Spring Rally 2017, Panama City Beach, Florida…

Summary:

We had an amazing time being with friends, and a great time being in Panama City Beach; how’s that?

As I’m sure I’ve written here before, when you have really great friends you’ll always have a great time regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, short of a somber event where the focus becomes shared concern and support where needed. This trip was a reminder you can always make the best of even a less than ideal situation.

Our biggest limitation for this year’s trip was the weather, as a strong cold front pushed through the entire southeast just as Thunder Beach began in Panama City Beach on Wednesday. While most of the rain fell Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the strong winds and cooler temperatures stayed with us on Thursday and Friday, with a slight improvement on Saturday. This truly put a damper on things for us, as it made it very easy to “stay in” whenever we found ourselves at the condo.  The best weather was of course on Sunday as we headed home on a lovely morning with very warm temps and very little wind.

I also felt that the “vibe” at this edition of Thunder Beach was a bit subdued, as attendance seemed to be down yet again. Some of it is probably driven by the weather but some of it seems to be the continuation of a downward trend in the number of bikes we’ve been seeing over the past few bike weeks, both in Daytona and at Panama City Beach. Cars and trucks, on the other hand, looked to have been plentiful in parking lots and on the roads, often times out numbering the bikes.

It was our first time to be in Panama City Beach on a Wednesday but also the first time in a few visits we didn’t take a long ride down the Gulf Coast through Tyndall Air Force Base and Mexico Beach to Indian Pass during our visit, and that seemed to leave us a bit more free time than usual. We also skipped the first and last stops on the Saturday ride that put us back in town at the condo a bit earlier than in past years. In fact, Debbie and I spent quite a bit of time at the condo during our visit, passing on some of the evening and late night activities. However, the rest did us good as did the one 5-mile walk we were able to work in on Saturday morning. But, not to worry, with a group of 23 people having a few drift in and out of the fray was more than normal over the four days.

So, that’s it in the 500 words or less version; the full 6,595 word version follows below. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank our friends for generously sharing their photos as a picture’s worth a thousand words.



The 2017 Thunder Beach @ Panama City Beach All-in-One Report

It was a short work week leading up to our five-day trip to Panama City Beach down on the Florida’s Gulf Coast’s so called Red Neck Rivera.

Monday was noteworthy as our friend Monica came by the house in the afternoon to close the deal on Betty; yes, our 2011 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide has a new home.  I came home from work early and was able to write-up a bill of sale, get the title ready for transfer and gather up a few other things like the owner’s manual, shop manual and my binder of all of the various receipts and other documents associated with the bike a few minutes ahead of Monica’s arrival.  It was a bittersweet moment, to be certain.  I’m glad the bike will be used and appreciated, but really wish I could have justified the on-going expense and consumption of valuable storage space needed to keep her… if only for an occasional solo ride.  But, cest la vie.  I still need to pull all of the original take-off parts out of the attic for Monica and Arne since they go with the bike, but that’s about it.  The balance of Monday evening was dedicated to getting all of our riding gear for Wednesday’s trip together and otherwise rearranging the bikes in the garage so Blue II could be staged for packing and then an easy departure.  Given the weather outlook we’d be taking a little bit of everything “just in case”.

Tuesday’s only highlights were making a trip down to Loco Willy’s for our traditional pre-departure dinner-out since the rest of the night will be spent doing the final packing for the trip and getting a good-night’s rest shortly thereafter. It was Taco’s and Tini’s night at Loco’s and we ran into a lot of friends from our Friday nights: mostly Lockheed retirees and some of their friends.  We didn’t stay too long as the packing was waiting for us at home.

Wednesday & The Trip Down:

Amazingly, the NOAA forecast remained fairly accurate throughout the week.  Now, that’s not to say the weather was ideal for a motorcycle rally because it was anything but ideal: but it could have been worse!

As planned, we left the house right at 5:45am and met our friends Bobby and Carrie Ann at the BP station just off Interstate 575 at 6:00am. Another friend, Mike M., joined us for the ride down. It was in the 50’s when we left so Debbie and I opted to go with full leather and our heated jacket liners and gloves for at least the first 2-hour leg of the ride down to Phenix City, Alabama. Thankfully, by starting at 6:00am it was early enough to take Interstate 75 south through Cobb County. Had we left 15 minutes later I75 would have been a parking lot through Marietta and that’s not the way you want to start a long ride, but dealing with a lot of stop lights along the back way down to Palmetto, Georgia to get around I75 traffic also wasn’t ideal so we really timed it right. We slowed a few times on I75, but generally made great time through Marietta on a weekday and found Interstate 285 west was moving well all the way down to I85 south of Atlanta. The light traffic and our warm gear made for a really nice ride that was thankfully free of any notable events. We stopped for gas in Phenix City across the river from Columbus, Georgia where we also gained an hour. Our next stop was for a bio break just outside Dothan, Alabama, where it was finally warm enough to shed some of our riding gear. We made our second gas / leg stretching stop in Chipley, Florida before making the final hour-long leg into Panama City Beach and the five of us rolled into the nearly empty parking lot at Sharky’s around 10:45am: all told, about 5 hours and 45 minutes.

Mustang Sally’s tour bus was parked out in front of Sharky’s as they were just setting up the stage when we walked into the bar for lunch. We found our friend and regular bartender Keegan and also met up with our friends Kristen & Steven-Ray, whom we’d met by chance a few years back at Sharky’s on the same post-ride lunch stop with Carrie Ann & Bobby.

It was a great time hanging at Sharky’s and the Baja taco’s hit the spot, as usual. After relaxing there for a little while we headed out to the bikes and ran into and chatted with Tobi Lee, the lead singer for Mustang Sally out on Sharky’s front deck.

Since check-in time at our condo wasn’t until 4:00pm, we decided to make our next stop the service department at Panama City Beach Harley-Davidson so a problem with the right-hand highway light on Carrie Ann’s Street Glide could be investigated. Debbie, Carrie Ann & Kristen decided to buck political correctness and be as flirty and girly as they could with the service writers and son of a gun if her bike didn’t move well ahead of several others who were in queue. In fact, they also managed to get Mike’s Ultra Limited slipped in for a 5,000-mile service. What a hoot! We wandered around the dealership for the hour or so that it took for H-D to replace both of Carrie Ann’s defective (and extended warranty protected) highway lights and to service Mike’s bike. As we wandered around I found a new points cover for Blue with the US Air Force seal emblazoned on it and also found a really nice tank top for Debbie. In the meantime, Debbie and the girls had done some of their own exploring and found a few other things, including a lacy top for Debbie. So, as it turns out, the least expensive part of the H-D dealer visit were the two service calls which just goes to show why vendors pay a premium to be at places like the local Harley Dealership.

Our next stop would be the condo, as we’d now be able to unpack our bikes and get into our lovely 3 bedrooms on the 3rd floor. We’d stayed in the same room about a year ago with Bobby, Carrie Ann, Ryan & Jeanette and it was really a great place. So, we were looking forward to staying there for the next four nights. Even though Bobby and Carrie Ann had graciously invited us to take the larger master with the big open views of the Gulf, we opted to take the 2nd master which has its own heating and cooling system as Debbie and I prefer to keep our living spaces a bit warmer than most of our friends: it’s one of the reasons we really like the 3BR / 3BA condos at Sterling Reef.   It didn’t take long to get settled into the room and to get the trailer unhooked from Blue, after which Bobby and I ran over to the grocery store to pick up some provisions for the condo, e.g., water, soft drinks, breakfast foods and some snacks.

In the background, there were several other couples who were leaving Atlanta a ½ a day earlier than planned in an effort to beat the rain; they included our friends Ryan & Jeanette who’d be staying with us in the condo, Jeff & Sharon who had a different condo they’d be staying in on Thursday and Arne & Monica who likewise had another condo reserved for Thursday. Jeff and Sharon along with Monica and Arne would be condo crashing with us that night while we awaited word as to whether or not Ryan & Jeanette would push through the night or come in early on Thursday. Regardless, we were settled-in and good to go in our warm and cozy room and that was a good thing!

Also in the background a dinner plan was being developed as additional folks began to arrive and merge into a larger group numbering something like 15 people; not all that unusual and part of what makes bike week events bike week events. The dinner spot was Dusty’s Oyster Bar which is one of the more popular places along Front Beach on the west end of Panama City Beach. After arriving and going in to get Debbie a much-needed Pina Colada we were quickly reminded Dusty’s only served beer and wine: it was at that moment I could immediately sense Debbie was not in a happy place. Sadly, instead of gracefully letting our friends know we’d be slipping away before we headed in to be seated we tried as we might to stick with it. But, as we made our way into the restaurant I could see Debbie had a look that said, “this isn’t working” and after a very brief discussion we decide to part company with our group of friends and friends of friends. In retrospect, it was really a poorly executed move on my part and it made for an awkward exit as I’m guessing the folks who we were going to be seated with thought it may have had something to do with them: it didn’t. Our dear friend Carrie Ann even stepped up from her seat to intercede but, as I told her, it wasn’t the table arrangements or anyone there that caused us to abruptly change our plans, Debbie and I really needed something different and we would catch up later. I’m sure we were likely – and justifiably – a brief subject of conversation after essentially walking-out on our friends. Yeah, bad on me… and it wouldn’t be the last time I / we went our separate way during the weekend, something I continue to berate myself for after the fact. Deep breathe.

We ended up going to Runaway Island, a place we’ve been to on several recent visits to Panama City Beach, where Debbie knew she could get a good Pina Colada and find several things on the menu that were appealing.  For dinner we split the blackened Mahi Mahi over Gouda grits with a side Caesar salad. It was really quite good, perhaps the best we’ve had there. We were also checking in with Bobby & Carrie Ann back at Dusty’s so we could make sure they understood why we left as well as to coordinate plans for the evening which would be meeting up at Sharky’s for the band Mustang Sally around 9:00pm.

It was a very short ride over to Sharky’s from Runaway Island and it only took us a minute to find our friends who were congregating in the open air deck where Mustang Sally would be playing under a large, enclosed tent. I believe Jeff & Sharon, Carrie & Bobby, Cowboy and Linda, Allen and Hielle and Marwan were there when we arrived along with a few friends of friends and perhaps a few others who were milling about as Mustang Sally got ready to begin playing their first set. Of course, as soon as the band began their opening song the first raindrops began to fall on the mostly outdoor venue.  Looking at the weather radar it was easy to assume it would be a strong rain squall coming through so Bobby’s suggestion to shelter at the condo and/or possibly Uber back to Sharky’s seemed like a good idea and away we went.  Now, just so Debbie and Carrie Ann would have something to carry them over if we did get rained-in, I took a chance on getting caught in the rain and after dropping Debbie off at the condo, I rode down to The Liq (a package store and bar) on Blue and picked up and brought back a pair of 32oz Mudslides. The rain turned out to be a non-event and dissipated as soon as it arrived. But, our plan to ride or Uber back to Sharky’s was derailed by the allure of staying at the condo and relaxing. Apparently I ended up becoming a bit more relaxed than anyone else… and slept in a chair on the porch until 3:30am.  We later learned the folks who stuck it out or Ubered back to Sharky’s had a great time listening to Mustang Sally without any further bouts of rain. Oh well, we’d catch the band another night, right??

Thursday, A Blustery Day:

For me, Thursday began when I woke up out on the porch around 3:30am and upon entering the condo discovered our friends Jeff & Sharon asleep on an air mattress and Monica & Arne cuddled up together on the couch.  Interestingly enough, Ryan & Jeanette’s room was still empty as they decided to spend the night in Eufaula, Alabama and would make the final 2 hour and 45 minute ride down to Panama City Beach later that morning. I wandered into our bedroom and quickly fell back asleep for a few more hours even though I had some work to do on my computer. However, the computer was at the far end of the dining room table and now inaccessible with the air mattress squeezed into the living room so work would have to wait until everyone was up by mid-morning. On the bright side, there was clearly no rush to get outside as it was still raining and everything was wet.

