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Spring break back at Palm Springs

It wasn’t that long ago this California city of aging snowbirds foughtback a rising tide of scantily clad college students with the ultimatespring break buzz kill: No thongs, no amplified music and no dancing.

It wasn’t that long ago this California city of aging snowbirds fought back a rising tide of scantily clad college students with the ultimate spring break buzz kill: No thongs, no amplified music and no dancing.

How a troubled economy can change things.

Reeling from the recession, the city’s tourism bureau this spring sent a text message to 55,000 college kids — “Skip Cabo, come to Palm Springs” — and students are once again flocking to the ritzy desert oasis better known for its golf courses and gated retirement communities.

In 1986, at the height of the revelry, the Palm Springs jail was packed with inebriated students, and police marched arm-in-arm to sweep throngs of rioting, bottle-throwing partiers off the downtown thoroughfare.

In 1991, then-Mayor Sonny Bono helped pass the now-famous anti-thong ordinance to end the annual spring break tradition of women wearing cheek-baring bikinis as they circled downtown by motorcycle.

Today, the city is warily wading back into the spring break tourism niche for the first time in nearly 20 years. Websites promoting deals to college students blare: “Palm Springs practically invented spring break ... and it’s back!”

More than 2,000 revellers on spring break tours will rotate through a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town before the six-week season ends in mid-April, and dozens of independent groups have booked rooms at the 25 hotels offering students reduced midweek rates, according to holiday companies and city officials.

On a recent morning at the Holiday Inn, 250 students were recovering from the previous day of debauchery, which included tequila races, beer pong, an evening dance and a “king and queen of the beach contest” that ended with one female contestant stripping in front of hundreds of poolside revellers.

“It was real fun, from what I remembered,” said a hungover John Gebhardt, 19, as his friend loaded an autographed beer bong into his car trunk. “A whole bunch of people came from all different schools (and) stayed together partying. It was sick.”

Gebhardt’s wild week was a glimpse of the Palm Springs of the past, when it attracted crowds of students that multiplied yearly from the 1940s until the city started cracking down in the late ’80s.

Today, Palm Springs hopes its spring break push can balance the excess of years past with the desperate need for tourist dollars.

 
 
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