Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Panama City, Day 2 - Eighteen to party 21 to drink

I have always been able to avoid hangovers. It’s not a secret. In fact, typically when I wake up after a long night of drinking and start washing dishes or being generally jovial, I share this technique. It consists of water and positivity. I feed off of others’ negative energy.

On this day, I was tested.

I woke up on the chaise section of a lime green couch. This couch is a pullout, but the bed remained folded underneath the cushions and Tyler’s semi-naked body. My hand rested on the touchpad of my Macbook, my index finger seemingly pointing at the empty king size bed ten feet away.

The sun hadn’t reached its apex, so I was thankful that I had caught the fourth or fifth hour of the sun rise. After a brief chuckle, Tyler headed for the bed. I dozed in and out of sleep for a few minutes, and then realized it was Friday and I wasn’t at work. This fact alone made my day.

I hopped out of bed, enjoyed a bowl of Golden Grahams, and headed for the pool.Since my day was made, my focus shifted toward making this day enjoyable for Tyler and John. Between pages of my book, I schemed as to how I could make this happen. My plan was simple. Tyler needs alcohol and John needs girls. I was willing to selflessly sacrifice to make both of these happen.

I smiled inwardly as Tyler approached with a bottle of water in one hand and a tall glass of what I was certain must be rum and coke in the other. My small victory was quickly overshadowed by the news that Tyler brought. My two friends had been talking in the room about possibly leaving early.

Tyler has a job. A job so important that on a regular Saturday he’s willing to bail if we’re going to get breakfast or to see a movie. He had mistakenly scheduled for Sunday afternoon, and in order to make it we would have to leave at 6 a.m. Everyone knew this wasn’t happening, but the fact that it was mentioned goes a long way to describe my friends’ attitudes.

Aside from some flashy skim boarders, our beach was pretty dead. So we did what any group of guys looking for a nice stretch of beach to drink and people watch at in Panama City … headed to La Vela. With Hot Wheels filled to her capacity, we got in the car and headed over. On the way, John received a call that his neurosurgeon friend saying that he had hand delivered his last recommendation for medical school. John claimed this made his day, but I didn’t buy it. He needed girls.

After the 12 mile drive, my heart sank as we pulled into the desolate three acre parking lot. The massive crowds we expected were not to be found. The deep sand once again deemed Hot Wheels inoperable, and I struggled to carry the loaded down cooler toward the ocean. After a short walk, we picked a spot that was adequately busy. Drinks were opened, and I believe I unpersuasively said, “It doesn’t get better than this.”

Despite the Euro trash man, whose incredibly loud music I could have created on a Casio keyboard, flying solo right behind us, we managed to consume several drinks. Tyler complained about sand, and John suggested we move to a ‘better’ spot. Over our shoulder, the famous Club La Vela sign mocked – “Party with Thousands.” Dejected, I decided that we should retreat back to our beach.

After arriving at our home beach, to Tyler’s delight, we picked up our drinking pace. The sun felt glorious, and before we knew it the golden hour was upon us. I lobbied to stay on the beach, but was overruled by my cohorts. In the room we cooked frozen pizza’s, and decided that La Vela’s disappointing day performance would not deter us from a return trip.

Sufficiently drunk, we talked too openly about which outfits looked best on each other. John settled for the ultra stylish shirt I had worn the night before, and I opted for a similar cut Western shirt. Tyler went with a plain looking navy blue shirt, which would become a problem later in the night, as he was nearly impossible to spot.After an eventful $25 dollar taxi ride, in which John did as much damage on a fifth of Bacardi as possible, we arrived at about 11 p.m.

Thankfully there was a small line, and a subdued excitement in the air. We were grateful that, for a $10 upcharge, John was allowed in as an 18-year-old. Our hands were marked, Tyler and I on the left for over 21 and John on the right. We walked toward the obscene amount of bass, prepared to be blown away.

