It's going to be a wild ride in St. Pete on Saturday, full of bikes and beards and beers.
In one corner, we have the second annual Tweed Ride, a throwback extravaganza organized by the city's Shuffleboard Club, inviting bicyclists to dress in their turn-of-the-century best for a two-wheeled ride through the city before a bash at the courts. In the other, the second annual Freaks and Beards carnival at The Bends, complete with a burlesque show, a nude mentalist, mermaids and the popular beard competition.
The problem is, the ride starts at 4 p.m., and the carnival kicks off at 6. What's a two-wheeled man about town to do?
Why, go to both, of course.
That's what 30-year-old St. Pete resident Bato Ijacic inadvertently did last year, entering the beard contest at the first Freaks and Beards at Durty Nelly's, and joining in the Tweed Ride after it rolled past while he was hanging out at Crowley's on Central Avenue. Then again, last year the two events were on different nights. That just meant that this year he had to plan ahead.
"We hit up the Goodwill on Gandy and got a few things," he said of finding the vintage garb Tweed Ride participants are encouraged to wear. "They kind of ran out of things, so we went out to the one on 66th Street. ... People there saw what we were buying and asked, 'Are you going on the Tweed Ride?' "
It's an event that Shuffleboard Club president Christine Page hopes is going to grow considerably this year. Based on a 2009 event in London that has since enjoyed a measure of global success, the ride shows plenty of potential for growth.
"Last year we had about 90 people, so this year we've got 140 or 150 yeses on Facebook," she said. The club has already combined its ride with the 'Brug Pub Riders, who are using the Tweed Ride as their monthly themed event. Joining the ride is free, and $10 to go the party afterward, which will feature live music by 6 Volt Rodeo, a cash bar and awards for the best-dressed bikers, the fanciest moustache and the "Tweediest Bike."
Ijacic wouldn't mind scoring one of those awards, but his real aim is to better his third place finish last year in Freestyle Beard at the carnival, which he plans to attend after leaving the shuffleboard courts. Freaks and Beards has grown from its inaugural year, with organizers Casey Paquet and Ben Harris expanding the categories in the popular beard contest and adding more games and entertainment.
"We really wanted to expand the offerings this year," Paquet said. "Last year we wanted to do a circus carnival, but our space was so limited. Now we're blocking off the road and really going for it."
Unfortunately for Ijacic, he can't really go for it when growing his beard for the contest. He drives a bus for the YMCA full time — he owned a car for only a few months last year before selling it, preferring to ride one of his three bikes everywhere else — and had to make a difficult choice last week.
"I just got a haircut," he lamented. "A woman was kind of looking at me when I came in, wondering 'Who is that vagrant coming in here?'" My boss said, 'Hey man, you're gonna need to trim that down.' "
That may put him at a disadvantage against some Freaks and Beards contestants, who compete professionally in categories like Full Beard Over 12", Chops and Freestyle. Ijacic even crowed about the set of huge mutton chops he used to sport.
But he's not worried about how he's going to place Saturday: "I'm going for a basic, clean-shaven beard. I'll do up the moustache a bit. Put in a little wax with a twist," he said. "I can grow a beard pretty well. It's not like a skill, at least not compared with some of those guys, but it's going to be fun."