James Schiltz never went to spring break in Fort Lauderdale. The recent Iowa State University graduate hasn't even been to Florida. But that didn't stop him from writing an elaborate 120-page master's thesis last year on the rise and fall of spring break in Fort Lauderdale.
"I was really fascinated by how important spring break was to Fort Lauderdale's history, but things got out of hand -- it happened so quickly -- but surprisingly the city was able to rebuild after," Schiltz says. "It's a story of redemption, really." See also: Spring Break 2014 Starts Now!
Even though Schiltz has never seen a Fort Lauderdale sunrise, he is able to describe its "hypnotic sun." Even though he's never strolled the beaches, he remarks about "the distinct smell of salt and brine from the ocean." And even though he has yet to experience a spring break in Fort Lauderdale, he depicts the "pungent combination of urine, puke, and stale beer stinging the nostrils."
Schlitz, a history major, used clippings from South Florida newspapers to retell stories. He references the article of a young girl who fell out of a moving van driving along the beach and was later pronounced brain dead. He even describes the empty tissue box her mother reached for after pulling her off life support.
In another scene, Schiltz describes a frustrated hotel maid and the hotel manager who wishes he didn't have to accept reservations from such rowdy college kids. He mentions a vending machine flipped over in a drunken stupor.
And he also lists statistics of tourists over the years. Three hundred fifty thousand collegians added $120 million to the local economy in 1985. Despite the sharp decline of college kids during the '90s, Schiltz explains there was a shift to attracting older tourists and a push to invest in infrastructure like new shopping complexes. But Fort Lauderdale's loss was Daytona Beach's gain: That city inherited the new batch of binge-drinking spring breakers.
"Hence, Fort Lauderdale and American college students have amicably parted ways and moved onto bigger things," Schiltz concludes in this thesis. "Nevertheless, Fort Lauderdale will forever maintain an iconic place, both in the annals of spring break history and in the memories of millions of adults who spent a wild week of their youths reveling on the beach and along the strip."
Schiltz admits that he never wanted to go to spring break in Fort Lauderdale and that it's even weirder that he dedicated so much time to writing about it. But he's settled down since graduating. He's married and has a data analyst job in Lincoln, Nebraska, now.
"I will make it down there eventually," he promises.