Panama City Beach Reconnaissance Weekend… April 6 – 8

David, Deb, Mark & Debbie… just for reference.

This was supposed to be a weekend trip for Mark, David and the two Debbies, but “something came up” and it turned into a Guys Trip and a Girls Weekend at Home.

The Guys Trip took David and me to Panama City Beach (PCB) on Friday where the plan was to check out some local day-trip rides for when we come back in early May when Bike Week descends on PCB, and to otherwise relax along the Gulf Coast.  The Girls Weekend would have Deb coming over to stay with Debbie at our house and doing the Friday On-the-Border thing, and then heading to the Dixie Tavern on Saturday night to meet up with Jody and other gal-pals for the High Meadows Drive (HMD) gig.  Sunday would be Debbie playing host to Wesley, Julie and the grandkids — Caroline(5)  & Charlotte (3)  — for Easter lunch and an egg hunt in the backyard.  As best as I can tell, this is about the way it all unfolded.

Thursday:

After leaving work a little early on Thursday, I stopped by David & Deb’s around 5:30pm to hook-up David’s trailer and load his Softtail Duece. Before loading up the bike I reminded David that it still wasn’t too late to make the trip on the bikes: the weather looked good!!  No dice; we’d do that in May.  So, with his bike on the trailer I headed home to drop the truck and collect Debbie so we could meet David & Deb for dinner at On The Border.  Once back at home around 9:00pm we pulled the hardtop off of Debbie’s little roadster and stored it for the summer, washed her car so it would be clean for the weekend with the option of “going topless” should the weather cooperate.  That done, I loaded my Harley on the trailer, did a few loads of laundry then packed my gear for the weekend.  It was a busy and productive evening.

Friday:

Sipping suds, eating hot wings and enjoying the view at Harpoon Harry’s

It was nice sleeping in until 6:00am on Friday morning, as I didn’t need to leave until 6:40am to be at David’s by 7:00am.  We stopped at Martin’s for a quick breakfast before beginning the 300-mile drive to PCB in earnest.  The drive down was pretty uneventful and we were checked-in to the Hampton Inn, had the bikes unloaded and made our way to the beach and Harpoon Harry’s deck for the first cold-one of the weekend and some hot wings by around 1:30pm.  Harpoon Harry’s and most of the bars were actually pretty quiet all weekend long, noting they’d been slammed during the annual college Spring break.  However, that said, the roads were still clogged with kids, but mostly high-school age kids on their Spring break.  Frankly, I’m not sure which was worse, as it made getting around a bit of a pain and places like Applebee’s were slammed instead of the bars and clubs.  But, I digress…

Seaside with Bud & Alley’s with the blue roof just left of dead center along the beach .

After lunch we headed West on Front Beach Road and County Hwy 30A to Seaside, Florida; the colorful little master planned community where parts of the 1998 movie, “The Truman Show”  were filmed.  We stopped at Bud & Alley’s for another cold-one, noting the crowd at the bar was definitely not your typical Red Neck Riviera clientele . Thurston Howell the 3rd and Lovey would have fit in a bit better than me. I personally like bars to be a little more salty and with a few less folks talking a bit too loud about their latest leverage buy-outs, divorce settlements and otherwise trying to one-up each other, or having those weird, loud, one-sided loud conversations via a bluetooth ear things.   Having enjoyed our Bud Lights, we made our way through the mass of hormone-enraged, high-school kids from well-to-do families hanging out along Seaside’s main drag, and motored back to our hotel for a change of clothes before heading to Friday Fest in Panama City.

