Spring breaking when you're broke
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: March 20, 2020
We recently asked our college senior daughter, Anna, if she was coming home for spring break. She reluctantly admitted to us that, no, she would not be home at all, because she is going on a trip with her sorority sisters to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Since Anna’s bank statements are still mailed to the house, I knew that Anna was flat broke. She didn’t have enough money to buy a bus ticket to Schenectady, much less an all-inclusive trip to a resort in Mexico. However, I had once been a broke college student, too — I had an inkling of how Anna was financing her spring break trip.
It was 1986, and I ripped an application for a new credit card from the many posted in the Student Union, promising $1,000 credit limits. According to the Citibank signup ad, all I had to do was pay a little bit off each month. “Wow, what a great deal!” I thought in my youthful ignorance.
When the shiny new card arrived in the mailbox at our shabby apartment complex, it felt like an opportunity of a lifetime in an envelope. I tore it open and immediately used it to pay for my upcoming spring break trip.
After teasing our bangs to maximum height, my roommates and I boarded a bus, chartered by Sigma Epsilon Fraternity, heading from chilly Ohio to sunny Daytona Beach, Fla. The frat brothers thoughtfully included a six-pack of Little Kings Cream Ale in the trip package price, just in case the passengers got thirsty on the 14-hour ride.
“Ohmigod,” my roommate exclaimed halfway through Tennessee, “like, I totally can’t find Lisa anywhere!”
“Way!” They didn’t know that I’d crawled into the overhead luggage compartment to sleep off those Little Kings.
On the day of our arrival, I promptly burned myself to a crisp lying out on the beach. Later at a Bud Light Belly Flop Event at the motel pool, I tried to hide the pain, sipping wine coolers with my roommates while dancing to “I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You” — a la Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club” — in our stone-washed denim and Wayfarers. We took note of one particular college boy moonwalking in checkered Vans, red Birdwell Beach Britches and a blonde mullet. He was the kind of cool guy who probably drove a Camaro.
The loudspeaker blared as he kicked off his Vans and climbed the high dive, “Next we have Mad Mike from the University of Maryland!” We cheered with the crowd, but in the end, his svelte torso was no match for the linebacker from Mississippi State with a gut tinged pink from multiple flawless flops.
By the time we boarded the bus for our return to Ohio a week later, I had sloughed off the first three layers of my skin, lost my Jellies shoes, survived on free happy hour nachos for sustenance, been totally ignored by Mad Mike, and maxed out my $1,000 credit limit, unaware that I would be paying off the debt for the next eight years.
And it was totally worth it.
There was something special about the ’80s. Was it the big hair? Orange Julius? Hackey Sacks? Mr. T? New Wave music? Shoulder pads? Hawaiian pizza? “The Cosby Show”? McDLTs? The Sprinkler Dance? Tri-color pasta salad? Parachute pants? Boom boxes? Frosted eye shadow? Stuffed potato skins? “Alf”?
Whatever it was, the ’80s were fun. A lot of fun.
Anna later confirmed that she was charging most of her trip to Cabo San Lucas. I resisted the urge to lecture her about how credit card companies prey on college kids, then jack interest rates above 20 percent so they will be paying it off for years to come.
After all, I had done it, and would do it again. Despite her falling prey to the same traps I had in my youth, some part of me was proud of Anna for making the most of her senior year. No matter how many years it took to pay off her spring break trip, I hoped Anna would have the time of her life like I did.