In 1999, award-winning Magnum photographer Eli Reed set off to document spring break in Daytona Beach, Florida. Having watched the white kids getting hysterically drunk and “trying to crawl up inside the backside of uncaring contestants” in wet t-shirt competitions, he moved on to the black spring breakers who were doing much better things, like driving around with albino pythons and stuff. Here are some previously unseen moments from his series.
Sex Offenders in Florida Now Have Warning Signs Outside Their Homes
Last week, 18 sex offenders in Bradford County, Florida, found large red signs outside their homes that read, “a convicted sexual predator… lives at this location.” The Bradford County Police Department installed the signs.
I spoke with Brad Smith, the department’s Chief of Operations (pictured above left, looking least smug), to see what this new method of community notification was all about.
VICE: What’s with the signs, Brad? Captain Brad Smith: Florida statutes say that we must notify the public of any sex offenders in our jurisdiction. We already do that with Facebook and by going out into the area to notify people when the person first moves in, but we realized there was a possible issue with continued notification. For instance, if somebody moves in after we’ve gone around notifying people, then they’re not aware that there’s a predator there. We’re just trying to do everything we can to make the public aware. And, in a certain sense, it protects the predator from having people, especially children, approaching their residence without being duly notified.
OK… So it’s just sexual predators with child victims? Or is it all sexual predators? It could be somebody who raped an adult or a child. In the state of Florida being a “sex offender” and a “sexual predator” are different things. A “sexual predator” is somebody who’s been convicted of a first-degree felony that’s sexual in nature or multiple second-degree felonies that are sexual in nature.
Right. Any plans to extend this to other crimes? Like murderers or serial scam-artists or whatever? Only if the Florida statutes said that we had to. At this point in time, the only statute that’s directing the sheriff to do anything is with sexual predators.
Most entrepreneurs start dating websites to make money, but Alex Furmansky created his because he wants to end hookup culture. After attending the University of Pennsylvania’s business school and working at a series of technology and finance companies, Alex founded Sparkology, a dating website for “young urban professionals” that requires members to either receive invites from current members or to have a degree from an elite university. Since Sparkology’s launch in February 2012, over 7,000 people have joined and two Sparkology couples have gotten engaged. I didn’t know what a young urban professional is or why they’d have trouble meeting other young urban professionals for sex or love, so I asked Alex what the fuck was going on.
VICE: What inspired you to start Sparkology? Alex Furmansky: When I was living in Florida, several friends of mine were girls in their mid-20s and early 30s, and objectively they were gorgeous, intelligent, really nice people. They just couldn’t date good men. I know so many good guys, but they just go to bars and stand there looking at girls across the room.
How does Sparkology help those good guys learn to approach women? We had an event just for our men. One of our concierges came in and gave a short speech about how to date like a gentleman online. We have three concierges. One helps you write a profile, and we have Allegra, who plans and books your entire evening. Often the guys are busy and don’t have time to read the foodie blogs. Then we have Portland Thomas, our photographer. His name’s really Waspy. When I heard his name, I was like, “He’s hired!”
What does going to a good school and having a high income have to do with your being an ideal dating partner? It’s not about that. It’s the kind of person you’re with and whether you can communicate and whether you can have a conversation.
What’s a young urban professional? I feel like that could mean many things. It’s someone who takes his or her career seriously. For you and I, it’s pretty obvious. I think you and I are in this bubble, and if you step out of the bubble, the vast majority of guys don’t take their careers seriously.
I take my career seriously, but my career has led me to review interactive-video sex toys. Do I still count as a young urban professional? We’re not the banker crowd. We have a bunch of teachers, for example. We have a guy who’s helping start a new kind of elementary school in the Bronx. We have authors.
KILLERS OF SERPENTS – THE PYTHON CHALLENGE IS THE ONLY THING KEEPING THE EVERGLADES FROM BECOMING A TWO-MILLION-ACRE SNAKE PIT
On July 1, 2009, a pet Burmese python in Oxford, Florida, escaped from its terrarium, slithered into the crib of a two-year-old girl, and strangled her to death. The snake, named Gypsy, was eight and a half feet long, weighed 13 pounds, and had not been fed in a month. The child’s mother and her boyfriend—who had six prior felonies—were each sentenced to 12 years in prison for third-degree murder, manslaughter, and child neglect.
The incident was Florida’s first known case of a nonvenomous constrictor killing a child, and it set off a media frenzy. In stepped a tattooed Florida wildlife rescue expert named Justin Matthews. About a month after the girl’s death, Justin made national news when he captured a 14-foot Burmese python in a culvert outside a Sweetbay Supermarket near his Manatee County home. He identified the snake as an escaped pet and scolded its owner for not having a radio-transmission device implanted in the animal, as required by law. He named the snake Sweetie, after the Sweetbay chain. Local news outlets declared him a hero.