Panama City Friday Fest

It was about a 15-mile ride from PCB to Panama City’s downtown area where the city closed down about four city blocks for its Friday Fest street fair.  The premise was not unique, as Friday evening car shows in places in Florida like Ft. Myers have been going on for several years.  As for the cars that were on display in Panama City, none stood out as being all that special, spectacular or collectible. There were certainly a few very nice cars, but nothing that would fetch big money aside from a few newer cars, a very nice 67 Mustang convertible, a Shelby AC reproduction and a few of the 60’s vintage Barracuda’s.   As you’d expect, the place was lined with all kinds of food booths and local merchants selling odds and ends. There were also several local bands playing, a few political candidates out stumping, and the like.  I should also note the place was packed and the crowd continued to grow in the hour or so that we were there.  As for dinner, we patronized one of the booths where I sampled some of the “Gator on a stick” while David opted for the pork on a stick; it was what it was.  All-in-all, it was an interesting experience.  People watching was on-par with what you’d find in any small town, spanning just about every demographic. Like I said, it was interesting and gave me an opportunity to see downtown Panama City, something I would have otherwise never bothered to do.  But, I was also glad to be headed back to PCB.

A stock photo, but pretty much how it looked when we arrived each night.

It was probably somewhere around 8:30pm when we arrived back in PCB, only to find ourselves stuck in gridlock no matter where we turned: kids in cars out cruising had everything tied-up while a heavy law enforcement officer (LEO) presence was running a brisk business pulling kids out of cars for underage drinking, etc. Yikes, what a challenge for the local LEOs, which included the PCB police, the Beach Police, the Sheriff’s Office and Florida State Patrol.  We finally made it to Front Beach Road and ducked into “Coyote Ugly Saloon” for a while. It was nearly empty, but offered a nice place to relax and watch some of the goings-on out on Front Beach Road.  After about an hour, we decided to check-out Applebee’s as we both needed a little more something to eat (bearing in mind, Coyote Ugly doesn’t serve food… just liquids) and, well, 2-for-1 adult beverages are hard to pass-up.  After making our way a block West on Front Beach Road, we hit the back roads and arrived at Applebee’s only to find that at 9:30pm, the place was packed.  Apparently high-school kids and their families tend to be a bit more budget-minded than the Harley crowd we normally encounter on our PCB visits. There weren’t any seats at the bar, which was a disappointment, but we did score a high-top next to the bar.

After refueling a bit, and because the roads were still a mess, we took another shortcut back to Coyote Ugly to see if it had gotten any busier. It had and we had a pretty good time watching all of the activities for a while before calling it a night.  It was a good first day.

Saturday:

I was up early on Saturday and did some reading down in the Hampton’s breakfast area while munching on some cereal. David came down about an hour later and we began to formulate our plan for the day.  In theory, a lot of the kids and their parents who spent the last week in PCB should have been leaving on Saturday since week-long rentals tend to run from Sunday to Saturday.  So, if we wanted to do any cruising around in PCB, it “should” have been a bit easier today.  However, the main activity was a road trip East along Business 98 / 98 towards Mexico Beach and perhaps on to Apalachicola.

Status Report#1 from the Girl’s Weekend: Before heading out, I rang my Debbie to find out how their night out went. Turns out, after having dinner at On the Border they headed to a joint called “The Place Bar & Grill” that one of our bartender friends recommended.  Debbie’s description matched my recollection that this was a meet-market for the older set so they bailed after being hit-on like a couple of slow pitchers and make their way over to Nik’s Place (photo at right), another bar but at least one that Deb & Dave were familiar with. Nik’s had a band and they ended up staying there until around 3:00am.  Which is to say, they switched over to water around 1:30am so that they’d been good-to-go by 3:00am.  I gotta tell ya, I don’t think Debbie and I have ever stayed out that late. So, they definitely out-partied the guys.

Note the very straight road that connects the West end of the peninsula with Mexico Beach.

So, on to the East.  I should note, PCB is somewhat land-locked by a lot of urban areas, so it’s hard to find a way out-of-town that doesn’t put you on 45mph multi-lane roads. So, as we headed out of PCB we quickly got off 98 and used Business 98 as an alternate route so that we could enjoy more lightly travelled roads through Panama City vs. being stuck in heavy, 4-lane traffic.  It was a good choice.  However, as we crossed the bridge over East Bay and entered the property surrounding Tyndall AFB the speed limits climbed to 50mph, then 55mph and then 60mph along a 12-mile strip of asphalt that is so-darn straight that if it weren’t for the curvature of the Earth, you could have seen one-end from the other. Mind you, I like to ride with the wind in my face which is why I don’t have a windscreen on our Wide Glide.

