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With some help, Gasparilla can grow up

Here's a thought for fixing Gasparilla, Tampa's proud annual pirate fest or officially-sanctioned drunk fest, depending on your perspective:

Arm residents of neighborhoods complaining of parade-goers' boorish behavior with videocameras to catch acts involving: 1. Exposure of any body part you wouldn't show your mailman; 2. Public tinkling (or worse) on someone's azaleas; 3. Fistfights over who gets the last Old Milwaukee Light left in the cooler; 4. Aggressive mowing-over of small children by "adults" seeking cheap plastic beads; 5. Teenage drinking; 6. Assorted pass-outs, throw-ups, etc.

The citation handed to the video subject would read: You are in violation of City Code 105181(1)D: Behaving Badly/Alcohol Involved. As a result, video of the offense(s) will be shown to: parents, future in-laws, current or future children, prospective bosses, neighbors, bank loan officers, and anyone you ever hope to date and/or marry. Authorities also reserve the right to screen said video at your child's wedding. Note: If you are of tender age and current belief that none of this matters, trust us, it will. Govern yourself accordingly.

Hey — once word gets around, everyone on the parade route will be a Boy Scout.

Seriously, it's funny how things change. Once the kerfuffle over Gasparilla was about an all-white krewe of powerful men running the fun. Now it's residents who say its become an out-of-control day.

Protect my property, some are saying. Better yet, move the thing.

A gentle bit of perspective: Gasparilla, an undeniable Tampa showpiece, is admittedly also a day of extreme inconvenience for those lucky enough to live in some of the city's loveliest locations.

Yes, residents pay for the privilege, but it's also good to remember that the parade route of Bayshore Boulevard, those picturesque, curving miles along the water, is actually a public park.

Neighbors learned long ago to gird their lawns, so to speak, for the invasion of thousands. I remember more than a decade back people taking turns using a clump of bushes as a bathroom outside city hall.

But the city and EventFest, which hosts the day, are listening to current complaints of over-the-top trouble.

"It's unacceptable," says EventFest president Darrell Stefany, a good answer.

Here's a no-brainer: Add many more Port-O-Lets. They had 800 for some 350,000 parade-goers.

Get aggressive policing quality-of-life offenses. Cops outnumbered? Bring in more. It's worth the cost to save the face of the parade and spread the gospel of zero tolerance. No one is likely to say, "I'm not going to Gasparilla anymore since they took away my God-given right to urinate in public."

Officials also need to consider the contention that the number of bleacher seats and corporate tents tends to push other parade-goers toward their property.

But move Gasparilla off Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa's prettiest address, with its glorious views and festooned ships?


For all its ugliness, Gasparilla is Tampa tradition. It has surprised a lot of us by evolving, and needs to evolve still. Revelers must know that, despite the day of gaiety, there are rules that will be enforced. Govern yourself accordingly.

With some help, Gasparilla can grow up 03/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 12:24am]
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