Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Break-ing: Bad?

Watching the sunset at Mallory Square, Key West
Never having been to South Miami or the Florida Keys, I didn’t know what to expect as I anticipated my first visit. Of course I’d read about the locale in travel books, but I wasn’t ready for the ambiance of “Spring Break,” the youthful Bacchanalia celebrating a temporary release from academic studies, as well as life-giving  sunshine.

Hubby and I traveled for two weeks this month in a group of age-peers, Road Scholars, sponsored by the Elderhostel travel organization. The trip was varied and interesting with varied exposure to sights and insights. In addition to the usual scenic and civic highlights, we had opportunity to hear special presentations on Truman’s ‘Little Whitehouse’ in Key West, Flagler’s railroad to the Keys, South Beach’s hosting of troop training for WWII, 400 years of Cuban history, as well as a talk by two veterans from the Bay of Pigs. We enjoyed architectural tours, visits to animal rescue and research centers, botanical gardens, state parks, scenic boat rides . . . the list goes on—rich and varied. One of the most interesting, to me, was a tour of America's Orchestral Academy, "New World Symphony," housed in a gorgeous building designed by Frank Gehry.

South Beach, South Miami
What wasn’t in the published trip-description, however, was interaction with thousands of college-age ‘kids,’ who’d come to the same places we were visiting. We came to learn and relax; they came to party and relax. In South Beach the streets were swarming with the "Breakers," sometimes to the point of barely being able to share the sidewalks. The South Beach walking path along the ocean was jammed with rented bikes weaving through walkers, runners, lovers, and rowdy goof-offs. The line at Walgreen's Collins Avenue store   extended out the door in early evening with Breakers buying snacks, rude tee-shirts, sunscreen, and booze.

Initially Hubby and I were off put by the presence of so many high-energy young people, but not until we arrived in Key West did sharing the time and place become intimate and challenging. Many in our group were awakened the first night by loud crowds of Breakers returning to the hotel at 3:00 a.m. Much breakfast table conversation ensued that first morning in Key West. “How dare Elderhostel plan a visit for our demographic during Spring Break!” was the prevailing opinion. As we gathered to meet the guide for our first walking tour of Key West, we watched carloads of arriving Breakers as they unpacked their cars in front of the hotel—bottles of orange juice and Margarita mix rolling around in cargo space, as towels, pillows, and backpacks were offloaded. Beautiful young bodies scantily clad in hot-weather beachwear, giggling, high-fiving, hugging and yelling out, Dude!” More harrumphing ensued.
Versace's former house brings gawkers
by the hundreds in South Beach

But something wonderful happened during the course of the five days in Key West. As we interacted with the Breakers, especially while sharing hotel elevators, Hubby and I began to appreciate their energy, their zest for life, their healthy release from stressful studies, their high hopes. We realized that it was good for them, too, to share their hotel with people who’d lived on Planet Earth five or six decades longer than they. Our mutual presence benefited each other and brought a ring of sensibility to our respective vacations. Together we represented the cycle of adult life. 

By the end of our visit, we were genuinely glad that we’d been in south Florida during Spring Break, but we may have been in the minority. All the individuals in our group were—it’s safe to say—past our prime, and some were still angry about having to share our time in Key West with “those kids.” But for me, sharing the space with people yet to reach their prime served only to enhance our trip. 

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