The floats stretched back for more than a mile along Bayshore Boulevard — pirate ships, castles and tiki huts on wheels.
Near the back of that line, Shirley Huber, 55, sat on her float, eagerly waiting to roll. Float No. 101, Ye Notorious Krewe of the Peg Leg Pirate, was making its debut in the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates Saturday after four years of trying.
The crowd, numbering hundreds of thousands, was primed, descending on South Tampa for the annual tradition. After a week of frigid weather, they bounded toward the bayfront in tank tops and shorts, on foot, bikes and one man on a motorized cooler, cruising under a blanket of blue sky and springlike temperatures.
Along the sides of the Peg Leg float, beads glittered on their hooks as it swayed forward into the waiting throng.
Men, women and children called out to Huber and her fellow pirates, pleading for the plastic currency, perhaps assuming this new group passing by was just another social club out for a good time.
They would be right, and wrong. Especially if they had a chance to talk to Shirley Huber, now far removed from the day 30 years ago when she lay bleeding on the highway, deciding whether to try to live, or die.
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She had pulled out in front of a dump truck in South Hillsborough County, and paid dearly. The wreck tossed her from the car. When she woke up in the hospital, she knew she had lost her left leg.
"I was so happy to be alive, and I knew I was given a choice to go on ahead to die or live, and I made my choice to live," the Ruskin woman recalled.
And live she has. She attended Manatee Community College for an entire year on crutches, underwent plastic surgeries and learned to use a prosthetic leg. She became a certified scuba diver and learned how to ski.
And she met and married Terry Huber, her husband of 25 years. The Hubers and a group of friends started the Peg Leg krewe, hoping to blend friendship and altruism, specifically aimed at helping amputees, raising money to provide hand-powered tricycles for children and adults who have lost limbs.
But Saturday they came together, all 40 of this small krewe, to celebrate their first experience of the main parade, a goal they've had since they started converting an old office trailer into their float.
"We look at the parade as our reward for all the hard work we do throughout the year," Huber said.
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Out in the crowd, revelers were ready for some fun, too.
"I thought (the Super Bowl) might be a problem, but it doesn't seem like it," said Tim Kim, 28. "That's Tampa, though. Tampa's always ready to party."
There were kegs in push carts, kegs in shopping carts; long lines at portable toilets; police on mounted patrol; and rental cops protecting the yards of mansions from partiers who couldn't hold their liquor.
Curtis Long — who runs Thurston's Italian Ice, which hosted a group of pretzel, burger and fries stands — said it seemed the recession couldn't slow people down either. "Not today," Long said. "They're out to party."
Bill Connors, 46, a futures trader, said he didn't even want to think about the economy on a day like Gasparilla. He and his friend Mike Williams, 47, left their wives and kids back at their South Tampa homes to have a guys' day out together.
"I'm tired of hearing how awful things are," Connors said about the recession. "We're here in Florida. The weather is great. It's perfect."
The parade had been under way for nearly two hours before the Peg Legs and the other newcomers got into the thick of it. The speakers blared Hot Chocolate's You Sexy Thing, as Huber grabbed handfuls of beads and tossed them into waiting, grasping hands all around her.
As the crowd sang along, "I believe in miracles," Huber stood up, braced herself against a post and sent another string of green beads flying into the afternoon sky.
Times staff writer Drew Harwell contributed to this article. Saundra Amrhein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2441.