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Beaches, Beer and Bathing Suits

Spring Break

By Charles P. Kempf

It's spring break.

All around you, students are cracking open their unread books, discussing their academic and career-oriented plans with their parents and catching up on all their unread issues of Time and Newsweek. Those undergraduates who went home are walking up at 8 a.m. every morning to complete their family chores and getting together with old friends to have milk and cookies and discuss international relations.

Oh. No. Wait a minute...That's reading period.

Ted B. Constan '89 and his roommates are planning a far more realistic spring break. "We're going drinking on Bourbon Street!" he says, adding that they plan to drive down to New Orleans.

"On the way we're stopping at this amusement center where a farmer took an old wheat silo, lined it with padding, and put a DC-4 engine at the bottom. We'll put on parachute gear and just float around for a while," Constan says.

Like many undergraduates, Ted and his roommates have their own way of making their money last. "We're taking my old 1976 Pontiac LeMans, which may only last 400 miles," he says.

While Constan is travelling with his roommates, many undergraduates are taking their extracurricular activities on the road.

The cast and staff of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals' 140th annual production will be doing what Pudding groups have done for years: putting on performances in New York and in Bermuda. Of course, they won't be working all the time. The group arranges to get free passes to several popular discos during their New York run, and then its off to Bermuda. "We'll ride around on mopeds, drink a lot of Goslings Rum, and have trashy flings with each other," says Adrian D. Blake' 88, president of the Hasty Puddings Theatricals.

While on the island, the Pudding staff may run into the Radcliffe Pitches and the Harvard Krokodiloes, who will also tour Bermuda during the break.

Not all Harvard students heading toward warm weather this spring break plan on partying it up along the beaches. A number of Harvard sports teams are heading south or west for special exhibition seasons and warm-weather training. The softball team will be practicing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the women's lacrosse team will be in Mary-land and both the men's and women's tennis teams are flying out to California. In addition, Constan and his roommates may run into the rugby club in New Orleans.

The Harvard teams are not the only ones practicing down south. Late march is also spring training time for professional baseball, and the Harvard baseball team plans to take advantage of that fact.

The team is heading down to Florida, where it will meet several other college squads as well as the Boston Red Sox farm teams. Though the team played the Sox teams last year--and actually batted against Cy Young winner Roger Clemens--they didn't play any college teams. This year will be different.

"We're really psyched for Florida," says Vic McGrady '90. "We're more motivated since we're playing college teams. But it's always fun playing the Red Sox."

While Cambridge is emptying out as fast as Harvard students can get their bags packed, the warmer parts of the country are preparing for an onslaught.

As hotel and restaurant owners can testify, Ft. Lauderdale--and other points south--are always peaceful and quiet at this time of year. "We had to kick some guy out of our hotel last year because he was running through the hallways nude," recalls Edward Risbergs, general manager of the Riviera Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale.

"A lot of kids get caught drunk driving down here," says Melissa Birkemeir, a bartender at Penrod's Nightclub. "So the big saying here is 'come down on vacation and go back on probation.'"

Life on the Ft. Lauderdale strip is always exciting, Birkemeir says. And the scenery is certainly unusual.

"Outside we wear Bikini bathing suits and inside we wear skimpy, French suits. They're pretty revealing," Birkmeir says. "The guys are all obnoxious and crazy. I get hit on almost 500 times per night and once in a while, I have to call a bouncer cause some guy pinches me in the butt. Nonctheless," she adds, "I can make $300 in one night during spring break."

Life in the bars may sound rowdy, but the hotels are even worse. "Every year two or three people try to take a swan dive off the fifth or sixth floor balcony into the pool below. Unfortunately most miss," says Sergeant Jim G. Ferrel of the Ft. Lauderdale police department.

"I can remember some guy who fell off his upper-level balcony. He was playing basketball the next day," says Risbergs of the Riviera Hotel.

And Ferrel described an incident last year where a young man grabbed an outdoor elevator at the Pier 66 Hotel. He rode it up to the sixth floor, lost his grip, and fell to his death.

Despite these grisly tales, some local residents say vacationing college students in Ft. Lauderdale are respectable and well-behaved.

"These stories that two or three people die every year are not true. They are a total lie and the police are not well informed," says Susan Migdall, co-owner of the Summers on the Beach nightclub. "The college kids down here are so nice these last few years that they even put trash in the baskets. It's not crazy dangerous down here, it's just crazy fun."