After our sleepover guests were up and about I made myself a steak muffin and Debbie had a yogurt for breakfast. After that I made my way to my computer to check Email and work on some weekly reports that were due for submittal by noon. As I finished up my reports we began to track Ryan & Jeanette’s progress down from Eufaula and decided that with the roads now dried-off by the brisk winds it would a good time to head to The Liq. Unlike most mornings when we arrive early enough to open the place, there was a pretty good size crowd on hand at The Liq when we rolled in around noon. We relaxed and socialized there while folks enjoyed what are some of the best Bloody Mary’s and Mudslides on the beach, or at least so I’m told. I don’t do Bloody Mary’s, but will occasionally help out Debbie with a Mudslide.

 

As we waited Monica & Arne borrowed an old Harley Sportster that had been modified by Cherokee Choppers back in Georgia to support a sidecar where the passenger compartment body had been replaced by a whiskey barrel. Later on Carrie Ann hopped into the barrel with Hielle as her chauffeur: it was great fun to watch. As I said, always good times at The Liq.

 

It was just after 1:30pm when Ryan & Jeanette rolled into The Liq after first dropping their luggage off at the condo. Shortly after 2:00pm we rode over to Runaway Island for a late lunch out on the deck with Bobby & Carrie Ann, Ryan & Jeanette, Allen, Richard & Robin, Sharon & Jeff and Monica and Arne. We took over three of the four booths and had a grand time just relaxing and enjoying lunch by the Gulf.

A gentleman who happened to be hanging out on the Runaway Island beach access deck was kind enough to take a couple group photos after lunch. Now, if I could just figure out who has all of these awesome photos!

Screwing around with Ray-Ray… yeah, it looked pretty gay: not that there’s anything wrong with that!

After lunch we headed to the Boardwalk, as it was mostly vendors indoors which would get us out of the wind for a while. Pretty sure we had most of the same crew from lunch still with us for that trip and ran into Steven-Ray & Kristen with Cowboy and a few others. While wandering around inside the vendor area we found Debbie a really great-looking faux leather dress for not a lot of $$ and we also ran into our Indian Jewelry dealers Isa & Dick from Cumming, Georgia. I can never get out of their booth without finding something and this time it was a pair of men’s copper bracelets and a really nice men’s Sterling silver and 14k gold cuff bracelet by Marc Anita: happy birthday to me!

It was an angry Gulf of Mexico with rain all around…

From the Boardwalk we returned to the condo to clean up and rest a bit before heading out for the evening. We ended up going back to Runway Island with Ryan & Jeanette for dinner. Debbie and I split the Ribeye steak with mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad; it was delicious! Ryan had the same and I’m at a loss as to what Jeanette had but believe it involved a stew and some salad. We once again headed back to the condo where we dropped off the bikes and then wandered across the street to the Lucky 13 for a while.

Having the Lucky 13 at our doorstep was a curse and a blessing: a blessing because it gave us a place to go on foot when riding bikes wasn’t the greatest option, but a curse because Panama City Beach neglected to reprogram the traffic light at Alf Coleman and Front Beach such that it backed up traffic on Front Beach on both directions day and night. And, in backed up traffic during bike week what do you get? Kids on sport bikes bouncing their engines off the rev limiters; ugg. We found our friends listening to the band in their usual spot and joined them for a while before heading back to the condo.

I think it was around midnight when we walked into the condo and called it a night, but on the way back I discovered the wind had been blowing a yellow plastic chain up against the left saddle bag’s top case, leaving some pretty ugly scratches in the clear coat: oh well, something to deal with on Friday.

Evidence after the fact suggests a few of the other folks in our group who were at the Lucky 13 when we left moved a few hundred yards up the street to enjoy a band at the Salty Goat until close to 2:00am: we just don’t have that kind of staying power anymore!

 

In retrospect, having the condo across from a big venue like Lucky 13 coupled with the cold and windy weather may have made it a bit too easy for us to stay in the condo instead of venturing out for dinner and they staying out the rest of the night.  Without a doubt, once we sit down and take a load off in the evening it’s hard for us to get going again. Anyway, its something we’ll need to guard against in the future.

Friday It Was Still Blowing Pretty Good:

When I woke up I first thought the weather might be good enough for a walk on the beach, but after standing on the porch, getting a face full of the wind and seeing other walkers bundled-up I pretty much ruled it out.  If there was any remaining doubt, it was eliminated when Debbie briefly walked out on the deck.

Since we were in for the morning I went ahead and made my breakfast muffin and began doing some work such that I’d have it out of the way before it got in the way: I think they call these work-cations. Once I had my work and out of the way I headed down to the bike to inspect the damage to my left saddlebag top case lid. Between that, the road grime from the ride down and the rain that blew in to the open garage area I decided Blue needed a wash, so that’s how I spent another 30 minutes of my morning. However, after washing the bike the scratches were still bothering the heck out of me so I rode over to the nearest AutoZone and picked up a tube of Meguiars scratch remover and application pads to see if I could remove some of the marks. The scratch remover worked pretty well and that came as a real relief as I was afraid I’d be searching out a painter to hit the top lid with another layer of clear to address the scratches. As it is now, there are just a few scratches left that I may be able to work out with a PC polisher.

With the bike’s top case lid addressed and out of the way and some of our friends off having breakfast, Debbie and I headed to The Liq and were the first ones on the porch at 9:50am local time: Debbie was looking very forward to her morning Mudslide!

The rest of our friends arrived a short time later and we spent the next 90 minutes or so socializing at The Liq. It’s always a great time there and a lot of the patrons seem to be from Georgia and, more specifically, locals from the Marietta, Canton, Woodstock and adjacent areas.

It was around 11:30am when our group headed off towards Frank Brown Park, the main vendor area at Thunder Beach. It wasn’t a long ride distance wide, but with traffic deadlocked on Back Beach Road… and just about every other road that paralleled the beach, it took about 45 minutes to get there.

 

Once there everyone pretty much broke off into smaller groups to search out rest rooms, beverages or to see what the vendors had on hand. I think the only thing Debbie came away with was a small piece of jewelry for her ankle, boot or some such. We’d really found “the better stuff” back at the Harley dealer vendor area on Wednesday and at the Boardwalk on Thursday. But, it’s just one of those places you “need to go” during Thunder Beach just to see if there might be something you absolutely have-to-have, to eat carnival food or to patronize the mini-bars staffed by scantily clad women. Well, that and they’ll also take a hero photo of you riding your bike if you come in through the main entrance; those are always nice keepsakes.

As the afternoon began to wear on and the subject of lunch came up, I suggested an homage to our Indian Pass ride: making the much shorter trip over Hathaway Bridge to the historic section of St. Andrews near Buena Vista Point for lunch at Gracie Rae’s Bar & Grill. It was actually not a bad ride traffic wise that only took about 30 minutes. The place was nearly empty when we arrived so we had it all to ourselves with the full attention of the wait, bar & kitchen staff. The oysters were tasty as was the tuna dip and the cocktails were sublime! However, the company of our friends is what made it all work. Hopefully everyone else enjoyed their time at Gracie Rae’s as much as we did: it was definitely our kind of place.

As we were leaving someone suggested dropping by Los Antojito’s for a brief Cinco de Mayo celebration. We stopped in for a short visit, but Debbie and I decided it would be better if we passed on the free-flowing Margaritas and headed back across the bridge towards our condo where we could have a little us time. Our friend Allen joined us for the ride back and we were able to work our way around the congested roads and made great time getting back to Sterling Reef: it’s good to know how traffic flows in PCB!

Back at the condo I finished up a little work and then we got into some serious relaxation: it just seemed like a good thing to do. As I said, we’re just not cut out for barhopping but do like our down time and we made the most of it. Sadly, I had a fairly fresh bottle of Camarena Silver in the freezer and may have celebrated Cinco de Mayo a bit too heartily back in the condo during the earlier part of the evening. It didn’t really kick in until later that night when I donned my kilt and we walked across the road to see what was going on at Lucky 13. It was weird, in that I was doing fine as we checked in with a few vendors. In fact, I vividly recall finding the same red, white and blue “T-Party” tank I’d bought for Debbie on Wednesday at one vendor and insisted we buy it so she’d have a back-up: I’d have been heart broken in the first one didn’t come out of the wash the way it went in or otherwise became un-wearable. I also checked out a few western style hats and all was good. However, about the time we wandered over to the pizza vendor, according to Debbie my earlier indulgences hit me like a ton of bricks. Good thing we weren’t out riding around and, well, to be honest that’s also one of the reasons we weren’t out bar hopping all that much: its become way too easy for me to suddenly go from OK to not OK. Being firmly grounded within walking distance of our condo was a good thing! We returned to the condo around midnight – you know, early for a night at Bike Week – and called it a night. I think I remember some of our friends coming in later on that night and perhaps poking their heads into the door to our room but it’s all rather fuzzy.

Saturday Things Got A Bit Warmer:

I was actually up fairly early on Saturday morning and did my best not to disturb anyone… well, other than Debbie. It was my duty to be a pest. But, on the bright side, the weather was looking quite nice, nice enough for one of our beloved morning walks on the beach. I think it was around 9:15 when we headed out after having our breakfast muffins as a few of our friends began to emerge from their rooms. The plan for the day was to meet at The Liq and from there, head to Grayton Beach around 11:30 where we’d have lunch at The Red Bar. This would actually be a somewhat modified version of the Yuppie Bar, Hippie Bar, Biker Bar ride of years past lead by our friends Jeff & Sharon.

Debbie and I were pleasantly surprised to find the weather was near perfect for a walk on the beach. For the first time since arriving in Panama City Beach we were able to ditch most of our street clothes and enjoy some fresh air while taking a brisk walk along the Gulf of Mexico. What started out to be a 2-mile walk actually ended up being closer to 5-miles. In fact, we walked about 2.5 miles down the beach to Pineapple Willy’s restaurant deck before turning around for the walk back to the condo. It was an exceptional walk and truly quality time with my sweetie!! I think it was around 10:30am when we got back to the condo, which gave us more than enough time to gas up for the ride, get to The Liq and visit with friends before kick-stands-up at 11:30am.

As we left The Liq I rode up along Jeff and suggested we take Richard Jackson to Middle Beach to by-pass the screwed up traffic flow on Front Beach at Alf Coleman and the Lucky 13. We made great time up and until we hit the merge with Front Beach. But, in all honesty, the ride down Front Beach was a heck of a lot faster and more enjoyable than the typical standstill traffic we encounter on Back Beach heading west during Bike Week. I think it may have taken us all of 30 minutes to get all the down Front Beach where it merges with Route 98 and the Wells Fargo where we’d be meeting the rest of our group of 25 folks aboard 20 motorcycles.

We headed west on Route 98 and then jumped on State Route 30A which would take us through Seaside where we’d normally stop at Bud & Ally’s, aka., the Yuppie Bar. However, we were told we’d be skipping the stop and, instead, taking a ride through some of the more upper-end neighborhoods in Seaside. Not sure the neighbors would appreciate 20 Harley’s rumbling through their quiet and serene neighborhoods but we’d play along. Unfortunately, I think we may have turned off a bit too soon and instead of finding ourselves on the lovely brick roads that meander through Seaside, we were on a series of dusty, gravel and sand-covered streets. While I know it’s bad form to “leave the group” I really didn’t expect to be heading down ‘dirt roads’ and opted to make a left turn off Grove St. so we could get back on 30A. I think there were about four or five bikes that followed us when we broke off for a more direct ride to The Red Bar over on Grayton Beach. The folks that stayed on the scenic tour arrived not long after we did as we jockeyed around for parking spaces at the always-busy Red Bar.

Our ride host & hostess had called ahead and secured the back room of the restaurant for our group so we were taken right in and seated at what must have been about 1:30pm. It took me a few minutes to chill-out after the ride out on 30A which, for whatever reason, was not all that relaxing even before the short detour onto the dirt roads. But, I think I finally got part way back into the groove by the time our meals arrived.

