I spent my remaining weeks in the Panama City Beach area visiting with friends, checking out local attractions, and most importantly, seeing first hand the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael from Oct of last year. Truly levels of destruction beyond anything that I had ever seen, and more reminiscent of what you might expect from a war zone. The picture above is a sad commentary of what largely remains of Mexico Beach, FL – homeless vacant lots.
Hurricane Destruction 101
Fortunately, I’ve never been through a hurricane, and I’ve not known anyone that has been through the destruction brought about by a Category 5 storm. I’ve since learned that you truly do not fully comprehend or appreciate the scenery changing event brought about by such a devastating storm. I spent the better part of a day touring through what is left of Mexico Beach – reported to have been ground zero of Hurricane Michael. From what appeared to have been a lovely little beach town filled with lots of beach houses, wonderful restaurants, and beautiful white sandy beaches, is now remnants of what once was. With only 1,000 full-time residents, the town would swell to over 10,000 during the spring and summer tourist season, for which the local economy was heavily dependent upon. Of the structures that remained standing, significant damage is all around and in need of much repair. More prevalent however, was the absolute absence of a domicile, with only the skeletal slab foundation or pilings upon which these domiciles once rested. It has been reported that roughly 2,200 of the 2,700 homes were totally destroyed, while those that remain, many are now shells of their former selves and some will likely also eventually be torn down. I could go on to describe more of what I’d seen, but I’d rather let my pictures tell the story …
Another especially hard hit area was Tyndall Air Force Base. Tyndall sits right on the gulf coast between Mexico Beach and Panama City. The damage sustained there by Hurricane Michael was extensive. 700 buildings were destroyed, 11,000 personnel were displaced and have subsequently been relocated, with fiscal impact approaching $5B. So significant is the damage and the cost for recovery, the Air Force just announced on Apr 30th that it is halting new repair and recovery operations at the base so that funds can be saved for other critical areas for 2019 – that is unless it can receive additional supplemental funding from Congress. So, it will be a wait and see game to determine if Tyndall AFB will once again be restored as the fighter base it once was.
Visits with Friends & Playing Tourist
Thankfully, there were many positive people and places to see while I was in Panama City Beach. While there, I had the pleasure of connecting with two former workmates from my time with GDIT. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Carl and his wife Melinda for dinner one night. Carl lives and works in Pensacola, so we each agreed to meet halfway – roughly Fort Walton Beach area. He picked an excellent restaurant, and we all enjoyed an evening of great food and conversation. Later in my stay, I was pleased to host an afternoon and dinner at the RV with Mary, and her mom Tina. Mary lives in the Panama City area, and has been with GDIT for some time. It was wonderful spending time with her again, and meeting her mom who was absolutely delightful. Thanks for coming down to my RV and learning firsthand my wonderful full-time RV lifestyle.
I also had the opportunity and pleasure to go visit the Air Force Armaments Museum just outside of Eglin Air Force Base. This is the only museum of its kind in the world – dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting artifacts associated with Air Force Armament, along with the aircraft and vehicles used to deploy them. The museum displays upwards of 30 aircraft including the B-15, B-25 and B-52 bombers, F-100, F-101, F-15 and F-16 fighter/bombers, as well as gunner ships like the AC-130 and A-10 – representing Air Force aviation from World War II to the present. It also contains hundreds pieces of armaments including guns, bombs, and missiles. It even had a Fat Boy – representing the second and last atomic bomb used in in WWII. Lastly, it had an Airborne Battlefield Command Control Center (ABCCC) used for mobile tactical and air operations in limited or general war and special missions. This was a very cool place to visit!
Lastly, upon the recommendation of my sister-in-law Debbie, I visited an establishment called McGuires. It’s your typical Irish Pub – having typical Irish fare, and ales, porters, and stouts brewed on premises in their traditional oak and copper brewery. What makes this place kinda special is the decor. The legend tells the story of a waitress named Molly, who back in 1977 signed her first $1 tip, and tacked it on the back of the bar for good luck. Friends and future visitors added to the signed and tacked collection to perhaps get their own serving of good luck. Well, this place must be VERY lucky now as there is an estimated $2M in dollar bills tacked on every square inch of wall, ceiling and any other space that can be found. Despite common thinking, the waitress assured me that they do have insurance to cover the potential loss of these $1 bills should something happen (fire, theft, etc). I can’t even imaging what that premium must cost! Of course while I was there, I had to add my Luv2RV calling card to the collection. When in Rome …
Well, I’ve moved on from Panama City Beach, and am now chilling in Pelham, AL – just outside of Birmingham. Today is a rainy stormy day, so prime time to get caught up on the blog. Also, I’m a mere 5 days away from having been full-time living in this RV for exactly one year! Wow – it sure has gone by fast, and I’ve gotta say, it’s been spectacular! Everything about this lifestyle, the travel, the sightseeing, catching up with friends and family – many of whom I’ve not seen in decades, has thus far fulfilled a life long vision and dream of my retirement years. I’ve still gots lots of places to visit, and lot of people to see, so I’m off and looking forward to the many, many years to come. Till next time, safe travels!