Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Panama City Beach...Reconnections

I arrived here at the Marriott's Legends Edge on Saturday afternoon and, after picking up some groceries shortly after arrival, I stayed close to the resort, got a nice run in on Sunday, and explored the resort a little on Monday.

Now, the really interesting thing is that I have connected with a long-lost high school friend through Facebook. She and I lived on the same street in Paxton, MA. Before Paxton, my family lived in Milton FL, near Pensacola, where my dad was stationed as a pilot and flight instructor. Last time I saw this friend was in the early 1980's. Flash forward 30 years and here I am in Panama City Beach, just 90 miles east of where I used to live and getting ready to meet up with this high school friend from my years in Massachusetts who now lives in Panama City Beach area. Our paths took us 2,000 miles and 30 years away from each other and here we are in the same place at the same time getting ready to reconnect.

We spoke on the phone and confirmed a dinner together for Monday evening. Her sister, who is 3 years younger than us, wants to join us. I remember her and it will be fun to see her again, too. It has been more like 40 years since I've seen her.

Friend Linda's car arrived at the resort right on time and she and her sister Sandy took me for a little driving tour along the beach, though little of the beach is visible for all of the condo highrises and other buildings that completely cover this strip. It's nothing like it looked when I would come here summers while living in FL in the early 1960's.

We finished our drive at a great restaurant on St. Andrews Bay, called Boat House. It was perfect! It overlooks the bay, is not on the tourist - or spring breaker's - "radar screens." We toasted to long lost friendships and had sumptuous seafood for dinner.

Linda had to work the next day but Sandy didn't so, before they dropped me off back at the resort, we made plans to meet up the next day, Tuesday, for lunch at Pier Park, a newly constructed beachfront complex on the west side of Panama City Beach.

I woke up early Tuesday morning and got a good 6 mile run in before breakfast. This is a perfect spot for getting long runs in! Breakfast was a bagel and lox, cheerios with berries, and decaf coffee. I showered, then headed out the door to uncover the bike and ride toward Pier Park.

The place was easy to find and the spot Sandy recommended for the meet-up was perfect! I brought sandals and wore jeans so, once I got there, all I had to do was lock up my boots, helmet, and jacket in the bike's side- and top-cases and we headed off on foot toward the pier, which is the focal point of Pier Park.

The weather was absolutely perfect...and glorious. And Sandy's company was very enjoyable! We had a great time browsing the shops, stopping for a Starbuck's, then heading out, Starbucks in hand, to the pier. We walked out to the end, chatting up the fishermen along the way. We were curious to know what they were fishing for and if the fish were biting. The answers: "Whiting and Redfish" and "No, the fish are not biting."

We poked into a few shops once back on land and in Pier Park. We shopped for jewelry, looked at sundresses, laughed at the funny stickers and buttons for sale. I bought a few things for grandkids, a couple of postcards, a necklace to wear Friday night at the IBA banquet. The pace was perfect! The shops unique and adorable!

Suddenly it was 2:00 PM and Sandy recommended we eat lunch at Red Brick Pizza which had outdoor seating, so we ordered some kind of sandwich made on pita bread and toasted. I forget its name, but she was right! It was yummy! It was fun to sit there, watch the young spring break kids walk by. I chatted a threesome up, three young men from upstate NY; a young lady with an adorable puppy informed us the puppy was 14 weeks old and totally tired out after walking around the Pier Park complex.

We finished our lunch and started to stroll back toward where her car and my motorcycle were parked. It was just an absolutely perfect day. The right thing to do with the right person and at the right pace. Thank you Sandy!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Riding toward Florida - On the Road Again

Friday afternoon I left home to start my ride across I-10 toward Florida. My ultimate destination will be Jacksonville for the annual IBA "Pizza Party" but that's not until next Friday. In the middle of this trip I plan to spend 6 days at Marriott's Legends Edge, a time-share community on the grounds of Marriott Legends Point Resort in Panama City Beach.

I left Friday afternoon for a couple of reasons. The primary reason was timing. This would get me a couple hundred miles down the road, staying in Lafayette for the night then arriving in Panama City Beach early afternoon. The timing lets me get checked in, get the bike unloaded, and then head back out to the grocery store to stock up the kitchen for the week. The second reason was serendipity. A strong storm front was expected to pass through Houston heading east to Florida. I would be just ahead of this front all day Saturday. In retrospect this was a very good decision. Tornadoes did massive damage and caused 1 death and a dozen injuries in Rayne LA, just 11 miles west of where I spent the night on the west side of Lafayette. It struck at 10:00 AM. I left the hotel at 6:00 AM.

Traffic along I-10 was badly backed up from the east side of Lake Charles all the way to Lafayette. It was no better a couple of hours later as I walked next door to buy dinner at Taco Bell. The hotel clerk said it was Mardi Gras traffic. Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Friday evening, through the heart of Mardi Gras country in LA and heading east toward Baton Rouge and New Orleans.


I worked my way across I-10 through LA, into MS, AL, then through the panhandle of FL without incident. I stayed mostly ahead of the rain - running through a few small pockets of rain, but not sustained or serious - and arrived at my exit off of I-10 and onto US-331 south toward the Gulf coast. It was very windy and got windier the closer I got to the coast.

I arrived at the Marriott resort at 1:30 and knew it would be too early to check in, so I parked the bike at the registration center and walked next door to have a nice grilled grouper sandwich for late lunch at 30-Degree Blue Grill. Once back at the registration center and short wait and my unit was ready.

It's a great unit, sitting at the end of the building and facing 90-degrees away from the other units. This gave me a view of the St. Andrews Bay, not the pool complex, and a more private entrance and balcony. Thumbs up!

With bike unloaded in two trips, I grabbed my helmet again and jumped on the bike to head for the grocery store just a couple of miles away (very convenient). empty side- and top-cases let me buy a nice menu of food items: steaks, frozen shrimp, rice, frozen vegetable medley (to cook with the shrimp as a skillet dinner), salad makings, sandwich makings, mini bagels, smoked lox, fruit, wines, sparkling water, frozen berry mix for my Cheerios. And, of course, a package of mint Oreo cookies!

In looking through the welcome packet I noticed on the activities calendar that there would be beer and nachos happy hour at the center Saturday evening, so after getting the groceries put away, I walked over and got a pitcher of beer and container of nachos to bring back to my unit. Great way to end a long day!


Sunday morning I was more than ready to go for a run. The extensive grounds of this resort, which includes an 18-hole golf course and private residences lining the fairways, provide me a wide variety of running routes. I got 3.5 miles in, just exploring the resort grounds, and got a better idea of how I can get a long run in later this week.

The weather was overcast and chilly so I spent the rest of the day holed up in my spacious 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom, full kitchen unit watching movies and relaxing. That afternoon I called a high school friend who lives in Panama City to make plans for a get-together. I have not seen her since the early 1980's. We lost track of each other after that and then I moved to Texas. But we found each other recently on Facebook! We made plans to have dinner together Monday evening and her sister, who was 3 years behind us in high school, would be joining us.

Tomorrow - Monday - I will stay close to the resort again, and that evening high school friend Linda and her sister Sandy will come get me and we'll go for dinner. Seafood, I hope!