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Colorful stories before Gasparilla

Most will grab a few brews and strands of beads during Saturday's big Gasparilla parade. But there are those who take this mock voyage quite seriously. Businesses, for instance, will stock up in ungodly amounts. And take the guy with the Gasparilla tattoo or the artists creating custom pieces for upward of a hundred bucks. Or the woman who stays holed up in her house all day with a paintbrush. We found a few examples of such fringe experiences and behavior surrounding the Tampa Bay area's biggest parade of the year.

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For whatever ails you

Ferdinand Richards III has been an emergency room doctor at Tampa General Hospital for 26 years. It's a great spot to watch the festivities — that is, when he's not treating an array of unusual injuries. He has worked on wounds from barnacles after people fell from boats, injuries from projectile beads (especially hazardous to eyes), horse bites and even monkey bites in past years. In earlier parades, he said, pirates toted sawed-off shotguns and revolvers that blasted paper wads that sometimes hit people, causing injuries and burns.

Elisabeth Parker, Times Staff Writer

Avert yer eyes, matey

Kathy Durdin has hightailed it to art festivals and alumni meetings in Sarasota and Miami when Gasparilla rolls around. But often, she just battens down the hatches when scores of drunken pirates storm her neighborhood.

"You either stay or you go," said Durdin, who has lived one block from Bayshore Boulevard for two decades. "When I am there, I'm pretty much buttoned up there in my house. The last thing you want to do is make eye contact with anyone outside, because they'll start bugging you."

Make eye contact, and they'll ask for beer or the bathroom.

So the avid painter disappears into her home and works on a painting until the parade is over. One year, she peeked out and saw a pirate passed out on her property. She painted a portrait of him and sold it to a neighbor. It's a symbol of what they endure.

Justin George, Times Staff Writer

Buckle up, Katie

Traveling more than 450 miles from Atlanta, Katie Anderson will experience her first Gasparilla this year. It all came about, however, in a sort of weird way. Anderson, 23, was coming to town on business and doing some online research of the area when she came across a curious-sounding festival.

"I've never been to a pirate fest before," she said. "The pictures look hilarious."

So Anderson actually made accommodations to stay an extra day to witness the debauchery firsthand.

Asked about her decision by phone, Anderson asked: "What is Gasparilla?"

Shelley Rossetter, Times Staff Writer

A sea of Guinness

For Gasparilla, the Irish pub Four Green Fields stocks up on 80 kegs of beer, 60 of which are Guinness. That's nearly 10,000 pints. So no wonder they had enough to satisfy the seven Irish businessmen who wandered in off the parade route two years ago and accrued a $2,000-plus tab. "They were having a ball," said Randy Burns, manager of the bar just west of the Platt Street Bridge. "They were buying drinks for anyone that would wink at them."

Jack Nicas, Times Staff Writer

Cakes ahoy

Let Them Eat Cake in Tampa has created massive edible pirate ships for party hosts hoping to impress. Last year's chocolate ship weighed 70 pounds and cost $600. Made with alternating layers of white and chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse between them, the cake fed 100 people and took 20 hours to create. As of this week, no such orders had been placed for this year's fest, but baker Michael Baugh said there was still time.

Shelley Rossetter, Times Staff Writer

Trinkets for picky pirates

Plastic beads for Gasparilla fashionistas? You must have been guzzling the grog. Well-dressed wenches and scalawags wear top-dollar jewelry, hats and belt buckles made for the occasion. A few such pieces were available recently at an artisan showing of creative Gasparilla paraphernalia. There was a five-skull gold necklace by Meredith Haws for $125; a $125 cowboy hat by Michelle Monsein adorned with krewe insignias, vintage jewelry and antique buttons; and Gasparilla belts from artist Valorie Lopez Bauer priced from $98 to $116. For home decor, Heather Kendall creates Gasparilla wreaths with coins, corks, feathers, beads and her signature seashells costing $60 and up.

Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer

Where the beads are

In January alone, the Bead Barn unloads more than 65 pallets of beads — some holding 54,000 strands. Krewes, of course, are big consumers. "They fly out the door," general manager J.B. Mason said. "We have a system here kind of like a McDonald's drive-through: They order it up off the wall, we shoot the order to the back, they drive around, and we load their vehicles up." Individuals can also buy, although some might make you think twice about throwing them to a stranger: light-up strands cost $12; giant-beaded strands, $24.

Jack Nicas, Times Staff Writer

Colorful stories before Gasparilla 01/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 3:31am]
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