Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Gasparilla insanity: As Tampa as Tampa gets

Today is Tampa at its merriest and most mad, at its lightest of heart and richest of history, its quirkiest, truest self. Today is Gasparilla.

And what says Tampa better than ships on the bay and rich guys in pirate pantaloons taking over the city? Better than cheering masses under impossibly blue skies? Better than cheap beads and cold beer?

Even veterans of the parade and ensuing partying that have been part of Gasparilla tradition for more than a century — I've done a dozen or so myself — have a hard time explaining its history to newbies:

See, these prominent white guys got all dressed up for this big to-do, and the city pretty much shut down for it, and … no, no, the Republican National Convention came way later.

Last year Town & Country magazine assessed Gasparilla as "perhaps the most eccentric — and politically incorrect — civic festival in the country." We're working on it, okay?

Explaining Gasparilla is like describing scachatta, that cold platter of pizza-like bread cut in squares and served at many a Gasparilla party. (Alessi Bakery alone anticipates selling 300 giant sheets of scachatta for today, plus about 1,000 Cuban sandwiches, another proud tradition.) Scachatta is said to be born of Tampa's Sicilian roots, and I've never seen it exactly the same in another town.

And how do you explain to outsiders that those jaunty, life-sized skeletons sitting cross-legged atop Hyde Park bungalows or leering from the balconies of Bayshore mansions aren't just tacky Halloween decorations we never took down?

Don't ask. Enjoy.

Like Tampa itself — which once featured a squat Curtis Hixon convention center, a river hidden from anyone who might want to look at it, and, as its most memorable downtown architecture, a building best described as either a stogie or a beer can — Gasparilla has grown. Gotten better, even.

The history: Ye Mystic Krewe, the first, most prominent and important bunch, was steadfastly all white and all male, a bugaboo that got the whole thing canceled once. In true if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em spirit, some 50 krewes of all flavor now partake.

In other improvements, police started cracking down on public peeing and other distasteful behavior that had become the scourge of surrounding neighborhoods, and also Tampa tradition.

Speaking of progress, the city itself keeps surprising us.

Downtown is no ghost town, the river no longer invisible. We're about to get an urban bike rental program like the kind Manhattan has embraced. A seriously hip hotel — with a rooftop bar, even — just opened across from storied Bern's Steak House. Tampa? Really?

Now, two things about Gasparilla do not change: imbibing and beads. The first is self-explanatory, the second harder to get unless you find yourself in the throes of it. Normal folk with lives and jobs and dignity scream, dance and dive nonetheless, some even flashing body parts, lore has it, to get strings of cheap plastic beads thrown their way. Did I mention there's beer? Tradition!

So today we gather along the winding ribbon of Bayshore Boulevard to party and play, to see our ship and our parade of pirates (and also politicians. For identification purposes, pirates are the ones with the eye patches.)

Today, we are lighthearted, historic, evolving. Tampa, really.

Comments
Winter Olympics: Alina Zagitova wins figure skating gold, Russia’s first of Games

Winter Olympics: Alina Zagitova wins figure skating gold, Russia’s first of Games

GANGNEUNG, South Korea  — The Russians finally have a gold medal at the  Olympics, thanks to a 15-year-old who beat the fellow teen who inspired her to become a figure skater.Alina Zagitova won one of the Games' spotlight events Frida...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 22

Thursday’s scoreboardSoftballBoca Ciega 4, Pinellas Park 2Admiral Farragut 7, Northside Christian 1Boys tennisOsceola 7, Dixie Hollins 0Clearwater Central Cath. 4, Jesuit 3Girls tennisOsceola 7, Dixie Hollins 0Boys basketballClass 3A, region semifina...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Eight days after mass shooter Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward’s top cop on Thursday revealed a stunning series of failures by the sheriff’s department.A school campus cop heard the gunfire, rushed ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A case for wild flamingos calling Florida their home

A case for wild flamingos calling Florida their home

In 2015, Conchy the flamingo showed up at Florida’s Naval Air Station Key West, and he wouldn’t leave. Normally, managers on the grounds lethally remove feathered troublemakers — it can be very dangerous with birds flying around million-dollar fighte...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Updated: 6 hours ago
Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Associated PressSTARKE — An inmate convicted of raping and killing a college student decades ago screamed and yelled "murderers!" three times, thrashing on a gurney as he was being put to death Thursday. The governor’s office said Eric Scott Branch, ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor and the police chief came to Northeast High on Thursday to warn students about the dangers of circulating rumors of school safety threats on social media.While they were there, one of those unfounded rumors popped up on Fac...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Haley Loeun, a top aide to the embattled leader of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards, was fired Thursday from her $130,000-a-year position as business services director.Loeun came under criticism after the Tampa Bay Times reported that employ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
V.M. Ybor: That’s not cigar smoke you’re smelling

V.M. Ybor: That’s not cigar smoke you’re smelling

TAMPA — Across Interstate 4 from Ybor City’s nightlife, another part of the historic neighborhood has an odor less nostalgic — and much less pleasant — than cigar smoke and roasting coffee beans.V.M. Ybor, named after the Spaniard who founded the cit...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Donald Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the president’s call last summer for a ban on all transgender service, acc...
Updated: 9 hours ago