04/08/1985 at 01:00 AM EST
In 1971, nearly 10 years before she became a PEOPLE correspondent, Linda Marx was hired as the first woman bartender at Fort Lauderdale's Elbo Room, a favored watering hole for frolicking college students who head south for spring break. Recently, while on assignment to chronicle the scene (p. 36), Marx looked at her once familiar haunt and sighed, "I don't know how I ever did it."
Marx, who is based in Palm Beach, was part of a five-member team dispatched to follow the hordes as they plundered "The Strip" in search of fun, sun and surf. Joining her in gaping wonder were Senior Writer Harriet Shapiro, Reporter David Hutchings, photographer Misha Erwitt and intern Jennifer Mirsky. At times their work seemed like hazardous duty. They were stuck in traffic jams, caught in a hosedown at a crowded bar, jostled and pinched. "The assignment looked like a lot of fun," says Erwitt. "But if you're too old to be part of it, it's hard work."
In fact, Erwitt found himself catapulted into the action. On the first day he caught sight of a convertible packed with three guys and two girls. As he started snapping pictures, "One girl pulled her top off," he says. "It certainly was the forerunner for things to come, definitely the flavor of what was going to happen."
Shapiro, who joined PEOPLE in 1977, has specialized in fashion stories, from Florence, Italy to New York's Seventh Avenue. When she turned her trained eye on the spring-break crowd she found "a parade of flesh," she says. "You saw a new face every second, each with a more incredible outfit than the one before."
For Hutchings, a former English professor at Shelby State Community College in Memphis, Tenn., the story brought back memories of his own college days. "Then I drove for 20 hours and slept six to a room," Hutchings says. "But I'd forgotten that beer runs the country."
At 18, Mirsky, a Dalton School senior, was too young to cover the bar scene. Instead, she spent her time interviewing people on the street and at the beach. "I kept thinking, 'This is a zoo,' " she says, "but underneath they were really good kids."
By the end of their five-day stint the intrepid crew was still awed. "The whole thing was pretty outrageous at times," says Shapiro. "But the kids loved it." Sums up Erwitt: "It was legalized anarchy."