  

After lunch we made the 100-yard walk out over the dunes to the beach for a group photo: something of a Red Bar visit tradition.

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The next planned destination was the Outpost for Bikers on Black Creek in Freeport, Florida. Although we originally planned to stick with the group for the Outpost, I was feeling a little off after lunch and let our ride leader Jeff know we’d be holding back and then heading back to the condo so they didn’t end up looking for us on the ride or at the Outpost. I’m not exactly sure what it was that had suddenly sucked the energy out of me but we definitely made the right call by heading back to town. We stopped at the CVS to pick up a few “paper products” for the condo and made pretty good time with what seemed to be a lot less traffic than in previous years. I think it was around 3:30pm when we reached the condo and enjoyed some us time. Sitting at the condo and chilling we kept an eye on the message traffic to see what our friends were up to and were surprised to see them headed for Frank Brown Park after what would have been about an hour at the Outpost. Now, I will say, ever since Mike McGinnis retired from managing the Outpost it just hasn’t been the same. Not sure what happened, but it just lost its special vibe and the size of the crowds suggested it wasn’t only us who noticed. So, in some respects I wasn’t surprised to see the gang headed back towards Panama City Beach.

We chilled and then cleaned up as the plan for the evening was to have dinner at Pineapple Willy’s – apparently a favorite for Katelyn – and then play it by ear, with a high likelihood visits to various bars was in the outlook. As our friends began to arrive at the condo we were surprised to learn Jeanette had also headed back to the condo from The Red Bar and had been napping in their room the entire time we were at the condo; who knew! I’d even gone into their room to replenish their supply of bathroom tissue and didn’t even notice she was asleep on the bed. Anyway, everyone had themselves sorted out and we headed down to the bikes around 7:00pm and made our way to Pineapple Willy’s. Our table wait for the party of 15 or so was 30 minutes so we headed to the bar next door to get some cocktails. Just after sitting down a local cover band began their first set and Debbie and I immediately took advantage of the empty, wooden dance floor and started kicking up our heels; this is our kind of fun! As luck would have it, our table was ready after that first song so our dance session was limited to just the one song. Dinner was interesting, in that about 8 of us ordered the prime rib, only to learn they were out. However, they had some Ribeye steaks that they would substitute for the same price: sweet! The steaks were tender and the blackening spices were tasty so the steak was good.

I think we were seated around 8:00pm and finished up around 9:15, at which point we decided to walk out with Jeanette and head back to the condo vs. joining the others for a little bar hopping on the final night of Bike Week. Again, living vicariously through instant messaging, we “watched” the gang make a quick stop at Ms. Newby’s, then a few headed to Club LaVela and then most ended up back at Lucky 13 for Confederate Railroad until around 11:30pm. A few die hards were out running around until around 3:00am, by which time we’d watched part of the Marvel Comics Movie Marathon and been asleep for several hours. OK, so next time I’m bringing an extra pair of boots on the bike so I can do some dancing for real! That’ll get me out and keep me out!

Sunday… It Finally Gets Warm As We Head Home:

When we went to bed we had it in mind a large group would be heading home to Atlanta around 8:00am local (9:00am Atlanta) time on Sunday morning. Therefore, we had  ourselves up and ready to go by 7:30am. It was at that point we started to get the impression the departure time was actually looking more like 8:30am – 9:00am. Jeanette and Ryan had just left about 15 minutes earlier as they had to be at a wedding later in the day and I was really anxious to get on the road, so once again we made a somewhat hasty decision to hit the road by ourselves just a little before 8:00am, using Ryan and Jeanette as a rabbit. It looked like the larger group left out around 8:45am just watching the various updates on who was hitting which city when.

Weather wise, Sunday was the nicest morning of our stay: go figure! We left wearing only jeans and T-shirts / tank tops and felt just fine with the warm sun shining on us. However, by the time we reached the Florida / Alabama state line we were getting a bit chilled and put on some jackets. By the time we arrived in Eufaula and had lunch at 10:45 we decided we’d finish the ride in leather jackets and pants/chaps with our full-face helmets: we were definitely chilled. The rest of the ride was a lot more comfortable and less fatiguing and made cruising at 80 mph effortless.   Thankfully, we never ran into any heavy traffic and were even able to stay on I285 and I75 back into Marietta, Georgia where we jumped off to have a post ride cocktail and snack at Loco Willy’s around 2:30pm before heading home to a long list of chores. We bettered our time to Panama City Beach by about 15 minutes even with a lunch stop, two gas stops and a short clothing change.

After relaxing for about an hour at Loco Willy’s we made the final ride to the house and began the process of unloading the bike and our luggage and then Debbie started the laundry process while I started yard work. One the yard work was out of the way I washed the cars and then called it a day: the motorcycle could be washed inside the garage any time during the week. It wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, as:

  • We’ll be out of town next Saturday and the kids would be coming over on Sunday for Mother’s day.
  • The following weekend we’d be headed Valdosta with the tandem bicycle in our truck for a tandem rally on Friday-Sunday AM and need to be home by 4pm for our granddaughter Charlotte’s gymnastic meet.
  • The weekend after that we’ll be making a quick over night trip to South Carolina for a Saturday morning bike ride on our three-seater with our friend Lisa.
  • The weekend after that we’ll be heading out of town on Sunday through the following Friday.

Good grief, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Anyway, that was this year’s spring trip to Panama City Beach for Thunder Beach. There are a few things I’d like to get a do-over on but will, instead, consider that water under the bridge. But, at the same time, we had a lot of great times over the course of the five days and that’s exactly what we needed.

As I wrote at the beginning of this story, the friendship we enjoy with this group is truly priceless. But, that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that we dearly missed having our partners in crime, Deb & David with us in PCB for the rally. Of course, I’m pretty sure they were too busy enjoying their Caribbean cruise to feel like they missed out on anything!

It’s too soon to tell when and where we’ll do our next rally, as I am having to take stock of how we can make sure we’re only feeding positive energy into our group. It’s the camaraderie our close-knit group of friends share that makes it all work. And, don’t think for a minute it just happens: we can see and appreciate all of the thought, consideration and energy our friends put into coming up with on-the-fly plans that allow them to have such a good time visiting with each other while they meet, touch and light-up the lives of the other people they encounter along the way. They’re like a merry band of well-trained and seasoned mischief-makers who secretly lead very adult lives during the week. We’re just glad they’re willing to put up with my various issues so we can share in some of that merriment!

Until next time.

Posted in Motorcycling Events & Trips | Leave a comment

The Last Week of Debbie Fest 2017

Last week’s gathering at Loco Willy’s with friends on Saturday night was a tough act to follow in terms of the high points for Debbie Fest. It was clearly a neck-and-neck photo finish with the gathering of friends we had at Loco’s back on 31 March to celebrate Debbie’s last full day of work ahead of retirement and the start of Debbie Fest!

The “big event” this week was Debbie’s actual 60th birthday on Tuesday, 25 April. I wasn’t sure how she wanted to spend her day so the only thing I had planned was a surprise dinner at Henry’s Louisiana Grill. Well, dinner at Henry’s wasn’t the surprise; she knew we’d be having dinner with the kids and grand kids just as we did on her last day of work back on 3 April.  What she didn’t know was our son Wesley and daughter-in-law Julie were quietly working behind the scenes to line-up having another 16 members of the family on hand for dinner at Henry’s. More on that in a moment…

As for the rest of the day, when I quizzed Debbie on Monday night as to what she had planned for Tuesday she didn’t really seem to have anything in mind, which I thought might be the case.   With that information in hand, I cleared some meetings from my calendar at work so that after leaving for work per normal around 5:45am, I’d be able to attend a few meetings and then return home by 9:30am and spend the rest of the day with Debbie. I left a note downstairs in the kitchen to that effect so she could have a ‘normal morning’ before I disrupted things.

I think it was around 10:00am when I got home to begin our day together. While we both wanted to head to our first stop – Harley-Davidson of Atlanta – on our Road King the weather still wasn’t quite nice enough for that. We took the truck instead and arrived at our Harley dealer around 11:00am. The primary purpose of the visit was to let Debbie look at and try on a tan leather jacket I’d seen on Saturday I thought she might like, but wasn’t sure if it would fit. There was also sweatshirt I thought she’d like, but I wasn’t sure it would be something she’d wear. We’ll, I was right on both!

 

She looked great in the tan leather jacket as well as the brown sweatshirt, and they were both things she thought she’d like wearing on a frequent basis. Before heading out we wandered through the dealership to say hello to Jeff, Brian, Ray & Kelly: it’s always a pleasure seeing all the folks at HDA!

As we headed back towards home I asked Debbie if there was anywhere special she’d like to go for lunch. She didn’t have anything in mind and I racked my brain for at least 10 minutes trying to figure out where we could go to get something that was light and relatively healthy. After all, there are a lot of places to eat but so much of what gets served is high in fat, carbs, sodium and/or sugars that makes us feel bloated for hours afterwards. Yup, well son-of-a-gun, there was one place where we knew we could get a nice, tasty and healthy meal: Loco Willy’s. I know, what a surprise! But, seriously, the food there is just hard to beat, so that’s where we went. We had Ashley working behind the bar and much to our surprise, we ran into our friend Mattie who we hadn’t seen in several weeks, perhaps months. We split a house salad and blackened fish tacos, which was just what we both needed.

We headed home after lunch and around 2:00pm we headed out for a 25-mile ride on the tandem on what had turned into a really lovely day. We had one of our strongest feeling rides of the year thus far and our average speed confirmed we were riding well. In some respects it felt like we had a tailwind on several long stretches, but it may have been me keeping the gearing set a bit lower so we could keep a higher cadence going over the entire ride. Regardless, it really gave us both a nice afternoon lift and helped to round out our day together.

Rather than forcing something else into the afternoon I decided to get out of Debbie’s hair for a few hours and did some yard work while she relaxed and cleaned-up for dinner. My time out in the yard allowed me to get the front sod watered-in a bit, as it was apparent I had not been doing so enough over the past two weeks when I wrongly assumed we were getting as much rain at home as we were at work. While the sprinklers were running I relocated about 30 wheel barrow loads / 4 square yards of pine bark chips from the back yard to various other beds and paths around the house. This is from the formerly tree-shaded corner of the back yard that’s about to be tilled and prepared for sod installation. Or, at least that’s the plan. I’d forgotten just how water-logged that part of the yard has become under all of that pine bark. Here’s hoping we don’t discover there are “other issues” with the yard that will need to be addressed at added cost, i.e., a French drain to clear the excess moisture, etc.

I knocked-off after moving about 3/4ths of the pine bark that needs to go before tilling the soil and went inside to check on Debbie’s progress. She was already downstairs and looking lovely, yet still fully unaware she’d be having dinner with quite a few family members in another hour. After getting my shower and partaking in a shot of tequila – being respectful that Debbie’s family steers clear of adult beverages – I was pretty sure we were both ready for the rest of the evening.

When we arrived at Henry’s I was surprised to see they had a full house, so full our usual parking spaces in the alley next to the restaurant were taken. Knowing Wesley and the rest of the folks were inside, I dropped Debbie off so she could go on ahead in while I looked for a parking space which is our norm: no sense in giving her a hint that it would be anything close to a normal night at Henry’s. I’m told when she walked in looking for the kids she was told, “Your party is in the other room at the long table; you can’t miss them.”

After the fact she said the hostesses comment sounded odd, but didn’t think much about it. As she walked into the main dining room she saw Wesley, Julie and two of the three granddaughters as expected, but then noticed Julie’s parents were sitting there as well. It was at that point she noticed the rest of her family waving at her from two of the three tables in the middle of the restaurant.

All told, we had 20 on hand; in additional to Debbie and me the others included: Debbie’s mother, her brother Kenny, brother Thomas and one of the twins (wife Vicki was with the other who had just had minor surgery), sister Andrea and her husband Kenny and her brother Rodney with wife Tlete, daughter Emily and son Jacob who brought along his girlfriend. As mentioned, we also had Wesley & Julie with Julie’s parents Patrick & Belva plus the three granddaughters: Caroline, Charlotte & Vivian.   Debbie’s oldest, Charlie, and his girlfriend Kristy were supposed to join us as well but had to cancel at the last-minute.

