Cake by the Ocean by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Spring Break

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Faithful readers of Retrospect may recall my story on the prompt Beaches, which included memories of two spring break trips I took three decades apart: a 1961 trip with my parents and sisters to Fort Lauderdale shortly after the movie Where the Boys Are came out; and a 1992 trip to Maui with my future second husband and two kids where we had a Seder in a Suitcase. In between those trips was my archetypal “college students descend on Florida beaches” trip in 1971.

It all started because Nancy’s boyfriend of almost three years dumped her. Nancy and Steve had started dating at the beginning of freshman year, and by the middle of junior year she was thinking this was for keeps. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree. She was devastated. So her roommate Debbie decided that the thing to do was whisk her away somewhere for spring break to take her mind off of him. Debbie invited me and two other friends to go with them, to help cheer up Nancy. This was going to be a low-budget trip, with all five of us in one motel room. There was a guy somebody knew (maybe a Harvard grad student?) who was driving to Florida and back in a station wagon, and was happy to have five more people to split the gas and the driving.

We knew we didn’t want to go to Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach, because they were too full of rowdy college students. We all wanted to be someplace quiet and peaceful where we could get a suntan and forget about the traumas of academia while we helped Nancy forget about Steve. One of the girls knew of a place called Ormond Beach that she had gone to as a child because her grandmother had had a place there. It sounded nice, and had the advantage of being 250 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, so a shorter drive by several hours. The grandmother wasn’t there any more, which is why we needed to book a hotel room. Somebody made the arrangements (hard to remember how we did those things before the internet), getting us a room with two double beds and a rollaway.

We drove straight through from Cambridge to Ormond Beach, which took almost 24 hours. We only stopped for food and gas. People took turns driving and sleeping. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, and didn’t know how to drive, so I was spared driving duty, but everyone else took long shifts. When I wasn’t sleeping, my job was to ride shotgun and talk to the drivers to keep them from falling asleep.

Much to our dismay, when we got to Ormond Beach, we discovered that it wasn’t the peaceful refuge we were looking for. The next beach south of Ormond was Daytona, home of the Daytona International Speedway where the famous Daytona 500 NASCAR race has been held every year since 1959. The racing aficionados had spilled over from Daytona to Ormond, and there were cars driving up and down the beach! Tough to read a novel and work on your suntan when there are muscle cars going vroom vroom right past you every few minutes.

The motel we were staying at turned out to be filled with college students. Most of them seemed to be guys who were drinking vast quantities of beer. They would proudly invite us to come see the beer can pyramids they had made. We were not impressed.

The movie Love Story had just come out a couple of months earlier, and when they heard we were from Radcliffe, they invariably asked “Do you know Ali MacGraw?” Every. Single. Time. We started out giving serious answers: no we didn’t know her, she had in fact gone to Wellesley, not Radcliffe, and besides she was over 30, an actress playing the part of a college student. They didn’t listen. So eventually we gave up and just answered yes, we knew her. It was easier, and really, who cared?

In spite of the cars on the beach and the drunken guys wanting Ali MacGraw, we did have a good time. We read some books, swam in the ocean, sunbathed on the beach, and enjoyed each other’s company. At the end of the week, station-wagon guy came back and picked us up. I don’t know where he spent his vacation. The drive back to Cambridge seemed even longer than the drive going down. One of the girls had managed to lose her wallet and therefore her driver’s license, and she didn’t want to drive without a license in case we got pulled over (we wouldn’t have). But the other four drivers got us back safely. And we sure had great tans to show off!

Postscript: For a slightly racier spring break story, from my law school years, check out Blame It On Mexico.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    First, I had to Google “Cake by the Ocean” to confirm that it was in fact a song title. Of course, it was, though a new one for this boomer whose kids are even too old to have listened to the Jonas brothers and their legacy. And then my further research indicated that the title is a euphemism for sex on the beach (which I only knew as the cocktail). In any event, I now realize that it is a perfect title for a spring break story. Great job!

    And the story itself is perfectly evocative of the time. Particularly drunk guys trying to impress girls in stupid ways. And saying stupid things about a stupid movie. That you all had a good time despite it all — long drive, aforementioned stupid guys, muscle cars, lost wallet — is most impressive. And a terrific reminder of how much we could put up with and how easily we could have a good time back then — even without (I assume) cake by the ocean.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks John, I didn’t expect anyone in this crowd to get the song reference, it’s a private joke I have with Molly. Good for you to think of googling it. No, we didn’t have any cake by the ocean on that trip, but your comment reminds me that I should link to my law school spring break story, which was much racier.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I absolutely love that every guy asked if you knew Ali McGraw! Classic! Later in my life, I bought furniture from a Harvard hockey stud who had been in the movie in the hockey scenes. How’s that (he and his then-wife owned a fancy furniture store here in Boston)?

    So the driver didn’t stay with you women, just dropped you off? You stayed at the hotel for a week with no car? I assume that food and entertainment were walking distance away. Well, despite the obnoxious guys, it does sound like you managed to have a nice vacation, just north of Daytona Beach.

    • Suzy says:

      I had friends who were extras in the Love Story hockey scenes. I could have been too, but they were filming it the weekend of the Harvard-Yale football game, which was in New Haven that year. I already had plans to go to New Haven with John Shutkin and a bunch of other pals, and stay at John’s mother’s house, which took precedence over the movie.

      As you point out, we didn’t have a car in Ormond Beach, but I guess we didn’t need one. I don’t remember what we did for food or entertainment, but it must have been within walking distance. I would have been willing to hitchhike (I often did in Cambridge), but I don’t think the other girls would have.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I’m really laughing now. First, about Jay’s comment on “Cake by the Ocean.” It’s a fun song my granddaughters loved, so I downloaded it for them, only to discover that it was way inappropriate. What can I say? Try to keep up, but I’m old. I loved the drunk guys who assumed you knew Ali MacGraw. I wept great tears for her (suffering from Ali MacGraw’s disease — looking great while dying from cancer), but what a corny movie. Don’t think that one held up to the test of time.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Oops — that’s John, not Jay. My apologies.

    • Suzy says:

      I actually never saw Love Story until a few years ago, and then I was watching it at home where I could pause it during the hockey scenes to see if I could spot anyone I knew. I had read the book when it came out in early 1970 and found it mildly entertaining, but figured the movie would be terrible. Which it was.

  5. A beautifully told description of the chaos that we all took for granted. It would make a great period beach blanket film. Boy jilts girl, girlfriends come to the rescue, substantially horny station wagon guy ignored by oblivious fellow travelers, the repetition of the lame Ali MacGraw pick up line, the bad boy muscle car wannabe guys, you all five at the beach, the impregnable [sic] quintet sunbathing and going everywhere together. Your story begs — in a most creative way — the question (think Connie Francis now) where WERE the boys? Excellent fodder for a 1960s tale!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for this very perceptive comment! I like the way you break it down into components of a film. Maybe you should write the screenplay! And since Connie Francis is from my hometown, I am always thinking of her!

  6. Risa Nye says:

    Quite the adventure! And can you imagine doing anything like that now?? Not even! But what fun memories. Enjoyed the read.

    • Suzy says:

      Well I wouldn’t drive such a long way at this point, I would fly. And I would avoid having five people in one small motel room. But otherwise? Sure, I would do something like that now!

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