The Sun Seekers

Roy MacGregor March 19 1979

The Sun Seekers

Roy MacGregor March 19 1979

The Sun Seekers

Roy MacGregor

Blessed be the miracle of modern fabric; you can actually see spring budding in Florida. Sixteen, 17, too self-conscious for 18, she moves in a sheer mauve body shirt out from the hotel lobby and into the wet tongue of the Fort Lauderdale evening air. From there to the corner of Gra-

nada and North Atlantic Boulevard, she picks at split ends, the desired effect of raising both arms taking her new-

found glory to conspicuous wobbling heights. She passes by the sign for the wet T-shirt contest, passes by the grass and hash and acid hawkers, passes the sneering young man in the shirt that says “ƒ want to tie you in knots. ” At Granada, a black Ford van with a graveyard painted on the side eases up to the sidewalk and a wet kiss bursts from the loudspeaker mounted on the side; a sign flashes “You’re cute”; the tires squeal their masculinity. But the

girl doesn I even look. She sticks to her split ends and continues on, her cheeks singing with the joy of being so young and h aving all the cells of her body temporarily assigned to the right station. The night is hers and she knows it.

Next morning the dawn burns out of a fire grate formed by the dark clouds to the east. The Strip is empty, the sea so loud it creates silence. In the gilt-edged subdivision of Harbor Beach, Finlay MacDonald has already been up two hours working on his Canada Galling radio program. At nine, the 10-minute broadcast will go out over 15 stations; it will be aimed at the more than 250,000 permanent Canadian residents of the

state and the more than 1V2 million Canadians who will visit this year. But at no time will MacDonald speak to more of his fellow countrymen than during the current March break. For it is during this time of the ash-colored snow that Canadians now travel the most. Suntours Ltd., the country’s largest packager with 400,000 passengers in 1978, has been sold out since October. “It’s become such a bloody scramble to go south at this time,” says Bob McGre-

gor, a Montreal travel agent, “that they’ll go wherever we can get them a place.” Canadian visitors to Jamaica doubled last year; and travel to Hawaii has increased an average of 20 per cent a year of late; and the Bahamas had a record year in tourism last year, much of it thanks to Canadians who will do anything short of kill to see sunshine in March.

But most still go to Florida, where the Canadian presence is overwhelming. Red maple leafs fly from hundreds of poles along the highways; after Florida

licence plates Ontario probably ranks second, then Quebec. Canadians can shop in the largest shopping centre in the state, the Clearwater Mall, and know that it falls under the wide umbrella of Montreal’s Trizec Corporation Ltd. They can eat at Le Petit Quebec on

the other side of the state and know that their French will be understood, and appreciated. 5

In the centre of the state, in Orlando, x Canada Calling will go out over WPCVFM and it will end up in the mobile home of Louis Duquette. Duquette is a cash crop farmer from Tilbury, Ontario, who decided last year $10,000 was well worth not having to worry about shovelling snow and suffering yet another heart attack. His brand-new winter home suited him and his wife, Agatha, so well

that they have even put up a plastic sign in the kitchen: God Bless Our Mobile Home.

/—x hundred miles to the west, ^......LyJbjÊ in St. Petersburg, the pro-

gram will be on WTAN in V#'1:# Clearwater, and Saskatoon’s Stewart Schoenhals will tune in

from his brand-new $11,000 trailer. After three years he had decided to move up from a camper and strike a permanent peace with sunshine. From the time of his heart attack nine years ago, when he was 50, Schoenhals’ interest in winter had completely sagged. “It’s funny,” he says. “Nobody enjoyed winter more than I did. I was out in it

all the time. Now I can’t stand the cold.”

It is generally conceded the Canadians who visit Florida alone leave behind a massive $800 million a year, nearly half of the entire deficit. A study done in 1975 found that the average Canadian visitor stayed 32 days and spent $490.30, and though the amount of time spent there may have diminished since, it is safe to assume the amount spent has increased dramatically.

