TAMPA — The 2014 Children's Gasparilla Parade stretched 1.4 miles along Bayshore Boulevard, but the spot providing the best chance for children to snag the day's symbolically valuable plastic beads was actually off the parade route.
It was just north of where red flags marked the parade's end at Orleans Avenue.
Away from the masses, away from the air thick with the smell of funnel cakes and corn dogs, away from vendors rolling carts of toys.
This was where a kid could really get some beads. This was where Kelvin Carwell, 30, of Tampa, brought his five children Saturday afternoon, for one simple reason.
"You've got to stay away from the crowds," Carwell. "Here, you've got a higher-percentage chance of getting some beads."
The only obstacle — a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence, erected by parade organizers in an apparent attempt to discourage bead collecting past the parade route.
A 6-foot fence is no match for bead-hungry children, though. The kids, and at least one diminutive mother, climbed the wall, their legs dangling, their arms outstretched, as they clamored for beads.
Carwell, who is 6 feet 4, hoisted his 3-year-old daughter Kamari on top of his shoulders.
The Carwell clan was among thousands at Saturday's parade, the less raucous, less boozy version of next weekend's celebration of a pirate invasion of Tampa.
Hillsborough Bay shimmered in the background as pirate floats made by 103 community organizations rolled up Bayshore, with float riders tossing beads through chilly air.
Just after 4:30 p.m., two Tampa police officers discovered the small crowd gathered past the parade route. The officers shouted, politely, for people to get down from the fence.
A voice came over a loudspeaker, urging float riders to stop throwing beads there.
As the Carwells milled around and decided where they would go next, a wad of beads came flying through the air. Someone on a float sponsored by a local radiologist had enthusiastically ignored the voice on the loudspeaker's request, and Kelvin Carwell saw his chance.
He shuffled to his right, stretched his arms out and hauled the beads in.
His 5-year-old daughter Juliana took two necklaces — one red, one blue — and added them to the pile draped over her Dora the Explorer jacket. She smiled and jumped a few times in excitement.
When asked why she liked the beads so much, Juliana answered without hesitation.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]