It was 1986. I was a senior in High School, and somehow I ended up with a group of guys at school sanding down an old short school bus. Two of them (brothers) had gotten the bus as a Spring Break present from their Dad. We gutted the thing, painted it black, and I painted, “Party Barge” on the sides. I also painted “Party Barge” on the little flip-out stop sign. It was no longer the iconic red and white flashing stop sign; it was now the solid black with gold Def Leppard-esque lettering “Party Barge” on it.
Surprisingly, my parents said I could go. However, like all the times before when I really wanted to do something, the night before they said I couldn’t go. They got mad because the boy’s father wanted them to sign a liability waiver for me to be in the Party Barge during spring break.
I don’t remember having a fit, but I do remember being incredibly angry. My parents relented at the last-minute (there is a lot to be written about that at a later date) and the next day the “Party Barge” crew headed to Pensacola.
Pensacola was boring. We thought MTV was there. They weren’t. However, we quickly traveled a million more miles to Daytona Beach where the MTV Spring Fest was actually happening.
It was wild.
I will never forget pulling up on the beach where there were practically naked young adults and crazy old people … EVERYWHERE! I was mesmerized.
My parents weren’t. I called them … eventually … to tell them we left Pensacola and were now in Daytona. To describe them as “not happy” is an understatement.
I think I took two showers that week. I did sleep on top of the bus a few of those nights … that I can remember. The guys I were with were kind of the nerd trust of our high school. I loved those guys because they weren’t hateful to me but … kind of nerdy.
- Somehow I ended up at a Molly Hatchet concert with a strange topless girl on my shoulders.
- MTV’s North Vs. South best of three tug-of-war: Cameron, part of our nerd trust, was a very big dude. He helped us by being our anchor. The series was 1-1 only because of him. But on the third tug-of-war we (the South of course) tied our end of the rope to a nearby wall right behind us. We pretended we were just tugging our brains out, and then let go. It was great seeing the Yankees look up shocked and then roll their eyes. We lost that one by forfeit (and of course the series) but … so worth it.
- People LOVED the “Party Barge.” Some of our friends said it showed up on MTV a couple of times in the beach scenes. I never saw it though.
- I remember falling in love with the ocean, and the sun. Just sitting and staring at the waves, allowing the sun to comfort me. Swimming around in the waves, the wind blowing my hair, delighted … loved every minute.
- The nerd trust usually went on their various ways to collect whatever interests they had that day. I went looking for pot. Eventually I found a pretty young blond local. I figured she would have pot. She did. We smoked and drank cokes (sodas, pop, whatever you want to call it.) We didn’t talk a lot, but eventually I said, “Can I take a picture with you.” She said, “No, because you are going to tell all your friends you had sex with me on your Senior Spring Break Trip.” I said, “You are right, I am going to tell them that. But you don’t have to worry, I am gay so they won’t believe me anyway. She laughed and we crawled into the Photo Booth thing. By the looks of the little strip of pictures, you would have thought I had a girlfriend I spent the week getting high with. That’s what I told people and the only truth is that we did get high for a day, and enjoyed each other as day long friends at the beach.
Another memory is that I was sitting in the passenger side of the party barge while the nerd trust was collecting shell samples or something. I was relaxed and getting stoned. That’s when the hell-fire religious zealots descended upon the beach to save our wayward souls.
My first thought was that they looked uncomfortable. Covered head to toe, boring haircuts and scowling, scowling, scowling. They had really creative protest looking signs: “TURN OR BURN!” wrapped in hellfire. “FLIP OR FRY!!!” wrapped in hellfire. Various other slogans … all wrapped in hellfire. I was jealous and wished I could have drawn fire that creatively all over The Party Barge.
One woman in a long blue jean skirt, sports socks, sneakers, full sleeved blouse, and long boring black hair came up to the window that my pot smoke was pouring out of.
“YOU are GOING to HELL!”
I offered her a hit off my joint. You my dear reader may or may not be shocked by this but … she refused … and decided to give me a sermonette before stomping off.