But later that summer, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discovered that Justin had actually purchased the animal at a reptile supply store and staged the capture. He made a public apology, insisting that he had simply been trying to demonstrate the dangers of keeping pythons as pets. “I did it for wildlife education,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. But Justin was quickly written off as a loose-cannon redneck seeking personal glory and publicity for his rescue business and faded from public view.
Now, more than three years later, Justin, a rangy 50-year-old with a beard and a Pall Mall-induced rasp, is walking through Big Cypress National Preserve—a 720,000-acre patch of cypress marsh in the northern part of the Florida Everglades. His mission is to kill Burmese pythons, which can grow as long as 20 feet. He is one of 1,400 people who have signed up to hunt, shoot, and decapitate as many of the snakes as they can in a month as part of Florida’s first-ever Python Challenge.
Many media outlets have described the 2013 Python Challenge as a “bounty hunt.” But the contest’s chief organizer, Frank Mazzotti, a professor of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Florida, prefers to call it an “incentive-based market solution.” Participants compete in two separate divisions: one for general competitors, another for year-round permit holders. The winners receive cash prizes for kills—$1,000 for the longest, $1,500 for the most.
Partying in Panama City Beach - Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers
An overview of the eight-week period of spring break in Panama City Beach, Florida, when hundreds of thousands of students take over the usually sleepy beach town. We talk to the mayor, the chief of police, the owner of the largest club in the United States, and an evangelical street preacher who protests spring breakers with a bullhorn and says that “Spring break is just another excuse for people to sin.”
In the spring of 2010, my mom got a reality check when she saw a poster that said “Live, Love, Laugh, Forgiveness” and realized that she hardly ever laughed and had barely been living (at least a life she wanted). She became a mother at 19 and was a three-time divorcée with five kids at 48—for 30 years, her life had been devoted to raising a family in the most boring, suburban way possible while ignoring the chaotic, joyous, eternal spring break that was happening all around her in Florida.
Last summer, she created the Bad Moms Club to change this. Now she goes to bars in South Beach and downtown Fort Lauderdale a few times a month to drink and dance with other single mothers. Like Destiny’s Child circa 1999, the club’s membership fluctuates, but two members have stayed consistent: my mother and her friend Barbie, a Cuban immigrant with the kind of booty rap songs are written about. Like my mom, Barbie married a baby daddy at a young age because she thought she was supposed to and then experienced an epiphany: at 38, she divorced her lawyer husband, drank alcohol for the first time, and took up multiple sex partners. “I had wasted my life,” Barbie told me. “Now I fuck black dick.”
Since Barbie is only really interested in NFL players, the club tends to meet mainly at dinners for Miami Dolphins football players and YOLO, a bar Barbie describes as “an upper-class place with a very nice atmosphere and great-looking dark men.”
Inside Cassadaga, the “Psychic Capital of the World”
On the surface, Cassadaga resembles a Florida Mayberry. Set back in the backwoods between Daytona and Orlando, the little “Psychic Capital of the World,” has long been a sanctuary for mediums, healers, psychics, and just plain freaks.
The Spiritualist Camp in Cassadaga was founded in the late 1800s by one George P. Colby. Colby, a New York native and medium had been instructed by his spirit guide—a Native American named Seneca—to go to Florida and start a spiritual center. He trekked into the Central Florida wilderness in 1875 and homesteaded the land, in accordance with Seneca’s prophecy. A charter to form the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was granted in 1894, and Colby acquired 35 acres. This spirit guide apparently had quite the knowledge of property rights. Over the decades, the Spiritualist Camp has grown to 57 acres. Cassadaga started as a place for snowbirds to practice their Spiritualism—a secular-minded, turn-of-the-century mish-mash of science, philosophy and religion.
Fast forward to 2013 – things have changed.
Two distinct tendencies have emerged within the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp—the New Agers and the religious, non-profit organization charged with running the camp. Like the Jews and the Muslims in certain parts of the world, a single street separates them from each other.
The New Agers use tarot cards and stick to the Cassadaga Hotel. A stone’s throw away is the religious organization maintains the traditional belief system that Colby established in the 1800s. That’s not to say the Cassadaga Hotel and its hired psychics don’t stay true to Spiritualism as religion, but they’re a bit more relaxed about it. Its like Episcopalians and Catholics.
The Cassadaga Hotel—the only hotel in Cassadaga—is allegedly haunted. The perimeter porch with its rocking chairs and hunchbacked palm trees resemble a more Mediterranean incarnation of the Bates Motel. The hotel’s website states that the hotel has “friendly spirits”—I’m guessing this means Ghost Dad-like apparitions. The original hotel burned down on Christmas Day of 1926 and was rebuilt a year later. The inside of the hotel evokes the Roaring Twenties with its Tuscan-style furniture and speakeasy-style lobby. To the side of the lobby is Sinatra’s Ristorante, which features a piano player, full liquor bar, and Italian food. Saturday night is karaoke, but we’ll get to that later.