PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLA., MAY1-5—Despite the somewhat inclement weather and cooler-than-normal temps in Florida for the month of May, Wednesday’s Kick Start Party at the Whiskey Saloon was a success, even though it was the first time for Whiskey’s to host the party. The atmosphere on the back lot was reminiscent of the campgrounds in Sturgis. Once you got past the saloon fronting the roadway you became part of the party. The Whiskey recently built a stage of proper proportion at the rear of the dirt lot that became the launch pad for the first wave of the Spring 2013 Miss Thunder Beach contestants. There would be two additional eliminations held at Hammerhead Fred’s and the Wicked Wheel Bar and Grill before the finals on Saturday at the new Harley-Davidson of PCB. One wag was heard to say if this group of ladies was just the start he intended to be there at the end. Musical entertainment was supplied by Buck Wild and the large crowd seemed to enjoy their efforts.
Thursday started out cool in the morning, becoming almost hot by noon. And then in the afternoon, one of those subtropical late-day showers moved through, soaking everyone not within easy access of shelter. It looked ominous as the front moved in from the east and the wind picked up, followed by some distant thunder-boomers. But no worries, as the locals probably welcomed the liquid sunshine to water their lawns and flowers and wash the salt mist off of everything else. The forecast of a 50- to 70-percent chance of rain each day of the rally may have tempered the attendance slightly, but none of those I talked with complained. Perseverance and adaptation were the words that seem most appropriate.
The Sunnyside Grill way out west in Sunnyside was bustling early with hungry bikers. There was no wait on Thursday morning, although the crowd was steady with the food being as good as always. Now forget I mentioned the place, because I don’t want to wait in line. Other mainstay eateries had similar experiences judging by the parking lots.
The long-awaited Harley-Davidson of Panama City Beach store was open for business a week prior to the official start of Thunder Beach, and what
an auspicious start is was. Right out of the box they were selling approximately 10 bikes per day, and this trend continued throughout the rally. The parking lots were overwhelmed and the store was inundated with customers buying staggering numbers of parts, accessories and MotorClothes. On Friday, the eastbound lanes of Highway 98 were backed up a half-mile with bikes and cages trying to make the left turn into the dealership. The westbound lanes weren’t much better. Fortunately, staff members from the other three stores in the ownership group were brought in so customer service was top notch.
Owners Preston Foster and Gary Bang Jr. hosted a V.I.P./Media party on Thursday evening with a large number of local dignitaries, chamber of commerce officials and friends of the business in attendance. The mayor and chamber presidents presented them with plaques of appreciation for their interest and investment in PC Beach. The owners expressed their appreciation for the community support and how pleased they were with the warm reception they had received. Following comments by the officials, all in attendance adjourned to the front entrance for an official ribbon cutting.
On a personal note, I arrived at the new dealership around 6:30 Wednesday evening experiencing an issue with my brakes. I talked with service writer Joe, who I expected to tell me to bring it back the next day, but he instead called service tech Ross from the back. He and I had a detailed conversation about the history of the problem. He took the bike for a short ride, came back and diagnosed the problem. He asked Joe to check the parts inventory to see if they had what he needed. Affirmative. Within an hour my two warped rotors were replaced and detail expert Ace had washed 2,000 miles of bugs and dirt down the drain in his wash zone. The bike looked like a new one just rolled out of the showroom. I witnessed this “can-do, get-it-done” attitude several more times while I was waiting. This business knows what customer service really means.
Dean Anderson was at Frank Brown Park with the High Seas Rally motorhome. This was the first time I had seen him since his beautiful wife Debbie passed away on their previous fall cruise. You can look up the details, but just a note to let you know she will be missed by the many cruisers that have enjoyed so many of their trips and various events. This is especially true for those who traveled with them multiple times. Having been on two of the HSR cruises myself, I can tell you they make you feel like family even on your first trip. If cruise ships are your thing, they offer the best time on the water for the more than 1,000 bikers that attend each trip.
Jay Allen, previously of the Broken Spoke and now holding forth with Jay Allen’s Roadshow, was in town at the boardwalk with the American Military Tribute bikes that were presented at the previous Rolling Thunder representing all branches of our military services. He is not only one of the most approachable and personable people in the industry, but also has one of the biggest hearts when it comes to helping our wounded warriors and veterans by raising money and awareness. He told me this labor of love was so that those who lost so much physically while in the service of our country could be bolstered spiritually by letting them know their sacrifice is appreciated and not forgotten. He even got into the local activities by helping judge the bike show at the boardwalk pavilion on Friday.
There were scheduled times throughout each day that Jay was on hand to greet and talk with veterans to extend his personal appreciation of their service. Walt Sides, executive director of Rolling Thunder, along with Smitty and Crystal, were on hand helping Jay raise money for the veterans. For five bucks you could have your photo taken on any of the theme bikes, with all monies raised going toward the cause. Jay told me this is not a personal money-making endeavor, as he only accepts gas money and a place to sleep for his efforts. On Sunday Jay, Smitty and Walt took the bikes over to the Sims Veterans Home, some 15 miles east of PC Beach, to give the veterans a close-up view of the bikes.
The dreary, rainy weather continued on Friday, but most riders persevered and visited the venues, restaurants and bars to meet up with old friends or make new ones while holed up waiting for the weather to break. Rain suits were the dress of the day. With threatening skies all day the suits were always close at hand, even if they were removed periodically. The bike show previously scheduled on Thursday at the boardwalk was rescheduled and moved under the 5,000-square-foot pavilion roof. Kelly and the Healers were kicking out some great music, but what made it special was the impromptu live karaoke as various people from the crowd took the stage to sing.
Saturday morning continued the soaking with temps in the low 50s and a blowing, misty rain that saturated the air, making for a bad-hair day. At breakfast one member of a group from Nashville was speculating on how to hitch a ride home on a trailer. Most others just played the cards they were dealt and had a good time.
As with other outdoor activities, the Lawbike.com Ride-In Bike Show at Pier Park was very iffy come Saturday morning. Scott and Sylvia Cochran of USRider News and their volunteers are the backbone of this event. Registration was to begin at 10:00 that morning, but even the steady drizzle did not deter the determined, as participants braving the rain to be in the show were arriving before 9:00. All phases of the show were pushed back an hour and it went on with little downside. Fifty-two entrants in multiple classes vied for trophies and gift certificates from various motorcycle-related vendors and the Best Western Hotel chain.
A pleasant surprise entrant in the radical class was none other than well-known bike builder Jerry Covington. He was in town just enjoying himself at Thunder Beach with no obligations to spoil the fun. To make it even better for him, he won his class, one of his customers won a trophy in another class and Jerry’s name was drawn from the bucket by Lawbike.com’s beautiful spokes model Amanda for a Kindle Fire—all in all a great day for the Covington clan.
I hope the Nashville group rolled the dice and had an extra day, because Sunday morning the sun rose in the east, the winds calmed to barely there and the chamber of commerce jumped for joy. Although rain showers can be a daily occurrence near any coastline in Florida, the unseasonable cold snap paired with the rain and wind made for some miserable riding at times. I know we stayed close to our lodging at the Legacy during these periods. This presented an opportunity to walk to Sharky’s to see Geneva play on Saturday night, as well as keeping us within walking distance from The Deck and Shuckums. The latter could be described as within stumbling distance, because I think we closed it down Saturday night. They were piling chairs and bar stools on the bar and tables when we left. They never asked us to leave, but we were cognizant enough to take the hint, “Watch out for the vacuum cleaner on your way out.”