TAMPA — The experts insist it's all about making eye contact with the person tossing the beads. But screaming can be effective, too.
Elisabeth Linsinbigler, 12, of Dover was in the screaming camp at Saturday's Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade through Ybor City. Her neck held a bounty of beads.
As the Ye Mystic Krewe of Neptune float thundered by, Elisabeth raised her arms and unleashed a yell that, absent a loud parade, would generate a dozen calls to 911.
"And I smile a lot," the girl said.
Her sister Alexis, 14, knew Elisabeth's real secret. "She just looks cute," said Alexis.
Thousands of people enjoying perfect weather lined Seventh Avenue to watch a parade of loud, rollicking floats that has become a Tampa tradition. It's an ancient festival by Florida standards, tracing its roots to the 1970s. It borrows from Mardi Gras. But the finished blend is Tampa original.
Pirates danced in the street. The parrot on one reveler's shoulder was stuffed. But amid the competing aromas of cigars and beer, who noticed or cared?
And it's all about getting those cheap beads.
St. Petersburg attorney Chris Sierra bought $500 worth of beads and manned the Krewe of Sant'Yago float. In his costume he looked a bit like Henry VIII.
Sierra said it's eye contact that wins the beads. He also said it's important to throw them in a high arc. After all, nobody enjoys plastic beads flung into the face.
"You've got to be careful," he said, swinging his arm to demonstrate his technique.
Dan Buntyn of Tampa walked down the street with his daughter Emily beside him. He said she's now a veteran of two night parades. She's almost 2.
Her monkey hat might have helped attract some beads, but even if she hadn't managed to grab any among the jostling adults, her father promised to catch a few for her.
"She's not going home empty handed," he said.
Jose Monsegor, 23, of Tampa was hanging out with a few friends, their necks covered with beads. They neither screamed nor made eye contact. They were scavengers, feasting on the beads that slipped through fingers and fell to the pavement.
But his real purpose was soon clear. Whenever a pretty woman caught his eye, he would present her with a gift of beads. One woman frowned, but accepted the gift before sprinting away. One smiled flirtatiously at him.
"That's the way to do it," he said. "That's what it's about."
Louanna Tallent of Tampa screamed herself hoarse. But she noted that doesn't always work.
"In this parade," she said, "it helps to show some cleavage."
None of this is rocket science, of course. Just ask the geneticist hanging out with the Unsinkable Krewe of Molly Brown. The krewe's float is a sinking Titanic. The geneticist is Bob Gasparini. He's taught at Harvard.
It was his first night parade. A buddy instructed him in the finer points of bead tossing. The friend walked beside the float. But as a novice, Gasparini said he would stay well clear of the bead-thirsty crowd.
"I think," he said, "I'll just stay on the deck of the Titanic."
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com.