Over the July Fourth weekend, my boyfriend Chris and I decided that we wanted to get out of town for a few days – and naturally, I thought of the beach. I don’t know what it is about Panama City Beach this year, but after a 20 year boycott, I have found myself gracing the Redneck Riviera’s beaches twice in three months. Why in the world would I want to do that to myself, you might ask? Well…part of it was that the area closer to Destin didn’t have nearly the kinds of last minute deals that you could get closer to PCB – – and the other part of it was that I’d always heard that PCB on July 4th was something to behold and thought it might be interesting to see. And boy did that assessment ring true.
So before we went, Chris and I discussed the fact that we knew it was going to be Certifiably Insane down there – – as in, the distinct possibility that we would witness more than one naked, drunk redneck, peeing out the back of a pick-up truck that may or may not have been owned by him and may or may not have been stolen…. while screaming obscenities at the moon – or a street lamp if he was too drunk to know any better. But we both decided that this would be an “Experience” and we would treat it as such. We would blend in as best we could and much like undercover reporters, find ways to infiltrate their camp in order to understand the Redneck Species a bit better. In preparation to do so, Chris brought his fake mullet leftover from a costume party where he went as Billy Ray Cyrus and there was talk of purchasing an airbrushed t-shirt with a rebel flag (that did not happen – – thank God). While I, on the other hand, practiced my profane hand gestures so that I would be ready for the moment that a redneck decided to inform me that he had a sizable present for me in his pants.
Another key part of this plan to blend in was to rent a scooter. We’d latched onto the idea and wouldn’t let go. Who needs a Harley or a Chopper when you can climb aboard a Yamaha scooter? Coolness personified right there.
As luck would have it, there was a scooter rental place right beside our hotel – – so on the first day of our vacation, we walked over there determined to get one. Upon entering the establishment, the first thing I saw was a shirtless guy with a shaved head whose entire torso was covered in skull tattoos. I’m talking skulls with fire coming out of their mouths – – skulls with knives – – skulls on a mountain top – – skulls with beady, jeweled eyes. And if that wasn’t enough, he was also wearing a jaunty, fashionable skull belt to hold up his ratty cargo shorts. For a touch of subtle class, obviously.
“Wow.”, I thought, “I wonder if he likes skulls?”
We both walked up to the counter and informed Skull Man of our intention to rent a scooter. He reviewed our various options and finally after discussing the matter in serious, muttered tones to one another (as one does when it comes to serious matters such as a scooter rental), Chris opted for a two day rental in order to maximize our PCB Redneck Camp Infiltration experience. We signed a bunch of legal documentation – – promised we wouldn’t ride on the shoulder – – and off we went. No, we didn’t go over 45 mph, but still – – it was enough to put some wind in our hair and we were now part of the PCB Scooter Club. Being in the Scooter Club means that everyone on a scooter who passes you by honks at you and waves, and you’re supposed to do the same. A way of saying: “I see you on that pansy-ass scooter, dude – – but that’s ok. Because I’m on one too. RESPECK!”
After hanging out at the beach all afternoon, we decided we wanted to play Putt-Putt golf that night – – so we climbed aboard the scooter at sunset and headed down the strip in search for the cheesiest Putt-Putt golf place we could find. However, we did not get far on our journey before we came to a screeching halt due to the traffic being at a complete stand-still. It turns out that Friday night, July 3rd, in PCB, is THE night. Yes, THAT night. The night of the hollering. The night of shirtless men in lawn chairs on the side of the road yelling at women. The night of the rebel flags with a large TROUT in the middle flying proudly above the bed of a jacked up truck containing such stereotypical rednecks that I had to pinch myself to remind myself that we were not on the set of a movie. The night of men not caring one iota that I was obviously on the back of a scooter with my boyfriend as they proceeded to show me their various tongue contortions which were, apparently, a redneck salutation to women they take a shine to.