 

While the seating arrangement was not what I expected and less than ideal, it all worked out in the end. Henry was on hand tossing beads around everyone’s neck and otherwise being his very engaging and bigger than life self, which is half of what makes the place such a joy to visit. The food for our main table was also a bit slow in coming, but it was all delivered to the table fresh and tasty… making it worth the wait. Debbie was celebrated by the staff and guests at Henry’s and the kids also brought along a couple of boxes filled with petit fours that helped to ensure no one was left without a sweet for dessert.

Just judging by Debbie’s expression, she was really pleased with the evening and that’s what mattered the most. I think everyone else enjoyed their meals and also had a nice time visiting with family and friends. Not sure I’d take a party larger than 12 there in the future, but a great time just the same.

We were both pretty exhausted from the long and busy day and called it a night early. All-in-all, I think I did OK with Debbie’s big day and Debbie Fest in general. We’re homebody’s so these kinds of thrown together events just seem to work well for the big events, like Debbie turning 60.

David and Deb rubbing it in!

On Wednesday night we met our friends David & Deb for dinner at Loco’s since they were headed out on a 7-day cruise while we’d be heading up to the mountains this weekend and then down to Panama City Beach on the following Wednesday through Sunday.  Not wanting to go for too many weeks without having a chance to visit with each other, a mid-week dinner at Loco’s seemed like a good idea and it also gave me another kilted night out. We arrived around 6:30 and were surprised to find our friends Billy & Dava at the bar along with both of the Paul’s. We camped out on a couple of bar stools and held two open for Deb and David who arrived shortly after we did. It turned out to be a really enjoyable night! But then again, it’s rare for any visit to Loco’s to be anything but enjoyable. We started off with Ashley behind the bar and then Billy came on and things really became interesting; he’s a hoot! We had a good time visiting with David & Deb and also had some pretty tasty wings (it was buy 8 / get 8 more free night) along with a house salad for our dinner. Well OK, 8 of the wings were tasty and the others were a bit too salty for us. However, we think we may have stumbled onto the next great meal: a house salad topped with buffalo shrimp or blackened chicken! Something we’ll have to try on our next Saturday night.

We headed home around 7:45pm, as we were expecting our friends Arne & Monica to stop by with our Wide Glide “Betty” so I could fit some wind deflectors and a fork bag to the bike. The purpose of those add-ons was to reduce wind buffeting behind the windscreen on long trips at highway speeds.  With a bike trip down to Panama City Beach coming up for Arne and Monica, those extra parts would come in handy if she went ahead and decided to become Betty’s next care taker. However, for a variety of reasons they weren’t able to make it over to the house so I offered to drive up to their place about 30 minutes away, just to make sure she’d have a chance to test ride Betty with all of the touring accessories over the weekend. The weather and our schedules were “spotty” for Thursday and we’d be gone by noon Friday, so the evening trip up was our best option. It was an easy drive and I was back at home by 10:30pm, so no worries, eh? Fingers crossed, those wind deflectors and the fork bag will make the freeway time a lot easier for Monica to deal with. However, and to be honest, I keep hinting that she might do better with a different style of Harley, e.g., a Softtail of some type comes to mind, e.g., Springer, Classic, etc.  But, she seems pretty committed to Betty and, well, I get it: Betty is a bad-ass looking cruiser that rides about as well as any Harley. Once you get smitten it hard to move on. That’s probably the real reason I’ve never sold it… that is to say, a lack of motivation!

Thursday was a full day at work for me while Debbie ran some errands and settled into her new daily routine as a recent retiree.  She’s actually enjoyed having the kind of time you need to go through all of the closets, dressers and other places where things can collect over time to take stock, clean-out and/or replenish and replace things that need to be replaced.  Once I was back home we started getting our clothing and other things together we’d need for our final event of Debbie Fest: a trip to our small mountain hideaway where we would be off-the-grid without cell service or WiFi for hours at a time and to simply relax and decompress. Sometimes you just need to do that!

On Friday I’d originally planned to work from home in the morning for a few hours before we packed-up and headed to the mountains.  Sadly, some things came to the fore that needed to be handled in person in the office so it was a good thing we pretty much had everything packed and ready to go on Thursday night. I think it was around 10:00am when I finally headed for the door with just one more scheduled teleconference at 10:30am I could take while driving home.  We had the truck packed and were headed north by a little after 11:00am and our timing allowed us to miss most of the nearly never-ending traffic on I-575.  Our timing also coincided with the burn-off of the morning cloud cover that threatened to put a damper on our afternoon plans.  We were checked into our accommodations around 12:30pm and ran into town to grab a light lunch.

It was probably 2:00pm by the time we were back on campus and headed to the pool where we hoped we’d be able to enjoy a little sun and warmth now that most of the clouds were gone.  Despite the spotty weather the day began with, the afternoon turned out to be about as nice as it could with temps in the low 80’s, low humidity and just the right amount of cloud cover to cool things off a bit since neither of us was used to getting this much afternoon sun in April.  Even when we’d go to Panama City Beach on the coming weekend we’d be off the beach before 10:00am.  Anyway, it suffices to say we had a wonderful afternoon visiting with a few of the other guests whom we’d met on previous visits and meeting a few new folks.  And yes, I’m still very much into my kilts.  I’m afraid it’s addictive; the more I wear them the more I enjoy wearing them.  Thankfully, most of our friends have gotten used to seeing me in the kilt so it’s no longer a topic of conversation, and that’s nice too.

After getting a change of clothes back in our condo we headed down for dinner where we had a chance to sit and visit with a very nice couple from Cartersville, Georgia, which is perhaps 15 miles north of where we live in Kennesaw.  After dinner we returned to our room to clean-up and get changed before the DJ fired-up the music for an evening of dancing, something we absolutely love to do.  I’m not sure we’re really good at it, but we sure have fun working at it!  We’ve even remembered how to do the box step such that we can do a little waltzing and a touch of the rumba!  It must have been close to midnight when we called it quits and headed back to our condo; just a great night out!

Saturday was essentially a repeat of Friday, except I knew from previous visits to get our towels and whatnot out on a couple of chaise lounges as early in the day as possible… like at 7:00am, so we’d be sure to have a place to sit and sun by the pools.  Thankfully, I happened to be up early as is my norm and we were set for the day!  I think it was around 9:30am when we headed down for breakfast and had a chance to sit and chat with a really nice couple who lived out west of Augusta, Georgia; Jerry & Judy.  We were at the pool before noon and spent the better part of the day moving in and out of the sun and pool with visits to the various bars for lunch, lots of water, a few cocktails and afternoon snacks.  Dinner was at 6:00pm and, once again, we met another nice couple, Ken & Debbie from Nashville.  After getting cleaned up from a long day out enjoying the pool and sun we had a chance to get a little dressed-up for Saturday’s dance since it had a formal theme.  I wore my Black Watch kilt with Prince Charlie jacket, a tuxedo shirt and black bow tie with the other necessary accouterments and Debbie had on a beautiful white dress.  While there were a few other folks who could certainly dance better than us, I’m not sure anyone looked as good as we did: Debbie looked like a fairy tale princess and a tuxedo can’t hold a candle to Highland formal wear!  Again, just a great night of dancing to the DJ music which, quite frankly, sometimes works better than a live cover band.  A midnight snack kept us going until 2:00am, at which point the crowd had dwindled a bit and we did likewise.

We slept in until almost 9:30 on Sunday morning and after having breakfast with our friends Dee-Dee and Richie at the on-site restaurant we reluctantly headed back to our condo to pack-up before heading back to the world we’d left behind just shy of 48 hours ago.  I hadn’t touched a laptop since we arrived and only looked at the preview screen on my work phone briefly in the morning and afternoons, with just one Email that required immediate attention.  My personal cell’s service didn’t really have coverage so I was cut-off from Facebook, instant messaging and my personal email for the duration of our visit.  Wow, does that make for a completely different experience!  Anyway, as I said, all good things must come to an end so you can appreciate them and by 11:00am we were headed home to where yard work, laundry and other pre-work week chores awaited us.

Actually, we ended up doing a bit more than just mundane chores… a lot more.  Because, well, it was truly the last day of Debbie Fest!  April would be over at midnight.  So, in addition to doing the stuff that had to be done I also did one very important thing: I got the “accessory that shall remain nameless” (ATSRN) out of the storage shed and spent 30 minutes getting our Road King Blue II ready to use the ATSRN.

 

While it’s a bit of a pain to have to remove and install the hitch on Blue II, I seem to get more efficient with it each and every time it gets hooked up.  Moreover, it’s certainly a lot easier to clean the back-end of the bike without it and attend to routine and non-routine maintenance, e.g., changing out the rear tire.  But, with the hitch installed and the ATSRN’s various bits that need lubrication lubricated we’re pretty much ready to roll-out to Panama City Beach at 5:45am on Wednesday!

Just about the time I had the bike all put together we received a text from our friend Sharon who, along with her husband Jeff and our friends Ryan, Bobby, Carrie Ann, Chuck, Mike, Patti and a few others were over at Paddy’s Irish Pub where they had four really good local cover bands playing for a fund-raising benefit all afternoon and evening.  We headed over around 4:30 and joined them for an hour; it was a great time and a much-needed visit with our friends, many of whom will be headed to Panama City Beach with us later in the week.  After our visit at Paddy’s we headed over to Loco Willy’s to grab some dinner as I really didn’t have anything at the house I’d need to make pizza, wings or anything else that would appeal.  We ran into our friends Billy & Dava at the bar and while we were enjoying their and the bar manager Christian’s company several other friends came in after spending their afternoon at the Taste of Marietta about 2 miles up the road.  It was a great way to wind-up a great weekend.

Looking ahead to our trip down to Panama City Beach, while the weather isn’t going to be anything close to ideal — a strong storm will blow-in on Wednesday night and pretty hang there all day Thursday before giving way to sunny but coolish & windy weather on Friday & Saturday — we should have a nice, dry ride down on Wednesday and also back home on Sunday.  As you can see from the NOAA timeline below, the chance of rain hits about 20% by 7pm on Wednesday night and get up closer to 80%-100% by 7am Thursday.  Yeah, no morning walk on the beach.  The rain begins to taper back to around 20% by 6pm on Thursday and should be gone by 7am Friday.  So perhaps we’ll get two “cool” morning walks on the beach.

More to follow in a week or so.

Posted in Bloggishnish | 2 Comments

She’s My Baby… Happy Birthday Baby!

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Sixty Never Looked So Good…

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Another Busy Week and Weekend #4 of Debbie Fest

Friday

This was our first Friday together at home when I didn’t have to go in the office which was really a treat.  Now, as most of my off-Fridays go, I started off the day in the home office at 6:30am doing the weekly reports I do pretty much every Friday.  Around 8:00am I heard Debbie up and moving around and after finishing up my last Email for the morning I went down to see if she rested well and what she had in mind to do for the day.  It was really nice seeing her all relaxed on what just a few weeks ago would have been a work day. Instead, her days now begin with a healthy breakfast and usually include a 25-mile bicycle ride or walk up Kennesaw Mountain that has her looking and feeling far better than she has in quite some time.  She was definitely in need of a change after being in the place doing the same thing for 14 years, often times biting her tongue through personnel changes.  I can definitely relate to that as I’ve also been in my own position far too long and carry around similar, self-imposed stress.  Of course, given that Debbie’s retired the logical question others ask is, “So, how much longer will you be working?”  Sadly, it’s an easy answer: “As soon as health care becomes affordable.” In other words, not any time too soon.

Debbie had some things she wanted to do around the house so while she did those I set about trying to clear two items off my to-do list: what to do about the backyard and getting the fluid’s changed on Blue II.

