Mexico Beach, Florida
New Year's Eve 2004/2005

Part 1 - Arrival and Wandering Part 2 - New Year's Eve and More
We got gussied up for the night and hit the hotel bar, asking after the free shuttle we’d heard about. After a lot of asking around, the clerk found out it started up around 7, probably beginning in neighboring St. Joe’s Beach and working it’s way over to our end of the strip. We got a drink or two at the hotel bar, a few streamers and paper stars hanging from the ceiling, the staff done up as flappers for their Roaring 20’s New Year’s Eve party. SW got a cigarette holder from the bartender, but they were saving the feather boas for midnight.

Horny FN.

Soon they started up karaoke and I wanted to get on down to the bars we’d planned to visit, so we hit the side of the road and waited on the shuttle with other revelers, a few of whom were already blitzed.

A guy pulled over, saying he wasn’t the official shuttle but he was running people up and down the beach anyhow. Though our fellow revelers recognized him, he gave off a bad vibe, much like the scary gypsy cab we rode in Rome a few years ago. Fortunately, the official shuttle pulled up about then and we hopped on it instead. The driver later told us the non-official shuttle guy would ask for money, once you arrived at the destination. But the official shuttle is free and stops for anyone on the side of the highway, when they have room.

Wonder Bar by day.

He hauled us to our first stop, “the world famous” Wonder Bar, in St. Joe’s Beach just across the eastern standard time zone line. It looks much like a double wide on the beach with a big porch overlooking the sea, but it felt friendly and fun.

Unfortunately they weren’t serving any food and we needed something in our stomachs other than straight liquor, so we headed across the street to Regan’s for random fried foods. Their boisterous bar area grabbed our attention, until we found they only served beer and wine and about the time we arrived a lot of patrons were headed out for the party proper across the street.

We followed, returning to the Wonder Bar just in time for the band to start up, all covers of mostly country music with a few other beach-friendly classics (Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet) thrown in here and there. Periodically a group of people would take over the dance floor for the electric slide. The crowd was mostly older and/or heavier than us, though there were a few cute, younger faces here and there. I giggled at the scene, wondering what it would be like to shoot a video of the night and compare it to the same night at, say, The Compound. The Beautiful People vs. the not-so-beautiful. Security was already breaking up a fight and dragging someone out the door – at 9 PM.
But there were mostly smiles so we found a seat and met Misty from up the road a bit, Blountston or something like that. She’s a typical southern girl, looking to marry a nice guy so she can impress her rich grandparents and get her hands on some of their extensive acreage, but willing to fuck one who’s not so nice in the meantime and not afraid to talk about it to strangers. As obnoxious loudmouths, we hit it off immediately.
We met random other folks, including a few from Atlanta, and drank and chatted the night away as the place grew more crowded, but not so crowded that you couldn’t move around. All the sudden someone was counting down, 10… 9… 8… I thought they were joking (I’ve pulled that one myself) but SW’s watch showed that he was only a minute or three off. He lit up sparklers and passed them around.

We counted down closer to the proper time, kissed, downed our drinks, signed the bill and headed for the street to hop the shuttle for the next destination. Unfortunately, everyone else was doing the same and the shuttle was full up. We jokingly stuck out our thumbs as if hitchhiking and an SUV pulled over. The door opened and a couple of guys in the back seat asked where we were headed.
“Us too. Get in.”
We piled in, encouraged by the girls in the front seat. They were passing the remains of a joint around and probably already had more liquor in them than we did but it was only a couple of miles down the beach and the shuttle wasn’t going to get us there in time if we waited for it to come around again with available seats. I was reminded of countless nights of my youth, piled into a car trying to get from one party/concert/bar to the next, wondering if the driver could get us there alive, just intoxicated enough for it not to worry me too much.
We arrived without incident, other than SW only having to fend off a few errant gropes and me nearly catching the car on fire trying to toss the roach out the window and failing. No adventure is complete without some misadventure!

Back in central time zone, the crowd at Toucan’s was younger and prettier than the Wonder Bar patrons. The patio seating was full up, but we found places inside to lurk and chat.
Unfortunately it’s obvious the place isn’t designed to operate at capacity – there’s only a pair of bathrooms. By the time SW got through the line, midnight had come and gone and we had to settle for a just-after-midnight kiss. I spotted quite a few of the folks from Wonder Bar. The DJ handed the mike over to the crowd and cranked up the karaoke machine, which wasn’t so bad since most people were too drunk to sing at all, much less badly, but somewhere in there Auld Lang Syne blared out over the speakers while the karaoke prompter scrolled out the words for Werewolves of London. I tried my best to make it fit, but it wasn’t possible.

I set my drink down for a moment to chat with Molly, a very cute girl who’d driven all the way down from Ontario for the celebration. I turned back to pick up my drink only to find the old man across the table from me had accidentally picked it up. Before I could warn him he took a big gulp. It was almost worth losing the drink to see the look on his face as he got a mouthful of straight whiskey when he’d obviously been expecting something else.

