According to the Pensacola News Journal, record-setting crowds attended all three performances of this past weekend’s Blue Angels show, the first Pensacola performance following the death of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, the Blues solo pilot who died in a crash in Smyrna, Tennessee, in June.
From inside Pensacola Beach, I can’t argue with the numbers. Certainly, on Saturday, I don’t know where they would have put any more cars. We even joined in the entrepreneurial effort, with my wife taking a hand-lettered sign out onto Via De Luna in front of our house and renting out our two extra parking spaces within 5 minutes. And while I would be embarrassed to tell you how much we charged for the spots, the people who grabbed them thanked us, as they otherwise could have been doomed to circle endlessly on beach roadways. Let’s just say that if people parked in the places they parked on any other weekend, Escambia County would have reaped a record haul of parking fines.
My attitude toward Blue Angels beach shows in recent years has been in the tradition of the great Yogi Berra, and, I think, reflects the attitude of many locals: No one goes anymore, it’s too crowded.
But when you live on the beach, and don’t have to fight the traffic or contemplate a two-hour commute home, it’s a horse of a different color.
I spent the early morning Saturday cruising the beach on my bicycle as the festival-like fever pitch built. I hadn’t realized how many beach residents decorate their homes with flags, banners and other patriotic symbols. We had our Blue Angels flag hanging proudly on the deck.
Everyone seemed to be in a jubilant mood. One of our neighbors holds an annual show party that draws up to 100 people, coming by boat, car, bicycle and foot, with ribs, chicken, friend shrimp and enough sides for a small army.
At Casino Beach, the centerpoint of the show, the buzz grew all morning, with the parking lot reportedly full and closed by 6:30 a.m. One local restaurant was charging $50 for parking, and every spot was taken. They no doubt figured walk-up business would suffice.
We watched the practice show on Thursday from the deck on our house, and Friday’s full dress rehearsal from the beach. Saturday was split between the deck and the beach.
And while I couldn’t prove it, my feeling was that while both the Thursday and Friday performances were outstanding, the Blues saved a little extra oomph for Saturday. It just seemed more electric. And it was just a bonus that Fat Albert made a low-altitude turn right over our house.
After the aerial show ended, I spent hours on our rooftop watching the people show as they streamed back on foot, bicycle, pedicab, skateboard, boat, golf cart and, increasingly slowly, cars. By 3:30 you could have crawled faster than the traffic passing our house, and it stayed that way past 7 p.m.
But I don’t think anybody who attended Saturday’s show regretted it, or felt that the long commute home wasn’t worth it. It just gave them time to think about what they had experienced. As Yogi might have put it, it ain’t over til it’s over.