This is the story of four boys from Queens making their way to Cancun, Mexico for Spring Break in the 1990s. With a legal drinking age of 18, going south of the border was the only viable destination.
Thanks to an old school travel agency, the kind where you sit on the other side of a desk from a human being and plan a trip, we were able to make our booking and pay in installments. Without the “layaway” option, that $600 trip would have never been a reality.
Every other week, I would stop by Empress Travel in Bayside to drop off an envelope filled with cash. All told, I probably had to work over 100 hours to pay for the trip. But as we all learn, the sacrifice to make “forever” memories are always worth it.
We flew out of New York on Viscount Airlines. Never heard of them? Neither had I. And thankfully, there was no Google to look up their crash record.
It was my first time on an airplane without my parents. I remember being excited, not bogged down with a fear of flying that would tangle me up years later. The plane was packed; it felt like a standing-room-only concert. A random dude seemed to be everywhere we went, with a camcorder attached to his hand. What I would pay to see his footage today!
It grew dark before we landed, and it felt like we were touching down in the water, but we hit the runway, and we were on our way. The shuttle to the hotel wasted no time setting the tone, handing out cold beers to anyone who wanted one.
The absolute mayhem and debauchery of Spring Break in the 90s can not be overstated. Well, maybe it can be overstated by Inside Editon.
We arrived at the Cancun Palace, which was a surprisingly nice hotel that lived up to its moniker; it somehow hid the abuse it had taken. The hotel room was small and modest; a wooden nightstand separated the two queen beds we were sharing. The room amenities included a small radio with a cassette player–the stereo that played the tape that would become the anthem of Spring Break 1995: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Question the Answers.”
One of us had brought it along on the trip, and we played the shit out of it.
We didn’t have much use for the room except for a few hours of sleep, bathroom facilities, and a place to make sure we looked OK before heading out. But one thing was sure, no matter when we returned to the room, someone was playing the Bosstones cassette tape.
No time now for losing tempers Or filling up with rage or anger Flying off the handle could be detrimental Calmer heads are called for here -KINDER WORDS, Mighty Mighty Bosstones
That first day, we dropped our bags, splashed some water on our faces, and followed the sound of thumping bass.
“Don’t want no short dick man,” blared from the speakers. Thanks for making that clear, Gillette and 20 Fingers.
And the stage was set. This trip was going to be epic.
The Cancun Palace was located outside of the “Hotel Zone,” so we relied on taxis to get back and forth between venues. God bless those hard-working and honest drivers; they really could have taken us for a “ride.”
Our very first night found us at Fat Tuesdays, the infamous party spot where alcohol swirled around in Slurpee machines in every flavor imaginable. Tuesdays featured beach volleyball and debauchery, and it quickly became my favorite landing spot.
It was here where I saw the sex.
For the first time in my life, I was several feet away from two people going at it.
Some dude was hammering a chick underneath the bleachers where we sat.
It was an opening salvo to a wild week.
I should have been floored. But I was more intrigued with the fact that I spotted a 24/7 Denny’s on the way back to the hotel. A Denny’s in Mexico seemed illogical to the 19-year-old me. I had to have a Grand Slam, Mexico-style, before this trip ended.
The week became a revolving door of handshakes and stare-downs and awful small talk, “where are you from?” Sooooo many girls from Michigan.
My Spring Break bucket list was relatively shallow, but I knew I wanted to get my hair braided. At the time, I was rocking the buzz cut all around with longish hair on top. I’m not sure what made me have the needs of a pre-teen girl, but the braided hair was a must-have: Trenzas or bust.
The braiding process felt like it took forever and was pretty uncomfortable. The braids were thin and my hair was thick. The lady braiding my hair was talking to her counterpart and laughing. I asked my buddy, who is fluent in Spanish, what was so funny?
“Dude, she said you’re going to be bald in a few years. You’re losing hair like crazy.”
I can’t overstate how devastating that news was at 19.
Here was a bonafide “professional” hair person predicting the fate of my follicles.
What braid lady didn’t know is that I cut my own hair, and it had been a long time since the top was touched. So I’m sure I had my fair share of split ends and dead hair. But still, the line rattled around in my head for years…”you’re going to be bald.”
Thankfully, she was wrong.
