A gathering on the deck and side yard of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside (6906 14th St. W., Bradenton, FL 34207) was attracting curious looks from the regular clientele as they shuffled inside for lunch. A few dozen folks, mostly women, strolled up and down the lawn carrying frequently-replenished light beers, wrapping each other in big, hooting bear hugs when a friend rolled in. Many sported heavy boots and leather vests covered in patches. In the parking lot, more than 30 shiny motorcycles leaned on kickstands in the shade, the gleaming line stretching the lot's entire length.
Bless my soul, but I do love a biker bash.
The Diva Angels were our hostesses on a perfect blue-sky afternoon. With chapters hailing from as far as Iowa, the Diva Angels are an all-women's non-profit dedicated to fostering a true motorcycle sisterhood. Their members range from ages 18 to 70, and they come in all shapes and sizes and from from all walks of life. And like every biker organization I've encountered, the Diva Angels are charitable to the core.
Today was the Angels' annual benefit party, which supports a local nonprofit each year. This year the Angels selected Southeastern Guide Dogs to receive all the proceeds from the day, and the AMOB lawn was dotted with different ways to part with one's cash. Here we had a pluck-a-duck pond, a Chinese raffle, a cornhole tournament, and the the sparkling crown jewel of the whole event: a red Budweiser wagon crammed full of liquor bottles. Some lucky biker was going home with enough booze to stock a bar for a year -- or at least the duration of one epic party.
While I shook hands with Gulf Coast Chapter Director Rita McClain, I was slightly self-conscious about rolling up on four wheels instead of two. Rita's the proud owner of not one, but two Harleys. With her teased-up coppery hair, bronze eyeshadow and off-the-shoulder top spangled with the Angels' logo in rhinestones, Rita looked every inch the badass biker diva. But she gave me such a warm welcome that I felt I'd already sprouted a pair of Diva Angel wings.
I found a camping spot up on the deck next to a couple of rather fearsome, roughhousing Angels from the Pasco Chapter. They lovingly pulled hair, smacked asses and set fire to each other's blue jeans, while the one guy at their table watched with detached amusement. Girls just want to have fun.
Music doth tame the wild beasts, I suppose, and Pasco settled down as Scott Curts struck up an island-tinged version of "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone." By this time, the corn-holers were warming up for the tournament, with blue and red beanbags sailing through the air. Little kiddies clambered in and out of the fire truck parked close to the coveted booze wagon.
After I'd loaded up the raffles with my tickets, there wasn't much more to do than sit down with a frozen margarita and soak up the music and sunshine. There had been talk of some of the guide dogs coming to crash the party, but as the sun crept westward there was no sign of wagging tails.
"They must have gotten lost," a guy biker snickered, then narrowly dodged a diva-sized swat on the head. The guide dogs may have missed their own party, but judging from the yards of red raffle tickets draped around necks and spilling from pockets, they have some mighty generous angels watching over them this year.