And students from Jacksonville State, Ole Miss, Auburn and Alabama, well versed in the Holy Scriptures and figuring what was good advice for Philip was surely good enough for them, headed for the Gulf Coast.
Or so it seemed.
For last Saturday, when we pulled into Florala, that lovely town on the Alabama-Florida line, so did hundreds of cars heading south.
The same, I am told, was true at Foley and Dothan and Brewton and other south Alabama cities and towns where highways merge to funnel the masses onto roads designed to carry half the traffic.
Since the 1950s, this spring migration to Gulf Coast sand and surf has been going on, but no one except students, parents and the towns on which the young descended paid it much attention.
In fact, spring break generally received little notice until 1959 when Time magazine did a major story on the wildness, encapsulated in one student’s observation that “it’s not that we drink so much, it’s that we drink all the time.”
So it was that lovely Fort Lauderdale, the then-destination of choice, became “Fort Liquordale.” That continued until 1985, when the city cracked down and the mayor went on ABC’s Good Morning America to tell students they were no longer welcome.
Daytona Beach took its place, and in 1986, MTV declared Daytona the new spring break capital. This was also the time when what analysts called a “lusty young demographic” came of age, children of baby boomers who were ready and willing to better the spring break stories told by their parents and grandparents.
And they did.
The consumption of alcohol and accompanying “excesses” grew to the point that the American Medical Association issued a warning about “binge-drinking and risky sexual behavior,” and some universities even went so far as to distribute “safe break bags” that contained “sunscreen, condoms and a sexual-assault manual.”
Daytona Beach enjoyed the rush for a while, but then it began to pull in the welcome mat.
That was when Panama City put it out.
So did Gulf Shores.
And the students came.
By 1995, spring break outings on the Alabama and Florida coasts were attracting some 500,000 students and generating more than $1 billion for the local economies, and local leaders wanted more. So the Panama City Beach Convention and Tourism Bureau sent to college newspapers a slick insert that folded out, poster size, to reveal a bikini-clad young lady with the advertisement: “Your Classes Have You Stressed Out, Burnt Out, Studied Out — The Solution [is] Spring Break Out 2000 Panama City Beach Florida.”
With the poster were lists of specials, including the “Break Out 2000 Party Package,” which for a small fee admitted students to clubs and keg parties.
At the same time as the poster’s release, the “Spring Break 2000” issue of Rolling Stone magazine named Panama City Beach as one of “the hottest places to go,” even though “most of the 500,000 kids in town seem more interested in the local aphrodisiacs: beer and oysters,” rather than rave drinks and drugs.
Rolling Stone also warned students that despite rumors that local law enforcement was “lax,” there was a “tactical street crime unit” that would ruin your vacation if you were not careful.
“Spring Break Out 2000” was a financial success, so the next year the convention and visitors bureau sent out another poster telling students to come down and work on their GPA — “Great Party Action.” That worked, so another went out in 2002, which advertised “all the beer you can handle for $5” and “booze cruises.”
Once again, the AMA condemned Panama City Beach for taking the lead in turning spring break from “an innocent respite from academics” to an event “marred with alcohol-related deaths and injuries and sexual assaults.”
But what the AMA condemned, Joe Francis thought would be the perfect atmosphere for another video in his “Girls Gone Wild” video series. Unfortunately for Francis, he went down just as local officials decided things had gone far enough, and the video producer was arrested for filming underage girls in a shower scene.
The saga of Joe Francis brought into focus what Panama City had become — and from what it wanted to retreat.
But how could this be done without jeopardizing an “event” that provides roughly one-third of the town’s tourism income? As one of the promoters told critics, “there is no reason to advertise for spring break and make it some type of family milk-and-cookies piece.” As for the poster, he said it was “as clean as it can be and still attract the attention of college students.”
And there is the dilemma, as the former mayor of Panama City Beach put it, that today the town is trying to figure out how to “have good business without debauchery.”
I’ll keep you posted on the progress.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: email@example.com.