In the early 2000s I found myself delivering quite a few boats along the Northern Gulf Coast; Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the panhandle of Florida to and from South Florida.
Bay Point Marina in Panama City Beach, Florida, is located in Grand Lagoon and is a quick jaunt both from St. Andrews Inlet and the ICW making it a prime overnight location. Weather good: go outside. Weather crappy: stay inside. On one of my earlier trips through Bay Point, we were way ahead of our delivery date to Freeport, Texas, from Sarasota, Florida, and decided to take a day off in Panama City to see some sights and enjoy some good seafood. Upon inquiring about a cab with the harbor master, he suggested a limo!
“We don’t need a limo,” I responded sharply.
“No, it’s a good deal,” he continued, “It’s Mel’s Limo Service, ten dollars anywhere on the island. Mel has older, but really nice limos, best deal on the beach!”
“Well all right, we’re in!”
Sure enough, Mel promptly picked us up in a 1980-vintage, white stretch limo with red leather interior. This 20-year-old Caddy was the cat’s meow! Mel greeted us sporting nicely polished western boots, nice jeans, a vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd Atlanta Jam tee, and an open tux jacket. At first glance, we knew we had found a friend!
“Ten dollars, where do you guys wanna go?” Our first stop that evening was the world-famous Captain Anderson’s Restaurant and Waterfront Market. After a nice meal and a phone call to Mel, we were off to see some sights!
We were doing so many trips through Panama City over the next couple of years, if we missed a month, Mel would call to check on us! He really became a friend.
So fast-forward a couple of more years. I was contacted by a Ft. Lauderdale broker to deliver a 49 Eastbay from Bay Point Marina to Ft. Lauderdale. A very well-known Chicago sports editor named Bob had purchased this boat and was unable to make the trip to Ft. Lauderdale himself.
I flew into Panama City and met up with Bob. I soon learned he was a very enjoyable man to be around as he and I went carefully through the boat comparing his recent marine survey to what I could see and touch, in the process verifying that survey discrepancies had been corrected. As five o’clock neared, Bob announced it was happy hour and said, “Let’s go have a cocktail.”
“I need about another 30 to 40 minutes,” I said, “I’ll meet you over there.” Bob proceeded to a nearby lounge. Upon finishing my survey check, I too headed to the lounge to meet up with Bob.
As I was walking towards the lounge, none other than Mel comes driving by. Recognizing me, the brake lights come on; he backs up and through an open window shouts, “What the heck are you doing here?”
“I just got here this morning, picking up a boat to take to Ft. Lauderdale.”
“Get in; I’ll take you over to the lounge.” I hopped in the back seat and Mel and I caught up during the short ride. As we got close, I could see Bob standing under the portico smoking a cigarette.
I pointed this out to Mel and he commented that it was perfect. He suggested we pull up and he would park right in front of Bob and open my door! Mel parked the limo, exited, and walked around to my door, making certain Bob was paying attention with a friendly greeting. Mel then opened my door with a flourish and when I exited, Bob’s cigarette literally fell out of his mouth! In a quivering voice, he asked, “How much did that cost me?” Mel and I busted a gut laughing!
Quick update; Mel’s Limo Service became so popular, he grew into several stretch limos, a fleet of Town Cars for airport service, and eventually became such a thorn in a competitor’s side, they bought him out.