This is the second part of a three-part write-up on our trip down to Panama City Beach for the fall edition of Thunder Beach. You can find the first part HERE.
Friday @ Panama City Beach
I was up fairly early because: (a) I’m always up early and, (b) I had to work on a couple of weekly reports that needed to go before noon CDT. Debbie was up a couple of hours later and I took a break from my work around 7:30am so we could run over to Wally-World to grab some provisions, i.e., yogurt, water, Diet Cokes, sunscreen and apple fritters! It was a beautiful morning, to be sure….
Once we were back at the condo, Debbie headed down to lay out on the beach while I finished up with work on my laptop. David & Deb were up a short while later and, after their breakfast, Deb left to join my Debbie down on the beach while I headed out with David for a morning ride, remembering he was feeling mileage deficient having trailered his bike down vs. making the trip on his bike.
Again, the low turn-out was really obvious: at 10:00am we were able to ride the 4 miles from our condo near Edgewater to Pier Park on Front Beach Road without encountering any significant bottlenecks, which is really unusual. In fact, there were more cars than motorcycles on the road. We also visited Harley-Davidson of PCB and… you guessed it: no heavy traffic. There were a lot of folks milling about, but it was a far cry from being slammed the way it was when Debbie and I visited back in May for the Spring Rally.
Given the Weather.com site was still showing 90% chance of Tropical Storms with 45 mph – 60 mph wind gusts on Sunday, I checked out H-D’s collection of helmets with face protection “just in case” there was any credibility to their forecast. Frankly, just looking at Friday’s weather in PCB and the radar images of what was left of “Karen” I was calling B.S. on the possibility of a full-blown Tropical Storm Karen slamming into Florida’s panhandle on Saturday or Sunday.
After H-D PCB we headed back through Pier Park and then east down Front Beach Road to Club LaVela’s vendor village: meh. There was not much to see there either as all of the interesting vendors like Performance Machine and Custom Dynamics were either now at H-D PCB or opted to go to the Myrtle Beach Bike Rally: everything else up for sale was, well… you know. Harley’s corporate marketing team was there with a hauler full of their 2014 bikes that folks could test ride, but even that wasn’t pulling in too many visitors.
But, that said, I saw a lot of 2014 Harley Touring bikes & trikes riding around at PCB all weekend long, easily recognizable by their new vented “Baboon head” fairings and LED lights. Yeah, yeah… I know they still call them Batwings, but the one they put on the cover of their parts catalog sure looked to me more like a Baboon’s head than anything else! Nevertheless, the 2014 bikes were easy to spot and there were a lot of them being debuted at Thunder Beach. Our last stop was the Edgewater vendor village where I once again confirmed none of the custom saddle upholstery vendors wanted to mess with doing a complete saddle make-over for our Road King during Thunder Beach: they were looking for quick-turn jobs where they just added gel pads or softer inserts and didn’t have the time or equipment to shape a custom seat core.
We returned to the condo, collected the two Debbie’s and left around 12:30pm local for the 37 mile / hour-long ride over to Toucan’s restaurant and bar at Mexico Beach for lunch. In the past, we’d normally get an earlier start and ride out to the State Park entrance at Saint Joseph’s Bay – about a 65-mile ride – and then stop at Toucans on the way back. However, we were hungry so today’s primary goal was lunch at Toucans.
It was a nice ride, noting we always ride along the shore on Business Route 98 through Panama City before jumping on Tyndall Parkway for the great ride over the bay bridge before the less-than-great, 11-mile straight shot through Tyndall AFB to Mexico Beach. Although, I will confess that we did get rained-on as we rode along on Highway 30 through Tyndall… for all of about 1 minute: a light shower came out of nowhere and was gone as soon as quickly as it arrived.
When we arrived at Toucans we picked a nice booth on the beach side of the bar and next to a table full of urban-looking bikers (much like ourselves) who appeared to be having a pretty good time: little did we know how this chance encounter would reshape our weekend in Panama City Beach and yield new friendships… right in our own backyard! Do tell, do tell…??!!
So, we’re sitting there kinda taking care of ourselves as the gal working our table seemed to be distracted. Hey, it’s a joint on Mexico Beach, not the Ritz… and we like it that way! She recovered nicely and we had our food and drinks without too much delay.
As we were finishing up our lunch, the gang next to us started to take some group photos and I suspect it was David who offered up a smart-ass remark coupled with an offer to take the group photo that broke the ice: it’s one of the things that make him who he is and we wouldn’t want him to be any different. However, whatever the exchange was it prompted one of the gals in the group to join us at our table to make some sort of pitch: we had no idea who she was or what it was about. However, she was as happy, outgoing and engaging as could be and was clearly on a mission of love and caring… not selling time shares vis-a-via sign-ups for a 100% guaranteed chance to win a free vacation. More on that in a minute; here’s the first installment of the “Oh my God; what a small and wonderful world we live in” part.