I hated uncomfortable hell-fire wrapped Christians with bad hair.
At another point later that week we went to “the strip.” A stretch of road where the cars CRAWLED down and was yet another wild party type scene. I got a little wild. I had scored a couple of cases of beer. As we were driving down the strip, people would yell out “PARTY BARGE!!” and I would throw them a beer. Girls would flash us and while I don’t remember ever requesting that particular act for a beer in return … the nerd trust LOVED it.
Of course I was buzzed and I can’t remember how, but eventually we parked and went our separate ways roaming around the strip. Two of the nerd trust stayed with me because apparently I had the magic ability to party or something. Eventually I started car surfing (old school SpringFest style.) Meaning, the traffic was crawling by, I would yell in the open windows, “HEY! Let me surf your car for a few blocks!” That led to, “What does that mean?” I would say, “you get the pleasure of sharing your mind altering substances with me for a few blocks!!! It will be SO fun!!!”
You would be surprised at how many people let me do that. I am so glad I didn’t die. I don’t remember the ton of people I met but I do remember dancing through a few sun roofs. And now the 46-year-old me looks back and thinks, “what an idiot I was!” but … I’d be lying if I wasn’t smiling. Substance abuse is always bad, but the idea of little emotionally traumatized and shut down teenage Randy having fun … makes me smile.
After doing this for a while. A group of handsome young dudes approached my friends and me on the sidewalk. They were winsome, nice, and to be honest … really good looking. I was in lust immediately.
Then they started talking about Jesus.
Lust? GONE … like the Atlantic whipped wind, but not my buzz…it was going to be there for a while.
“Do you know Jesus?”
“Yeah yeah… Son of God, Moses’ Cousin or something … all that …”
To their credit they laughed. And then the guy with the long brown curly locks said, “No man…do you have a relationship with Jesus.”
“I rolled my eyes and said, yeah “man” he’s Lord and Savior… my family has been Christian for generations…”
Then his face changed, he looked almost lovingly, angelic even, and said, “No, do you KNOW Him, do you know Him enough to fall in love with Him?”
“Me? Fall … in “love” … with … Him?”
“Yes, Jesus is IN love with YOU … blah blah blah”
It was like a divinely clarifying moment I will never forget. I immediately felt heartsick (Holy Spirit I am sure) and thought, “Why would He be “in love” with me?” I lost my breath for a second and the guy kept talking but it was all mumbling in my ears at that point. I was stuck on God being “in love” with me.
I didn’t become a Christian that night but I remember laying on top of the bus, with all the revelers around us screaming and hooting. However, I didn’t notice them as I stared at the stars as His Spirit was calling out my name.
I hated leaving the beach. I was so sad. We left at sunset and I remember vividly feeling the wind calming my soul as I looked out the Party Barge’s windows. On the radio, the Pet Shop Boys were singing “West End Girls” and it just seemed like a perfect setting for the most fun I had experienced in my life to that point. That night the nerd trust took turns driving us home. I couldn’t sleep on top of a moving bus so I slept in the back where we had thrown some mattresses. I woke up with one of the nerd trust member laying next to me, his hand on mine. I think it was an accident but I let it stay there till he woke up. He said nothing afterward.
When I got home I was tan tan tan. I did tell a couple of people I slept with the girl in the photo-booth pictures but, like I predicted, no one believed me. I don’t remember sharing many of the other wild stories from that week with anyone. I was completely shut down if I wasn’t high or drunk. I would think quite often about all the shenanigans I had been a part of. I would grin because it was the most “freedom” I had experienced to that point. I didn’t quite like taking showers in the public restrooms, but sleeping on top of the bus was kind of cool. And of course I became a Pet Shop Boys groupie.
But every once in a while, I would remember that God had sent an angelic brown headed dude to tell me that Jesus was in love with me, and wanted me to fall in love Him …
That thought would rock my heart, still does, every single time I remember.
Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory