Given David & Deb, our partners in crime, weren’t able to secure vacation time for Thunder Beach, Debbie and I knew we’d have an extra room and had let it be known it was available to anyone who might want it. We had some possible guests, but nothing firm when we left home on Thursday.
However, by Friday morning our friend Bobby decided to take us up on our open room offer and make the trip down. Later in the day we learned from Bobby that Ryan, another mutual friend, was also going to make the trip and make use of the sleeper sofa in the living room we also offered up for any would-be couch whales. We were pretty thrilled that we’d have a full house by Friday night!
As for the first part of the day, the weather wasn’t all that great. We had breaks in the clouds and some sunshine but we weren’t completely out of the woods. It had rained overnight and there were still some strong storms passing a bit south of PCB over the Gulf and making land down by Port St. Joseph and St. George’s Island. In short, it seemed like a good day to enjoy a leisurely morning in the condo and made the best of our alone time before heading out to grab some lunch. That gave me time to finish up my video editing from our trip down and to do some “real work” on my other laptop. After that I pulled up and cherry picked events from the Thunder Beach and Panama City Beach Motorcycle Rally website calendars and put them in an email to myself so I’d have a pocket guide for the day’s events.
Our first stop would be the first-ever Thunder Beach motorcycle swap meet being staged behind Hammerhead Fred’s, followed by stops at a couple of vendor areas where we could walk around, stretch our legs a bit and people watch. Lunch would be next at Sharky’s, followed by a walk across the street to the Lucky 13 venue where Full Throttle Magazine had set up shop. After that, it would be off to Miss Newby’s for the Old School Motorcycle Show around 3:00pm, then to the Boardwalk Hotel & Conference Center for the custom bike and painted model show. The evening would include a return to Hammerhead Fred’s for some Bourbon Tuna and a visit to Pineapple Willy’s around 8:00pm so we’d be able to secure a good table for the Jacob, Brock & Brew band at 9:00pm.
Here’s how it went down:
Swap Meet & No Thanks: They asked $10 for a look around and we said, no thanks! The guy working the gate was a good soul and then offered a deal: go on ahead and take a look and if you find something then come back and pay me the $10. That was fair. We were there 5 minutes and kept our $10. However, for anyone building a rat bike or doing restorations, it may have been a gold mine.
Club LaVela & the Ubiquitous Vendor Area: Not that I expected anything different, but with few exceptions it was the same old imported crap you see year-after-year. It was fun the first year, but it’s just become something to do where you can people watch since then. Such was the case again.
Sharky’s & Great Times: It was all about great food and good times with some of the other patrons and staff. Our barkeeper from Thursday – Mikey – immediately recognized us and had our drinks sitting there when we sat down and ordered our other “usual,” the Baja Tacos. Talk about feeling comfortable: it was like On the Border South! Well, not quite, but it does reinforce the value of taking care of your servers who, in turn, will invariably take care of you. It’s definitely a win-win! It was also encouraging to see the sun was starting to peek out, but there was definitely rain in the area and we attempted to time our adventures and travels around the brief showers.
Lucky 13: Saw Ralph R. working the traffic in and out of what was basically a tent city venue with a stage and mini-bars. The early morning bands were a no-show and the beer babes were bored to tears: not a happy place, at least while we were there but we’re told things improved. We’d hoped to catch the Southern Fried Sideshow with the Captain and Maybelle (friends of Deb & David who we’d gone to see down in Little Five Points, GA, a few years earlier), but our timing was off. I’m guessing it was probably much livelier on Saturday once the weather improved as it was definitely a venue that needed clear skies.
Miss Newby’s & a Great Vibe: The Old School Bike Show was interesting, but the assortment of bikes seems a bit lacking this year. A few were pretty nice bikes, but none really seemed to be an out-of-the-park homerun, “old-school” bike. However, the vibe from the people working and hanging there was great! Miss Newby’s is definitely one of the better hang-outs at PCB. We found Debbie a nice spaghetti strap top for a whopping $5, made a few acquaintances and cast our votes for the bike of our choice. After checking out the vendor wares we headed off to the next stop. By far, this was the highlight of the day as far as events go.
Boardwalk & Bizarro Land: This event was, well… weird. The concept here is, bike owners volunteer their motorcycles as show bikes (I’m thinking these will be highly customized bikes with wild paint jobs) and then a skilled body art painter is given a female model (with pasties & briefs, not nude) to paint in a way that either matches or compliments the bike’s paint scheme and features. Let’s just say that after four bikes and three models we’d seen more than enough. Really, that event did not have it going-on. Good band, but just an awkward event, far-more bizarre than your typical motorcycle rally “beauty contest”.