Despite the debate on whether Ft. Lauderdale is dangerous or fun, all seem to agree on one thing Ft. Lauderdale is crazy!

James B. Stovell '90 and Owen O. West '90 went to Ft. Lauderdale last spring, and they have fond memories of their trip. "We were down there hanging out, cruising around, and girls were all around us. Needless to say, we got four blondes in one day. That 's the way Owen and I like them," Stovell says.

Although the hordes of college students bring lots of money into Ft. Lauderdale, the clink of the cash register is often accompanied by the crash of breaking glass.

Many hotel managers say they take the precaution of removing any breakable furniture during the months of March and April. "Hey, its spring break, people like their beer and things break when kids are tossing around the pigskin," Risbergs says.

Cleaning up after the onslaught is often quite a chore. "Besides having to clean up the usual leftovers of beer cans, maids often discover the unwelcome sight of human leftovers," says Risberg. "The number of complaints from maids increases proportionately with the number of teenagers down here."

Sometimes the garbage moves out of the hotels into public spaces. "One of the most embarrassing problems down here is the problem of kids...relieving themselves biologically on the streets," Risbergs says.

In part of an effort to control--and profit from--the vacation traffic, local officials and bar owners plan a host of special activities. The Anheuser-Busch brewery is sponsoring an event called "Glazer Chase" on the beaches of Daytona and Ft. Lauderdale.

The "Chase" is a capture-the-flag tournament in which four-man teams wear "Glazers," sunglasses with ink-filled squirt guns attached to them. One team wins when it captures all three of the other team's flags or hits all of its opponents with a "Glazer."

In addition to squirt-gun contests, the local bars and nightclubs offer an interesting variety of events. The Summers on the Beach nightclub makes videos of wet T-shirt contests. Last year, the video featured five Penthouse models. In addition, many bars offer bikini and belly-flop contests.

For people who need sunblock with an SPF of 25 or more to protect their bodies from blistering, many bars offer "red lobster" contests. And West recommends the banana-eating contest to anyone planning a trip to Ft. Lauderdale. "They line up all these great looking girls and see who can eat a banana the best," he says.

In addition, on many "package" vacations, hotels and clubs will throw in "freebies" to promote business. "Many of our packages offer free tips and gratuities, a welcoming party and free drinks at various clubs," says Jennifer E. Brummage '90, manager of Harvard Student Agencies' (HSA) Let's Go Travel Service. Crimson Travel also offers incentives in many of its package tours, including a free beach party and boat ride.

Despite all of the excitement they experienced last year, neither Stovell nor West plans to return this spring. "This year I'm going to Martinique Island for the World Windsurfing Championship," Stovell says. "I've got to practice for the Summer Olympics."

And his decision may be part of a national trend. Travel agents and residents of Ft. Lauderdale say they have seen a steady decline in the number of college-age vacationers in Ft. Lauderdale.

According to Risbergs of the Riviera, the number of spring-breakers in Ft. Lauderdale has decined from 350,000 in 1985 to 200,000 in 1987. "People are moving away from Ft. Lauderdale because of stories of overcrowding," says Brummage of HSA Travel. "The most popular spot is South Padre Island in Texas."

Though some explain the move away from Florida as a response to congestion, other factors may be at work. "Down here it's not against the law to go topless on the beach," says Bill E. Fittipodi, beverage manager for the Sheraton Hotel on South Padre Island. "One of the events at the hotel is the tan-line contest. A well-known battle cry during the contest is `skin to win.'"

Although fewer students head to South Padre--police say they expect 100,000 on the island this year--than Ft. Lauderdale, the island is not without its rowdiness. "One time last year, I walked outside, and some kids started chucking Corona bottles down from the balcony at me," says Fittipodi. "The saying down here is 'shit happens.'"

But Fittipodi says he likes the excitement of spring break.

"In the winter, we get all the `snowbirds', these old [people] who come' down here in their R.V.s [campers] and drive real low. Spring break is a nice change of pace," he says.

The island also offers a wide range of activities, hotel owners say. This spring, Eddie Money and Triumph will perform on the island. Last year, the island hosted Stevie Ray Vaughn and The Fabulous Thunderbirds In addition to the female-oriented wet T-shirt and bikini contests, the island also holds "best buns" contests for men.

No matter where you go, anyone who ventures out for a good time on spring break can take comfort from the words of Scott E. Mortman '88: "A good time during spring break is a fine way of completing a true liberal education."

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