All told, it took us an hour to travel about 3 miles – – and it was a wild ride. I was at once dazzled and repulsed with seeing that level of over-the-top behavior – – everything one could possibly imagine would be seen and heard in what was essentially a Redneck parade, we saw and heard. I actually heard one very memorable statement when a man wearing only shorts and flip-flops who was chugging a beer said “Yeah, when I come to Panama City, I never have enough money for food – – – just for beer, man.”
Priorities, people. Priorities.
We played a fun game of Putt-putt, then came back to the hotel, parked the scooter, and went across the street to the outdoor beach bar to have some dinner and drinks. Afterward, we walked back to the hotel and, after a long day of sand, sun and a crazy scene, we were exhausted and hit the hay.
We woke up the next morning with a craving for some Waffle House. Chris is an admitted Waffle House addict, and I gotta admit – – that day, the All Star breakfast was calling my name. So he went off in search of the scooter keys while I went to get ready.
Now….before I relay this next bit of information, I have to qualify something for the record: Chris is a smart man. One of the smartest I’ve known. He is an Engineer. With a Mechanical Engineering degree. His favorite current application on his i-phone is one that quizzes you on all the bones of the human body which he plays with an annoying level of accuracy. He would choose a documentary over most any other type of movie, and loves learning new things on a constant basis. It is, frankly, somewhat annoying when I’m just wanting to immerse myself in a tiny bit of Lindsey Lohan gossip from my rag mag and Chris is all “What’s the capital of Bolivia?” I like learning and trivia a lot too but, Honey, seriously – – PUT A CORK IN IT RIGHT NOW!
But……….but………….he forgets things. Like an absent-minded professor forgets things. As in….forgets Very Important Objects. Nine times out of ten, just before we’re about to go somewhere, we end up looking for his keys. Or his wallet. Or his phone. Or his shirt. And if it wasn’t sewn onto the back of his body? His ass. And I’ve been getting used to this more and more and doing some preemptive steps to make sure that I note where he is putting his keys or his wallet right when he puts it down so I can then help out when we are in a rush and are looking for the Very Important Object. But I don’t always catch it…
So it wasn’t a huge concern to me when he said he couldn’t find the scooter keys – – I was used to this firedrill. But a half hour later, when he still couldn’t find them, I became more concerned. At that point, he said he was going to go across the street to the restaurant and look for them there, and if he couldn’t find them, head over to the scooter place and ask Skull Man if we could get another set. He got a head start on me because I was still getting ready, and said he would call me when he got it all taken care of.
Therefore, I was surprised to get a call from him about ten minutes later and his words were: “Um….do you remember where we parked the scooter?”
Did I remember? Of course I did. We parked it right out front of the lobby and even asked the hotel personnel if that was a safe place to park it. After their affirmative reply, then we’d parked it there and thought nothing of it.
Chris said “Yeah, that’s what I thought. And….uh. It’s not there.”
I blinked. “It’s not there???”, I said.
“Nope”, he said.
He’d already asked the hotel personnel if maybe someone from their staff had moved it, and they’d indicated that no one had. Things were looking bleak.
I met him downstairs and we discussed the options. Should we call Skull Man first? Or should we call the cops? We opted for the cops because we were afraid that Skull Man and his cronies would immediately try to charge Chris’s credit card for the WHOLE scooter before we had a chance to try to search it. We also discussed the possibility that maybe we’d dropped the key somewhere between the restaurant and the hotel – – I even went back to the hotel to check to no avail. But eventually we came to the obvious, dismal conclusion: Chris had left the key IN the scooter. Like a big, gold-leafed invitation to “PLEASE STEAL ME”.
I would like to give MYSELF huge kudos for the way that I held my tongue and didn’t yell at him these words repeatedly “ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? IN THE SCOOTER??? YOU LEFT THEM IN THE SCOOTER????” But digging from the trenches of my Zen center of being, I managed to refrain from saying these things since he obviously felt horrible enough about it already, and my frustration would just add an argument ON TOP of our current miserable situation. So, you know…..GO AMY!!!!
