Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Panama City Beach in Pictures

The first thing that struck me when visiting Panama City Beach, Florida, was the Waffle House sign directly across from our hotel.

I had no desire to eat there, nor at any of the many other Waffle Houses in the area. OK, I'm lying if I deny my curiosity about the Pecan Waffles and the Pork Chops & Eggs. Instead, we ate breakfast at the in-house restaurant each morning, and the ready availability of bacon, sausages and mini pancakes was terrific.

One place I wish I had eaten was Thomas' Donut and Snack Shop, which has been around since 1971. I believe a key lime creme-filled donut or a smoked sausage and cheese kolach would've felt just right.

If I'd visited Panama City Beach by myself, instead of with my wife and kids, I might have stayed at this place, which has been around for more than 40 years.

When it was built I bet the Fontainebleau was really chic. The hotel's web site mentions that its "rich history" includes "numerous celebrity visits," but let's face it, that list could include Joey Heatherton or John Davidson. Nowadays on TripAdvisor people complain that the front desk is unstaffed and that there is "MOLD! MOLD! MOLD!" As I drove past the Fontainebleau, I saw the shot I wanted: a guy in a white t-shirt standing on a balcony, probably smoking a cigarette, under that great big sign. I missed it, though.

To be fair, some folks on TripAdvisor reported having a fine time.

I wish I'd brought my copy of the Magna Carta with me, so I could've visited one of PCB's numerous pawn shops. Coulda scored me some guns, jewelry or coins.

There were almost as many drive-through liquor stores as there were pawn shops. There's a reason Panama City Beach is considered a crucial component of the so-called Redneck Riviera along the Gulf Coast.

While the halcyon days of old-school amusement parks are long gone, there are plenty of newfangled entertainment options. Such as the Vomatron.

And if you need a t-shirt to clean up your puke, or simply want to watch an alligator being fed, drop by Moby Dick's.

Haven't yet had your fill of giant artificial sea creatures?

Check out Big Willy's Swimwear or the Jaws souvenir shop.

For those of you who like a little turf with your surf, make sure to say hi to Big Gus before you strap on the feedbag at Angelo's Steak Pit.

There are so many blinged-out mega-hotels and condos along the beautiful white-sand beaches here, that when you're on the water looking toward the shore, it's brighter than Flavor Flav flashing his grille at high noon.

Seriously, though, the days of the modest motel in PCB are numbered. There are a few still standing, although Inn Paradise seems likely to be torn down soon.

The simply titled and quaintly situated Beach Motel seems to be doing OK.

A few doors down from the Holiday Inn Resort, where we stayed, stands the Bikini Beach Resort.

Somewhere between a motel and a hotel, this place features Bikini Dave's Tiki Bar. Now you're paying attention, aren't you?

Our hotel was really nice. We enjoyed the oversized hot tub a few times, and took a few walks on the beach. In looking through a pamphlet about area attractions, I saw mention of "historic St. Andrew's" in Panama City, which is a distinct entity from PCB. I convinced Beth and the kids to make the 20-minute drive across the Hathaway Bridge over North Bay, and check out this funky little neighborhood.

We ate lunch at the Shrimp Boat, a spot picked out by my son, Owen. It was a really great restaurant right on the water, with delicious soups and sandwiches, and an incredible chocolate cake we split four ways. As we drove into St. Andrew's and back out toward our hotel, I made note of several places I wanted to return to so I could snap photos.

The first picture I took upon my return early the next morning was this beast, which hangs right outside the Shrimp Boat. None of us noticed it when we were there for lunch.

This is a pretty good ad for the several charter fishing boats docked here.

Diagonally across from the Shrimp Boat is this old motel.

After seeing so many vacant lots along the beach that obviously used to feature motels, I got bummed when I saw this place. A sign on the front of the building says, "Cabana Courtyard Mall Coming Soon!" After doing some research into the place, I found out that the owner of the Shrimp Boat is redeveloping this property and will save at least some of the old motel.

St. Andrew's has become a hot spot for funky shops and restaurants lately, from what I understand. I wonder how much longer this topless bar will last?

A sign on the door lets patrons know that t-shirts are available. Obviously, these are not offered to the dancers.

I love this building. The members of this lodge might control the U.S. government, worship the devil or be in league with the Illuminati, but at least they have style.

Moving on....

This is the first museum I've ever seen dedicated to small-town publishing.

Beth spied this cool old sign on the road into St. Andrew's.

The little guy holding the "COAST TO COAST" sign is Speedee, the first McDonald's mascot. He was phased out in 1967 in favor of Ronald McDonald. Somewhere in there, according to various online sources, there was a character named Donald McDonald, who was portrayed by Willard Scott. Yes, that Willard Scott. Here's a commercial to prove it:

See, and you thought you were just coming here to look at some pretty pictures of the Gulf Coast. Didn't think you were gonna get a history lesson on fast-food mascots, did you?

I posted the above photo on a Facebook group, and a guy there who knows his stuff indicated that the muckety mucks at McDonald's didn't intend for restaurants to use the script logo for exterior signage. Rather, it was "supposed to be part of the packaging/trayliner advertising media package only. A lot of franchisees decided on their own to use it for signs and other unintended uses, and McDonald's was not happy about it. That's probably a reason why it's use was so short-lived."

You're still learning, aren't you?

From an interesting story about one of the most famous corporate symbols in world history, we move on to....a boring strip club.

Open 4 p.m. til 4 a.m. Friday-Sunday. Oh yeah, and they're hiring more girls.

