BREAK - DAYTONA'S CURSE?
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Yet there is
no settlement of its size, either North or South, East or West, that contains
a more respectable, law-abiding and industrious population.
-A Volusia County Tourism Pamphlet, 1875
The best time to strike is when they are stuck in traffic. Unable to move,
they serve as perfect targets for my new friend Chris, a sizable African-American
fellow with gold-rimmed Aviator glasses featured prominently under his
black bandanna. Around his neck lie at least 50 pairs of beads that he
will offer any woman in sight because, let me tell you, Chris is on a
mission. As his 300-pound frame waddles down Atlantic Boulevard, he finds
his newest prey. Oh, can I have some of those beads? another
nameless drunken college girl yells out of the passenger window of her
friend's Nissan Maxima.
Youve got to earn your beads, the Master coldly declares,
as he turns around to give a knowing wink to his four too-old-for-this-type-of-shit
cronies, writhing in anticipation on the sidewalk. She looks back at her
three friends in the car and giggles. They give her two nods and a shrug.
That means its a go. Grinning from ear to ear, she lifts up her
shirt, exposing her breasts for a brief moment. The sidewalk gang busts
out laughing. It is well over the twentieth pair they had seen that Friday
night, but the novelty of the act has yet to wear thin.
Hell, not much loses its appeal through drunken eyes in Daytona Beach.
Whether it be attending a Wet Boxer/Wet T-shirt competition (for sexual
equalitys sake) at the Plaza, funneling straight Absolut vodka,
or looking for cheap thrills on a street corner on a Friday night, the
beach town offers world-class opportunities for the participation in and
observation of the most hedonistic activities imaginable. And are you
ready for the best part? The official spring break motto is Whatever
happens in Daytona, stays in Daytona!
This years three whirlwind weeks of collegiate browning, baring,
and blacking out was by no means the first installment of spring break
on the shores of Daytona though. Actually, this particular locale has
earned a long and storied tradition as one of the premier spots of post-pubescent,
pre-adulthood debauchery. However, life on the Daytona shores did not
always involve a fifth of Jack Daniels and three condoms in your back
Back when the sleepy beach towns pioneers officially named the town
after one of the citys chief benefactors Mathias Day in 1876, Daytona
was a sparsely populated area with miles of untouched sand and vast stretches
of live oak trees. When word spread of the areas natural beauty,
tourism quickly turned into Daytonas primary source of economic
gain. In fact, the droves of vacationers flocked southward with such force
that by the early 1900s, the citys (rather cumbersome) slogan read,
Daytona, The Mecca of Tourists, Premier Winter Resort. Not
only did Daytona attract a high volume of visitors, but those who did
make the journey also happened to be among the most prestigious members
of American society. The Rockefellers owned a vacation home there. President
William Harding frequented the beaches of the region. The founders of
Daytona Beach had created a highbrow setting in which the nations
elite could escape the rigors of northern life.
From this point on in Daytona history, this eras ability to attract
a large yet refined clientele has served as the citys model of perfectiona
standard that it has been trying to regain ever since. Rather suddenly
though the popularity of the city began to wane because of the toll that
the Great Depression and World War II imposed upon the nation. Due to
the economic restrictions and militaristic obligations of the time, too
few Americans could afford the extravagance of vacationing in the South.
Nevertheless, phoenix-like, Daytona would rise again. Realizing that the
city was faltering without a healthy dose of tourism and looking to cash
in on the burgeoning spring break market, Daytonans decided to cater to
the collegiate demographic. Once the winter resort of the stars, the beach
town transformed itself into a haven for collegians looking for a spring
time release. In the early years of the 60s and 70s, spring
break in Daytona more closely resembled a Frankie Avalon flick rather
than a Traci Lords one, complete with beach balls, cool winds, and true
romance. With a squeaky clean image, the Community built significantly
upon its reputation of being an excellent travel destination, and its
members were pleased to see their city return to national prominence.
Donald Patrick, a sun-swept older gentleman with some paunch to spare,
partly owns the Travelodge Hotel on the main strip, and he remembers this
period in Daytonas life cycle with great affection. Back in
the old days, the beach was free, and it was unrestricted day and night.
It was great because everyone used to build fires out there and spend
the night. A whole lot of life was right on the sand itself
then though, the Community has forced the beach into less activity by
cutting down on the hours and types of activity allowed on the [actual
This Community that Patrick speaks of has always believed
that it possesses a supremely ordained right to set the agenda for all
those lucky enough to spend some time within its city limits. The Community
rules above all else down there dammit, and aint nobody going to
change its mind either. For these people, Daytona Beach not only serves
as their place of residency, but it also acts as their main link to their
However, despite its lofty intentions, not all of the Communitys
choices over the last several decades have ensured Daytonas long-term
success. Actually, Community members are notorious for guarding the citys
precious boundaries with so much zeal that it has been known to blind
their better sense of judgment. I dont always understand the
mentality here, a local travel agent divulged to me. Twenty
some odd years ago, Disney wanted to build out in Daytona Beach. This
area was Disneys first choice because we have the beach. But the
good ol boy mentality that operates Daytona said we dont need
that kind of trash here.