H-D of PCB & Shopping: The one thing that did stand out at the “painted lady event” was a really nice Harley-Davidson branded leather corset top a gal in the audience was wearing that also caught Debbie’s attention. Since we had some extra time on our hands we decided to head over to Harley-Davidson of Panama City Beach to see if they didn’t have one similar to it, as it’s the kind of top that Debbie always looks great in. Sadly, and as I somewhat suspected, the top we saw was from a few seasons ago. However, we found the current offering – an all-black leather corset with very nice black & purple embroidery – to be an even a better choice for Debbie: a bit more subtle and alluring, to be sure. Yes, it was way-overpriced but Miss Debbie really liked it and it was something I also really liked and knew she’d wear again. In fact, she even wore it out of the store and for the rest of the night! Yup, it was that much of a hit!
Hammerhead Fred’s and Waiting: We stopped by the condo to freshen up, update our wardrobe for the evening and check in with Bobby who we’d left an extra key for at the front desk. He was headed off to meet up with a group of friends at Dusty’s for dinner and we’d planned to meet back up with him and Ryan at Pineapple Willy’s around 9:00pm. In the meantime, we relaxed a bit before heading off to dinner at Hammerhead Fred’s. As is often my M.O., I dropped off Debbie so she could secure a table – pretty, single ladies always do better than couples at the hostess stand and with bar patrons when attempting to secure seats – and she somehow arranged for us to join another couple at a four-top bar area table… the last open table in the joint! They were a really nice couple from Birmingham, Alabama who were down for the week without their bike. Given how slow the service was, having another couple to spend time with was a huge plus. I’m pretty sure what should have been a 40-minute dinner ended up being closer to 90 which was very frustrating since both the bar and kitchen seemed to be backed-up. By the way, businesses being short-staffed became a frequent problem throughout the weekend. Not sure if they cut back staff when the bad weather came as a hedge against a low turn-out or if they’re just short-staffing to cut costs.
Pineapple Willy’s & A Good Time, But..: We arrived around 8:15 and were able to get a front row parking spot which also suggested we’d be able to get a table near the dance floor; always a good thing! Such was the case and we were quickly taken care of by our server Kristen. Sadly, that prompt service wouldn’t last long as it looked like they only had two gals working the entire club’s dining area and the bar staff had also been cut by 50% compared to what we’re used to seeing. Ryan arrived before Bobby did and it was really nice having them along for the weekend. We can always have a good time by ourselves, but it’s certainly preferable to have friends around on weekends like this. Jacob & Brock were good, but not as great as I remember. Seemed like they’d moved away from the 80’s / 90’s / 00’s rock standards and were doing a heavier mix of Southern and rock country. There was also a group of folks from the New York City area that took over the dance floor and used it as their place to hang instead of doing a dance, and then taking a seat… at times just standing there and taking up space which precluded others from dancing: definitely a buzz-kill. Once the band took their break and the line-dance pop tunes came Bobby turned into a bit of a dance machine so we extended our stay a bit while he showed others how it’s done. Ryan had bailed out of Willy’s when the fat guys began to lift their T-shirts and show off the massive dun-laps (as in their belly’s done lapped over their belt buckles) and single guys were out there dancing alone; meh. It’s not the norm, but it also helped to end the night a bit earlier than usual. It had also been a struggle to get our server’s attention and that also helped to do-in the buzz.
Bottom Line: Willy’s was a bit of a disappointment for Debbie and me as those nights spent dancing to Jacob & Brock had become a big part of our visits to Thunder Beach. Without them, PCB just loses a little something. Thankfully we had Bobby and Ryan there and that made for a great time!
After Party at the Beach Bar & Package Store: We met up with Ryan and Bobby in the parking lot and followed them over to the Beach Bar & Package Store, which is a pretty great place to hang-out. Several of their friends from Atlanta were there as well and that’s where we ended our night. We’d thought about heading down to check out either the Salty Goat or Coyote Ugly, but opted to get some rest so that we’d be able to enjoy the better weather on Saturday. Bobby and Ryan were right behind us.
Summing It All Up:
As already noted, it blew me away how the big clubs and restaurants were short-staffed and seemed unable to do anything about it, i.e., call in additional help. Moreover, you could tell the servers were more than frustrated since they were taking the brunt of the complaints and likely getting shorted on tips due to slow service and inattention. We even saw this down in Mexico Beach at Toucans on Saturday.. Well OK, they always seem to be short-staffed when they get slammed. But, at least at Willy’s they always seemed to have an army of servers and a huge bar staff during bike week. That just wasn’t in evidence this weekend.
All that said, it was a great time over at Miss Newby’s, we had a nice dinner with good folks who we didn’t meet until that night and we had a great time with Bobby and Ryan. We should have gone down to the Salty Goat, as that also seemed to be a place that had a good vibe as well. Coyote Ugly seemed like they were trying too hard (e.g., outdoor live band, jello wrestling, Miss Thunder Beach venue, etc.), so perhaps their tried and true formula just isn’t pulling in the younger crowds, gals or enough of us old folks! So, missing out on that probably wasn’t a big loss.
One thing was certainly true, the weather was looking a lot better for Saturday and that was a very good thing!