Everyone knows the old idiom, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Or, in my case, 1,200 words. I get insufferably wordy.
According to Wikipedia, the phrase refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image – or that an image conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a lengthy written description.
Last week, I read an interesting article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean – with an accompanying editorial by the great raconteur, Mark Lane – reporting the demise of amusement rides from the Daytona Beach Boardwalk for the first time in some 80-years.
Both pieces were enlightening – and spurred my interest in learning more.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I visited the Boardwalk – but it had a Ferris wheel when I did.
In November, I wrote a post entitled, “The Thrill is Gone,” which discussed a decades-old lawsuit that has hampered any substantive change on the Boardwalk, and lamented the loss of a place that made so many great memories when I was a kid:
“Greedy investors, strategic bankruptcies, family monopolies, unscrupulous developers – to include convicted grifter, Bill Geary, of Ocean Walk Shoppes fame who is finishing a stint in federal prison – promises of pie-in-the-sky panacea hotels and tony shopping areas, a stubborn inability to reasonably negotiate with the best interests of the community in mind, government overreach and interference, insider maneuvering, piss-poor planning, no leadership, etc., etc.”
“Whether we want to admit it or not, what we are collectively hearing over the roar of the surf is the sad death knell of one of America’s great tourist destinations.”
Last week, a very smart friend and I decided to take in the sights and sounds of the boardwalk and see for ourselves exactly what the demise of these amusements portend for our core tourist draw.
After navigating the two left turns required to get onto Ocean Avenue from A-1-A, I drove slowly north toward the southern façade of the Daytona Hilton, past the 20-foot diving girl who has graced the old Stamie’s Swimwear Shop for at least a half-century, waiting for grey-bearded men with backpacks to cross the street.
To the left was a paid parking lot entirely littered with a collage of handmade signs warning potential customers what they cannot do – “No Reentry,” “No Cards Accepted,” “No U-Turns,” “No RV’s, Semi’s or Trailers,” “Cash Only,” “$10.”
The sign that caught my eye – the one which serves as a fitting metaphor for the sordid bait-and-switch scheme that is Daytona’s tourist trade – was a hand-scrawled: “Have $ Ready.”
I found a public parking space and fed the meter just outside the entrance to the Joyland Amusement Center – an arcade that hasn’t seen any significant renovation in decades. Walking through the dimly lit passageway and down the stairwell is like entering a weird time machine, where the sounds and smells evoke memories of a time long ago.
Frankly, I was glad to see that the live dancing chicken had been removed. When I was a kid, for a dime, a tired rooster trapped in a small painted case would dance and peck out a tune on a little piano until the music stopped and a feed pellet rewarded his performance.
One gets the distinct feeling that Joyland is either a once Grand Dame now indignity waiting to die by the sea, or – it is what it is – a long-neglected coin-operated business holding on by its fingernails until the lawyers stop their money-grubbing arguments, appeals and motions – or the “next big thing” hits the strand.
As we exited onto the wide colonnade of the Boardwalk, I was struck by the fresh sea breeze and the initial impression of just how physically deserted it all felt. Except for a few ambulatory homeless – and a smattering of young families eating pizza and corn dogs alfresco – the strand was vacant. Dead.
On a glorious spring afternoon.
Walking south, we took in the expanse of what had been the Boardwalk Amusement Center – where once a great Ferris wheel stood, Go-Kart’s zoomed, and various whirligigs, roller coasters, bumper cars and kiddie rides brought a true sense of fun and excitement.
Now, the place looks like a wasteland – a twisted mess of steel girders, rusting ride cars, dilapidated ticket booths emblazoned with a tax levy notice, and an eerie go-kart track that looks like it was abandoned in place.
Because it was.
A place that once brought so much joy and excitement to vacationing families and locals alike – now quietly rotting into a trash strewn lot.
At the risk of sounding hyper-dramatic, I was moved by what I saw.
A mix of sadness and anger, accompanied by the nagging question – “How could this be allowed to happen?”
I took a few pictures to document the state of things. Then, we moved along.
As we reached the Mardi Gras Fun Center – an aging arcade very similar in feel to the Joyland – I noticed two 20-somethings fist-bumping a guy perched on a bar stool near the front entrance.
Having spent the better part of my law enforcement career investigating drug trafficking, I got the distinct feeling from the snippets of conversation I overheard that something was up.
As we walked to the south terminus of the boardwalk then east near Zeno’s Sweet Shop, the pair fell in close behind us – one jabbering into a cellphone as we stepped over urine stains and what appeared to be a bloody miasma of dried vomitus on the sidewalk.
Gripping the handgun in my front pocket, I overheard the gist of the conversation two-steps behind us.
The pair were working the logistics of a street-level, parking lot drug hand-off.
My friend looked at me with a trace of fear in her eyes and we stepped away toward Ocean Avenue and the safety of our parked car. As we passed the sign pollution of the private parking lot, I quickly snapped a few more photographs of the trash, broken fencing, and twisted steel that greets visitors.
When we reached our vehicle, I was angry.
On Friday – rather than post my usual ramblings about life and politics in the Halifax area – I simply posted the pictures I took – a silent exhibition of the cancerous results of the cycle of greed, blight and utter dilapidation that is slowly killing the beachside.
In a few weeks, some 20,000 Shriner’s will arrive.
They are coming at the invitation of the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia.
They have a right to expect the beauty and splendor portrayed in a slick Danica Patrick ad – and the upscale experience they were sold by the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, and the bevy of tourism hucksters who continue to lure unsuspecting visitors to an area that is neither ready to receive them – nor equipped to entertain them.
Just Have $ Ready – and screw your convention/vacation experience on what was once the World’s Most Famous Beach.
We know you won’t be back – and nobody who scrounges a fast buck cares.
In my view, this represents the epitome of an unconscionable bait-and-switch ruse – and our elected officials deserve the fall-out that will inevitably ensue.