WEST TAMPA — It's a tepid Saturday afternoon in the dusty shadow of Raymond James Stadium.
The place is a mass of gravelly roads and anesthetized pedestrians. This being the day of a Kenny Chesney concert, they're in boots and cowboy hats, nearly all of them.
In the air is a cacophony of sounds, from the whirring of an advertising tow plane to the full blast of stadium speakers.
And everywhere, car parkers.
They're a diverse community, stuffing bills in their pockets and aprons as they ignore the one, two, sometimes three beer bottles in the hands of customers. Some own the driveways — or so they say, typically declining to give their names. Some work for big property owners, some inherited the lots from their parents.
Parking cars is a side job for Laura Lana, a 34-year-old waiter for the rest of the week, now running a lot in front of a duplex on Tampa Bay Boulevard. She gets a percentage of the $150 or so that she will take in this afternoon.
Will she lose out if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are sidelined by a player strike or NFL lockout this fall?
"Yes, I will," she says before beckoning another car.
This patch of West Tampa has dozens of makeshift lots, ranging in price from $10 to $25 for the afternoon. The same lot charges $15 or $20, depending on how busy it is and how late in the day. It's all very fluid.
Albert Pacheco, 56, might make $25 in a day or, when the Bucs get into playoffs, several hundred. Customers try to barter with him. They'll offer him a meal, a cold beer. Would you believe … a favor with his wife?
"It's a carnival here," he says.
About those car parkers who won't give their names: Some say they fear the city will ban their business.
Perhaps they also worry about the fallout from employing their children, or all that partying. The three shirtless men standing on the roof of an RV. The guy who's "running for mayor." The one who announces —not once, not twice, but seven times — that his friend's driveway is available for private parties.
Mary Diaz is a veteran.
The owner of properties on Heiter Street and Webb Avenue, she has been here longer than the Bucs.
She remembers when $2 a car was a lot to charge.
Now 72, she uses car parking to supplement her Social Security earnings.
"I count on this money to help me," she says. "Everybody around here does that."
Her take on the impasse between the National Football League and the players' union?
"It's greed," she says. "The players aren't going to lose. It's the people in the stadium and throughout this area."
Juan Santallana, owner of the Amarillys Sandwich shop on W Tampa Boulevard, doesn't know how his business will survive without the revenue from Bucs parking.
He bought the place eight months ago, he said. Stadium parking, which nets hundreds a day, was part of the equation.
"USF games are fine," he says. "But the students don't pay that much money."
For Pacheco, a former security guard now unemployed and trying to go on disability, loss of the Bucs games would be a financial disaster.
"To me, the NFL owners are being selfish. Unreasonable," he says. "They are really letting the whole country down. I want to write a letter to the president and see if he will do something."
Other car parkers are taking the strike talk in stride. A lot can happen before September.
Brian Menendez, who runs a lot on W Ohio Street owned by his parents, has a job servicing air conditioners the rest of the week.
Standing around with two buddies, including the one who keeps talking about the private parties, Menendez looks on the bright side: "I have a job."
Staff writer Bryan Thomas contributed to this story. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or email@example.com.