Gramps Gone Wild

Recorded for the “Keyscast” podcast:

The crankiness and nerves begin to show in early February. The residents of Key West become unsettled and touchy as they contemplate the future. There is much preemptive complaining about tipping, and crowds, and drunkenness, and traffic. A general sense of doom and gloom pervades our little island, as the aging population of Cayo Hueso braces itself for another year’s onslaught. The local papers are full of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, of dire predictions, and of the kind of wailing about undesirables that I associate with gated communities. Which some people would like Key West to be, I think.

Especially in March, when the Spring Breakers arrive. And with them comes profound irritation, a lot of outrageous behavior, and some really out-of-control drunkenness.

From the locals, I mean. The kids, if you’ll pardon the expression, are all right. What seems to me ridiculous is that, for about three weeks in March, three-quarters of the residents of Key West go into full-on Grandpa Simpson mode. They start throwing around phrases like “back in MY day” and “kids today” and “uphill both ways”. The primary complaint seems to be that students on Spring Break act like, well, students on Spring Break. The tolerance for unruly behavior – normally off the charts in Key West – drops to the level that implies whisper sticks, paddling, and rulers ‘cross the knuckles. It’s overkill.  It’s stupid. And it is remarkably unfair.

With Spring Break comes binge drinking, and wet-tshirt contests, and sleeping on the beach, and one-night-stands, and furtive joint-smoking, and unsteady scooter-riding, and a general sense of wide-eyed unfettered fun and excitement and possibility that is badly missing from the old and jaded residents of Key West the rest of the year. Lots of these Spring Breakers are on their first vacation without their parents, ever. Lots of you say that like it’s a bad thing. Not for them it isn’t. Was it for you, when you took your first trip? Was your first trip to Key West in their age zone? I bet it was. Bet you loaded up the Bonneville and drove out the old seven-mile bridge and got so loaded up on nickel beers that you wouldn’t have found your way back to the car you were sleeping in if your friends hadn’t been blaring Danny and the Juniors so loud. Speaking of which: Their music stinks, right? All that booming and shouting and caterwauling? What do you think your parents thought of Elvis and Zeppelin and Foghat? See if this brings back memories: “Why can’t you listen to Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters like a normal person!?”

Give them a goddamn break, Key Westers. I’m sorry the traffic gets so bad it takes two tries to get through the light at Stock Island. I’m sorry the kids are loud and drunk at night in a town that was birthed by loud nocturnal drunks. No, they don’t tip lavishly. Neither did you. There was a time in your life when five bucks wasn’t tipping money, it was a whole day’s money. No, they don’t go out a for a thirty-five-dollar entree dinner, wash it down with a glass or two of a delightful little Montrachet, and spend the whole time talking about lasik and ulcers and property values and comparative mortgage rates. And God bless them for it! They go out and get drunk and baked and sunburned and roll on the beach with someone they’ll never see again and have the time of their lives.  You know what?  “I remember my first beer” should be an AFFECTIONATE phrase, not a contemptuous one.

But then, when it comes to Spring Breakers, to say that the locals are contemptuous would be inaccurate.

What the locals are is jealous.