I rocked green, silver, and purple beads in my locks, very aware that I might never have long hair again.
The braids were dumb, but girls liked them. Actually, back in the 90s Spring break days, girls liked anything. And so did the boys.
Aside from Fat Tuesdays, there was Senor Frogs, a Spring Break rite of passage–the bar with playground slides. And there was also the infamous foam party at La Boom.
That fucking foam party.
I quickly discovered that wading through a sea of chemically induced foam with 1,000 strangers in a small dark space was not for me. The worst part was when they blasted some cold smoke in the air that reduced visibility to zero and made it hard to breathe. I remember the stench rushing through my nose and feeling disoriented. Plus, the club attracted a different element, mainly of the douchebag variety.
Another night, after few drinks, I remember wandering back to a hotel suite with a group of girls. I was invited. And it sounds much more salacious than intended. I noticed that this hotel was very different than the Cancun Palace. This property had a police/security forces all around it. Guards stood with their arms folded in white uniforms, weapons hanging off their belt loops. They eye-balled every gringo coming in and out. It was intimidating. Many of them had machetes and mean dark eyes.
In the ultimate nineties reference, the girl I hooked up with that night said I reminded her of a cross between Brandon and Dylan from 90210. And I told her she was like the hot version of Shannon Doherty. Our appearances couldn’t have been further from our TV-star counterparts, but hey, for the night, it worked. Peach Pit 4 Life.
I took the walk of shame past the armed forces and stepped into a taxi that returned me to the sounds of the Bosstones. The song felt like a victory to a childhood goal of hooking up during Spring Break.
Someone's always up to something One thing's always understood If nothing happened in a minute Wait another, something would - TOXIC TOAST, Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Midway through our international teenage sojourn, I had “The Night.” You know the one. The kind of night that you will never forget, no matter how many years get in the way. The kind of night that is like a movie scene–the all-nighter where you make a connection, not only with another person, but with yourself.
A Walk to Remember.
This wasn’t a night about love, but rather, 24 hours spent peeling away the layers to get to know someone intimately.
It was an all-nighter.
We spent the night exploring. Walking into random shops. Eating street food. Me talking about New York and her talking about Massachusetts. Commiserating over the trappings of suburbia. Dreaming big. Making empty promises to visit each other upon the trip’s end.
Time flew by, and before we knew it, the sun was coming up over the beach. You never expect to become the scene from the movie, and then suddenly, there you are. And because of a heightened sense of awareness, perhaps the greatest blessing and curse of my life, I soaked in every second. “This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff, Andrew,” I said to myself.
There was only one more place to go.
Denny’s, for a sunrise breakfast.
And while I only remember her name and very little else about her, that was a night to remember.
I came back from my spring break journey with quiet confidence. It didn’t hurt that I returned the day before my birthday and would receive a 2-year Honda Civic DX lease, complete with a 5-CD disk changer in the trunk. I couldn’t help but wonder, am I already peaking?
When I got my new Civic, I did two things. I popped “A Boy Named Goo” into the CD player and cranked “Only One.” I then preceded to dangle a glass pendant from the rear-view mirror. The necklace, brought back from Cancun, had a ball of mercury sitting in some blue-colored mystery liquid. I loved those necklaces. You’d flick them with your finger and watch the mercury break into little balls, only to reform into a single blob. The souvenir was a reminder of a great trip.
One hot summer day, I returned to the car with my hemp knapsack jammed full of CDs from my internship at CMJ to find little blobs of mercury all over my car. I dialed 411 on my brick cell phone with urgency and asked to connect with Poison Control Center.
The operator essentially mocked me and told me to wash my hands and move on with my day. I thought that was strange given all of the mercury dangers implanted in my brain through the years, but I was happy to feel like a fool instead of making a trip to the ER.
The lore of spring break is real. We spent the next year planning our return, bringing along our friends who had heard the tales and wanted in on the action. But it was not to be. Spring break was a one-and-done for me–and that probably makes it all the more special. Plus, I always have the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to bring me back in time.
Pictures to prove it, I've got the proof When you hit the bricks, I hit the roof I hit the bottle, put the pictures on the bar I'll always have these pictures, but I don't know where you are -PICTURES TO PROVE IT, Mighty Mighty Bosstones