Spring Break Is Still Decadent and Depraved — and Awesome, Dude!

Kacey was blue. Not because someone had just awakened him. Not because it was 4 in the afternoon, and he was naked and confused. No, he was literally the color blue. His friends had drawn on his entire body with a blue Sharpie.

A 21-year-old student at the University of Kentucky, Kacey, like many spring breakers contacted for this article, asked that his last name not be published for fear that word of his activities in South Florida would get back to school officials or family. Kacey came to Fort Lauderdale several weeks ago with 10 fellow Kentucky students and had been drinking all day when he returned to his room at the Premiere, an inexpensive hotel just off A1A, for a nap. Except that during spring break (pronounced "SPRING BREAK! WOO!"), that's called "passing out." And when his pals decorated him like the walls of a public restroom, it was called "shaming." More than six feet tall, with dark hair and broad shoulders, Kacey stood on a third-floor balcony at the Premiere completely nude but for a beach towel that he held over his crotch. He rubbed his face, where someone had drawn a ring in his nose and blue, shaggy sideburns. He examined his arms, legs, and chest: all blue. "The worst part about it, it was my Sharpie," he said. "I brought it to use on them."

His friends gathered around him to point out the various blue works of art on his body. Across his forehead were the words "I HAVE AIDS." Around his neck was a mock prison-style tattoo that read "THUG LIFE."

"Oh my God, look at his eyes," said Jessica, one of his friends. "Close your eyes, Kacey: Oh my God, look!"

On his eyelids someone had carefully drawn small eyeballs. When Kacey blinked, it looked like the tiny eyes were winking.

Kacey looked dazed. No doubt that was at least partly a result of the alcohol in his blood. All the ink seeping into his skin may have had something to do with it, too, but more than anything Kacey seemed dazed because that's the goal of a true spring breaker: to get so blasted on vodka and rum and bourbon (plus a bowl or two of the chronic that he and his pals brought from Kentucky) that the world spins with fantastic fuzziness and all the problems of an American college student melt away.

Kacey squinted. Blue and all, he was having a great time. "And I know everyone responsible for this," he said, pointing to a blue penis that had been drawn on his chest. "I'm not mad, but I will get revenge. Oh yes I will."

"That's what spring break's all about," said his buddy Brad. "You fuck with people when they're passed out, they fuck with you back. You won't catch me passing out around these fuckers."

Brad was referring to his Kentucky friends, of course, but by extension "these fuckers" also clearly encompassed all the vacationing kinds of college students that Fort Lauderdale has been trying to shake for 20 years, the ones who drive 18 hours straight to get here and pile six-to-a-room into cheap motels, the ones who pound watery beers on the otherwise calm beaches. They're the young people that then-mayor Robert O. Cox said were no longer welcome when he went on Good Morning America in 1987 to declare the end of a decadent era in the place that invented spring break.

City elders say there's no place for them in the new Fort Lauderdale, an affluent oasis composed of towering condos and upscale shops. They'd like to think such groups now head for Panama City, or Daytona, or maybe Cancun. But they've carved out a place here for themselves.

Brad and Kacey and their crew, among an estimated 13,000 college students who still pick the city as their spring break destination, did not come for the fine dining and shopping. They came for the inexpensive party town of legend, with easygoing police officers and easier-going girls. They came for the Fort Lauderdale logged in decades of American cinema, the birthplace of the wet T-shirt contest, where hard bodies and binge drinkers come together with soft beaches and reliable birth control.

The Saturday after most schools in the country released their students for a week's vacation, the Miami Herald ran a story about the new spring break in Fort Lauderdale under the headline "Girls Gone Mild." The students quoted in the story claimed they came to Fort Lauderdale to get away from party places. The debauched days are over, says Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get rid of that element. Now we're about families snorkeling and young couples dining at trendy cafés or a group of girlfriends getting away for a 'shop and spa' splurge. Seeing a mother dabbing sunscreen on a baby's nose doesn't exactly bring out the wet T-shirt side of people."

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Michael J. Mooney