There are several rooms at La Vela, however, on this night one of the rooms put all of the others to shame. The ceilings were probably 40 feet high. Three bars surrounded a depressed dance floor, with a stage, overflowing with girls, in the front. The girl-guy ratio was surprisingly good, and you couldn’t get the grin off of John’s face. Immediately his hand went up in the air, bouncing up and down with the beat.

All things considered, I’m a below average dancer. I’m an average dancer for a 6’3 white guy. Add in some green lasers and a strobe light, and I’m pushing above average. Armed with this knowledge Tyler and I proceeded to put on a 'Walk it out' exhibition.

For me, the deal breaker for any club, is whether girls will openly dance with people. I’m not really looking for much. I’m not above taking a girl from La Vela home, but I’m more concerned with a good time. La Vela passed this test with flying colors. My dance partner count was in the double digits, and that doesn't include Tyler or John. Maybe it was because everyone was letting loose on vacation, or maybe we were just looking that good, but my dancing confidence was at an all time high.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, three large pyramids descended from the ceiling. I stopped for a second, confused, when blasts of cool fog starting pouring out. In a matter of seconds you couldn’t see more than a foot. Naturally, everyone went crazy.

After a bit of exploring, I met a group of about 30 that come down to Panama City every year, and one night during their trip they all wear white and go to La Vela. They seemed to be having a good time, and their solidarity enticed me. Talking led to dancing, and before I knew it I was sandwiched between two girls, unsure of how to execute this dance, but enjoying it nonetheless.

We parted ways, agreeing to dance again later.From the perch that the white group had overtaken, I spotted John and Tyler. We decided to check out another room, and after Tyler told the new door guy that it was his birthday, he begrudgingly let our underage friend in. The room had a techno feel, with classy 60’s style women painted on the wall. Only about a dozen people were in the room, and we quickly found out that all of them were from Ukraine. For some reason I really enjoyed the fact that the Eastern Europeans were in this room. I assumed that when they were in the club it was as if they'd escaped back to the motherland. We danced, and tried to talk, but they didn’t understand much. In the end, we stuck to words like “Beautiful,” “Pretty,” and “Party.” They all seemed to like these words, so we decided to take some pictures.

It was getting late, and we headed back into the main room, which could have been considered too crowded by some. I spotted the white girls on stage, and pushed my way toward them. John quickly warned me that the bouncers don’t allow guys on stage, so I stood below doing my best to establish eye contact. I’m not sure I can take credit for this, but a few seconds later, one of the girls wearing white, that I’d been dancing with before, started to lift her dress. I’m pretty sure I stopped dancing. This must have worked because seconds later she was jumping onto me. I obviously went with it, and with her legs wrapped around me, I tried my best to keep up. This got a lot of attention, and soon enough her guy friends showed up. One had a bottle of Grey Goose, and the other with a fistful of one dollar bills. She got off, drawn by her friend's alcohol. The friend with the money made it rain, and at that point I knew that I’d been outclassed. We never spoke, but looking back I realize that there was really nothing to be said.

Tyler and I continued to dance until about 3 a.m., when we realized we hadn’t seen John in a while. When we ran into him we were quickly introduced to the first Mongolian woman that I’ve ever met. She was beautiful, and I felt bad prying him away from her, but they exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up the next day. Drenched in sweat, we left.

The same taxi driver that brought us, amazed they’d even let John in, took us back. We made it home, and I immediately got in the gigantic bed. I didn't have any dreams that night. What's the point?

Panama City - Just livin' the life

When the big guy has three or more buttons undone on his shirt, the Ukrainian women come running.

Panama City, Day 1 - A near roller skating experience

The location – exotic. The premise – simple. My two best friends and I would take a couple days off of work, drink excessively, get a tan, and create stories. Panama City, once the mecca of the Florida panhandle, is only a half-day drive from most of the Southeast, but it's a different world.

