Friday, May 25, 2012

Getting There, Part II: A Picture Perfect Day in Jacksonville

I woke up early on Saturday, May 19th to start getting the convertible ready for the Mustang and Ford Show sponsored by the Jacksonville Mustang Club. Normally I’m not crazy about car shows. As I mentioned in the previous post, my opinion about car shows is that most—at least those in my part of Florida—are boring. Too often they’re held in unattractive parking lots, where the sun beats down on the pavement and there isn’t a shade tree in sight. Spending seven or eight hours in such a setting is not my idea of fun. The exception is Friday Fest. On the first Friday evening of every month (March through November), the Panama City Downtown Improvement Board transforms six blocks of Harrison Avenue into a street festival. There are live bands, upwards of 200 show cars, and numerous food and beverage vendors. The downtown area is packed with people from all over Bay County and beyond who come to eat, drink, dance, and ogle the cool cars.
            Although I don’t care for typical daytime car shows, I’ll drive hundreds of miles for an event held in a unique or attractive setting. One prime example is the Vintage Motor Classic, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club every November. The venue is Straub Park, a grassy, tree-lined public area adjacent to the municipal marina on Tampa Bay. The surroundings are sublime: a blend of attractive buildings, shade trees, and the waterfront.
             This year, I was eager to check out the 10th annual show sponsored by the local Mustang club at The Jacksonville Landing, a popular destination in the city for shopping and dining. Because of its location on the St. John River, it compares favorably, albeit on a smaller scale, to the Riverwalk Marketplace in New Orleans or the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.
            The Jacksonville Mustang Club had arranged with municipal authorities to cordon off several streets and parking lots for the show. The setting was excellent, as the following photos attest.

The cars were parked on a winding city street, which had plenty of upscale landscaping and an interesting skyline.

This sort of setting is far more appealing than your average strip mall parking lot.

The Jacksonville Landing complex is surrounded by glass towers and tropical landscaping.

A unique contrast of old-school automotive curves and modern linear architecture.

            Best of all, the weather was more than cooperative, with a steady breeze and low humidity after the morning clouds burned off. The show itself was a quality event, very well-organized by the JMC members and volunteers, with dozens of exquisitely detailed Mustangs and Fords on display. I happened to be sandwiched between a ’64 ½ convertible in original condition driven by its original owner, and a ’65 fastback that had been picked up by its present owner only six weeks earlier.
In the early afternoon, I enjoyed lunch with some extended family members (my cousin’s son and his family). We were joined by one of my former Navy squadron buddies, Ralph “Gumby” Cummings and his wife, Barb, which led to some retelling of old sea stories. We got back in time for the show awards, the icing on the cake. I received the Silver in the class for modified ‘64 ½ to ’70 Mustangs with 99 points (yes, the Gold winner scored 100). I also took home a nice plaque for the Farthest Driven Award, having outdistanced the next contender by just 11 miles.
            Evening found me back at The Jacksonville Landing to meet a high school classmate and his wife for dinner. We got a table on the outside balcony of The American Grille, overlooking the central amphitheater, and enjoyed a fabulous meal. We also had ideal seats for a performance by Retro Catz, a highly talented six-member band. When the sun went down, the inner city and electrified bridges lit up like a jewel. All of the necessary ingredients were in place for a memorable evening. Thank you, Mark and Cathy!

The incomparable Jacksonville riverfront at night.
           The drive back to Panama City on Sunday morning was a mirror of the trip described in my previous post. I had anticipated a fun weekend in Jacksonville, and I was not disappointed in the slightest. Getting there had been half the fun, you bet. And all the rest—the car show, the city sights, the gatherings with friends and family—had been equally unforgettable.
            Can’t wait to do it again!

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