TAMPA — Dancers at Busch Gardens could surely make out Edward Wasik in the dark, sitting on his scooter in the aisle, studying their every move. The retired delivery driver visited the park every day to watch productions such as KaTonga, Rock a Doo Wop, and the Mystic Sheiks of Morocco.
All day, every day, for 12 years. With a daily diet of three to five shows, Mr. Wasik almost certainly attended at least 15,000 performances at Busch Gardens.
"He didn't go there for the animals or the rides," said Heather Fisher, his granddaughter. "It was only for the shows."
He loved the colorful, kid-friendly costumes, and watching top-tier dancers tearing it up to YMCA or Shake Your Booty. He knew which women were skirting the rules by wearing a bra and was on top of every wardrobe malfunction.
He flirted shamelessly, asking for hugs because it was his birthday, a reward he claimed seven days a week. But the only females in his life were his grandchildren — especially great-granddaughter Sarinaty, who was diagnosed with leukemia as an infant and was often by his side at the park. They always topped off their all-day rituals with ice cream at a shop near the Marrakesh Theater.
A strawberry waffle cone for him, a mint waffle cone for her.
Mr. Wasik was a native of Bridgeport, Conn., who served with the Air Force in Japan and Korea during the Korean War. He married — a rebound from another relationship lost during the war, Fisher said. The couple had two children and divorced.
He moved to Tampa in the mid 1970s and worked for Drake's Cakes another 20 years, running packaged pastries to convenience stores.
He retired in 1994 and bought a yearly pass to Busch Gardens. Soon he was going to the park from sunup to sundown.
"It gave him a purpose in life, helped him enjoy life and keep his outgoing spirit," said Fisher, 34.
When he could no longer drive, Fisher dropped him off with his motorized scooter. When she could not take him, he drove the scooter 3 miles to the theme park.
A kind of Busch Gardens Deadhead, Mr. Wasik knew how every performance was supposed to come off, and how every dancer's costume was supposed to look.
If the flirting ever seemed heavy-handed ("Do you have a husband? Does he work? Well, what time does he leave?"), it lacked seriousness. "He did it in friendly fun," his granddaughter said. "He never did it meaning to be disrespectful."
On the way home, Mr. Wasik satisfied his other love: food.
"He was a huge eater, he ate everything," Fisher said. "We would stop at three restaurants on the way home."
He'd take his grandchildren to a buffet, then Burger King for a couple of Whoppers. They finished off the evening with dessert at Dairy Queen.
He kept up the routine until a few years ago, when a blood infection landed him in a series of nursing homes. In 2006, he took his last trip to Busch Gardens. With daily attendance from 1994 and 2006, three to five shows a day, he likely took in more than 15,000 shows at the park. The only days he took off were when, in early childhood, Sarinaty stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for treatment.
He filled up five photo albums with pictures of the dancers, young people exuding talent and grace. Like everyone else, they called him Papa and posed for photos with him.
"He would come see our shows regularly, and most of us had some sort of interaction with him on almost a daily basis," said Stacey Goode, a former performer who is now the park's senior production manager of entertainment. "He was always very appreciative of both the shows and of the meet-and-greets with the performers afterward."
Mr. Wasik died Aug. 3, at Lakeshore Villas. He was 78. True to form, he left behind funeral instructions calling for "three dancing girls and an all-you-can-eat buffet."
One day soon, Fisher will head to Busch Gardens with Sarinaty, who is now 14 and healthy, taking Mr. Wasik's photo and an urn containing his remains. They'll watch all the shows, then stop off for ice cream.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.