Nightclubbing for Armadillos

Our crew, ready for action Ah, spring break in the ’60s! We were young, burnt out on science classes, and tired of winter in Michigan. Some of us were going to Vietnam; some of us had jobs to start in June (or thought we did: I and 25 other MSU graduates would get a 7 am phone call from Parke Davis, two weeks before graduation, telling us we had been laid off). But meanwhile, we were heading south, five of us with our holiday gear packed into Dick's decrepit Plymouth Valiant (of course the car was nicknamed “Prince”). Once we escaped the snow and slush, the trip down Highway 41 was mostly uneventful. We spent one night sleeping in the car off on a back road somewhere in Georgia: two of us on each seat, head to feet, with Doug outside in his sleeping bag. We had to dig him out from under a layer of frost in the morning, but it was better than snow. Breakfast in Georgia was our first experience eating grits.

Back before college kids — obviously with more money than we had — discovered Mexico and the trendier Caribbean islands, “Spring Break” meant Florida, Fort Lauderdale in particular. Mary’s parents, like many older folks from the Northeast and Midwest states, had relocated to the Sunshine State, in a modest house in a retirement community on the Gulf side, outside Tampa, and allowed us to use their place as a base camp. The happening spots, of course, were on the other end of Alligator Alley, and once Ron, the sixth member of our party, joined us, we fueled up on freshly squeezed orange juice and turned our eyes, and Prince, toward the Atlantic.

me in diving gearOne of our first jaunts was a few islands into the Florida Keys for a day trip. Doug was the only one of us with any diving experience, which didn’t stop us from renting scuba gear and plunging in. It was probably lucky that we didn’t realize we were swimming with barracuda until after we surfaced, although there actually was no threat, except for sunburn. In my case, extreme sunburn.

After our dive, we headed back to Fort Lauderdale to sample the nightlife, fueled by Harvey Wallbangers — don’t condemn us, we were part of the youth generation who drove to Toledo to pick up 3.2 beer and thought a bottle of Mateus the height of class — and enjoying music that went beyond Motown. Eventually, however, I realized that my arms were on fire and found enormous blisters that sent us to the local emergency room to have them lanced. Also, since my arms didn’t move properly, I couldn’t remove my contact lenses and had conjunctivitis for a few days. After the hospital ordeal, not wanting to make the drive back to the Gulf side, we attempted to camp overnight in a city park but were rousted by police and had to head west. Alligator Alley is DARK at night. As I recall, Ron drove, cursing a blue streak all the way, mostly to keep himself awake.

Stalking the elusive armadilloThe somnolence of the non-party side of Florida, while good for recovery, soon led to boredom for a bunch of college seniors. It was Doug who suggested we try to capture a new pet for his menagerie: he already had a huge iguana and maybe a snake or two, and now wanted an armadillo. Our plan was to drive to a secluded palmetto or some such field, at night, armed with flashlights, a baseball bat, and a minnow net. Which, of course, we did. And in fact we actually found an armadillo! Doug whomped him on his armored back with the bat, which reverberated in his hands but did not impress our prey. As the armadillo calmly began to walk away from these silly humans disturbing his evening activities (whatever those were), we then attempted part two of our plan, trapping him in our net. The armadillo just walked through it, his armor plates shredding it to bits. I think after that we just gave up and Doug stuck to collecting small lizards, one of which escaped from a paper bag and attached itself to my leg while I was driving us back to Michigan.

All in all, it was a fun break from winter and probably one of our last acts of pre-adult freedom; we returned to MSU to face a university-wide student strike, repercussions of the draft lottery, Kent State and our own anti-war marches, and frantic job searches in preparation to graduation. Welcome to the real world, college kids!

MSU protest, May 1970

Eleanor Farrell
Intrepid Scuba Diver and Armadillo Wrangler Index