A cloud of smoke billowed above a handful of silhouettes lounging on the low-lying wall that separates South Beach’s Lummus Park from the dunes to the east, and the distinct smell of marijuana drifted west past a mobile police command center parked outside Wet Willie’s.
On Ocean Drive Friday night, the presence of hundreds of officers and warnings that zero tolerance policies awaited tens of thousands of Miami Beach’s Memorial Day weekend revelers seemed far, far away from the street.
After a dud of a Thursday night to kick off the weekend parties that since 2001 have been dubbed Urban Beach Week, crowds packed Ocean Drive by sunset.
Men with or without shirts mingled on the crowded strip with women in varying degrees of clothing. They talked game, and got turned away more often than not.
Impromptu dancing broke out between strangers and friends in front of hotels and sidewalks, sometimes to dancehall and pounding bass blaring from sidewalk cafes and others to silence. And usually with video cameras recording.
And there were bachelorettes. Lots of bachelorettes.
Despite weeks of build-up that focused mostly on an intense crowd and traffic enforcement plan that included altering South Beach traffic into a one-way loop and closing the eastbound MacArthur Causeway to one lane, the party went on.
And it was risque.
“I love sex! I just can’t get enough!” Yvonne Sosa, condoms dangling from her veil, shouted into Reginald Allison’s megaphone just after midnight.
Sosa, dressed in white, was in town from Nebraska, a lawyer getting married in a month partying on South Beach along with a half dozen friends, family, and legal clerks and secretaries at the law firm where she works.
Allison is a Morehouse College graduate from Atlanta promoting a party bus roving South Beach from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The two converged at 11th Street and Ocean Drive for a classic about-to-be-married moment during a weekend known for raucous parties.
But Allison said raucous isn’t the word that comes to mind.
“It’s real chill,” said Allison, who said he bought the megaphone at a U.S. Marine’s store on Biscayne Boulevard.
It’s unclear just how many people were in South Beach’s entertainment district Friday night, hours before artists like Gucci Mane, French Montana and local MC Ace Hood performed in clubs on Washington and Collins avenues. But it’s unlikely numbers were near 250,000 person estimates from past years.
Still, certain blocks of Ocean Drive were clogged with streams of converging revelers.
And on Collins Avenue, foot traffic was light but cars were packed bumper to bumper. Two men in a baby-blue, 1964 Chevrolet Impala convertible rolled north amid rented motorcycles and Dodge Caravans, while Bentleys, Lambourghinis and a purple, sedan with Barney the dinosaur detailed on the side rolled south down Washington Avenue.
That was before the lime green Laffy Taffy ride hit Washington.
Cars blared everything from Tupac and Jay Z and Kanye West to Marvin Gaye, and rolled slowly in one-way loops meant to control traffic in South Beach during the hectic weekend
The traffic plan was among the various traffic enforcement strategies implemented Friday, nearly one year after police say a driver refused to stop and then tried to run over several cops, leading to a shootout on the street that killed the driver and wounded four bystanders.
With this weekend the one-year anniversary, much of the media attention around the annual street and club parties focused on police strategies, and whether there was a 2,000-arrest quota as claimed by Miami Beach’s police union.
But the news of shootings and a police crackdown didn’t reach Nebraska, or New Jersey, or London, where Shereyne Shillingford and eight friends came from for their own bachelorette party.
“We were going to come last week and we moved our flight at the last minute” to be on South Beach for Urban Beach Week, she said.
Over on Washington Avenue, a few storefronts from Mansion, Jimmy Slauson and a buddy burned blunts of pot down to the nub. Cops were swarming the area, but they said they weren’t concerned about rumors of a police crackdown.
“We’re not really trying to test the cops,” said Slauson, from New Jersey, before an officer walked up and grilled him down.
He tossed the blunt.
There were 93 arrests, which include those from a MacArthur Causeway DUI checkpoint.
So far, the arrest of Knicks’ guard J.R. Smith, and a shooting in which no one was injured at 12th Street and Collins Avenue Thursday night, remain the rockiest parts of the weekend.
“It’s pretty quiet, right?” said Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin, a police academy graduate who has been a critic of the event.
Part of the tranquility may be due to reduced crowds. Unofficial occupancy figures compiled by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau show that Miami Beach hotels were just 65 percent full Thursday, compared to 67 percent on the same day last year.
The difference between this year and last is even more stark for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Last year, Miami Beach hotels were 82, 90, and 85 percent full on the weekend’s peak days. This year, despite a recent wave of record tourism, the rates are projected at 76, 77, and 72 percent respectively.
Local business were mixed.
“A lot of local customers left town,” Hagen Taudt, owner of Oliver’s Bistro on West Avenue said. “While Ocean Dive sees plenty of action Memorial Day weekend.the cash register doesn’t necessarily ring at the restaurant and hotels there.”