I may not be in school any more, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a Fall Break this year. It’s not a very ostentatious break, the one in Fall. It’s a little darker, a little shorter; you generally don’t get to go that far away during it. Girls don’t squeal its name as they rip off their tank tops and do the Froog. It’s not necessarily an excuse to drink, unless it’s a brandy-in-your-tea, hunkered down in your wool sweater, muttering under your breath as you watch dried leaves swirl in the icy wind that rattles your closed window kind of drinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of drinking, but wouldn’t you rather have sandy legs and a sunburn and down a $9 cocktail with the word ‘Tiki’ in its name as you giddily anticipate the end of the school year? Of course you would, and Fall Break knows this. Fall Break is Spring Break’s wizened, gimlet-eyed grandfather. You may have a week off, it warns, but Winter ain’t going anywhere. It’ll be right here, waiting for you when you get back. And you’d better have found a decent coat by then.
This Fall Break was different. I spent the second week of October in Miami, staying in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever not just snuck in to use the bathroom of; lounging by the pool and sipping complimentary icewater. The trip was a graduation gift to my friend from her grandmother, and I was the lucky friend in tow. It was a bizarre mix of extreme luxury and shameless cheap-skatery. The two of us shared an enormous, king-sized bed in a suite with a marble bathroom and a closet with real, removable coat hangers. Every morning we sat cross-legged on the thick carpet and spread peanut butter and jelly on Saltines with a swizzle stick. I had brought my hotpot, and we made Ramen and ate it out of the ice bucket, passing the tongs back and forth. We tiptoed around the mini-bar, fearing we would be charged for leaving fingerprints on the $3 Kitkats. It was like Pretty Woman; if Julia Roberts had pushed Richard Gere off the balcony, then snuck her best friend into the room for a week. Having never spent any time in a hotel that didn’t have vending machines in the hallways and hideous carpeting, I often felt like a fish out of water, or perhaps like a fish in a ratty t-shirt and flip flops suddenly swimming in temperature-controlled Evian and finding its bed made up a different way every time it comes back to the room. Everywhere I went, people with nametags smiled warmly and asked me if I needed fresh towels.
It was great fun, if a little strange. Sometimes it’s nice to see how the other half-percentile lives. We watched, round-eyed, as a fat, balding man with a shaved head and a mustache cavorted by the pool with a young, tanned brunette in a bikini. He had a white towel around his waist. She was wearing shades and a baseball hat, and her long, red, manicured nails flashed in the sun. We got priceless looks from the front desk by asking where to get good takeout Burritos and whether there was a Marshalls nearby. We strolled through South Beach on Friday night, sneering at the long lines of wannabes waiting to get into nightclubs whose bouncers, had we tried to get in ourselves, probably wouldn’t have bothered to disguise their laughter with fake coughing fits. At another nightclub in Coconut Grove, a one-armed lawyer told me I was born to dance in Miami. And last but not least, a pair of uniformed Miami police officers sitting at the table across from us in a restaurant, after learning where we were from and that we were on vacation, casually inquired as to where we were staying. When we told them the hotel, they asked for the room number. “They probably just thought you were hookers,” my mother said flatly. What a vacation. The memories will last a lifetime, and the stolen mini bottles of shampoo will last at least a few weeks.