Spring break report

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Spring Break is going full-tilt-boogie. Sorta.
You will recall, or maybe you won’t so I will remind you, that after all the terrible things that went on at Panama City Beach (PCB) during Spring Break 2015, city and county officials cracked down in a bunch of ways, two of which seemed to be making a real difference.
First, they banned alcohol on the sandy beach during the month of March. Second, they enforced the ban.
Naturally spring breakers, mostly students from out of town, tried to get around the rules. Pour out the suntan lotion, replace it with bourbon was reportedly a favorite — Coppertone flavored sour mash. Those kids will drink anything.
Another strategy was to empty a water bottle and refill it with vodka, which may explain why PCB clean-up crews are finding more clear plastic containers than beer cans in the trash.
On the beach, police were out in force and arrests increased, which was to be expected when both the underage and overage were trying to get around the law.
However, on the bright side, as word spread arrests for other alcohol related badness – public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, indecent exposure and such – seem to be down.
One reason for this is that the weather has not cooperated with those who might break the law on the beach.  It has been a rainy and windy March on the Gulf Coast. So much of what might be going on outside is going on inside – out of sight, out of jail. I suspect a lot of security deposits will be forfeited. Yet even as I write the sun is coming out, so here we go.
Another reason that Spring Break at PCB seems more peaceful is that the hard core party goers have gone somewhere else. Where? Alabama.
Or at least that is how it seems to folks I know in Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and out toward Fort Morgan.
Apparently students from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, who might have gone to PCB, broke their trip off early and joined Alabama students at the Beaches of Baldwin County. Happy students. Happy student serving businesses. Not so happy others folks.
Although south Baldwin has a clean beach program called “Leave Only Footprints,” apparently students did not get the memo.
Not long after visitors began to arrive, a Facebook page titled “Spring Break Nightmare Gulf Shores” popped up and went viral. People near and far got to see piles of  litter, some of it  right next to trash cans, along with videos of  all sorts of anti-social behavior.
Although some students, disgusted with the way others were trashing the beach, began to clean up on their own, it was the rowdiness that got attention.
This general disregard for property, not to mention propriety, got officials and locals looking for ways to turn back the clock and restore their communities to the “family friendly” destination that old folks believe it once was.
Truth be told, what is going on during Spring Break has been going on for years.  Why it seems to be worse now is a matter of debate, but the fact remains that people believe it is worse today, and believing makes it so.
In the past coastal communities have tried to clean up Spring Break.  Fort Lauderdale did it in the late 60s. Daytona Beach did it in the 70s.
But it was the precedent set by Panama City Beach this year that the city fathers (and mothers) of Gulf Shores decided to follow.
Fearing an influx of the sort of students that would bring “Panama City Beach chaos” to Gulf Shores, officials announced that effectively immediately, alcohol will be banned from the beach.  The ban will continue until April 17.  Orange Beach is expected to follow suit.  The Baldwin County Commission may even act.
Will this restore calm to the Alabama coast? Maybe. At least until the 17th of April.
And why was that the date chosen to allow beach drinking to begin again?
Was it because by then all the Spring Breaks would be over and the rowdy students will have returned to their studies? Maybe.
Was it because the condos and businesses needed some time to clean up and repair before the summer crowds arrive? Possibly.
Or was Gulf Shores showing Orange Beach a way to keep rowdiness regulated without threatening one of that community’s rowdiest events?
You see the  weekend after the ban is lifted is the weekend that the Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar in Orange Beach  hosts THE INTERSTATE MULLET TOSS, an event that is rightly called the “Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party.”
Governments can legislate lots of things, but there is no way to legislate a beer-less Flora-Bama fish throw.
Orange Beach authorities surely know it.
Now they don’t even have to try.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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