BRADENTON BEACH -- Every 30 minutes starting at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Rebecca Shannon, manager of the Beach House Restaurant, joined Chef Will Manson in front of the weather radar on the chef’s desktop computer.
“Uhhh, I don’t like those yellows and reds,” Shannon said as she looked at storm cells.
“Even if it does come, it should be over quick,” said Manson calmly.
There were 300 happy, festive fireworks seekers dining next door.
Manson had purchased 140 pounds of pulled pork, 100 pounds of grouper and three bushels of corn on the cob in preparation for the 18th annual Beach House Extravaganza, always held the night before the Fourth of July.
As it turned out, the feared rainstorm came in at about 8:45 p.m. and the fireworks only had to be delayed a short time.
Blasted off annually by fireworks master Harry Blenker from a Beach House barge located a few hundred feet off shore, this year’s fireworks by Creative Pyrotechnics lit the sky to the delight of an estimated 25,000, one of the largest in the last few years, estimated Tom Ferrera and Tom McGill, policemen with the Bradenton Beach Police Department.
“I think people are staying home this year and having stay-cations,” Ferrera said.
“This is the largest Fourth weekend I can remember in a while,” McGill said.
The skies were as blue as a Lady Gaga party dress all day long until a line of thunderstorms moving east to west began to show up on the weather radar about 7 p.m.
By 8:25 p.m., the line was in downtown Bradenton and managers at the restaurant were running back and forth to the radar, finally deciding to move diners inside.
“I hope it doesn’t slow down,” said Dave Gallagher, hovering over the weather radar. “We want that storm line to just rush right past us.
“Sometimes, the wind coming off the Gulf breaks it up before it reaches us, but not these,” Gallagher added.
Before the rains arrived, Dayna Guilfoyle of Palma Sola grabbed a choice spot on the beach, right in front of the Beach House, just a few feet from the surf.
She arrived at 4:30 p.m. to beat the traffic and watched her grandchildren, Jayden, 6, and Hunter, 8, playing in the water.
“Where we live here in Manatee County is the most beautiful place I have ever lived,” said Guilfoyle, who grew up in California. “In California you can’t get this close to the beach. It’s so congested. We are very lucky.”
Guilfoyle had plenty to think about aside from the day’s festivities.
Her son, Bryan Cools, 30, is heading to Afghanistan after two tours in Iraq.
“It scares me but I’m proud of him,” Guilfoyle said. “You worry about your children all the time but when they are someplace where someone is trying to kill them, it’s not good.
“I’ve always loved my country,” Guilfoyle added. “My father and father-in-law were both in World War II.”
Upstairs in the restaurant, American flags were mounted all around the restaurant and patriotic hats and balloons were everywhere. Diners got to sample the Beach House’s famous July 3rd cake, featuring raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries, making up an American flag.
Alexis Speckman, 14, a sophomore-to-be at Braden River High, was having dinner at the restaurant where she dreams of being a hostess when she gets old enough.
“I’ve come to the Extravaganza at the Beach House for about the last six years and it’s the best time because you feel all this happiness from the people here and the customers,” said Alexis, who hopes one day to attend the University of Michigan.
“It’s the biggest party on the island,” Shannon said.