Spring break is running rampant across the country as college students everywhere plan beach vacations to party with fellow students. Copious amounts of binge drinking, casual sex and other activities are typically on the slate and will be the subject of nostalgic conversation for years to come.
Dozens of movies have been inspired by this time of year, from the classic Gidget films to the untamed Girls Gone Wild DVD's. What is it about spring break that drives this basic animal passion into our youth?
For the answer, I looked no further than the local Chick-fil-A in Allen, Texas as they prepared for their March 3 grand opening. There I found more than 100 people, about half of which were students on spring break. The other half was a mixture of senior citizens and families who oddly enjoyed camping out in the suburbs. The common force that drew them together was one of the most celebrated phenomena you've probably never heard. The Chick-fil-A Grand Opening.
With each Chick-fil-A grand opening, PR people from their corporate office in College Park, Georgia converge to control the crowds and entertain them as they compete for a grand prize. The prize is a year's worth of Chick-fil-A dinners worth approximately $300. To win, you must simply be one of the first 100 people over the age of 18 to successfully camp out at the new store.
The rules are simple. Sign up for the contest at six in the morning, and stay on the premises until six the next morning. What you do between those hours is basically up to you. There is a small bit of controlled activity, mostly centered on the various meals given away throughout the day. There's also a small band set up, and for a period of time, a DJ.
Since Allen has certain noise restrictions, the DJ sounded lame, and he left earlier than at other locations.
One of the first people I met for this grand opening was 19-year old Stephanie Perkins from Florida Gulf Coast University, located in Fort Meyers, Florida. She brought along three other friends as they made this odd spring break journey, stopping in New Orleans for beignets and coffee at the legendary Cafe du Monde, then on to Houston to stay with friends, before finally making their destination: Allen, Texas.
Home to the new Chick-fil-A.
The co-eds occupied their time by playing soccer, ultimate four square (a super-charged version of the elementary school pass time), and snacking on chicken nuggets.
This was Stephanie's fifth grand opening. She's a poor college student, and devouring free chicken sandwiches seemed to consume her.
She wasn't alone. I found four guys between the ages of 18 to 21 from Oklahoma City--college kids who only wanted to be identified by the code name "Jackson" for fear of embarrassment back home. The guys were rowdy, going back to their tent to sip on an unmarked jug of what might have been vodka, and sucked whipped cream direct from cans for their small amount of whippet, or laughing gas.
The Jackson boys could eat, too. Which ultimately was their motivation for the Allen chicken run, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. When I caught up with them at 11 that night they had a sad tale. Seems they were cold and started a small campfire in their tent, which melted in a blue flame. They had another tent, so they were not quite homeless. Yet.
The PR people from Chick-fil-A knew most of those attending, having seen them at other grand openings across the country. They were even familiar with the Jacksons from Oklahoma and kept a watchful eye through out the night.
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Not everyone at the Chick-fil-A opening seemed quite as insane. A young couple from Greenville, Jenna and Caleb Campbell, told me this was their fifth opening in three years. The first was when Caleb dressed up like the Chick-fil-A cow and proposed marriage to Jenna. The company later catered the couples wedding, supplying free nuggets and sandwiches to their guests.
But the engagement story didn't have the legendary status of Jake and Libby, a retired couple who has attended 48 of these functions. They enjoyed tooling around the country in their RV, spring break-style, in search of these grand openings. For reasons unknown, Jake and Libby didn't make it to Allen.
At sunrise, it was again time to line up for a meal and to receive the prizes. I asked Stephanie if it was worth spending her spring break in Allen. Clearly it was, because she assured me there would be many more Chick-fil-A openings in her future.
As for me, I went back to bed and dreamed of my time in Cancun on spring break. No chicken sandwiches, just a lot of bad beer.