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Glimpses of Gasparilla: Weather-thinned crowd shows plenty of spirit

TAMPA — If you saw the gray skies and stayed home Saturday, all dry and sober and bead-free, some might have called you smart. Then again, 150,000 or so of your neighbors who braved the wind and the rain might just say you missed out on the best Gasparilla ever.

Here's what you missed:

South Tampa residents sipping beers at 10 a.m. strolled down to the Sweetbay Supermarket on Howard Avenue, where they bought more beer, mixes and red Solo cups.

In the store parking lot, several dozen people gathered around a large pirate ship — the Get Wrecked II — that doubled as a cooler. Bobby Charret, the 31-year-old shipbuilder, declared the day's mission:

"We're going to have a little bit of fun today," he said.

• • •

There wasn't as much shock this year, but there was definitely some awe. So said the area's best-known military leader.

"Awesome," Gen. David Petraeus said of his first Gasparilla parade.

Petraeus, who runs the U.S. Central Command from MacDill Air Force Base, and his wife, Holly, watched from the comfort of a big tent on Bayshore Boulevard. They were guests of surgeon Scott Kelley and his wife, Jill.

"You have to see it to believe it, even in the rain," said Petraeus, who spent the afternoon chatting candidly with two dozen guests, including state attorney general candidate Pam Bondi and Bern's Steak House owner David Laxer.

Security at Kelley's house was no joke, one paradegoer discovered, running after one zap of electricity from a guard's Taser.

• • •

Bayshore Boulevard home­owner George Howard felt wronged by Gasparilla organizers' attempts to do right.

Waking to find 20 portable toilets lined up across his front curb and knowing 100 guests were coming, he called EventFest's Darrell Stefany at 6 a.m.

"I offered to help move them, to split them up on either side of the property," Howard said. It didn't work. The toilets were directly in the sight line. He said Stefany told him the location had been discussed at public meetings, where he had gotten approval.

"Not from me," Howard said. "I'll take my fair share. But no one else has 20 in their yard."

• • •

While the King High School Band marched by playing Thriller, Jessi Bates, 21, stood on a barricade clutching a can of beer. This year was much more fun in spite of the rain.

"I was 20 last year, and I behaved," she said.

Her friend, Ami Hewlett, 23, has been coming to Gasparilla since she was a little girl. She said she was amazed to see it continue in the rain.

"It shows the spirit of Tampa," she said. "Nothing compares."

• • •

Despite the hundreds of arrests, not everyone got in trouble. One member of the Gaucho Association of Tampa krewe was seen with a drink a block off Bayshore Boulevard. The Gauchos, five men dressed in black and red pirate suits, were told to leave the alcohol at home, said David Smith, the krewe's vice president.

"Someone forgot," Smith said.

Just as an officer was writing krewe member Chad Frowick a ticket for the open container, another told her not to bother. The pirates went on their way, heading toward the parade route with glum faces but no citation.

• • •

Along downtown's N Ashley Drive, crowds packed the sidewalks. And for those who caught the end of the parade, there were little bonuses: $3 beers at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and almost no lines at the portable toilets.

Mark Mendez, 30, of Tampa, was diverted to downtown with friends after participating in the flotilla but didn't mind seeing the parade from a new angle. There aren't that many people down here, so it's sort of perfect," he said.

The weather thinned the downtown crowd more than anything, he said. The Gasparilla downtown scene will be huge next year if the weather improves, Mendez predicted. And that, he said, is just what the area needs. "They need something like this or a draw of some kind … to bring some life down here."

Collective Soul provided the Gasparilla nightcap, taking the stage Saturday night before a crowd of several thousand people.

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas contributed to this report.

Glimpses of Gasparilla: Weather-thinned crowd shows plenty of spirit 01/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 3:27pm]
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