David strikes a pose as we cross a bridge heading into Port Joe.

However, the combination of the dead-straight road, the wind noise and concern over losing my cap in wind gust, I didn’t enjoy that 12-mile leg of our journey all that much. So, after getting to Mexico Beach and realizing that much of the road ahead would also be 45+ mph, we opted to put in the ear plugs and put on our 1/2 helmets for a variety of good reasons. Wow, that made a HUGE difference in the enjoyment factor for the rest of the ride.   I also opted to take my jacket off now that the temps were starting to sneak into the 70’s and the Sun was doing its thing: boy that felt good (and yes, I had my 50 spf protection on).

Taking a break just before the entrance to the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

As we headed South on 98 leaving Mexico Beach along St. Joseph’s Bay I decided to hug the Gulf and ended up taking us out to the entrance to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. It turned out to be an exceptional 60-mile out and back to Mexico Beach, certainly a lot more scenic and relaxing than had we gone inland across 98 to Apalachicola.  We stopped at a small store near the park entrance for a short break and decided that we’d stop at a place we saw called “Toucans” back in Mexico City for lunch.  Toucans was yet another “salty” bar with cold beer, great burgers, and a beautiful view of the Gulf.    The 40-mile ride back to PCB from Toucans was a heck of a lot more enjoyable than the ride out to Mexico Beach had been now that we were both helmeted and sporting ear plugs. In fact, you couldn’t have asked for a better day from a weather and low-traffic standpoint.  It was perhaps mid-70’s with very low humidity and nearly clear skies all day long.   It was a great 140-mile loop that I’d ride again.

Same bridge where I took the photo of David, but looking the other direction with yours truly in frame.

Back in PCB, we tried to make our way East along Front Beach Road, but son-of-a-gun if we didn’t find ourselves back in a traffic jam. Apparently not all public schools are on the same spring break schedules.  Once again, we bailed off of Front Beach Road and took the by-pass out to Pier Park, where we parked and spent a little time walking around the shopping center and checking out what Ron Jon & Margaritaville’s store had in the way of T-shirts. I ultimately decided that I’m either too old or need to be in the T-shirt design business, as there just wasn’t anything all that interesting to be had. So, being a little dehydrated, we decided to motor on down Front Beach Road from the West end (hoping traffic might be a little less congested) towards Sharky’s for a cold-one by the beach.

The entrance to Sharky’s wasn’t nearly this serene when we left.

Sharky’s ended being a lot more entertaining than we expected. Sure, like all of the bars we’d been in, the Masters was on the tele. However, we had the added enjoyment of a somewhat large,  inebriated, and boisterous middle-aged gentleman who was extolling the shortcomings of US tax policies and the IRS to other guests and the wait staff.  Sadly, the Russian gal working the bar kept selling him more drinks well after he should have been cut-off.  They eventually had to drag him away from the bar (to a large round of applause) and out into the parking lot after he ignored the manager’s repeated warnings to control his behavior.  However, when it really got interesting was when his seemingly well-controlled friend followed him out to the parking lot and got in the bouncer’s face: bad idea. Mind you, I’m providing the details as a second-hand account as I opted to stay at the bar enjoying my beer, the beach and the Masters while others ran to see the fracas going down in the parking lot.  We left Sharky’s a short time later and the PCB Police were on hand to sort things out.

We sat about 3/4’s of the way out on the covered pier.

