Spring Break has come a long way
It was one of those “can’t turn left” kind of days.
I saw it coming Sunday afternoon when I made my weekly grocery-shopping trip. The rain had moved on and the sun was hinting it might show up. I think I was the only local in the store, and easily the oldest customer navigating traffic on every aisle.
By mid-day Monday, what has become the almost routine morning drizzle and fog had disappeared, and the sun was playing hide-and-seek behind the clouds. It was like spraying a yellow jackets’ nest with Raid. The Spring Breakers came out and were swarming the streets, on foot and in cars.
I’ve been watching Spring Break in Port Aransas since the early 70s and I can say this: It’s changed -- for the better.
Anytime you throw a week-long party for 100,000 people, give or take a few thousand, you are going to have some issues. The issues in the 70s and 80s make current Spring Breaks look like a kindergarten recess.
For one thing, the beach was chaos. There were no traffic lanes, so there could be more than one lane going both ways. It could take two hours to go from Avenue G to Sandcastle Drive. The beach would get so churned up that, even in the best of conditions, leaving the beach was a case of crossing your fingers, saying your prayers, gunning the motor and “shooting the gap.” You just hoped no one got in your way.
Cars were parked at the water’s edge and in front of the dunes; in between, madness reigned.
Murray and I used to come during Spring Break just to make sure our beach house porch railing wasn’t used for firewood. There were no ordinances regarding fires on the beach back then, so the rule was “anything goes,” and just about anything that would burn, did.
One Saturday during a Spring Break in the late 70s, we kept seeing the same guy, morning to night. He was everywhere: On the beach, in restaurants, in convenience stores, passing us on the street, riding, walking – never with the same people or riding in or on the same vehicle.
Early the next morning, Murray and I decided to cruise the beach to see what the night had left behind. There were plenty of vehicles on the beach, but all was quiet. As we passed an RV, we saw in the driver’s seat our man – taking a big hit off a reefer. I don’t know when he ever crashed and burned, but when he did, it must have hurt – bad!
After a particularly rowdy Spring Break, a frustrated resident of Dolphin Lane, which is separated from the beach by the dunes, told the city council he was tired of Spring Breakers “fornicating, defecating and urinating” in his front yard.
It might have been that same Spring Break when, as we approached the intersection of 11th and Avenue G, we witnessed a young man in the bed of a pickup loaded with a beer keg crawling outside the truck and into the cab. The truck was doing about 45 heading east on G bound for the beach. As far as I know, he made it out alive.
The sad thing is, in those days, too many did not. We wrote tragic stories about kids driving straight off the ferry landing into the ship channel, horrendous wrecks on the Island Road, pedestrians hit by vehicles as they walked on the shoulder of the Island Road, about Spring Breakers standing in the beds of pick ups and falling on what they believed was soft sand, only to suffer serious head injuries or die.
Now, in addition to greater awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, the city has imposed ordinances that have greatly increased safety on the beach, and we have much more pro-active and efficient law enforcement.
Also, a big change has occurred thanks to the chamber’s marketing to families. Today, Port Aransas attracts equal numbers of families and college groups for Spring Break.
Another difference is the dramatically improved ferry system. In the 70s and 80s, we had four (may have been six) nine-car ferries administering to the needs of Spring Breakers wanting to come to or from Port Aransas. Waits of four or more hours to board the ferry were not unusual. When people complain about a 45-minute, or even an hour wait for the ferry, I don’t have much sympathy. I remember “the old days,” and I think of the traffic most people who live in metropolitan areas put up with on a daily basis. Waiting for the ferry seems like a great escape.
All these changes for the better do not mean there will be no problems. There will be. It’s impossible to have that many people in the same place at the same time and not have a few glitches.
Today’s glitches, however, pale in comparison to the 70s and 80s.
So, Spring Breakers, party on – safely.
Mary Henkel Judson is editor and copublisher of the South Jetty. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, (361) 749-5131 or P.O. Box 1117, Port Aransas, TX 78373.