The gal’s name was Carrie Ann and she, along with the rest of the folks having lunch at Toucans – her hubby Bobby, Janette & Ryan and Zack — were all down at Thunder Beach from Georgia. Or, to be more precise, from our own backyards: no way! The more we talked the more we discovered our various paths in and around the Cobb County area had already crisscrossed many times over, noting we been to the same restaurants, clubs and followed some of the same bands. They had a group of about four to six couples in their “Atlanta Crew” at Thunder Beach that weekend, although not all of them were at Toucans. It was really quite the encounter and we mentioned we’d be at Pineapple Willy’s that night listening to the Jacob, Brock & Brews band in case they were looking to meet up again.
As for the pitch, Carrie Ann was raffling-off a very nice Coach handbag at $5 a ticket to raise funds for her niece’s kidney transplant surgery which, in and of itself, was certainly nice enough. However, what blew me away was that Carrie Ann would be donating one of her kidney’s as part of the transplant procedure; yikes! Talk about giving of yourself!!! The more we learned about Carrie Ann and Bobby, the more we could see that being a kind, outgoing and genuinely good person with a positive view of the world was simply the way she AND Bobby were wired. I believe it’s sometimes called a magnetic personality, as they are simply the kind of folks who draw-in other like-minded, good people with all of their positive energy! Needless to say, we were more than happy to buy a few of the raffle tickets on the spot: it was the least we could do. Holly crap, did I mention that she was donating a kidney?!
After our mid-afternoon lunch we headed back to the condo so we could change clothes and shift gears for the evening ahead, chill a bit and make our plans for the evening. A short while later as we left the condo I could see that the 50% chance of rain finally materialized over 2% of the affected area for what I suspect was about 30 minutes. Now, to be fair, it was clearly a heavy downpour centered over the Pier Park / Frank Brown Park area and running east along the canal, so that was unfortunate. Given where the rain was, we decided we’d head as far west as Sharky’s for cocktail hour, as it looked to be clear of the heavy rainfall. Nearly all of the cars and bikes heading east on Front Beach Road had clearly come through rain and we just started to feel some light rain as we arrived at Sharky’s.
The rain was over as quickly as it arrived at Sharky’s, but still falling to the west. So, rather than going to Pier Park for dinner, we decided to call an audible and head back east to the Wicked Wheel, as they had a pretty good menu and we’d always had good service and good quality food since it opened for the past fall’s Thunder Beach weekend. Of course, there was the lingering question: could we get in? Yeah, right.
Like most other “venues” at Thunder Beach, the Wicked Wheel was not all that crowded. They had live entertainment on the deck with a few empty tables and a live band setting up in a tent in the lawn area next to the restaurant parking lot. Getting a table was also not a problem. However, after getting our drink order placed we discovered a major problem with our plan: they’d ditched their fantastic full menu and were only offering up a limited selection of sandwiches and finger foods on a $10 special bike week menu! We should have probably gotten up and left, as there wasn’t anything on the $10 menu that interested me or either of the two Debbies. David was right at home as he’s a sandwich and fries kinda guy, just to end on a positive note.
By the time we’d finished at the Wicked Wheel Skinny Molly — a really awesome Southern Rock band with Mike Estes from Lynyrd Skynyrd & some former members of Blackfoot — started to play… to an empty field: how awful is that when you have a band that good playing?!
We headed over to Pineapple Willy’s to find ourselves a table and with the light turn-out we didn’t figure that would be a challenge; it wasn’t. We had the same table next to the dance floor that we’d had on Thursday and even had the same couple from Kentucky sitting next to us. Alas, the exhibitionist was a no-show!
Kevin Jacob was on hand for the show tonight, so we said hello to him and let him know that as good as Terry and the boys were the night before, his play list, vocals and guitar were definitely missed. The band fired-up right on time at 9:00pm and there was a good crowd, just not the size crowd that we’re used to seeing. However, as they got close to the end of their first set, we saw where our friends from Toucan’s had arrived and taken some seats next to the bar.
David and Deb headed over to spend time talking with them while Debbie and I alternately chilled and danced: hey, it’s what we do! I also decided to give our friends back at Jimmy Mac’s celebrating our rock & roll diva Jody East’s birthday a little sampling of the Jacob, Brock & Brew’s take on AC/DC’s highway to hell via a short video clip. I caught Kevin Jacob’s girlfriend in the video which apparently caught David’s attention as he snapped a photo of me shooting video with my Motorola Razor. Funny stuff, to be sure.
During the break I went and visited with Carrie Ann while Bobby headed over and visited with Miss Debbie. As we both carried on our respective conversations we discovered we had some common and very dear friends, including Misty from Horsetown. It was truly amazing to find out how much we had in common and, more to the point, that we someone ran into each other at a very chance meeting well off the beaten path at bike week in Panama City Beach. How cool is fate when it’s clearly fate in a good way!
Before they headed off to hit a few more night spots Bobby & Carrie Ann invited us to join their Atlanta crew for their traditional Hippy / Yuppy / Hippie / Biker Bar tour on Saturday: we eagerly accepted as it sounded like a really good time and would add a completely new dimension to our Thunder Beach experience, noting the “old routine” was, well… getting old.
Once again, I think we pretty much closed-out the night at Willy’s and bagged it for the evening. It was really a great day that yielded some really great moments with new friends.
Saturday’s report plus the ride home in Part III is HERE.