Forget Your Wallet, Spring Break Is Still A Party

The United States may be suffering the worst downturn in 75 years, but you wouldn't know it by checking out the spring break scene.

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The U.S. economy is in the doldrums, but it will take more than a national financial crisis to dampen an American college ritual. Essayist Diane Roberts sent these observations from Key West, Florida.

Ms. DIANE ROBERTS (Essayist): What, with the nation in mourning for our lost excesses, you'd think spring break might be cancelled, at least scaled back. But, no, the streets of Key West heath with students, their skin the color of bourbon. They clutch a Corona in one hand, an iPod in the other.

The boys wear Day-Glo surfer shorts and flip-flops, the girls wear gauzy dresses over their bikinis and huge dark Audrey Hepburn sunglasses. They look like owlets startled by the bright light. If you ask them about the recession -are your parents scared? Are you worried about getting a job? - they shrug. Dude, they say. What are they supposed to do? They didn't make the mess.

Anyway, their parents want them to have fun, and how could they not have fun here where the sun is high in a turquoise sky and the water is blue and green, shaded like a peacock's tail.

Key West is proud to be one of those un-American parts of America, like New Orleans. It's a tipsy Caribbean town tacked onto the bottom of the sober United States, a place that lets its freak flag fly, a place that cherishes abundant tattooing, voodoo, mild piracy, hot sauce, going barefoot, free-ranging fowl, mutant cats and the unabashed seeking of pleasure.

It's hard to worry about real life when the air is as sweet as a mango daiquiri and magenta (unintelligible) via cascades over stuccoed walls. In Key West, orchids that cost 30 bucks at your florist grow on trees. The only factories left make key lime pie, and every bar has a happy hour that goes on until early morning.

No wonder young people descend on the place like migratory birds, looking to get warm, maybe mate and leave. On Duvall Street, a litter of guys push and nudge each other as they follow behind four girls aloof as highbred cats, trying to get their attention. Hey, I hear Kenny Chesney is playing a secret show at Sloppy Joe's. No way. I heard it at The Parrot, dude. Oh my god.

At the corner by the Bull and Whistle, a cubby of girls in pink and white perform their sorority cheer. A cruise ship docks and plays "It's a Small World After All," as the sun slides down into the shining sea. There are no failing banks, no layoffs, no grown-up problems here. There can't be. This is paradise.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts teaches creative writing at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

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