For those born in the 80’s the place has a certain stigma. A reputation so powerful that, independent of economic or supernatural forces, will keep people coming back until my generation no longer has the strength to travel. For me, the lasting memory is intentionally sitting in traffic on the strip, going from car to car. Driving was a new phenomenon, and scantily clad girls held my attention for hours. Panama City is Vegas without the gambling or glitz. It’s New Orleans without Bourbon Street or the culture. It’s thousands of people waiting around for something to happen. Waiting and waiting for something to happen, so eventually it does.

We arrived just before 2 p.m., armed with a new cooler that would later be named ‘hot wheels,’ two cases of Miller Lite, and a handle of Appleton Rum. I’d felt like a salesman for this trip for weeks. We had a free place to stay, but conversations on the trip down were generally negative. My friend John had forgotten his wallet, and Tyler and I talked about how this was the least anticipated trip we’d ever been on. I’d invited all of my close friends, and this is what I ended up with. In hindsight, it couldn’t have been a better group. However, at the time, it seemed slightly awkward and forced.

Coolers with wheels are great, and I don’t regret the $3 upgrade, but they aren’t made for beaches. Things looked bleak. The typically aqua waters were overwhelmed by red sea weed, and instead of a crowded beach with gorgeous women, I saw scattered clusters of beach chairs struggling to hold their occupants’. With Hot Wheels in tow, our efforts to walk to a more ‘happening’ part of the beach were slowed mentally and physically. Our attention shifted from potential female conversation partners, to the contents of our cooler. We took a seat just past a large group of sea slugs, and opened our first beer. The Frisbee came out, and we dazzled ourselves with our long range abilities. John consistently executed his patented late-spin-and-catch trick, while I converted nearly 40% of my through-the-legs-from-behind-no-look catch. We told jokes, and spoke of how fortunate we are for being so funny.

With the golden hour approaching, and our first case of beer all but depleted, we drug Hot Wheels back down the beach. From the room we watched the sun set, and agreed that ideally we would have invited girls up to the room. Rum and coke would have to do. After showers and a quick Olympic viewing fix, we decided to eat our obligatory sea food for the trip. We ended up at a place called Sharkie’s, and somehow lucked into a spot that seemed closer than any of its handicap counterparts. Things were looking up, as the ocean breeze greeted us under a gigantic thatch roof. John didn’t get carded, so we got a round of beers and waited.

Snow crab, Mahi mahi, scallops, and fried goodness soon covered the table, and our waiter tried to make up for the fact that he wasn’t the good looking waitress in the other section by giving us advice for what we might want to get into later that night. He mentioned a weekly event called 'bar wars,' and on this particular night it was at Rockin' Lanes. Bowling and $1 beers seemed hard to pass up, so after helping John crack crab legs for 20 minutes we headed out.

I'm not sure why I was at all surpised by what I saw when I walked in. There were two dozen pool tables straddled by a gigantic roller skating rink and 30 plus bowling lanes. It was only nine, but everything was in cosmic mode. The place was filled with teenager girls wearing clothes their parents wouldn't approve of, and future Panama City taxi drivers. Each of them a few years from cutoff Russel Athletic shirts, manicured beards and the notion that they actually were living in paradise.

We would soon find out that the future taxi drivers were the current servers. Bar wars was for those that worked at restaurants or bars, and an old pay stub was required to get the cheap beer. It didn't matter much anyway, they weren't impressed by John's printed License, Passport and Birth Certificate. We bowled a game, but lack of alcohol had made John grumpy. We headed for the door, looking back over our shoulder at the roller rink. It would have to wait for another day.

We raced to the liquor store, and were confused when we walked in and saw a complete bar surrounded by liquor bottles. With John waiting in the car we shrugged and settled for a couple of pints of rum. Unfortunately the receipt had a tip line, and the liquortendor lucked into a sweet $1.50 tip. It was getting late, so we headed to the beach bar close to our condo.

Things start to get hazy here. The DJ was an overweight woman who was seated behind her laptop. A veteran showed me where a bullet grazed him, a couple from Dallas tempted me to steal an open beer from behind the bar, and two blondes held the attention of thirty men surrounding them. Needless to say, it was a good night.