Booze, Bikers, and Bimbos…
I’m headed to Florida because I’ve signed up to be a vendor at the annual conference of the Florida Library Association. This year I’m on a mission to promote my latest book, Shark Man, a novel for the middle grade reader. More than that, however, Shark Man a surfing adventure based on my experiences growing up on Florida’s east coast. Remember Dragonfly, my memoir of growing up in Texas under the regime of a mean stepfather. Shark Man is the sequel. But instead of writing a memoir, I decided to write a novel, distilling a dozen years of surfing on Florida’s beaches into one summer, making up my own cast of characters and plot to go with it.
And what better way to promote Shark Man than to attend the Florida Library Association’s annual conference. But I wouldn’t be going at all had it not been for a change of venue. The FLA usually meets in Orlando, which is ground zero for Florida’s tourist trade. Orlando? It’s not my favorite Florida city. I have a very low tolerance for crowded restaurants and hotels decorated with fake palm trees. Even more, I can’t stand the endless lines of screaming kids who pull their parents around from one glitzy tourist attraction to the next. No, give me a sleepy coastal town where I can walk the beaches in the morning, read a book poolside in the afternoon, and eat at a seaside café in the evening. That’s the Florida I remember, and enjoy. Not Orlando. And that’s why I’m headed to Florida in a couple of weeks, because this year the FLA is not meeting in Orlando: it’s meeting in Daytona Beach.
Daytona Beach. Oh, yeah, baby, sun-drenched beaches here I come. I haven’t been to that part of Florida since I was in college. I was a “gator,” a University of Florida gator. When we had a break from school, my friends and I would jump in my van and head to St. Augustine to check out the waves north of the pier. If the waves were good, we’d stay; if not, we’d head south to Crescent Beach. Again, if the waves were good, we’d stay, tent camping in the dunes or, if there were too many no-see-ums, crashing in my van. We’d surf till we dropped and then return to Gainesville. But if there weren’t any waves, we’d keep driving south, with stops at Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach, and, finally, Daytona Beach (if it was a longer break, we’d try to make it all the way to Cocoa Beach, Florida’s east-coast surfing capitol).
And as everyone knows, Daytona Beach is the land of hard-packed, white-sand beaches populated with skimpily clad, bikinied girls. You’d think that it was a great place for a bunch of surf bums to have a good time, I mean a good time; but it wasn’t. Daytona Beach, like most Florida towns, is extremely conservative, made even more so by the presence of the Daytona International Speedway.
The two—cars and beach—go way back. Once the pioneers of the auto industry set their eyes on Daytona’s long stretches of hard-packed sand beaches, they flocked there from all corners of the nation to race their souped-up cars (nope, it’s not a typo: I looked it up; “soup” is slang for fuel, jet fuel in particular). And it wasn’t about racing each other; it was about setting the land-speed record. The first mention of such a record in the greater Daytona Beach area appears in 1903 when Alexander Winton eked out a win over H. T. Thomas, traveling at a scintillating 68.198 miles per hour. The following year William K. Vanderbilt beat Henry Ford’s land-speed record, zooming along at a cool 92.29 miles per hour. No wonder they call the greater Daytona Beach area the “birthplace of speed.” But it all came to a grinding halt in 1935 when Malcolm Campbell topped 276 miles per hour. After city fathers found a few dead seagulls, several flattened crabs, and a couple of upturned tourist umbrellas littering the track after Malcolm’s run, the birthplace of speed headed west—to the Bonneville Salt Flats.
But not everyone moved west. A year after Campbell set the land-speed record auto enthusiasts raced stock cars up and down the newly designated Daytona Beach Road Course. Within a decade, the races became commonplace, and then institutionalized when Bill France founded the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (you and I know it as NASCAR). But that wasn’t the end of it. After another decade passed, France and his backers built the Daytona International Speedway, which replaced the old beach road course (and put Daytona Beach on the map forever).
