I was out on Bayshore Boulevard last week plodding 5 miles before dawn when I saw signs of the season.
ICE COLD LEMONADE
And miles of gleaming bleachers and chain-link fences cordoning off freshly planted violets and marring the view.
We know it's Gasparilla season. But visitors to Super Bowl XLIII must have wondered, just what is going on.
In December, our City Council voted to designate the 4.3-mile stretch a scenic corridor and regional attractor.
It's supposed to draw out-of-town visitors.
Yet, our stately historic mansions are blighted with bright blue Port-o-lets.
Signs offer cotton candy and corn dogs. Yum.
We brag it's the world's longest continuous sidewalk with the world's only fully-rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, docked on its shore.
But our sidewalks are crowded with potties, and our fabulous Tampa Bay view is cluttered.
What the outsiders don't know:
Super Bowl has conflicted with our annual parades, so organizers decided to push back the Gasparilla Pirate Fest by a week, leaving the setup from the children's version in place an extra week, said Darrell Stefany, president of EventMakers, which organizes the parades.
I asked him what he thinks our visitors would think when they see his parade leftovers.
"Hopefully they'll also see the pirate ship out in the bay," he said. "Hopefully, next year they'll come back to Tampa to see the pirates."
The ship cuts an impressive silhouette (between bleachers) out at bay with its flags catching the wind.
The Jose Gasparilla was named for Jose Gaspar, a gentleman lieutenant of the Royal Spanish Navy who turned pirate — or so goes the myth. He was known as the last of the buccaneers, inspiring the name of our hometown NFL team.
The pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla will board this ship Saturday, set sail for downtown, demand the keys to the city from the mayor amid a volley of cannon fire and a parade up Bayshore, tossing their spoils of tacky beads that have rained down on Tampa for years.
By next week, the sidewalks will once again belong to the people who jog, bike and run. The people like me.
Signs of Gasparilla will be gone.
Or will they?
Phillip Barone and his fishing buddy James Betterly were under the Platt Street Bridge, at the mouth of the Hillsborough River, a couple of years back when their boat anchor got seriously stuck. It took the power of the boat's engine and both men pulling with all their might to muscle it free, Barone, 30, told me.
"The anchor," he said, "was covered with pounds and pounds of Gasparilla beads."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or 813 226-3431.