After I finished taking shots in and around St. Andrew's, I took the long way back to our hotel. Here's an idea of the odd dichotomy you find in beach towns: humble brick apartment building just a few blocks from an opulent resort.

On our last full day in Panama City Beach, we ventured to St. Andrew's State Park. We went for a short hike, wary much of the time of seeing alligators. I think I was the only one who wanted to see one, albeit from a distance.

We didn't see any gators, but on a brief walk on a pier I saw this beast.

I'm no ornithologist, but I believe this is a heron of some sort.

Then, I got one last look down the beach.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Dear Mr. Fred Lynn"

Ah, 5th grade! King of the Hill. Top of the Heap. A Number One. Life was good at Latimer Lane School in Simsbury, CT. I had a cool teacher, Mr. Cashman who, along with the other 5th grade teacher, Mr. Stepanian, used to play kick ball with us at recess. We had a "bubble hockey" table in the classroom, a bunch of us boys formed an informal club that, all these years later, I can't recall if it revolved around yo-yo's or cool erasers on the ends of our pencils. Or maybe both. I discovered that it was OK to like girls. I acquired the nickname Wiggy. We got to listen to some kid's 45 record of "Brass Bonanza," aka the New England Whalers fight song, which on the B-side had an epic fight between the Whalers and the Minnesota Fighting Saints called by broadcaster Bob Neumeier.

Outside of school, I played Little League, on the Yankees. I was (and remain) a huge Red Sox fan, so I wasn't initially too excited to play on the namesake of my team's hated rivals. But all that really mattered was playing my favorite sport with so many of my friends. I also played baseball with my older brother, Steve, and my best friend, Pat, and his brothers. We played on the school's field, and used a tennis ball instead of a hardball, so none of us younger kids would get hurt when the older guys batted. I loved to play shortstop, imagining that I was Rick Burleson, aka Rooster, my favorite Sox player.

At some point during the 1975/76 school year, we were given an assignment to write a letter to somebody famous and request a signature or token of some sort. Although Burleson was my favorite Red Sox, I chose to write to Fred Lynn, who in 1975 became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same season, as center fielder for the Sox.

I don't recall how we obtained addresses for the people we wished to contact. These days, of course, it's easy to look up people and organizations online. Through some sort of educational sorcery, the teachers and librarians accessed the information. Wasn't hard to find the Red Sox front office address, I'm sure.

Let's pretend I have a copy of the letter that I mailed to Fred Lynn....

Dear Mr. Fred Lynn:

My name is Dave Brigham. I'm a 5th grader at Latimer Lane School in Simsbury, Connecticut. I have loved the Red Sox since I was born, because my brother and father like them. I play second base in Little League on the Yankees, but it's OK, because we're not very good. I watch your games whenever I can, which isn't often enough, because although cable TV has been around since the late 1940's, I have never heard of it and won't know of its glories and magnificence until the early '80s. In the meantime, I catch the occasional game on Channel 38, a UHF channel out of Boston that, through the miracle of science, arrives on my parents' black-and-white TV set in our rec room. But I digress.

A lot of times I listen to Sox games with my dad and/or brother, either at home or in the car as we travel around town or to such exotic vacation destinations as Cape Cod, New Hampshire's Flume Gorge and some YMCA camp in Torrington, CT, where some of my family got sick. Throw-up sick. Funny side story: once while we were at a swimming hole (do they have swimming holes where you're from?) in my town, my brother asked my dad if he could have the car keys so he could turn on the car radio and get the score of the Sox game. He turned the key to the right spot on the steering column and turned on the game, but somehow managed to bump the shifter into "neutral" and the car started rolling. Here's the funny part: I don't remember how this story ends, but everybody lives.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, can I have an autographed picture? You're awesome, you won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. Sure, you and your teammates lost in one of the greatest World Series of all time, and taught me my first lesson in professional sports heartbreak, a lesson that I have a feeling I will learn again in 1978, 1986 and 2003, although I suspect at least two of those years won't be your fault.

So whatta ya say, Freddy Boy?


Dave Brigham

I waited approximately 8,000 years for a reply from the Great Mister Lynn. In the meantime, I played hockey in the classroom, flag football outside (we had a league -- a LEAGUE! -- and I was on the champion Rams, which was QB'd by my buddy Tyler Brown), day-dreamed about Cathy Ruddy and found myself wondering whether the United States Bicentennial celebration in July would live up to the hype. I mean, think about it? How do you honor 200 years of revolution, industry, slavery, repugnant race relations, the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Henry Ford, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Greatest Generation, George Carlin, the guy who invented the beer ball and so many other things?

Finally, the day arrived! The postman strutted into Mr. Cashman's classroom like he owned the place, and started flinging envelopes at kids' heads and yelling, "Mail, suckah!"

I ripped open the delivery, wondering how Mr. Fred Lynn had managed to fit a glossy 8x11, signed photo of his famous face into such a small envelope. I quickly scanned the boilerplate mumbo-jumbo typed neatly on Red Sox letterhead.

Dear [Insert fan name here]:

Thank you for your correspondence.

Sincerely, [Insert name of sports organization].

At least there was a picture...of the whole team. With Fred Lynn's autograph...stamped on the lower right corner.

Despite being let down somewhat, I knew that Mr. Fred Lynn surely hand-picked the team photo -- heck, maybe he even TOOK the picture -- and no doubt would have signed it by hand if he wasn't concerned with injuring his throwing arm, but surely he flipped open the stamp pad, grasped the autograph stamp firmly in his left hand, firmly pressed it into the ink and brought it down with authority on the picture that was destined to travel the Mass. Pike from Boston all the way to my school in little old Simsbury, CT.

So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.