NEW PORT RICHEY — The Budweiser pirate boat spewed them out, hurled by dudes chomping cigars, some lobbed underhand, but many overhand, like a shortstop throwing home. The strings of cheap, shiny beads shot off the boat like cannonballs, and the onlookers scrambled for them as though they were gold. A royal blue one took a line drive at a senior citizen in a lawn chair. At the last second, her left hand shot up, like the coma patients in Awakenings, and snagged it. Then Gail Engelschjon, 63, calmly put it around her neck.
"That was a good catch though, wasn't it?" she said, giggling. "And left-handed!"
Beads — and other trinkets and candy thrown during parades — have become somewhat controversial in the past year, after a boy in Plant City died while reaching for candy. Jordan Hays, 9, walked the Christmas parade, and his foot was caught by a float's wheels and he was dragged underneath. The city has now banned throwing beads and candy during parades.
New Port Richey officials are considering similar bans. So this year's parade at the Chasco Fiesta, which runs through April 6, might have been the last time onlookers caught beads. The trend is thought to have started with Mardi Gras in New Orleans, though beads are no longer glass, but plastic.
"I think throwing beads is okay," Engelschjon said. "But I don't think they should throw candy. That could hit someone's eye."
Nearby, John Gates, a 21-year-old in a white tank top with a tattoo saying "40 oz." on his right bicep, had strings of beads around his neck. He said if the city bans beads, he won't come back to Chasco.
"It wouldn't be as fun," he said.
Tiffiny Gerhardt, a parent of two girls, said "beads are 100 percent better than giving kids candy."
Gerhardt lives in Chicago, but she and her children come to New Port Richey every spring break to visit her parents. She said that beads are not the problem. It's a parent's duty to watch their children.
Back in her chair, Engelschjon tried to explain the allure of beads. She doesn't think it's the jewelry itself. "I think it's just the excitement of reaching out and grabbing that prize," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.