On the landscaping, after thinking long and hard about what to do and whether or not to do it myself I decided to ask the same folks who did our front yard to tackle the backyard project.  It’s only about one and a half pallets of sod (750 square feet), but there needs to be a lot of soil prep done before hand.  So, after running the numbers on what the Zoyza sod would cost, renting the equipment I’d need to work-over the soil, etc. and the amount of my time it would consume at a time when I don’t have a lot of free time, the quote Monica & Rich provided looked really good.  We’ve given them the OK for the project and we’ll be anxiously awaiting notification as to when the transformation will take place since it’s likely a one-day job. However, it will make the useable size of the backyard significantly larger and easier to maintain in the long run.  More to follow.

After talking with Monica on the landscape, I turned my attention to changing the fluids on Blue II as part of her 10,000 miles service and working off most of the other recommended and required service items.  I got most of those done by 10:00am when it became time to head off to run some errands with Debbie; again, this was a first for us being together on my off-Friday.

Debbie joined me for my usual run over to Costco, then we dropped off my 1974 Omega Seamaster watch for service at Jared, followed by a stop at The Red Eye’d Mule for a way overdue lunch date. Back at home we were able to get in a 25-mile tandem ride which — while it was enjoyable — was not as enjoyable as it could have been due to unusually heavy traffic and more than our fair share of inconsiderate motorists: more on that over on my other blog.

Back at the house and after the tandem ride, Debbie headed out to do some shopping while I finished up the oil change on Blue II and then gave her a good wash from the top and from the bottom, remembering that a couple of weeks back she went through a 2′ deep creek and ended up with a pretty healthy coat of muddy water residue.  I really didn’t want to drop her off at Harley-Davidson of Atlanta (HDA) for her new tire change covered in mud.

Friday night was the usual Finally a Friday celebration at Loco Willy’s.. and yes, it was a kilted Friday night.  As we were headed home we both wanted to get out and do some dancing, so we popped in to check out the band at SuBourbon’s: great band, but only a couple of songs in their 1st set were tunes we could dance to.  We went down the road a piece to see if Paddy’s had a band that was offering up more dance music and completely struck-out with that.  So, we ended up heading home a taking in the most current episode of Archer before calling it a night.

Saturday

I got out early to do a little work on the tandem before our morning ride, i.e., changing out Debbie’s saddle, putting on a new drive chain and adjusting the shifting.  After that I mowed the lawn as rain was in the forecast for Sunday.  I had the lawn done right at 9:20, 10 minutes ahead of our appointed tandem ride time.  The tandem ride was good, but no records were set.  I just don’t have my legs back under me the way I’d like and, well, it seemed like we had headwinds at every turn: is that even possible?  After getting back to the house, placing some calls to my mother and uncle to see how they were doing and then grabbing a little lunch and a shower I headed off to get the tires changed on Blue II. Debbie had a bunch of errands that she wanted to take care of so we’d likely not see each other until around 5:00pm.

I arrived at Harley-Davidson of Atlanta (HDA) just before 1:00pm and checked-in with Brian, the service manager.  Brian’s dad is Jeff, the GM and co-owner of the dealership, but quite frankly everyone at HDA seems to truly be part of a big family: it’s one of the reasons I like going there. Lots of familiar faces.  Blue was getting a new set of tires to replace the original Dunlop D407s which, like two rear and one front Dunlop D407 that were on Blue I, cupped with 1/2 of their tread life remaining. I think my only regret with this tire change was not going with the Michelin Commander II’s.  They uniformly get great reviews, but the Mezler 888’s I decided to go with are now offered in a size and load rating that works with the big Harley touring bikes.  Having really liked the way they handled on the Wide Glide and because they were $125 less than the Michelins, I figured I’d give them a try.  Others who have used them on the Harley CVO touring bikes have had mixed reviews where the biggest issue was lack of tread life, i.e., 10,000 miles vs. 15,000 on the Dunlops or Michelins. I guess I’ll know if I made a good decision in about 8,000 miles. Anyway, David M — the same tech who did the dyno work on Blue I & Blue II — did the tire installation and knowing that I tend to do my homework, checked with me on what air pressure to run. Based on feedback from Mezler reps who actually ride these tires we went with the max cold psi for the front & back.  Word is, they wear and handle better at max psi.

While I was there killing time as David swapped-out the tires on Blue II I wandered around the showroom and did my best to find something for Debbie’s birthday. The only thing that really jumped out at me was a really nice-looking camel-colored leather jacket, but I just didn’t know if would fit or be something Debbie would like wearing enough to justify the expense: after all, even when it’s on sale Harley-Davidson apparel is never cheap.  I ended up taking some photos so I could let Debbie look at it and then decided if it was something that she’d want to go and look at in person and try on.

It was around 3:15 when David finished installing the new tires on Blue II and by 3:30 I was on my way home.  As for my initial impressions, the tires felt solid but the ride quality was definitely a bit more harsh with the max psi. But, then again, I was only riding by myself so I’ll wait until I have Debbie on the bike before passing final judgement and making any air pressure adjustments.

Back at home I found Debbie trying to sort out her outfit for the gathering of friends at Loco’s later that night. Before I headed off to pick up her birthday cake for the gathering she was last wearing her leather hot pants and a red lace tank top with black wedge shoes: wowzer! But, even she was a little worried it might be too much for a family restaurant, so I had no idea what she’d be wearing when I arrived home.   I picked up Debbie’s cake, a balloon bouquet, a dozen roses and some plastic forks and paper plates at Publix and took it all over to Loco Willy’s so we could make sure we were able to hold the big table for our party of 16 or so.  I made it back home around 5:30 by which time Debbie had changed out her outfit for something a little more conservative: some black denim shorts, her black fringe boots and a really nice ecru lace top.

We arrived at Loco’s around 6:15pm and were surprised to find ourselves almost alone in the main bar & restaurant.  We’d somewhat expected to find most of the usual suspects at the bar, but not so today.  So, we took our seat at the big table and started to enjoy our cocktails and waited for others to show.  I think it was right around 6:40 when two couples — James & Donna and Mike & Eva — rode up on their Harley’s after a day out enjoying the lovely spring weather ahead of the coming storms.  It had been a really long time since we’d seen them so it was truly extra special having them join us.  I think it was Jeff & Sharon who arrived next, followed closely there after by Matt, David & Deb, Ryan, Chuck & Julie, then Arne & Monica, Robin & Rich and closer to 10:00pm Jeanette & Patti.  We also had a couple of friends from Loco’s join us  as well.  It was a grand time and we pretty much closed the place down as they were putting chairs on the tables around 11:30pm. I’m guessing we could have gone for another hour as everyone was still there when we headed for the doors.  In fact, we were so engrossed in visiting with friends that I don’t think we took a single photo or even looked at our phones on Friday night!  Thankfully, our friends did!!

Sunday

After our late night on Saturday we slept in a bit on Sunday.  The only big thing on our do-to list was heading up to Debbie’s mother’s where they’d be celebrating a large number of April birthdays in her family, including her mother’s 81st.  I seem to recall that in addition to Debbie and her mother, her father, her uncle and at least one or two of her siblings have April birthdays.

Given that the weather was pretty awful, we spent the better part of the day doing inside things like upstairs hallway drywall finishing, laundry and writing part of this blog entry. It was around 11:00am when Debbie headed off to her mothers and I followed about an hour later.  The original number of expected guests was around 60 but the cold, wet and stormy weather kept a good many of those away, so there wasn’t a huge parking issue at the house when I arrived.  The food was set up in the breezeway which was living up to its name: it was 62°F and breezy though there.  I think a lot of us were in denial after having a couple of weeks of unseasonably warm weather and slowly but surely a lot of folks began to migrate into the house after the first pass through the buffet line.  By the time Debbie’ mother blew out the candles on her cake I’m thinking all but a handful of the 25 or so family members were now congregating in the house.  That would be Joyce, Debbie’s mother, flanked by her great-granddaughter Caroline (son Wesley’s 1st daughter age 10) on the left and her grandson Charlie (Debbie’s oldest) on the right.

 

I think it was around 2:30 when I left as I had a few things I still needed to get done before the weekend was over. Debbie stayed to help with clean-up and to visit with her family a bit more, which is why we tend to take separate cars on our joint visits.  I ran through a number of really strong showers on the way home but didn’t have too much traffic.  However, when Debbie made the same return trip 90 minutes later it was a different story as weather-induced accidents had some of the interstate’s backed-up.

I was able to just about finish off the 10,000 mile service on Blue II once I got home.  It turns out that I somehow overfilled the oil by about 3oz on Saturday so I had to use my trusty garage-use-only turkey baster to extract that errant oil from the crankcase: it’s a lot easier than trying to do it via the drain plug!  I also had to remove and clean the air induction filter, rain cover and housing.  Just about done with all of those checks.  I also finished up most of the drywall repair on the upstairs hallway ceiling such that after a light sanding it will be ready for a fresh coat of ceiling white paint. Unfortunately, that’ll probably have to wait until June when I’ll have a full weekend day at home without any visitors or disruptions given the need to have a variety of ladders and risers littered about the stairway so I can tape and paint the 18′ tall ceiling above the stairway landings.

I think it was around 5:00pm when Debbie arrived home and after she had a brief nap we headed over to Loco Willy’s where we split the Ahi Poke for dinner: it was just the right amount and type of food after the very calorie and carb heavy lunch at her Mother’s house. It wasn’t all that busy at Loco’s, but a good number of our friends from Loco’s who had been partying hard all day on Saturday were at the bar doing the hair-of-the-dog thing so we were not lacking for entertainment.  The Ahi hit the spot and so did chilling for a bit. I should note that on the way to Loco’s we spoke with my stepdad Bill to see how he was getting along — noting he’s been somewhat going it alone for the past week after my mother landed in the hospital and rehab after fracturing her pelvis in a few places after a nasty fall.  He sounded great and like mother, was eagerly awaiting her return home.  We spoke with my mother on the drive home; again, she sounded really great and is also looking forward to getting out of the medical treatment facilities and then getting healthy / back into a somewhat modified routine back at home.

That was pretty much the weekend.  We finished up laundry and I’ve burned a few brain cells hacking out the rest of this weeks’ blog entry.  Looking ahead, we have Debbie’s actual 60th birthday on Tuesday that we’ll still need to celebrate and then one final Debbie Fest weekend where we’ll slip away to the mountains where I’ve secured lodgings on Friday and Saturday night.

As mentioned before, we’ve reached a point with work, etc., where we sometimes feel like we just need to get away from the things that we do most often — too much time in the home office, taking care of the house, cycling, motorcycling, working on the bikes, hanging out at Loco’s, etc — and just treat ourselves to a true weekend escape.  The timing is perfect as it will come on the heels with a lot of great time spent with friends and family celebrating Debbie’s retirement and birthday and will be followed up a few days later with a trip down to Panama City Beach where we’ll be with several of our “biker family members” at Thunder Beach for four days and nights.  And, as mentioned in a prior blog, we have a fairly full calendar of weekend events through Saturday, June 10th with just a few days at home.  So, doing our best to get the most out of life!!!

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Blue II Hit’s 10,000 Miles… Time for a Little Attention

Blue I came home back in August 2013 and accumulated nearly 19,000 miles by the time she was done-in by an errant motorist during Biketoberfest in Daytona on 16 October 2015.  She was a great bike that carried us to Daytona, Florida 4 times, Panama City Beach, Florida 4 times, Gatlinburg, Tennessee 2 times, Knoxville & Nashville, Tennessee and even all the day down to Key West, Florida.

Blue II came to us with just over 2,400 miles on the odometer in November 2015.  Sadly, we’ve only been able to log a little under 7,600 miles on her since then. Well, then again, we didn’t even really start to ride Blue II until January 2016 but still… we’re a bit down on our mileage.  That said, Blue II has made the trek down to Daytona and Panama City Beach twice and has also carried us down to20160704_084609 Key West this past July.  What’s missing from the mileage are the once frequent trips up to the Georgia mountains with our friends David & Deb and local rides closer to Atlanta.   We skipped the Spring Bike Week in Daytona this past March as well, which would have added another 1,000 – 1,200 miles on the odometer.  But, she will be taking us down to Panama City Beach in just a couple of weeks, so with that on the horizon and Blue II approaching 10,000 miles it’s time for a little attention.

