I grew up a few miles from a little mining town in northern New York State, and on Friday evenings, shortly after the paychecks came out, our family went to town to do our grocery shopping. We’d park our Chevy on Main Street to, as mom used to say, “watch the people go by.” Don’t laugh—this custom was the highlight of our week. Folks came from miles around to participate and to spend hours talking and waving to each other while they either promenaded down Main Street or observed the promenade from their cars.
Life occasionally offers us whiffs of continuity, and just a few weeks ago I got one. In the marina my boat Betty Jane calls home, an annual event transpired that’s wonderfully similar to those fondly remembered Friday evenings of my youth, although this year it was huge by comparison.
And I do mean huge. While my wife BJ and I sat in Betty’s cockpit eating shrimp rolls (whipped up by my friend Lee on the Nordic Tug 37 next door), I swear, every one of the 10,000 souls who reportedly attended this year’s Bay Point Invitational Billfish Tournament in Panama City, Florida, participated in the wild-and-crazy “Festival On The Docks,” eating, drinking, gabbing, and ogling both boats and boaters while strolling by.
“It’s a zoo,” hooted Russell (Lee’s husband) at one point during the melee, grabbing a bowrail with both hands like a caged monkey and holding on for dear life. “Only we’re the animals!”
“Hey mister,” a tank-topped, flipflopped tourist fired back, pointing at the salty Nordic. “Is your boat a real tug or is she a replica?”
I missed Russell’s response because a highly distracting, statuesque female swept past, sporting Atlanta couture, Real Housewives make-up, and a pair of black stiletto heels. With amazing assurance, she stepped aboard a sparkling Viking 68 across the way, and disappeared inside.
“I gotta hand it to her,” observed my wife. “She made climbin’ aboard in those Jimmy Choos look easy.”
“I’ll say,” agreed my buddy Tom. He was leaning against Betty’s cabin side, enjoying a brief respite from the cockpit of his Ocean 50, which was under siege by a lower Alabama paparazzo who’d somehow become convinced Tom was a movie star.
“George Clooney?” I asked, helpfully.
“Yeah, right!” he replied.
BJ and I sacked out at 11 o’clock, although the festival continued well beyond that. And fortunately, the sound of Betty’s air-conditioning system and her drawn curtains nicely dulled the attendant roar. So in the ensuing calm, I was able to quietly reflect.
The world’s sure changed a lot since I was a kid, but it’s stayed the same, too. Some folks still love to walk and talk. And plenty of others still love to sit around and watch ’em go by. Grand, ain’t it?
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.