ST. PETERSBURG — This is the story of the one that got away.
Which is fortunate for the group of Harbordale kids who decided to play tug-of-war with a 10-foot alligator Tuesday.
The kids, who had been fishing for crabs, tied a raw chicken to a rope to lure a gator that was swimming in a canal. The idea worked almost too well: The gator chomped down on the chicken, then got its toothy snout ensnared in the rope.
Not wanting to lose their rope, the kids hung on. The ensuing back-and-forth drew a large crowd, then the police, to their block.
And what exactly would the kids have done had they somehow managed to drag that sharp-toothed, voracious — and apparently annoyed — behemoth out of a city canal and onto land?
Well, aside from running away screaming, that is?
Postal carrier Kim Kryza wasn't worried about the middle-school-age kids winning. She called 911 because she was worried that the other guy — or gal — was going to win.
"They were pushing and pulling the gator back and forth on the rope," she said. "But the gator was huge, and these kids were kind of small. I was afraid one of them would get pulled in."
And, she added, the gator seemed a tad perturbed.
Kryza was delivering mail along the 800 block of West Harbor Drive S when she saw the gator thrashing around in the canal about 4 p.m.
All the commotion blocked her truck's delivery route. She took a photo of the alligator with her camera phone so she'd have proof about what was delaying her.
She said the kids told her the whole story afterward.
After the rope wrapped around the gator's snout, the big reptile tried to pull free. But the two or three kids standing along the sea wall wouldn't let go. They didn't want to lose their rope.
Finally a police officer came by and cut the alligator loose. Kryza believes the alligator came from Lake Maggiore and quickly headed back there.
She estimated the kids were just 12- or 13-years-old, further proof that school cannot start soon enough.
Here's their first lesson of the year: Feeding an alligator is not only illegal in Florida, it's also unwise. The practice erases the reptile's fear of humans. It also associates humans with food.
Police took no action against the children Tuesday.
Kryza has worked route 512 through Harbordale for 11 of her 22 years with the U.S. Postal Service. She said it's not a boring route.
"I've seen gunfire and gunshots and stuff like that," she said. "That's more scary than bizarre."
She's even seen alligators before. Five years ago, a baby gator, about 3 feet long, cornered her on someone's porch. She had to call the police, who trapped the reptile and released it into Lake Maggiore.
"It might be the same gator," Kryza said. "Who knows?"
Times multimedia reporter Catriona Stuart and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.