For those who aren’t aware, we call Pensacola, Florida home. Pensacola is a town with an enormous amount of history (it’s America’s first city, after all) that has often stumbled over greatness but has always managed to find a way to pick itself up and continue on as if nothing happened. It’s a city of contrasts, offering incomparable beauty along with a record number of Superfund sites, elegant Spanish moss draped turn-of-the-century neighborhoods beside pockets of drug and violence plaqued squalor, and an approximately equal number of “A” and “F” rated public schools. But while we may often feel overshawdowed by flashier and better marketed towns to our east and west (the beaches of Destin to the casinos of Biloxi), we have one thing that no other city in America has. We’re home to the US Navy Blue Angels. And Pensacola loves their Blues.
Of the numerous iconic cultural events scattered throughout the year, one of the brightest stars on our community calendar is the Pensacola Beach Airshow. The show includes a variety of aerial performers, but it’s the headliner that everyone is really there to see. The Blue Angels, our own home town heros, performing for their family, friends and neighbors. The show is held every year on the weekend following the Fourth of July, and for the businesses along the beach, it’s the weekend that lets them make bank for the season. Tens of thousands of hungry, thirsty, souvenier craving locals and tourists descend on the beach in need of cold beer, warm food, sun screen, tacky T shirts, pool toys and hotel rooms. They spread across the white sand like a human carpet, erecting acres of colored canopies and umbrellas to stake out their personal front row seats to the greatest show on wings.
This year was special. The Blues were back (caution – gratuatious political swipe ahead, proceed at your own risk). Last year, our beloved government, in a petulant fit of pique over its citizens daring to complain about its out-of-control spending, reacted to having its budget trimmed a few tenths of a percent by looking for ways to impose the maximum amount of pain on we unruly citizens. Rather than spreading the minor cuts across the entire Federal bureaucracy, the government threatened layoffs of fire fighters, police, border control agents and air traffic controllers. When the political heat from that threat grew too great, they then turned to shutting down all national parks and museums (even though the cost of renting barricades and deploying additional personnel to ensure we obeyed the closure signs was greater than the amount saved). And the Blue Angels were grounded for the 2013 season. So while the Blues’ annual budget was less than the cost of a typical Obama family vacation, the weekly celebrity-studded White House parties rolled merrily along while the Blue Angels performance at the Pensacola Beach Airshow was cancelled. (End of political commentary for now).
But that was then, and this is now. The Blues are flying again, and the show was a go. The civilian acts start flying at noon. The Blue Angels arrive promptly at 2PM. To see the show, people start arriving on the beach the Thursday before. Most locals know the best day is Friday, when the Blues fly their full dress rehearsal. The crowds are lighter, and the traffic less intense. By 6:30 on Saturday morning, the main parking lot is full. By 8AM, the traffic over the bridge is backed up over six miles. To see the show, you can either show up before dawn, or spend hours in traffic.
Or, you can come by boat. We learned years ago that the best way to see the show and avoid the traffic and parking hassles is to sail over on Friday morning and watch the entire affair from the comfort of our cockpit. Of course, thousands of our fellow boaters know this as well, but that just adds a dash of color. Seeing more boats than you can count jockeying for position, many operated by drunk mariners with little regard for COLREGs or rules of the road, makes the show on the water almost as good as the one in the air.
But enough prose. We’ll let the pictures do the talking.
An early Friday underway means breakfast on the bay.
We picked our spot and watched the crowd build.
The predictions of a record turnout looked accurate.
We thought we saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was an emotional moment to see our old boat that we had just turned over to her new owners sail up and anchor several hundred yards away.
While waiting for the show to begin, we watched the Hilton Hotel catch fire and burn. Apparently no one was hurt, because the fire was out by show time and we never heard any more about it. I’m guessing it probably had something to do with drunken tourists and leftover Fourth of July fireworks.
The show began with the civilian acts. They were good, but they weren’t what had drawn all these people to the beach.
Between acts, these young ladies worked the crowd selling ice cream. If only they’d been offering Margaritas and Bushwackers!
Finally, after a two year wait, the Blues returned to the beach and the magic began.
I have no idea where we’ll be at this time next year. Maybe we’ll still be sorting out our affairs in preparation to begin the next phase of our life, or maybe we’ll already be living Life On The Hook™. But I’m glad we had the opportunity to spend this wonderful weekend on the water together taking in this glorious performance by Pensacola’s favorite sons. If we’re still here next July, we’ll definitely be back for more.
Here’s a better tribute to the Blues than I am capable of producing. Please enjoy!