Driving to work in the early morning, thereís this hum in the air, like the guitar amp before a band starts the opening song. The air is warm, humidity yet to reach full gear. Daytona on beachside is a diamond that turns slowly, revealing its different facets and colors with the angle of the light. Crossing the bridge, thereís an anticipation of excitement, or at the very least, possibility. To truly experience it, I must be ready for anything and everything.
At daybreak, the city is still asleep and missing out on an east coast sunrise. To my left, condos, resorts, and the Atlantic. To my right, motels and souvenir shops, one specifically with a big shark coming out of the sign that always catches the eyes. I park at Andy Romano Beachfront Park and watch from the railings the early risers, seabirds, and nature photographers become
silhouettes to the reds and yellows of another day. The last time I stepped on this beach was on a summer vacation when I was a kid. This was years before the city became the destination of my work commute. Before I had to worry about keeping dress pants and shoes sand free. I take one
last look, knowing this is the most peace I will experience until evening.
By nine, all the stores are open in Bellair Plaza and the heat has kicked in. From the motels to the beach, and the parking lots to the shops, pedestrians run across the street and stop in the median like itís a video game and the objective is to not be obliterated by oncoming traffic. Customers come and go, both locals and tourists, looking for swimsuits and sunscreen, enjoying the feeling of so much day ahead. On the salesfloor, itís easy to spot which is which. The locals are a little deflated, maybe from excess sun and heat, or from being in the same place too long. Thereís a liveliness and excitement among those briefly staying, from the way they shuffle through clothes racks to the way they model different sunglasses for family members.
Visitors come from all over the globe: Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Russia. I catch all these origins at the register from their accents and stories and I wonder, ìWhy here? What commercial or ad sparked the idea that this was the spot to spend up to thousands of dollars on a getaway?î I
see the homeless scattered abroad, cigarettes smashed on sidewalks, high school kids walking out with backpacks of stolen speakers and junior tops, and I see how much the ads left out. Were
they going off our ìWorldís Most Famous Beachî tagline? Did it still deserve the honor? At noon I take my break and step into the punishing heat. How could anyone enjoy anything
when it feels like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion? Publix is packed once I enter after enduring a minute of the radiation. Checkout lines run into the aisles as resort guests stock up their temporary kitchens with kids in rash guards close on their heel, while other employees from the plaza grab lunch. No one has a plan further than twelve hours ahead. Even the locals live by spontaneity, letting one moment to determine the next. Half of them will hit the pool, the other will down a few beers in front of the tv while catching up on the news and lottery numbers. In the late afternoon, I run a work errand and spot the hotel workers in white shirts and khakis crossing the street towards the plaza, while others wait at the bus stop. This is a busy season for
them. I admire the smiles and laughter that flows between them, despite how horrible their day must have been. Guests screaming about towels and sheets, rooms trashed by drunk parties or wild children. We donít know one another, but I feel a comradery with them. We are the bones
and the heart and nerves and body of Daytona. We are what makes this city human.
Itís seven when I clock out and the light shines on my favorite side of the diamond. The sky puts everything in a cotton candy haze and the air is apologetic for its earlier intensity. Everything has
slowed down. The city of speed has taken a dinner break. The streets are less busy, its previous occupants enjoying restaurants and room service. I take off my badge and try to think like a
tourist, like Iím supposed to enjoy this place too, not just serve it. I meet up with my uncle at the Ocean Walk Shoppes for some wings and a movie. Heís tired too, but just as committed to having a good time.
In WingHouse, strangers debate politics and social changes at the bar. Their volume and frequent hand motions suggest drunken righteousness and belief they have every patronís attention. I watch a football game on one of the TVs in between catching developments of the scene. I wonder if theyíre locked in this city by lack of imagination or of options. We finish our food and head upstairs to catch whatever film is the newest release. Itís Tuesday so tickets are only five bucks and our standards arenít much more than that.
We leave Satellite Cinemas around ten and hop back on A1A. Corner of Main Street and the Ferris wheel on the boardwalk appear in my side mirror. The night blacks out everything but the neon signs and room lights from the twentieth floor, hiding the grime and leaving the glamour. The purple glow of the Hard Rock reminds us that we are not on vacation. That the night has just
begun for some, and there are invitations we must decline to be rested for the next morning. Low riders add to the scene with bass pumping and engines revving, tempting others at the red light to recreate the glory that made Daytona famous.
We keep the radio low on a classic rock station. With the windows down, I let the wind flow between my fingers that is finally the perfect temperature. I catch the view of the moonlight gliding on the water beyond the undeveloped properties resting in between the condominiums. The small, picturesque moments that end up on postcards are enough to fool natives like me to return. This is the last of the diamond I see. I am ready for morning.