But the falling Canadian dollar has had a negligible affect on people fleeing the North at this time of year. “It hasn’t affected it át all for the winter,” says John Powell, president of P. Lawson Travel ($108 million in sales last year). “We’ve had to turn business away in the West for Hawaii.” Air Canada reports a significant increase in flights south this winter; flights to Honolulu out of Toronto are up 22.8 per cent and Hawaiibound out of Calgary up 67.8 per cent. If the American carriers succeed in the current lobbying to have Canada deregulate air fares, therefore opening up Canada to a fire sale of travel packages, there may not be anyone left in the country to vacation at home next winter but Finance Minister Jean Chrétien and his family. ,

Comes now a grey, 1973 Alfa Romeo, top down, owner Frank Nocera sitting on the door frame watching the street while his cousin, Danny FinelU, takes

the wheel. A week in the Florida sun has turned Nocera's skin oaken; the streetlights wink hypnotically off the gold cross and chain he wears around his neck. It is his first holiday in four years, the first break he has had from the lonely Mr. Submarine out on Toronto's Airport Road. So far the $350 he has spent has been all bargain. He and

Danny have it made here with their fitted disco fashions, their pointed boots—something the hick American college kids haven't heard of, let alone> seen—and their practised dance-floor elegance. So far, it has been a 22-yearold's fantasy come t rue.

here is, thanks to the re'search Dr. Peter Yesa-

M wich, a description of the typical Canadian tourist, and this typical tourist is light-years removed from Frank Nocera and his friends. Dr. Yesawich works out of Orlando, and is a psychologist and vicepresident of marketing for Robinson Incorporated, the world’s largest travel marketing adviser. It is his job to tell places like the Bahamas and Mexico what they can sell Canadians on, so it is necessary for him to have a crystalclear picture of who the Canadian tourist is. For those who can take it, here we are: cheap and non-adventurous, group-oriented, as tight with booze and sexual relations as with money, security-conscious and—though this might not seem to follow—popular in the countries visited. The reason Canadians go is obvious: pure escape. But sometimes this can be an illusion; mental disorders actually increase in the spring, and the southbound tourist is not necessarily leaving his worries at home. According to Glen Poole, a Calgary psychologist, these people are actually putting their bodies through “one hell of a shock.” “Physicians think that sending people on a vacation is good medicine,” adds Dr. Kingsley Ferguson, chief of psychology at Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. “Almost all external stimuli for anxiety, tension, etc., are here, in the person’s present setting—but the head goes to Florida with him. These internal triggers may be just as lively in Florida.” Even so, Dr. Ferguson admits, it is what people believe is true that motivates them: “Sunshine equals happiness; cloudiness equals unhappiness.”

At the moment, nothing could be truer for Larry Priestnall, a recreation major and football player from Nova Scotia’s Acadia University who has found himself in a dismal campground near Clearwater, home of the Old Canadian. Priestnall looks up at the overcast sky to see if the clouds have had enough of their little joke and he raises his fist. “Where’s the sun?” he shouts. “We’re freezing our butts off!” This particular pilgrimage south has run into false gods. Five from Acadia—three men, two women —have come down in Glenn Stott’s determined ’73 Chevy counting on meeting up with two other carloads of their friends. But the friends have

vanished. With a $135-per-person budget to work on, they decided they couldn’t afford motel rooms on the way down, and so slept two to a seat, with Priestnall trussed up in his Arctic sleeping bag and spread out over the car roof. A flat tire, a near speeding ticket later and the first day of genuine sun put Mike Brennan in a hospital emergency ward with severe burns. Raccoons broke into their cooler and ate their eggs and cheese. And as for the southern promise of sex (see box), there wasn’t a naked body to be seen. “We heard there were thousands of wet Tshirt contests,” complains Priestnall. “But we ain’t seen a single one yet.”