Speedweeks (nope, again, not a typo) is still held in early February. That’s when over 200,000 racing fans flock to Daytona Beach to attend a week or more of stock car racing hoopla, including the season-opening Daytona 500. Of course, cars are still allowed on the beach; they just can’t go over 10 mph (which allows just enough time for inattentive sunbathers, snoozing seagulls, and three-legged crabs to get out of the way).
But Daytona Beach isn’t just about cars; it’s also about their two-wheeled counterpart—motorcycles. Yep, bikers have long claimed Daytona Beach their home-away-from-home, returning to the city every spring for an annual rally. In fact, bikers have been coming to Daytona Beach almost as long as their four-wheeled counterpart. The first Daytona 200 for motorcycles was held in 1937, one year after the first stock car races on the beach and twenty-one years before NASCAR’s inaugural Daytona 500. Californian Ed “Iron Man” Kretz, Sr., riding an Indian Sport Scout, won the race, with an average speed of 75 miles per hour. Today, Bike Week (finally, a conventional spelling) draws thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the greater Daytona Beach area for a week of world-class motorcycle events, including street festivals, concerts, rallies, bike races, manufacturer showcases, and much, much more.
But that’s not all Daytona Beach has to offer.
In this volatile environment you have to throw in a few frat boys and sorority girls arriving each spring from colleges and universities as far north as Amherst, Massachusetts. Of course, I’m talking about spring break. Just as Orlando is ground zero for the tourist trade, Daytona Beach has long been ground zero for the spring break crowd. Spring break in Daytona Beach is like staring at an ant colony without the queen to organize it: just swarms of half-drunk, sunbathing college kids out for a good time. Now, take a giant swizzle stick and stir all of these elements together and it’s a toxic mix—booze, bikers, and bimbos (definitely not your typical surfer’s paradise, especially surfers with hair down their back and weed in their trunk). So, my friends and I only visited Daytona Beach if the waves were really good (and all of the aforementioned parties were out of town). Otherwise, we avoided this high-octane cocktail at all costs, preferring our relaxed and idyllic college campus in central Florida instead.
But I’m older now, and I’m not looking for the same experience that I was when I was a young adult (nor do I have weed in the trunk anymore). So, I’m off to Daytona Beach, but not before I check the official 2016 Daytona Beach Spring Break website, where I find out that spring breakers won’t be in Daytona Beach until the week after the FLA conference. Terrific. I’m going. And, besides, I notice that there are a few Starbucks on the beach road. I mean, it can’t be all that bad.
My trip to Florida is just a small part of my master plan to promote my new book. I learned this a couple of years ago from the publicist I hired to get The Men Who Made the Yankees off the ground. The first thing I learned was: you need a plan. The second thing I learned was: you don’t really need a publicist. In terms of a plan, it’s really not rocket science (of course, that’s what I said about my yearlong office-cleaning project and look how far I’ve gotten with that). Any good book marketing plan involves three parts: (1) what you do before a book comes out; (2) what you do when a book comes out; and (3) what you do after a book comes out. I told you: it’s not rocket science. Right now I’m at the end of stage one, heading into stage two. So, here’s what I’ve been doing. But first of all, where’s that darn notebook of mine? I keep all of my notes, to-do lists, contacts, hand-scrawled messages, and occasional grocery list in one 8”x10” spiral notebook, which I carry around everywhere—everywhere!
So, where is it?
While I look for it, let me explain how I take notes. I don’t always use your typical outline form; you know, the one you learned in junior high English class with all those subdivisions: Roman numerals, capitalized letters, Arabic numerals, and, finally, lower-case letters (well, not actually “finally”: if you need further subdivision, you can use Arabic numerals inside parentheses; and if you need even more subdivision, lower-case letters inside parentheses). This, of course, is the alphanumeric approach to outlining. If you took AP English, which I did not, you learned another approach—the numeric or decimal approach to outlining (i.e., 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.3, etc.). My approach is different. I call it the circuitous road map approach to outlining. You’ll see what I mean once I find my notebook.
But first, Roland Barthes and The Pleasure of the Text.