The service manual calls for a litany of checks at 10,000 miles, most of which I performed when she first came home with 2,400 miles on her clock because she’d basically not been ridden in over a year: bye-bye old fluids and let’s be sure everything else is copacetic.  But, here we are at 10,000 miles so prudence dictates that I check the box on all of the required items.  On the bright side, there’s nothing that needs to be done at 10,000 miles that an owner with just a few tools and some mechanical know-how can’t accomplish at home, which is where almost all of the maintenance on our motorcycles gets done.

Now, it just so happens that Blue II’s Dunlop D407 tires are pretty much shot due to cupping. There’s a lot of tread mileage left on the tires, but for some strange reason Dunlop uses a tread pattern that invites severe cupping for anyone who tends to be a bit aggressive in their launches and stops: that would include yours truly.  I’m guessing Blue II only made it to 8,500 miles before the cupping became really noticeable since I didn’t log the first 2,400 miles: Blue I’s tires were shot at 7,200 (rear) and 9,000 (front).  Anyway, there’s no way that we’re going to spend 5 hours riding at highway speeds being treated to the vibrations and noises that come from cupped tires so I’ve ordered up a new set of Metzler 888’s for Blue II from our friend Tim the parts manager at Harley-Davidson of Atlanta.  Hopefully I won’t regret trying to save $125 by opting to try the Metzler’s before the more expensive Michelin Commander II tires that will also fit up to the Harley CVO touring bike rims.  Leave it to Harley to come up with a really odd size and load rating spec that, up and until a few years ago, only the Dunlop D407 could meet. The Metzlers should arrive on Wednesday so, with any luck, I may be able to get them installed Thursday afternoon or on Friday.  Relative to the 10,000 mile service interval, this also means quite a few things on the checklist will also get taken care of as the tires are changed, e.g., drive belt inspection and tension, brake wear, bearings, etc.

As for the other things on the checklist, fluids are the most costly items; seriously.  Some of it is self-inflicted since there are certain types of fluids that I prefer to use on the motorcycles, such as:

  • $11/quart Mobil 1 V-Twin 20w-50 synthetic oil: it takes like 3.2 quarts to refill a CVO 110 cubic inch motor with an oil cooler, or $44 for oil plus another $10 for the oil filter: all told, about $55.
  • $15/quart Redline Primary Lubricant and it takes about 1.3 quarts of that, or another $34 unless you happen to have a partially used quart of the stuff back at home.
  • $19/quart Redline 80W Transmission Lubricant which, thankfully, it only takes a full quart.
  • $10/tube of multipurpose grease for the head tube / steerer tube bearings.

Yeah, so how about that, a little over $110 in fluids alone. All of those will get changed after the tires are installed, at the same time I do all of the other  10,000 mile inspections and checks.

 

But, with all of those things taken care of I can feel pretty confident that Blue II will be all set for the first road trip of the year when we head to Panama City Beach on 6 May.  It’s only a 325 mile ride down, but we’ll probably put another 200 – 250 miles on the bike while we’re in Florida so good to have fresh fluids a little before that 10,000 mile mark instead of just after: I’m pretty OCD in this regard.

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A Little Tandem Time & Back on Blue… plus Easter

Debbie’s First Real Week of Retirement

Even though Debbie’s last day of work was on Monday, 3 April, our trip to New Orleans on 6 – 8 April occupied 2 of the three days that she would have been off on vacation instead of being at work.  So, technically, this past week was her first real taste of what it was like to set her own schedule without having to be at work or vacationing.  So, what did she do with that time?  Well, part of it was spent decompressing and taking in the entire concept of being retired: I’m guessing it’s a pretty big change.  She was able to get our taxes done without having to take off from work, she spent a day visiting with her mother, she logged over 100 miles on her bicycle doing rides from the house and was able to be at home and relaxed instead of stressing over the day’s events at work when I arrived home: nice to have only one of us doing all the stressing over work.  Now, it’s not like there aren’t other things that introduce stress into our lives and this past week gave us a vivid reminder of just how unpredictable life can be.  So, you take the good with the bad and give thanks that we have a family network that always rises to the occasion when need be.

Finally a Friday

I’d thought about leaving out of work a bit early on Friday as the calendar seemed light; however, that never came to pass: it’s always something.  But, at least it wasn’t one of those days when 5:00pm came and went and suddenly it was 6:30pm or 7:00pm. Those are rare on Friday’s, but I’m guessing that we may have more of those on the horizon as we’ll be doing a lot of all hands on deck here in the not too distant future as the work tempo ratchets up.

But, at least this past Friday I was able to get home at a reasonable hour and then it was off to Loco’s for our Finally a Friday Celebration.  I was pretty tired for some reason so while we had a good night at Loco’s with our friends, it wasn’t really an epic night. And maybe that’s a good thing: it’s been a busy month thus far and there’s really no end in sight.  In terms of what’s been planned, but what is also subject to change if we need to go and lend some assistance to my folks up in Pennsylvania:

  • Next Saturday, 22 April, we’ll celebrate Debbie’s 60th a few days early with friends at Loco Willy’s.  Sunday, the 23rd, we’ll be celebrating a host of April birthdays in her family up in Canton, including her mother’s .
  • On Tuesday the 25th of April we’ll most likely celebrate Debbie’s actual birthday with the kids and grandkids back at Henry’s similar to her actual retirement back on 3 April.
  • The following Friday and Saturday, 28 & 29 April, we’ll be headed away for a couple nights to put a bow on Debbie Fest.
  • A few days later on Wednesday, 3 May, we’ll be riding our Harley-Davidson Road King “Blue II” down to Panama City Beach where we’ll meet up with a large group of friends for the four-day long spring bike week.
  • The following weekend Mother’s Day and my 57th birthday fall on Sunday, 14 May, so we may go and celebrate with a night away on Saturday as I’m guessing the kids will be by on Sunday afternoon.
  • The follow Thursday, 18 May, we’re currently scheduled to drive down to Valdosta, Georgia, for 3-days of tandem cycling at the Georgia Tandem Rally.
  • The following Friday & Saturday, 26 & 27 May, we’ve tentatively planned to head up to the Clemson, South Carolina, area for a one-day cycling event where we’ll team up with our friend Lisa on the triplet for the ride.
  • The following weekend we’ve got granddaughter Charlotte’s ballet recital on 3 June and then we’ll be heading out of town on Sunday-Friday, 4 -9 June for a little R&R that doesn’t involve motorcycles or bicycles.

Yeah, it’s a pretty busy schedule but I think things calm down a bit in June. However, they’ll pick up again in July as we’ll spend at least one week in Pennsylvania visiting with my folks on 10-13 July (assuming we don’t head there earlier) and then make the 45 minute drive down to Manheim, Pennsylvania for the Tandems East Tandem Weekend on 14-16 July before heading back home.

Oh yes, and 16 July is our 24th wedding anniversary so spending 11 hours driving home and arriving close to midnight may not be the ideal way to celebrate.  Perhaps I’ll just need to figure out how to sneak in a trip down to Key West around the first weekend in July as we’ve done for a couple years, but I don’t think we’ll have time to do it on the motorcycle: probably a fly-down and back trip.  Geez-o-Pete, so little time and so much to do.

Saturday

My Saturday began with a pre-arranged early morning trip to the grocery store to pick up the things Debbie needed for her Easter Sunday dinner for the kids and grandkids.  It was my way of making sure she’d have enough time to do a few other things in between a morning tandem bike ride and an afternoon motorcycle ride. Once I was back at the house I finally gave the truck an overdue wash as it had endured heavy pollen, several rain storms, the trip to New Orleans and back. I probably need to give it another deep cleaning and the Zaino treatment since it’s also been sitting outside in the weather 24/7 since we brought Debbie’s Honda Accord home in late November: there’s just not enough room and a few vehicles still need to go.  On the bright side, we’re pretty sure a friend is going to buy our 2011 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide in the next week or two so they can ride it down to Panama City Beach on 7 May.  Sadly, the person at Debbie’s office never followed up on his expressed interest in buying the Honda S2000 as that would have been a nice and easy transaction; however, our son Wesley mentioned he has a friend who owns a used car dealership that will take consignments for a very reasonable fee vs. a percentage of the sales price.  So, the Honda S2000 may be headed out of the garage and onto the dealer’s lot where hopefully — given it’s spring and folks are getting their refund checks — someone will buy it through an intermediary so we don’t have to personally mess around with the selling process.  But as usual I digress…

It was around 10:00am when we headed out for a much-needed ride on our tandem. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather… although a little less pollen would have been appreciated.  Speaking of which, I’m just about over the crud. I’ve still got a bit of sinus congestion and drainage from time-to-time, but the more serious sore throat and cough are now behind me… thank goodness.  It was a very good ride for us given how few miles we’ve logged over the winter and thus far this spring. We pushed a healthy pace, but opted not to make it too ambitious since we had a few more things to do on Saturday and Sunday would also be another demanding day.

Once we were back at the house the next item on our agenda was getting some two-up time on the big bike, Blue.  The same foul winter coupled with our bouts of Flu A & B in February & March that kept us off the tandem bicycle has also kept us from racking up mileage on the Harley-Davidson Road King.  With a 6-hour, 325 mile ahead of us in less than three full weeks, we really needed to get in a few hours of saddle time on Blue.  So, to make the most of our Saturday I suggested to Debbie during dinner on Friday night that we head up to the Dahlonega area for a leisurely lunch stop.  That would give us about 150 miles and 3 hours of saddle time, but still get us back at home in time for dinner at Loco Willy’s on Saturday night.

Like the tandem ride, the weather was perfect for a nice ride on the big bike.  We headed north through Canton towards Dahlonega, Georgia, and had a fairly uneventful ride, including a pretty enjoyable trip up the freeway. We had a light lunch and then spent a few hours just relaxing and enjoying the warm sun before heading back towards home around 3:30pm.  We had to take a slight detour near Tate, Georgia, when we found ourselves at a dead stop on the narrow and winding two-lane mountain road after two cars got together and blocked both lanes.  It was a short detour that added another 10 minutes to our ride so we were still home by 5:30pm with plenty of time to get cleaned up before heading to Loco’s.

We had a nice time visiting with David & Deb again at Loco’s as well as most of the other regulars but I was just out of it for some reason. Perhaps I just had too much fun in the sun between the tandem, motorcycle and sitting out in the sun earlier in the day.  Of course, I think I knew that before we even left the house as earlier in the day I’d thought seeing if Debbie wanted to go and see our friend Jody’s band at a local club after dinner. However, I put that idea right out of my head before we even left the house given how I was feeling.  So, we had a fairly quiet evening back at the house and watched the 1st episode of Archer’s 8th season: a good end to a good day.

Easter Sunday

The plan for the day on Sunday was yard work for me as Debbie prepared for a visit by the kids around 11:00am.  The latter included making what always ends up being a meal for 3 times as many people as we’ll have on hand, putting together Easter baskets for the girls, stuffing plastic eggs with goodies for the egg hunt and what-not.  Somewhere in the back of our minds we thought we might get in a second tandem ride but that never came to pass.

I had hedges trimmed, leaves blown and the front & back lawns trimmed, edged and cut by 9:30am and headed off to get some air filters for the HVAC system since I was expecting the kids and grandkids to be over around 11:00am.  Imagine my surprise when I found the kids SUV in the driveway when I pulled at 10:45am.  Oh well, with Debbie distracted out in the back yard taking photos with the kids I was able to bring in her bouquet of Easter flowers, card, etc. without her seeing it and that made for a nice surprise a bit later when she finally noticed her colorful, artificial center piece on the kitchen table had been replaced by cut flowers.