We had the front desk call the cops and then sat out on the bench like two school children who were about to be reprimanded by the principal. And when the cop in his big police SUV pulled up and parked in front of the lobby, we got up to walk over to greet him. He was a tall, beefy looking cop with piercing blue eyes – – like what Rosco Pico Train from The Dukes of Hazzard would look like if he was a Viking.
“Are you the two with the missing scooter?”, he said.
We both nodded tiredly.
Chris and I began telling our tale in tag-team fashion – – filling in bits and pieces that one of us remembered and the other one didn’t. Rosco was dutifully writing it all down, then off-handedly asked the question, “so, where’s the key?”
Chris and I both said “we don’t know..”
His hand stilled and the piercing blue eyes looked up from his pen and paper. “You don’t know where it is?”, he said.
Chris and I began relaying that unless we’d dropped the key somewhere and someone had found it and just HAPPENED to find our scooter out front of the hotel and decided to see if the key would work, then we were pretty sure that (gulp) we’d left the key in the scooter.
Rosco stared at us and chewed on his lip for a moment, then said “I have to be honest and tell you that something about this story doesn’t jive with me. I mean…how does the key just…. disappear? And I find it hard to believe you’d left it in the scooter.”
Um….had the man never looked for his keys in his house like I and everyone else in the world had after they “disappear”? Ripping off couch cushions, looking under every piece of furniture in the home, and then, finally, in desperation, checking the refrigerator and finding them there? KEYS GO MISSING ALL THE TIME!!! And as for failing to believe that we’d left it in the scooter – – he obviously hadn’t dealt with an absent minded professor type. I mean, I’ve picked up Chris’s i-phone that he’d somehow set down on the pavement of a parking lot before. He was VERY capable of leaving the key in the scooter.
My mouth fell open and I looked at Chris whose face remained calm and impassive. It slowly began to dawn on me that Rosco didn’t believe us. We were being wrongfully accused. WRONGFULLY ACCUSED OF STEALING A NEON GREEN SCOOTER IN PANAMA CITY BEACH!!!
I found myself very slowly relaying the facts again, trying to somehow convince him of our honesty through carefully enunciated words. I wanted to tell him that really, truly, WE WOULD MUCH RATHER BE AT THE BEACH RIGHT NOW than trying to track down a freaking scooter. Did he think we had it hidden in the bushes and were going to drive it all the way back to Atlanta? Did he think we were running a Scooter Ring?
Though he still looked unconvinced of our story, he said he was giving us the benefit of the doubt and would walk with us over to the scooter rental place to get the scooter rental information and make the report. I was in the pit of despair. Not only were we going to have to tell Skull Man and his cronies that one of their scooters had been stolen, but WE WERE BASICALLY BEING ACCUSED OF STEALING IT.
We walked in with The Law, and sure enough, there Skull Man sat, clad in nothing but his tattoos and skull belted cargo shorts. He stood up quickly when he saw the cop, likely concerned about the pile of bongs that he sells under the counter out back of the scooter shop. As we relayed the story, he began pulling out all the paperwork, looking both relieved that the cop wasn’t after HIM this time, and concerned about the scooter. Management was called, and as they asked questions, I just wanted to be swallowed up into the concrete floor in one gulp. And of course, when they got to the “where’s the key” question, and heard our answer, then looked at each other like they were talking to the King and Queen of Moronville, I pretty much wanted someone to annihilate me from the face of the planet. I mean SKULL MAN was looking at us in a superior way – – like his IQ was higher than ours. Which made me want to remind him of all the brain cells he’d likely lost when he smoked his last fat one – – – I mean, NOT SO FAST BUDDY. Yeah, we’d lost a whole scooter, but *I* didn’t have the mouth of a skull emblazoned across my left nipple.