Trying to escape a garbage bag of Disney waste, Daytonans would soon find
themselves drowning in a landfill. Opting out of becoming the Easts
hub of all things Mickey, Daytona administrators still held huge aspirations
for the city, so they decided to beef up their reputation as a spring
break town by inviting MTV down to broadcast the town at its sunny best.
Though Daytona immediately became the spring-break capital of the world,
the Community exposed its great naïveté with this decision
as the telecasts unearthed the seediest aspects of Daytona and its severely
sloshed visitors. Tricia Savard, a public-relations specialist for the
city, recalled these days without the slightest hint of nostalgia. We
aggressively went after spring break business in the mid-1980s, and it
was a be careful what you wish for situation. In the peak
of the MTV days herethe late 80s and early 90swe
had about 500,000 kids here, which almost tripled the population of our
city overnight. You like having houseguests, but you dont necessarily
like having 500,000 of them.
Needless to say, not every one of these visitors conducted himself with
the utmost of class and dignity. Stories of rampant sex, hardcore boozing,
and public urination are now infamous around Daytona. Because we
had the MTV craziness, Savard continued, the kids who chose
to come here were those chasing the spotlight. Put a TV camera in front
of a group of people, and as crazy as they might get on their own, the
camera ups that notch even more.
Tired of seeing their beloved city paraded as a modern day Gomorrah for
one week every year, the Community members kicked Pauly Shore and the
rest of the MTV crew out for good to competing destinations like Panama
City and Cancun. Spring break, an event that had not only grown to separate
Daytona from most of the other Florida beach towns where New Yorkers go
to die, but also had offered many of its residents financial prosperity,
had finally worn out its welcome. A city that had always been plagued
by the debate of choosing between unpredictable expansion and comfortable
stagnancy finally settled on the latter. MTV had led the Communitys
1920s ideal too far astray. Nevertheless, the decision would not, excuse
me, could not last long. This is Daytona Beach after allthe city
that cannot survive economically or socially without a healthy number
of tourists crawling around the boardwalk.
When I first crept down Atlantic Boulevard this March, I had absolutely
no idea how vehemently against spring break many residents had been. Seeing
packs of guys carrying cases of Busch Light and staring at bikinied girls
strutting down the sidewalk with the knowledge that they would be the
object of every mans wayward glance, I thought I had hit hedonistic
pay dirt. Not a single sign existed that would serve to prove that the
Community had adamantly denounced such behavior less than a decade ago.
In fact, the Community realized that Daytona simply could not be as strong
without these unwelcome vacationers. As a Community, how are we
going to keep the concerns of the residents in mind while still not turning
away the visitors? Savard asks, pointing out the fundamental contradiction
of the Community. She continues in an attempt to explain the state of
Daytona life: The city is currently going through a visioning
process. The city administration is trying to get its arms around
being a special-events town
.because for the last couple years, all
of the citys events have been growing [in terms of attendance].
However such a transition does not occur without a fair share of growing
pains. The local travel agent explained, I was young once too, but
we werent allowed to pull some of the crap that you kids pull
It seems like most kids come down here to booze it up and see how many
condoms they can use in the day. I dont think that the people who
live down here should have to put up with this behavior.
The beauty of the What happens in Daytona, stays in Daytona!
mantra is that it allows the vacationers to leave their sins behind as
they cleanse themselves on their car rides back to their respective universities.
The ugliness of it lies in the simple truth that all the transgressions
committed there remain for the Community members to sift through. With
each passing year some of them feel as if the stench of hedonism grows
more and more odious until they have no other choice other than ending
the whole unholy cycle. The Community still grapples with the dilemma
of whether or not to turn a blind eye to the moral degradation that characterizes
the city during the ritualistic spring festivities because of the vast
financial rewards that it reaps. Nevertheless, after ardently rejecting
its role as the spring-break capital of the world a mere decade ago, the
Community is learning how to cope with merely being on the Mount Rushmore
of such destinations. More importantly, the Community recognizes that
the golden age of Daytona has long passed, and it needs to
embrace a different brand of visitor in order to retain its national popularity.
Cheryl LaPeer, the director of the Halifax Historical Society knows more
about Daytona Beach than just about anyone, but her own conflict reflects
that of every other Community member. Personally, I do not like
having all the spring breakers here, she admits, but I understand
that tourism really does contribute to the economic base of the area.
Im afraid that if it all left, the place would fall down around
our ears. Despite all of the internal struggles though, the vacationers
continue to have the time of their lives. It seems like Johnny, an extremely
short, tanned high school senior with two pierced nipples is having the
most fun of anyone. As this anti-Rockefeller explodes across my hotel
room with unequivocal energy and bubbliness, I ask him what should be
held accountable for his demeanor. Look at this, Greg, he
answers with his body as much as his voice. There are so many chicks
and so much booze. What a great city Daytona Beach is!
© Greg Veis 2001
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