We had a very nice visit with the kids and had lunch eaten and the end hunt wrapped up before 1:00pm, noting the kids had to get home and cleaned up so they could go to Julie’s brother’s home for the Kohler family’s Easter gathering. Unfortunately, this means our oldest — Charlie & girlfriend Kristy – who were running about 2 hours late had about 10 minutes to visit with the entire family.  But, that wasn’t all bad as it gave Charlie, Kristy and Debbie time to sit and talk about a myriad of subjects for the next couple hours, which was good.  They don’t often get that kind of time to just sit and chat without the little kids running around, etc.

While Debbie was visiting with Charlie and Kristy I kept up with the laundry and also met with our friends Arne & Monica who came by to pick up the 2011 Harley Wide Glide, aka. Betty.  They’d been at a conference on Thursday night through the morning, but wanted to borrow Betty one last time so Monica could get in some saddle time before fully committing to the purchase as well as making the same 325 mile down to Panama City Beach in a few weeks on Betty.  So, assuming all things go well with the final test rides, we’ll have found Betty a new home by the end of April.

SDC10327.JPGI also spent some time noodling over how to “fix” the landscaping in our backyard. Long time readers may recall, we created a landscaping plan where the center piece was our huge, 200 year old Oak tree that we surrounded with a pine straw island and, around that there was a pine bar path. It made for a love, shade-covered portion of the back yard and everything we planted in that part of the yard was shade-loving.  Well, the tree died (or, more likely was done-in by the folks who did the grading and sprinkler installation) 4 years after the landscaping was completed leaving us with a bunch of shade-loving plants in full sun all day.  So, after attempting to fill the void with a Weeping Willow that also died, I’m thinking the best thing to do is to expand the lawn into that space.  If my measurements are correct, it will take about 750 square feet of Zoysia sod (about 1.5 pallets) to fill in all but a 10′ x 10′ circle in the middle of the yard for a Japanese maple tree. Although, I’m still debating the tree vs. all sod.  So, more to follow.

With pretty much everything else done that I’d had on my list, I started to work off the targets of opportunity.  The first was to re-arrange the “bike bay” now that Betty had a new home such that it would be easier to walk around the other two bikes and to get them in and out of the garage without having to shuffle cars around. After getting the motorcycles situated I also decided to give the BMW R1100S an oil change, as I was pretty sure that with 28,000 miles on the odometer it was about due. Well, that and I’d grown tired of moving around the 5 quart containers of Mobil 1 oil I bought for our 2004 BMW R1150RT and decided the best way to get that out of the garage was to put it in the other BMW!  Not sure why I’ve not done that before, but I suspect I must have had a good reason.  Shortly after having the oil change finished up Charlie and Kristy headed on out.  Sadly, it was nearly 4:30 and a bit too late for a tandem ride, if only because Debbie was exhausted from her long day and I was feeling a bit tired as well.

We stayed in for dinner and had… you guess it: left overs!  Debbie had sent a lot of the excess food home with the kids, but there was still more than enough around for us as well.  Like I said, no one can complain about not getting enough to eat when Debbie makes a meal. After paying some bills and doing a few other home office things we settled in and watched the second episode of Archer: just too darn funny!  On the bright side, I also figured out how to solve a problem I was having with our streaming so the rest of Season 8’s episodes should be a lot easier to enjoy!

That’s about it.  I had a sleepless night as I often do on Mondays of late: not sure what’s up with that. Debbie’s also struggling a bit with her sleep, so clearly we both must have a lot on our minds, that or we’re both drinking too much caffeine!   But, all-in-all a pretty good weekend!  And to think, this will be one of the more relaxing ones we’ll have for a few weeks: yikes!!!

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Debbie Retires, The Kids Vacation & We Go to New Orleans

As we began Debbie Fest in earnest with a celebration of her retirement at Loco Willy’s with 20 or so friends on 31 March, the next BIG event was just on the horizon: a quick trip to New Orleans (NOLA) for 3 afternoons and evenings of adventure with our partners in crime, David & Deb.   This would be Debbie’s first trip to NOLA and for all intents and purposes my first real trip as my previous visit was too short to really do much.

Debbie’s Last Day at YKK

There was also quite a bit going on between the Friday night celebration and our Thursday morning departure for NOLA on the 6th.  Clearly, the most significant was Debbie’s final, official day at work when a good part of the day was spent by her co-workers and company executives wishing her well with her retirement.

In addition to the typical in-office type of activities such as decorating the workspace and cake, the company executives who had worked with Debbie for most of her 14 years at YKK decided to take her to the Buckhead Club for lunch, a very special tribute when you consider the time needed to travel down into Atlanta and for a white table-cloth lunch at a $$$$ establishment! It was a quite a day for her and very well-deserved.  I don’t think Debbie appreciates how her always cheery attitude, beautiful and ever-present smile and genuine interest and concern for anything anyone has to say lifts the spirits and attitude for everyone around her.  She is always a welcome flash of bright light in a sometimes dim world and I know that’s what will be missed, along with the tremendous work ethic and competence she demonstrated every day working some of the largest and most challenging accounts at YKK-USA.

I decided to cap-off Debbie’s big day by taking her to dinner at Henry’s Louisiana Grill in Acworth — pretty much the easiest way to enjoy 4 Star New Orleans meals without the long trip or hefty 4 Star price tag –– for dinner. Wesley, Julie, Caroline, Charlotte and Vivian joined us for the family celebration.

The Kids on Spring Break

While I don’t remember ever going on a spring break vacation when we were kids, I’m guessing it’s because we really didn’t have a spring break: we had longer summer vacations. But, apparently the one-time College tradition has now trickled down to high school, middle, grammar and even pre-school.

So, it should come as no surprise that our son Wesley and wife Julie took the three grands on a spring break holiday. Their destination was Amelia Island one of the vacation hot-spots along the barrier islands that run from the Carolinas into the lone barrier island in Florida, Amelia Island located just over the Georgia-Florida state line.  Were it not for the horrendous traffic on the Interstates that pass through Atlanta the 350 – 380 mile drive on I75 or I85 would take about a 5.5 – 6.0 hours.  But, add-in normal traffic and then all of the spring break traffic heading back north from the vacation destinations along the barrier islands and Gulf of Mexico and you can easily add an extra hour or two to the trip.  That’s a long haul with a 10, 8 and 2-year-old!  God love ’em for how they dote on those lovely little girls!

But, from all indications and the photos Debbie’s been receiving this past week they’ve been having a wonderful time at the beach, cycling under the moss-covered oak tree canopies and just enjoying their family time freed from the hectic schedules they maintain when they’re at home.

     

Thursday’s Drive and 1st Night in New Orleans

Let me caveat my New Orleans recollections by noting the week before we headed down our annual pollen festival here in Atlanta gave me sinus problems and drainage that then caused a sore throat which typically precedes a nasty chest cold, on par with pneumonia… or so it feels: we call this the crud. The sore throat went away on Tuesday night and I was feeling pretty good on Wednesday, although I did find I needed to take a Benadryl which wasn’t a good sign.  By Thursday night all indications were I had not dodged the bullet on the chest & lung crud and I started to struggle a bit on Friday after sleeping for 9 hours (very unusual), with the start of a persistent cough, fatigue, irritability and other kill-joy symptoms while out on vacation and trying to have a good time. It definitely put a huge damper on the trip and by Friday night — after taking a two-hour nap on Friday afternoon — I was pretty sure we’d be cutting the visit short by a day and heading home on Saturday instead of Sunday.  Sure enough, by Saturday morning I was coughing up brightly colored mucous and was physically drained even after 9-hours of sleep.  Sadly, we ended up bailing out on David & Deb around 9:30am so we’d still be able to make the 7.5 hour drive home before I needed to sleep again.  So, it’s fair to say Thursday was clearly the more representative part of our visit, whereas Friday was definitely handicapped by me being far off from 100%.  In fact, while a return visit to NOLA may have been in doubt as of Saturday, the more I reflect on the high points and look at all we didn’t see, the more I’m thinking we’ll definitely need to give NOLA a second look at some point in the not too distant future. Maybe not this year — and definitely not during spring break or any other holiday — but most likely on a Monday-Thursday at a less busy tourist season time we can enjoy the museums and restaurants without holiday or weekend crowds at mid-week hotel rates. Therefore, with that as some background, here’s the update:

After having dinner at Loco’s on Wednesday night we headed home to pack so we could be up and on the road by 6:00am Thursday morning for the 495-mile, 7.5 hour drive from our home near Atlanta to New Orleans.

I was surprised at the amount of traffic we encountered close to home on I75 through Cobb County given it was Spring Break and so many of the regular commuters would have been off from work. But, once we were on the I-285 perimeter things opened up and remained that way all the way into New Orleans: it was a relatively easy drive.

We grabbed a couple of English muffins for breakfast before hitting the interstate and made just one gas stop down in south Alabama around 11am Eastern Time where we grabbed a sandwich at Subway that we split.  We didn’t want to spoil our appetite since one of the major attractions in New Orleans is the food!

As we started to get closer to New Orleans we updated our ETA to our friends David & Deb who had been in NOLA since Monday.  Instead of heading to the Hampton Inn near the French Quarter where we’d be staying, they gave us The Blind Pelican as our 1st destination where we’d meet them for lunch… more correctly, oysters!

 

It was an amazing meal and start to the NOLA adventure.  Seriously, they were THE BEST oysters I’ve ever had: just huge and delicious.  In fact, they were so big they didn’t need to do what a lot of places that serve oysters do and bury the small oyster under a bunch of cheese and other toppings instead of the light dusting of parmesan cheese they used at The Blind Pelican.

We were at our hotel by around 2:00pm and checked into our rooms. I must say the room we had was probably one of the nicest and largest room I’ve ever stayed in, second only to the massive suite at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.  After getting ourselves unpacked and a little refreshed after the long morning’s drive, we headed on out to explore the French Quarter, a mere two blocks away from our hotel.

We were somewhat fortunate in they had one of three French Quarter music & food festivals going on from the 6th to 9th, giving us something within easy walking distance other than Bourbon Street.

I’ll have to volunteer right up front that my recollection of Bourbon Street was vague at best from my one brief visit a few decades back, a visit that did not include any bar hopping.  So, I was essentially a first time visitor to the fabled destination right there with Miss Debbie.  The first impressions were mixed at best and not overly flattering.  Perhaps it’s the grittiness that makes it all that much more attractive to a lot of visitors.  But, quite frankly, if we make a return to visit to New Orleans I’m not sure Bourbon Street will be on the itinerary for “must see” places.

Trees along Jackson Square with their leaves not yet spouted reveal a huge collection of beads from Mardi Gras celebrations, as do many of the street lights, lamps and other trees in the French Quarter.

Setting aside Bourbon Street for a minute, the rest of the French Quarter is very interesting: lots of great old buildings, mostly occupied by galleries of some sort, cafe’s, restaurants or vacant spaces in transition.  The area vastly improves the closer you get to Jackson Square, fronted by the lovely St. Louis Cathedral, the Louisiana Museum and Cabildo, former seat of the Spanish Government in New Orleans.  Most of the better restaurants can be found closer to Jackson Square and this is also where one of two large venues for the French Quarter Festival were located, the other being at Woldenberg Park along the Mississippi River. In retrospect, this is where we should have probably headed on Friday afternoon and evening in search of places to eat as well as night time entertainment.  I definitely didn’t do my homework on New Orleans and really wish I had as I’m guessing I’d have come away with a very different feeling towards the grand city on the Mississippi.

After walking around Jackson Square and listening to the so-so band that was playing the afternoon spot on the schedule we headed back towards Bourbon Street.  In terms of first impressions based on our broad daylight visit on a warm, 73°F day it was a very dirty place with a distinct and unpleasant, ever-present smell. Although I’ve heard it said they wash the place down every evening, I’m wondering if that happens during the week nights or just on the weekends and during Mardi Gras.  In fact, one of our friends from Loco’s who has spent a lot of time on Bourbon Street suggested taking shoes along that you would be OK with throwing out after spending a couple of nights walking up and down Bourbon Street: we now know why!  But, all that said, we ended up finding a few places that allowed us to have a pretty good time on Thursday night so I guess that’s why variety is the spice of life. Not every place will appeal to every visitor.  However, it somewhat improved as the sun went down and traffic was closed off to vehicles around dusk.

