave the place a knowing look, like Rip Van Winkle wandering back into town, and recalled out loud the days he first experienced Fort Lauderdale Beach, when he and a carload of his frat buddies drove down from Purdue University in the early '70s.

"It was like 12 degrees back home. We drove 24 hours straight and fell asleep on the beach in flannel shirts in our sleeping bags. We woke up to the smell of cocoa butter and people sunning themselves."

Red in the face (whether it was sunburn or beer shine, I couldn't tell), he told me he'd seen the scene change firsthand.

"I'd like kids today to experience the freedom I had. It's like a police state now," he said. (Actually, not bad in terms of crystal-ball-gazing. Thirty minutes later, I watched the cops pointlessly shut down a visiting South Dakota artist selling his work to passers-by.)

"They want to control the traffic; they won't let people drink. This place used to be called Fort Liquordale. Now it's nothing," he opined. "It's gonna lose millions. People wanna come here and have fun — not spend $200 for a room at the Ritz Carlton and police control."

I pushed back inside the ramshackle open-air place, sidestepping the vast wet, Lysol-scented spots that attested to the fact that someone had had some fun. There were scads of dudes in T-shirts and shorts, slogging through the floor's muck — including the hard-bodied tattoo billboards who were chanting something in celebration of an Eagles football win. (Wait a minute. Isn't this basketball season?) There were even two business guys. The one in the black turtleneck — who could have easily been a stand-in for SNL's Dieter — had put his mark on the place by donating the "E-Wkends" Illinois license plate on the rafter. It was a sausage fest for sure.

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