After motoring back to the Hampton and getting cleaned up, we headed over to Pineapple Willy’s for dinner. Being on the motorcycles, we were quickly sent to the front of the parking lot and tucked into some primo parking. As we observed, you can get a heck of a lot more motorcycles into Willy’s parking lot than you can cars and SUVs. We only had to wait about 15 minutes to get a table out on the beach patio. I had a Caesar salad with chicken and David did the pulled pork with fries. Nothing to write home about, but it was food and I enjoyed getting some greens.  After dinner our evening played out pretty much the way it did Friday night.  We headed over to Coyote Ugly early while the place was still empty and were warmly welcomed back by the red-shirted crew that keeps the guests in line, noting they all remembered us from Friday, i.e., the two older dudes on bikes with thinning hair  that showed up early.   Hey, on the bright side, we never got hit-up for a cover charge and didn’t even need to have our hands stamped.

Yet another poached photo for reference. I guess I really need to take more photos of my own when we go on these trips.

After relaxing on the deck for a while, we decided to go and check out another place called the Red Door Saloon, which seemed to cater to an older, biker-type crowd.  It was a nice place where the local American Legion H-D club had gathered — a brand new club just judging by how fresh and crisp their leather vests and patches looked. There was another group of what looked to be regulars at the other end of the bar near the shuffleboard table.  The two guys playing shuffleboard were both excellent players so it was good fun watching them battle it out.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a shuffleboard table.  After spending an hour or so at the Red Door Saloon we decided we’d close out our night and weekend in PCB back at Coyote Ugly.

It was a good call. There was a lot of fun stuff happening at Coyote Ugly when we returned: the Bull Riding machine was in full swing, the bar top was packed with female patrons up strutting their stuff, several of whom looked as though they’d performed on the small stage at some point in their life, and alcohol was flowing everywhere you looked.  We remained casual observers to the entire process, offering each other private editorials that kept us chuckling most of the night, and cheered on those who were bold enough to be outrageous for the entertainment of others.  I think we ended up staying a couple of hours enjoying a few well-spaced cold-ones and called it a night around 12:30pm, well ahead of Coyote Ugly’s  closing time of 4:00am. As we were getting ready to leave a couple of the gals hanging out on the deck asked if they could go for a ride on the Harley’s so, technically, David and I both got hit on too!  Well, OK: it was the bikes they were really hitting on.  So, while I’m sure we missed a lot of interesting goings-on that would transpire as the night continued, we’d had a good time and it’s always better to quite while you’re ahead.  Yet another good end to a great day.

Sunday:

Sunday saw me up about an hour before David, who wandered into the breakfast area around 7:45am.  It was a much different scene from the previous day as the place was practically empty.  Our plan for the day became, pack-it-in and head for home.  Sure, we could have probably done a little more riding, but with a 5-hour drive ahead of us, getting on down the road seemed like a pretty good plan.

I think we had the trailer hooked-up and bikes loaded by about 9:00am, which was closer to 10:00am our time back in Atlanta.  Once we were underway I decided to give Debbie a call to make sure she’d gotten up early enough to prep for the kids arrival after Easter Mass.

HMD playing at Dixie Tavern on April 7th.

Our drive back to Atlanta was thankfully uneventful and relatively free of any heavy traffic. We were back at my house by 3:00pm, where I dropped off my Harley and checked on Debbie before we headed on to David’s to drop his Harley and the trailer. As I somewhat expected, Debbie was sound asleep on the leather couch in the family room, all decked out in one of her pretty ‘Stetson’ dresses and red ‘Charlie Horse’ boots… so I did my best not to wake her up before leaving.  The trip over to David’s and back took about an hour, including the 20 minutes or so that it took to unload his bike and unhitch the trailer. Once back at home I unloaded the truck and took my bags upstairs to our closet via the back stairway in the garage so as not to stir Debbie. When I came down to the kitchen a short time later Debbie had woken-up, but wasn’t aware that I had been home… twice!

We ended the weekend watching the amazing finish of the Masters Tournament and snacking on left-overs from lunch.  I know we both had a great time with our friends over the weekend, but it was really good to be back with my sweetie by my side.  We’re both looking forward to our return trip to PCB in early May, where the only day we’ll be separated will be the Wednesday when David and I ride our bikes down ahead of the girls road trip on Thursday with the truck and trailer.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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