Now, that’s not to say we didn’t have a good time while wandering up and down Bourbon Street; we did indeed! In fact, at right is a very rare photo taken by Miss Debbie!  She also took the photo of the beads on the trees.

  

Now I must say Debbie and Deb did not “earn” their beads the way you might come to believe how all beads are earned.  In fact, there were just some folks up on a second floor balcony who decided to start throwing beads out to all of the passers-by.  Perhaps it’s something the bar they were in likes to do to give Bourbon Street more of a Mardi Gras flavor, or perhaps they were hoping for a sign of gratitude by a guilt-ridden bead recipient who didn’t feel like they’d truly earned their beads.  No, the “girls” did not make a public appearance, but there was definitely a moment when I thought they might.  I think it was something about hearing public exposure was now being more heavily policed and, well, the 12 oz Pina Colada instead of the 20 oz.

I think we went back to the hotel to freshen up a bit after our first visit to the French Quarter and then went in search of dinner, as our oysters at The Blind Pelican while delicious weren’t really all that filling.  We ended up getting a table without any wait at Oceana Grill just off Bourbon on Conti Street.  I think it was the crab stuffed tuna that caught my eye and it was really a very tasty meal; just about what we needed for where we were in the day.  It was my kind of place; well-reviewed but casual and moderately priced with “good food”.  Sadly, a lot of the really great places in New Orleans are just a bit too stuffy for me, even if the food is off-the-charts.  Moreover, unless you get reservations a day ahead of time, don’t even expect to walk up without a 1hr – 2hr wait after 5:30pm.  Early birds definitely win-out at these places.

We spent a goodly amount of time at Pat O’Brien’s where I made the mistake of taking advise from our friend Clark who tagged onto a Facebook check-in with “Hurricane!”  Yup, not just once but on two not nearly well spaced out visits I sampled the New Orleans developed Hurricane with its 4 oz of rum.  It definitely lifted my spirits in a way that my usual poison of choice — tequila — wasn’t during our visit to New Orleans. I wasn’t sure what was up with that until I began to realize I was slowly moving into a nastier stage of the crud on Friday.  But, at least on Thursday night my spirits were high along with everyone else’s and we had a grand time dancing and enjoying the night at the Prohibition Bar.  We were having so much fun I don’t think anyone even bothered to touch a phone to check-in or take any photos.  But, it was just the right mix of a great live band playing good music you could dance to, having just the right size crowd filled with folks who liked to dance and no one around who had over-indulged to the point where they were falling down. Oh wait, Debbie tells me I got to that point after a 3rd Hurricane at the Prohibition Bar that I simply don’t recall and that’s never a good sign.  However, I’m told it was still a great evening.

Friday and The Beginning of the End

I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night and part of that was due to my over-indulgence of Hurricanes. A short walk to the 24/7 corner grocery next to the Hampton landed me some Goody’s at 4:00am which allowed me to quickly fall back to sleep… for far too long. It was odd I’d slept until nearly 9:00am which for my biological clock would have been 10:00am.  I also woke up with a pretty good chest full of crud, but it was mostly clear so while a bit concerned I figured I would work through it with a few good coughs.  We had breakfast around 9:30 and Deb & David joined us around 9:45.

After getting cleaned up we headed for our first stop of the day, a 1-mile walk through Lafayette Square to the National World War II Museum at Higgins and Camp Streets just a block from the Robert E. Lee Monument at Lee Circle.  There’s no question why this is New Orlean’s #1 visitor destination: it’s beyond amazing.  In fact, I think we were there for 2.5 hours and saw only a small fraction of the exhibits: mostly the war in Europe exhibit, a timeline walk through the expansion of the Nazi Party in Germany through VE Day.  Even just that exhibit was mentally overwhelming, between printed media, motion-media and the descriptions of hundreds of artifacts on display.  I would think a person would need to spend several days to take it all in if they were to give each display it’s due.  Again, just an amazing collection and candid telling of World War II, including some of the less than “winning moments” most museums and historical remembrances tend to focus on.  And mind you, there are three or four other museums right next door to this one that could easily consume several days of a visitor’s time, ref. my earlier comments about giving New Orleans a second look in the not too distant future.

I think it was during our visit to the WWII Museum that I started to run out of gas. We walked the mile back to the French Quarter in search of lunch and had a hard time finding something appealing. For me I had no appetite so it really didn’t matter to me and that didn’t help. We ended up at the Royal House which had a great looking menu, but in all honesty the food was just average. We had the BBQ shrimp & grits and it ended up being more like bland popcorn shrimp over rice.  The gal waiting our table was also less than attentive and that didn’t help matters, nor did the A/C kicking on every five minutes to give us the goose bumps on a day when no one needed to have A/C blowing in an open air, corner restaurant. But, as always, we put on our happy faces and made the best of it!

I think our next destination was a walk down to Decatur Street where we listened to a little jazz being played by some of the bands at the smaller French Quarter Festival venues.  We walked along the top of the levee and checked out the muddy brown Mississippi River and eventually made our way to Cafe’ Beignet where we split a serving of… you guessed it, Beignets.  They were quite tasty but what a mess! There was powdered sugar just about everywhere.

After our walk down to the Mississippi — which helped up rack up a total of 7 miles of walking for day, per David’s Fitbit — we headed back to the hotel to rest and clean up for the night.  Once again, I had a pretty good indication I wasn’t at 100% as I feel asleep in the middle of the day for a couple of hours.  In fact, it was David & Deb texting to see what time we’d meet for dinner that woke me up and probably put us behind for the night. I’d thrown out two suggestions: Loco Willy’s out of habit or perhaps Red Fish Grill.  Not getting out to look for dinner until 7:00pm make getting into the close-in better restaurants a challenge as they didn’t have openings until 8:45 at Red Fish Grill, 9:15 at J.W. Fins and 9:30 at NOLA.  Just a bit late to be taking in dinner and, once again, I didn’t have much of an appetite.  We found one relatively new place that seemed to have lots of empty tables and after attempting to order a couple of drinks and trying their seafood gumbo is was clear why the place was empty.  We paid our $30 tab for the gumbo, a beer, a wine and two diet cokes and continued our search.  We finally ended up at the Original Pierre Maspero’s just a few doors down from Emeril’s NOLA restaurant. It was a quirky little place with great reviews and a 20-minute wait.  Debbie and I split the Red Fish with a side of mashed potatoes and slaw which was good but not OMG great. Then again, I still didn’t have much of an appetite so that didn’t help either.

It was at this point just after dinner I was also becoming a bit fatigued and irritable, that nothing seemed to be quite right: I found most of the street performers who were a novelty on Thursday to be hucksters on Friday. The crowd was not nearly as fun-loving, as “groups” of bridesmaids, groomsmen, college-age kids and the like filled the streets and bars.  Moreover, even though I was having more than my one-shot per hour to zero effect, confirmed by Miss Debbie.  We’d hoped the same band would be playing at Prohibition but that was not the case; the Friday night band was mediocre bordering on bad so we kept looking.  Much to our dismay, nearly all of the live bands were pretty awful-sounding (out of key, etc.) and the other places that looked like they normally had live bands had a karaoke thing going on where they had one paid performer on stage signing lead to the Karaoke-fed music system.  It was just awful.  We probably should have headed down towards Decatur Street with its jazz clubs and Irish pubs to find a different kind of New Orleans nightlife but stuck it out for a bit. But, instead, we called it a night bit earlier than probably planned and headed back to the hotel.  Again, I was now fully aware I wasn’t feeling all that well and started seriously considering an early departure.

Oh Crud!  Saturday and an Earlier Departure Than Planned

I hit the pillow hard on Friday night and didn’t wake up until 8:30 coughing up what was a chest full of bright yellow-orange mucus. Oh, it was not good and I was not in a good place. It pretty much explained why I was subconsciously longing for home most of Friday and not wanting to be out-of-town in unfamiliar places: when you’re sick you want to be at home with familiar surroundings.   That also explained my suggestion of “Loco’s” when David asked where I wanted to go for dinner on Friday night, as I was not into the New Orleans thing given how I was feeling.

So, knowing my condition would likely get worse and not better over the next 24-48 hours, I sent a text to David & Deb to apologize for and let them know we’d be heading home right after breakfast.  With any luck, we’d be on the road early enough to stay ahead of the people headed home from spring break vacations at the Gulf as they converged on I-85 North in Alabama and Georgia.

While David & Deb soldiered on in New Orleans without us — such as their return to The Blind Pelican for oysters — we made our way east on I-10 and then North on I-65 with ease.  Unfortunately, when we hit I-85 north just outside of Montgomery an earlier accident had brought the northbound lanes to a dead stop for nearly an hour, with pretty much the same effect on the alternate routes around the accident. Oh the joy of sitting on a freeway at a near dead stop for 75 minutes!  Once the accident was cleared, traffic immediately began to flow nicely again, albeit with a lot of idiots now trying to make up time by passing slower cars on the right and then diving into gaps that were too small to be safe in the left lanes making for a very uncomfortable drive home.  Moreover, once we reached the I-85 and I-185 interchange just north of Columbus, Georgia, traffic once came to a dead stop for 15 more minutes as the traffic we were hoping to beat coming north from Panama City Beach and Destin through Columbus had now backed things up.

After clearing that traffic jam there were a few more minor back-ups and we opted to by-pass the I-285 Atlanta and I-75 traffic by taking back roads home from Palmetto Georgia, as we normally do when headed down and back from Panama City Beach.  The drive time was the same, but without the prospect of getting stuck in traffic, so it was a far more relaxing way to end the drive which all told was about 8.5 hours.  When our original ETA at home was 5:30pm we’d considered going there first to clean-up and, for me, to drug-up before heading to Loco’s for dinner.  However, with an ETA of 7:00pm we opted to go straight to Loco’s where I’d substitute a Margarita plus my shot for drugs.  As was the case on Friday night, the alcohol had zero effect beyond soothing my sore throat a bit and momentarily suspending my coughing for an hour.  Debbie and I split a Willenburger and Debbie chatted with some friends while I pretty much tried not to fall asleep at the bar; no, I was tired not hammered.

After getting home around 8:15 and unpacking I went downstairs where I sat down on the recliner, checked my Email, posted one entry on Facebook and promptly fell asleep around 8:45pm.  I woke up at 2:00am still in my recliner, went to bed and then slept until 8:30am, about 12 hours all told when I normally sleep for 4-5 hours a night.

I’ve spent the rest of the day pretty much resting and working on my blog entry in between naps.  But, on the bright side, I finally started feeling a little more alive around 3:00pm, so there’s hope for the week ahead.  Debbie’s kept herself busy with laundry, grocery shopping and is now out on her single bike for a short 20 mile ride just to get the cobwebs out from yesterday’s 8.5 hour drive.  I thought about joining her, but quickly realized that was a nutty idea.  Sucking in a bunch of tree pollen is not what I need, which is why I’m also deferring the weekly mowing of the lawn until an evening later in the week.

Our friends David & Deb arrived back in Atlanta around 5:30pm and we met up with them for dinner at Loco’s around 6:30pm so we could finish out New Orleans trips together and hear what kind of trouble they found on Saturday.  It was a great way to end the somewhat fractured visit in NOLA.


There you have it… for the dedicated readers who made it this far.  As for what lies ahead during Debbie Fest, next weekend will be somewhat structured around Easter and spending time with the kids and grandkids as the priority.  There will definitely be some tandem time if weather permits and maybe even a short ride on the motorcycle.  The following weekend will be a celebration of Debbie’s 60th birthday and then her actual birthday on 25 April, followed by a weekend of downtime before we head to Panama City Beach for bike week during the first weekend in May.

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