SOUTH TAMPA — Anyone who has ever trekked across Hyde Park on Gasparilla Saturday will have war stories to tell.
The vomit they stepped in. The fights they saw. The hugs and beers and beads and, um, the peculiar glimpses from complete strangers.
Now imagine having to walk that route as a mail carrier, squeezing your truck through narrow, car-littered streets, trying to beat the pirates down Bayshore Boulevard. Sober.
You won't hear any of the gory details from the mail carriers on the Hyde Park route, said their manager, Ruben Ares.
He said some things just shouldn't be uttered by the fine representatives of the U.S. Postal Service.
Whatever you say, Mr. Ares.
• • •
To half a million people in the Tampa Bay area, the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates is a national holiday. To the postal service, it's another day on the job, and a tricky one at that.
The postal service has created a contingency plan, just for Gasparilla day. The goal is simple: Get the parade area's mail out first.
In the wee hours, the mail processing plant near Tampa International Airport places a priority on Gasparilla's 15 affected routes, including Davis Islands and Hyde Park. Clerks rush to sort the mail; carriers set out on their routes at least half an hour early, hitting stops at different times than they normally do, to avoid traffic.
For example, Dawn Waller, whose route includes a strip of Bayshore Boulevard that runs from the Davis Islands bridge to S Boulevard, usually hits those houses around 2 p.m. But this Saturday, she'll try to be done with those houses by 11:30.
"We try to get them back in at or before 3 p.m.," Ares said. But no matter how much planning goes into the routes, the parking is still atrocious.
If an idea floated by Postmaster General John E. Potter is ever put into action, mail could cease to be delivered on Tuesdays or Saturdays — which could eliminate the Gasparilla conundrum entirely.
But right now, the crazy day is just a reality for postal workers.
"It's unavoidable," Ares said. "I mean, the mail has to be delivered."
• • •
Okay, so what can the mail carriers say they've witnessed on their routes?
"Let me think about what I'm allowed to say," Waller said. "You see the occasional teenager who's not doing too well. … We've seen our share of weirdness."
Really, she said, the biggest challenge is barricades — the ones on her streets and the orange mesh fences surrounding the mansions.
"It's a tuck, duck and roll kind of thing to get the mail delivered," she said.
On Davis Islands, Diane Krug delivers mail to the homes of several pirates, already off on their ships and sailing through the channel by the time she arrives.
She sees the ships float by and hears the cannons blast. And when she comes back into the office, she wears the beads people give her as she delivers their mail.
On her Bayshore route, Waller gets offers to stop in for the catered fare and mimosas served on the front lawns of the mansions. But she declines. There's just no time.
If she gets in early enough, the South Tampa resident will return for a late lunch.
Krug, who lives in Dade City and has worked the Gasparilla route for 20 years, gets those offers, too.
But "ah," she says, "I'd rather go home."
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.