In Miami's South Beach, a Different Kind of Spring Break
* * *
My first clue that Miami was going to offer up a different kind of spring break from what I'd so far experienced came along South Beach's main drag, Ocean Drive. There, across from the Betsy Hotel, a Caribbean man pushing a rusty grocery cart stocked with coconuts was wheeling and dealing in a rainbow of languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese) with the tourist crowd. Upon spotting three particular men, he switched to Arabic. "Three for five dollars," he said in their language, much to their surprise. I took it as an invite to talk to the guys (while I retained little else from a language course I once took in Morocco, I did learn the Arabic numbers).
Omar, Abdullah and Turkey ("Like the bird," was how Omar introduced me to his friend, who was visiting from Riyadh and didn't speak English but never stopped smiling during our entire conversation) had driven a full day from Texas Wesleyan University to Miami for their first spring break. "It's tremendous, we love it. It's really wild," said Omar, speaking for the group. "You can get whatever you want." For Turkey, who was sporting a Miami Vice-inspired t-shirt emblazoned with South Beach's art deco skyline, it was his first time visiting the U.S. "Already when we were in Texas, Turkey said he's not going back to Saudi Arabia," Omar told me. "And now that he's in Miami, he says he's not going back to Texas." What had been so wild about it so far, I wondered. "The people are drunk, like too drunk," said Omar, "Like really wasted."
I surmised that was the case, although things had felt remarkably chill poolside back at my Collins Avenue hotel, The National, where the crowd was older and stages were being set up for a ticketed event taking place during weekend one of the Ultra Music Festival.
I thought things might be wilder a few doors down, at the Delano, where I strolled through South Beach's most famous pool scene (blowing white curtains, palms like skyscrapers and beautiful people overload) to find mostly an older pink shorts and white linen pants crowd that was decidedly un-spring breaky. There I met Julie, 33, and Ashley, 25, a pharmaceutical rep and hair stylist who'd escaped the New Jersey shore for a week in the Florida sun. The girls were keeping things upscale to avoid the spring break crowds. "Obviously when I was in college I wanted to be where the chaos was," said Julie. "But we're out of the college scene so we tend to notice really immature 20 year olds." They'd been splurging on fun nights out at restaurants like Prime 112 and Katsuya at the new SLS Hotel, price prohibitive spots that kept spring breakers at bay.
I left the girls to stroll south along the oceanfront promenade, peeking into the tropical foliage-shrouded hotel pools along my way to Ocean Drive and the heart of the action. Girls in sundresses pushed by atop skateboards, ripped-bodied runners jogged shirtless, parents walked with their children and spring breakers walked barefoot in neon-lettered t-shirts that read "F#$k me I'm famous" and "I'm in Miami, B$%ch."
Nearby, among a group of three French spring breakers – originally from Lyon, but currently studying at Temple and the University of Baltimore - the talk was of American women. John, Yves and Elaj had rented trikes (right) to cruise Ocean Drive for the day. But their minds were still on the previous night's antics at Mango's Tropical Café and the Clevelander.
"The craziest thing is the girls," said John, 22, who grew up in France watching documentaries about Florida's spring break. "They come up to you. And when they know you speak French they literally go wild."
"You can say any words in French and they find it exciting," he said, "They want to hang out with you, they take your number, they call you at night." His French accent was not so strong, I told him. He said he plays it up in the bars, the better to lure the ladies. "We're here to have fun," he said. "So sometimes I speeeek like zeeees."
The famous Clevelander bar and hotel was right nearby – LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem was blasting from it, with intermittent "woohoos" coming from the crowd – so I decided to check it out. "It's the Jersey Shore I never had," texted my friend, Val, another thirtysomething, who was already waiting for me inside. The sun was nowhere near setting but the women were already teetering drunkenly on sky-high platform wedges and stuffed into metallic mini skirts. Two spring breakers on a scooter looked equally unstable as they turned the corner in front of the club onto Ocean Drive, eliciting a few more woohoos from the crowd getting carded.
Inside, I found Rob and David hanging out near a heat lamp and a scantily clad beer tub girl. The two had just flown in and were students at Florida State University and Rutgers. They were working on their third bucket of Coronas. They'd come to Miami, they said for the weekend's Winter Music Conference pool party at the Shelborne Hotel, where they were staying.
"We're like caged animals, we're ready to get loose right now," said Rob, who was sporting neon-yellow shorts and matching shoelaces he'd bought to get in the Miami mood.
The bass dropped low as an announcer took the mic to announce that a lap dance contest was about to kick off. The Clevelander crowd swelled around a roped off area where a skinny girl in a fluorescent orange and pink flowered bikini sat blindfolded on a metal chair. A woman in a hot pink bikini introduced as "Desire from South Beach" began gyrating over her and the chair tumbled backwards, the blindfolded girl jolting from the fall but taking it all in stride. Desire spread the skinny girl's legs and straddled her, proceeding to bump and grind over her blindfolded face and various other vulnerable parts. The crowd went wild as cell phones recorded it all for Facebook, no doubt. And when Desire had done her thing, another and then another girl followed up with equally risqué acts that elicited cries of "In her face!" and "Cottage cheese!" from the fever pitch crowd. Then the announcer truly upped the ante, asking some brave and bold spring breaker to step forward to top the previous attempts. But instead of one taker, there were two - bombshell brunette twins in barely-there nude colored bikinis who manhandled the poor blindfolded bikini girl as she groped madly at their softest parts. The twins won it, hands down, and the crowd roared its approval.
"I feel like I'm watching a train wreck, but I have to admit I enjoy it," said Rob, 29, an off duty restaurant manager who lives in South Beach. And I have to say, after my week on the spring break trail, I felt a disastrous end was approaching, too.
"It's like this every year," he said, "These girls are here and they're partying, this is what they think South Florida is, but it's really not. Imagine if their parents saw."
Nearby, a table of two couples in their 60s were sipping beers and digesting it all. Wally, Babs, Mike and Nadine, from Pittsburgh but wintering in Miami, had, like the rest of us, come to the Clevelander to see the scene.
"It's a little wilder than my day but that's okay, especially the dancers up there. That was a little much," said Babs, although not in a judgmental way, "I think there's a lot more sex now than we had during spring break."
Just behind the group at tables full of spring breakers, the beer towers and oversized margaritas were flowing and the flirting, flaunting and fantasizing continued to escalate. The night was very young.
"We're making sure our neighbor's daughters aren't here," said Mike.
Previous: Fort Lauderdale's Spring Break: Pretty Palms and Pretty Loose
Finale: 5 Things I Learned Road Tripping through Florida on Spring Break
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