What, no beach volleyball players?!?

The crowd danced the night away (no Electric Sliders at Toucan’s) while we chatted up the Canadians for a while before calling it a night, sometime around 1 (central), hoping to get to the hotel bar in time for another round. We caught the shuttle going the wrong way and joined in with the lesbians on board trying to sing Going to the Chapel, but they kept dropping a line out of the chorus somewhere and screwing it up. Eventually the shuttle turned around and got us back to the hotel, where the bar was supposed to be open until 2 but had closed a bit early. We grumbled and considered heading up the block to the Purple Bar (several folks along the way had mentioned it as their next destination) but the shuttle had already headed off and I wasn’t going to drive even the half mile down the road so we gave in and called it a night.

We headed to breakfast sometime around noon and found Sharon’s, a little Waffle-House-like diner in Mexico Beach that serves up a fine, fluffy Belgian waffle and the expected eggs and such, along with a few seafood items. They included a tiny serving of black-eyed peas with each dish for the New Year. Anyone know where this tradition started? I'm not complaining, just curious.

We cruised on to Apalachicola, about half an hour away. It’s a charming town full of slightly touristy shops, something like my former hometown of Dahlonega but at the beach. They have a theater that hosts movies and live performances, a few nice restaurants, an internet café, and a some lovely historic homes.

Unfortunately, the Ice Machine Museum was closed for the holiday so we got a latte at a balcony restaurant on the main drag and wandered town for a couple of hours, shopping at cute antique stores and boutique shops.

It's obvious the marketers won't be able to call the area "the forgotten coast" much longer. Real estate prices are skyrocketing and new houses are going up all over. We drove out the little peninsula of Cape San Blass, where every other lot features a house, or entire housing development, under construction. At the end of the cap is a little state park, but it was $4 to get in and near closing time so we turned around and drove back to Mexico Beach.

We hit Beach Pizza, recommended by one of the locals, and picked up a thin, decent pie and a good salad. We intended to watch the sunset from our balcony but the sun sank beneath the waves as we waited on the pizza. I headed down the street and got a few pictures of one of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve ever seen (Note: some versions of Explorer may automatically resize the image. Put the cursor over the image and hold it there for a second. An orange box will show up - that's a zoom tool. Click it see the image full size, then scroll across.)

We went back to the hotel and relaxed, browsing the Panama City paper in search of ideas for the evening. SW hadn’t had her 22 hours of sleep for the day, thanks to the kids running up and down the walkway early in the morning, slamming doors and feeding the flying rats (seagulls) on the balcony above ours. And I was still a bit hungover, so we decided to catch a movie. Unfortunately, the closest theater is in Panama City, so we headed back west through the air force base and pine forests. Yet again, the view was obscured, this time by the dark, as if the base was cursed and not possible to see in the light of day.
Meh. Nothin’ but tall pine trees, planted in near perfect rows for ease of harvesting.
On the other side lies Panama City, seemingly an endless suburb, inland of its more famous beach. We watched The Aviator, a good, though somewhat long and at times slow biopic about Howard Hughes. They say there’s a fine line between genius and madness and we watch Leonardo leap back and forth between the two, seemingly sane only when attempting to do what others said was insane, and dropping further into insanity the more successful he becomes. It illustrates a few things about his life I didn’t know and leaves off as if it were a cliffhanger, though we already know his destiny. I didn't enjoy Cate Blanchett as a cartoonish caricature of the movie version of Katharine Hepburn, but then I didn't like Katherine Hepburn in the first place. SW loved her performance, so it may be a matter of taste, though I noticed the critic in this week's Loafing shared my opinion when we returned and picked up the paper.
Too pooped to party, we hit the hotel and slept off the New Year’s Eve hangover.

In the morning we checked out and decided to try another route home. We wound through the back roads north through the panhandle, hoping to stumble across breakfast somewhere along the way. It was fortunate I’d thought to fill up on gas the night before, since we barely passed so much as a crossroads for a couple of hours until finally we hit I-10, hungry and tired. We found Marianna, a small town closed up for Sunday, but just beat the after-church rush at Jim’s, a southern buffet featuring damn fine fried chicken, which made up for the overcooked vegetables and somewhat tasteless banana pudding.

We got back on the main roads and headed north into Alabama, stopping at a random antique mall, all porcelain tchotchkes and depression glass, before putting the pedal down and speeding back into Georgia and home.

So happy new year to everyone. I hope your 2005 is better than 2004, regardless of how your past year was. We’ve got a ton of resolutions this year, some involving bringing you another year of degeneration and improvements to the web site, but mostly the usual stuff – get in shape, learn Spanish, move out of this country…

Part 1 - Arrival and Wandering Part 2 - New Year's Eve and More

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