Jim Carson loves to watch as motorists crawl past his North Tampa home. From a video monitor inside, he can see their reactions as they take in the 55,000 holiday lights around his yard, all pulsing to the beat of music on their radios.
"A lot of people have seen this stuff on YouTube and other programs, but they've never seen it in person," he says. "So when they come here it's like a 'wow' factor to them. They clap. They cheer. They blow their horns. They do all kinds of crazy things.''
This is the sixth year Carson has been lighting up the night for the holidays. Over the past month, he has strung a quarter-mile of extension cords together, plugging 16 cords each into four specially installed electrical boxes to supply the power. A green cord running to a computer inside keeps the lights and music coordinated. Upbeat versions of Amazing Grace, Jingle Bells, Christmas Vacation and a dozen other songs flow from the computer to an FM transmitter, tuned to 88.3 and wired to an antenna outside. Motorists can hear it a few blocks away from the house.
Carson, 58, a fleet repair sales representative for Park Lincoln of Tampa, says he would spend a couple of hours a day after work, plus long weekend days, setting up the light show. He has always decorated for Christmas, but he stepped up the dazzle when the economy started tanking.
"I said somebody has to do something to help people lift their spirits. I can't give gifts to everybody, but what I could do is actually give (this) to everyone.''
Giant inflatable Santas, snowmen and a nutcracker stand amid illuminated Christmas presents, blinking snowflakes and lights in red, yellow, blue, green and white.
In a way, it's a green Christmas. Carson switched from standard holiday lights to LED lights a couple of years ago and spends only about $40 extra on the monthly power bill, he says. With standard lights, it was $150 to $200 extra.
Traffic has been heavy on weekends and light during weeknights, Carson says, but he expects a steady procession during Christmas week, when many people are off work.
"It's very cool,'' says Abby Cronin, stopping by on a Wednesday night with her children, Alex, 3, and Brady, 6, who are also impressed.
"Awesome,'' says Brady.