Saturday will mark the first year in decades that Dick Greco, four-time Tampa mayor and city icon, will not be a presence in the Gasparilla parade and festivities.
You will not see him glad-handing his fellow pirate powerful. He will not pose for pictures along the parade route with all those strangers who are just friends he has not yet met. He will not tip back a traditional brandy-laced milk punch over at the yacht club, and he won't toss beads to the sauciest of wenches along Bayshore Boulevard.
Who knows how many biceps will go unsqueezed, how many backs unslapped, how many men, women and children unhugged, without the serially social ex-mayor?
Greco, who only once before in his 82 years has been hospitalized (for a back procedure), who can boast a mere two cavities in a lifetime, will watch the parade on TV from a bed at Florida Hospital Tampa.
And this should be a lesson to us all.
"I tell you, I will pay attention from now on," Greco told me from that hospital bed Thursday, hours after his fourth surgery. "After really giving it some thought, it was a dumb thing to do."
The pain from what would turn out to be a hernia started maybe a year ago, not so bad at first, then last week so intense he ended up at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg in the night.
Why, St. Petersburg is an intriguing bit of history in our sister-city rivalry.
Last year, Greco shocked his hometown when he and wife Dr. Linda McClintock Greco moved from their Bayshore Boulevard high-rise across the water to bustling, artsy St. Petersburg. Though this is still considered an act of treason in some corners, Greco insists a bridge is just a bridge. He was simply embracing an easier town for walking to restaurants, ice cream, galleries and such. One night, he was stopped a half-dozen times in a single block for people to take pictures of Mia and Bella, the two red poodles he was walking in a stroller.
He had the first surgery at Bayfront and later transferred to Florida Hospital Tampa because of connections there. More procedures followed because of complications. On Thursday, his surgeon stood by his bedside to tell him he was looking "much, much better." Being Greco, he was holding her hand at the time. Being Greco, he would hold hands with the two nurses, too, include one named Justin.
Greco said he let his condition go because there was so much else going on, so many other things to worry about. "I just wanted to pretend it would go away," he says. "I don't want people to make the same mistake."
He tells me this wearing a hospital gown that somehow manages to look jaunty. Even here he holds court, admiring his surgeon's cowboy boots, joking about whether those red poodles can visit as therapy dogs — and lamenting his loss of Gasparilla.
Even though they have kept his hospitalization on the down low, the phone keeps ringing and lush bouquets line the window ledge. One of them is addressed to "Suwannee Doe" — mysteriously, the pseudonym the hospital gave to preserve his privacy. It does not quite fit the man in the bed.
"I'd have given him a cooler name," offers his son, Hillsborough Judge Dick Greco Jr., from his bedside. "Like Rico Suave."