TAMPA — The automated ape at the center of the great gorilla heist was back in business Friday morning, waving at drivers on Kennedy Boulevard from his home outside State Vacuum.
"He's back, he's happy, he's got a smile on his face," said business owner David Epstein about Pickemup, the 60-pound great ape. "He looks like it was Wednesday all over again."
Meanwhile, Epstein has asked University of Tampa officials not to discipline the two students who took the mechanical gorilla. He also declined to press criminal charges.
It took Epstein, his daughter and a police officer's combined strength to shove the unwieldy simian into the back of Epstein's SUV for Pickemup's return ride. Getting the gorilla back to his place outside the business was a little easier — Pickemup is brought in nightly and, in the case of rain like this morning, placed underneath an old gas station canopy.
Epstein wrote a letter to university president Ron Vaughn suggesting that he go easy on the students.
"They did something stupid. We've all done something stupid," he said. "Just not all of us have gotten caught."
With the incident behind them, Epstein said he and the ape can look forward to this weekend's Super Bowl and a change of dress next week in time for Gasparilla. His gorilla usually dons beads and pirate attire for the festivities.
"When you have a wild animal that's used to being outside and you coop them up, it's tough on their psyche," he said. But fear not, he added -- the gorilla's going to be okay. "He's just enjoying the fresh air now."