Their mistake was in not going to Fort Lauderdale. They could have begun at the city limits—x-rated lunch at the Centerfold, Geisha Adult wrestling just across the street—and then worked their way downtown toward Los Olas Boulevard and the beginnings of the Strip. Here, men are forever boys and women forever objects. It is as if the entire city was placed in a film can by American International Pictures back in 1963.

Already, in the dog heat of the early afternoon, the hair-troubled womanchild is strutting her stuff in the gawkthrough blouse. The custom vans, Corvettes and Alfa Romeos are joined by an extended Cadillac limousine, black and driven by a uniformed chauffeur. In the distant back seat a peppery-haired man in a pinstripe three-piece suit sits mixing margaritas. He presses the auto-

matic button and the window whirs down. He offers an iced and salted drink to his nubile wet-dream, but she ignores it as she has ignored everything but her new-found power.

On the other side of the street Frank Nocera leans against the sleek Fiat of his friend, Anthony Corindia, who has just arrived from Toronto with Don Allen, another friend. Nocera watches the action across the way, the give and take of flesh and eye, and he shakes his head and laughs. “That's all they're here for, ” he says.

ut he iswrong.Though there would seem to be a typical j Canadian tourist—at least according to Dr. Yesawich— there are not typical stories, except that cost is always a main consideration. Steve and Michele Yeomans of Toronto decided during the February cold spell that they just couldn’t take it anymore—they had to get to Florida. “I just got so tired of getting up in the dark and coming home in the dark,” says Michele Yeomans. “All I want to do is lie out on a beach and let it burn out of me.” This week they are off, not to Florida but to Jamaica: it was all they could find and they took it. Fortunately, the $420-per-person price was right. Edward and Kathryn Hollaran of Winnipeg decided Hawaii was “just too costly” and are going instead to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, for their sunshine.

It is cost that has made Mexico into

perhaps the fastest growing Canadian winter destination. Bonnie Wuperi, a Vancouver law firm employee, found she could have two weeks there for a mere $900 and she took it, “because it was cheap and because my friend told me that Mexican men are wonderful. She was right.”

But most still go to safe, dependable, the-best-surprise-is-no-surprise-at-all Florida. Frank and Harriet Lovely of Halifax are two Canadians who have tried to live by Jean Chrétien’s controversial creed of holidaying at home, but next week they, too, are off to Florida. When they tried skiing in Quebec they found the atmosphere “very hostile. At least in the States they’re happy to see you and your dollar.”

“When Canadians think of the sun and lying all day on an isolated beach under a palm tree they think of Mexico

or the Bahamas,” says broadcaster MacDonald, who has been spending November to April in Florida after he took over Canadian Calling in 1974. “But the older you get, the more you get used to certain things like accessibility, banking, money you can understand, a language you speak, and then Florida is the only place. After Canadians get the islands out of their systems they end up in Florida.” No wonder there are 38 Canadian clubs in Florida, from the Toronto Alumni Association to the Newfoundland Society of Florida. No wonder, too, Canadians in 1978 were thought to have invested at least $450 million in Florida property, probably far, far more. If it’s going to have a piece of you, you may as well have a piece of it.

“It’s a flat, dull state, a ridiculouslooking state,” says retired magazine

editor John Clare, who bought a home in Sarasota. “But we like it.”

nother night is quickly coms—ing on in Fort Lauderdale.

The strip is filled with everyone but Frankie and Annette and Connie Francis singing Where the Boys Are. The wind snaps along the backs of the empty, canvas beach chairs and tickles goose bumps along the burnt arms of Frank Nocera and his friends as they lean against their treasured cars. “It 's unbelievable, ” Nocera says. “You just have to stare at them. They'll come up and say ‘hi' to you. ” Beside him, Anthony Corindia grins and nods behind dark aviator sunglasses. His eyes deserve the rest. He has been there only a day, but already there is no more room for March in his thoughts, fb