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Give us back Guavaween at its best

I miss Guavaween.

Not the scary, thuggy, hypercrowded version some people thought Tampa's Halloween street party had become years back, when pretty much everyone seemed to be dressed as Freddy Krueger or a French maid. (Yawn.) And not the milder, "family-friendly" fest it morphed into, either.

I mean Guavaween at its best.

When I came to Tampa 20-something years ago, the Ybor City party was pure fun — raucous, irreverent, a little bawdy, very Tampa. I know it's a perennial costume now, but Guavaween was the first time I saw a man dressed as a pregnant nun, $2 beer in hand, dancing with a couple costumed as a pair of fuzzy dice.

Like the city around it, like cities everywhere, Guavaween grew and changed and maybe got confused about its roots. It got fenced. Merchants loved or hated it. Crowds swelled and crime was a worry, with more than 100 arrests and nearly 40 rescue calls one year. A guy got robbed at gunpoint of his cash and Freddy Krueger costume by a man dressed as a mugger.

Police said enough and got those numbers way down. Still, people said it had gotten too raunchy. And worried Guavaween had lost its original soul.

Because at its best, Guavaween was a grand dame of a city councilwoman who became, for that one October Saturday night, Imelda Marcos wielding a whip over a platoon of servants carrying her shoes. Citizens in overalls drinking beer in dinghies were the Lutz Yacht Club. A human can of Raid stopped to spray a herd of ants that died on the street in a dance familiar to every Floridian. A frenzy of people careening about wildly in cardboard cars and crashing into each other called themselves "the Dale Mabry-Waters Avenue intersection."

It could be weird. A man covered in chicken bones and used toilet paper rolls came as white trash. A walking, talking black bean paused now and again to emit a cloud of gas. (Hey, I didn't say it was refined.) There was a reason they called the parade a "stumble," named for a woman called Mama Guava, who might be accompanied by strapping men dressed as polar bears, or by drag queens.

Like all good costume parties, Guavaween could tell you what was going on at the moment: a blue-dressed Monica clinging to Bill's arm, Dick Cheney and his shotgun.

The year organizers decided to get rid of motorized floats to give the parade a different feel, some people came dressed as … floats. There was some sass in that.

Guavaween got expensive to run. Once the Halloween event in Central Florida, it competed with slick happenings at Busch Gardens and Universal Studios.

Organizers tried no fence. No admission. No parade. A music festival.

Now, after running it for years, the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce has decided to take bids from companies interested in taking over the valuable Guavaween "brand," as chamber chairman David Alvarez called it.

Already, he told me this week, they've had interest from several groups. Sounds like good news to me, the possibility of a new incarnation.

I'm hoping for a retro-Guavaween back to its arty Ybor roots, the slightly wild feel of a fall night, cold beer, Cuban sandwich and a merry crowd, and somebody interesting showing up to dance with the fuzzy dice.

Give us back Guavaween at its best 04/18/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2014 9:24pm]
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