At one point, the cop asks Chris to step outside, and I remain inside and listen to the chit-chat of PCB party-goers who were renting scooters left and right – – looking longingly at the people who were turning in scooters like it was no big deal. After about five minutes, though, I became curious when Chris hadn’t returned, and I walked out right in time to hear the cop saying to Chris…“And I want you to understand that I need you to sign this statement but I still have a problem with your story, and I also want you to understand that we’ve put out an APB on this scooter and WHOEVER stole it *meaningful look at Chris*, is going to be taken down at gunpoint and arrested.”
Hold on. Stop the press. Because all I heard was the cop speaking in an accusatory way and appear to be trying to scare Chris into “confessing” to taking the scooter so that he wouldn’t have to take him down at gunpoint.
I know I shouldn’t have, but I got scrappy. And what does Amy say in her moment of scrappy-ness? In her moment of defying the law? I said these words: “Officer….we were just trying to go to WAFFLE HOUSE this morning.” And what did that have to do with ANYTHING? Well I DON’T KNOW, but I felt like somehow, people who were just trying to go get their hash browns scattered, smothered and covered weren’t two people who had pre-meditated notions to steal a scooter this morning.
Chris looked at me like he wanted to shoot me with a stun gun, and the cop didn’t even glance my way. To this day, I still quote line that to be funny when I’m getting worked up and Chris and I need a laugh. “We were just trying to go to WAFFLE house!!!!” – – it always elicits a guffaw or two from us.
We finally skulked away from the scooter shop after we’d made our statement and got a few more gazillion menacing, suspicious glances thrown our way. Since we were starving at that point due to no food on high levels of drama, we DID end up going to Waffle House. And while sitting there over our greasy breakfasts, we finally started to calm down and see the humor in the situation. I mean – – we were in Panama City Beach being accused of stealing a scooter. How freaking awesome was THAT? We were in trouble with the LAW! Two professional thirty-somethings from Atlanta with mortgages and sensible cars and corporate jobs were being accused of STEALING. ROCK. ON!!!!
When we were done with our meal, we meandered back to the hotel, discussing our options should they not find the scooter – – we were still discussing the costs, our rights, the chances of them finding it and other cheerful subjects such as that when we started driving up the long, winding parking deck of our hotel – – as we got to one of the top levels, we swung the car into one of the vacant spots and hopped out en route to the elevator. Suddenly, we both looked over at the corner of the parking garage almost at the same time.
There sat a neon green scooter. With the key in it.
We walked over to it, barely daring to hope – – – and then realized – – IT WAS TOTALLY OUR MISSING SCOOTER!!!! Our excitement and relief could barely be contained – – someone had obviously found it with the key still in it and took it for a joy ride. Who could blame them, really? Not saying it’s right but, come one – – it’s PCB, on the fourth of July – – and a scooter was sitting there with the key in it. Helllooooo. Of course it was going to be taken for a joy ride.
We called the scooter rental place and they told us to bring it back, of course. We were nervous doing this, even though it was a short distance away, because there was an APB out on it and, you know, WE COULD BE TAKEN DOWN AT GUNPOINT for being in possession of it.
Skull Man was happy to see the scooter, obviously. And as Chris took care of all the paperwork and legalities and we waited for management to show up to check the scooter, and call the cops to tell them the scooter was back safe and sound, then I feigned significant interest over Skull Man’s tattoos. He was more than happy to give me his reasoning for having them (“I really like skulls”) and do a veritable show and tell of when and why he’d gotten each one. Fascinating stuff.
We finished off our time at PCB with fireworks, drinks and bad bar food – – – pretty much what one would have expected and there was no more drama to be had. So as we rode off out of town at the culmination of our trip, en route back to our more sensible existence – – we decided to give up our lives as pseudo-scooter thieves. It’d been real. And it’d been fun.
But it hadn’t been real fun.