I have only ever been to Gasparilla as a journalist, never for fun. When you are a newsperson in Tampa Bay, covering Gasparilla is an inevitable fate. You'd need some decent blackmail pictures of your editor at wine night to get out of it.
Working Tampa's annual pirate parade/debauched behemoth can be a lively and creative assignment. Some people slog every day in cubicles. We're blessed to observe life in fresh air, with the "Apple Bottom jeans" song blaring from giant, mobile poop decks.
Other times, it's a short straw situation, a thankless Saturday shift that leaves you racing deadline while a group of tipsy orthodontists clog the intersection you need to cross.
But, as Shakespeare said, here droppeth the life knowledge. Despite once reporting in a full pirate costume, complete with a corset, a tricorn hat and stuffed parrot (immersion journalism!), I have been stone sober every time I've gone. It's like being the designated driver at an Alpha Tau Mistakea party. You learn truths about the nature of man, and yourself.
Attending Gasparilla with sobriety has provided insights I would not have gleaned while blotto. With that in mind, if you go to Gasparilla this year, here are some things to bring:
One year, I rode with the Thieves of San Lorenzo, a krewe of women who were hospitable and festive. This wasn't so bad, I thought, the wind caressing my countenance. What a time to be alive! Later that night is when I turned the color of the devil's petticoat and remembered life is lies we tell ourselves to get through. Bring sunscreen, even if it feels crisp and cool on Saturday, even if you have a complexion that can withstand sun. Just dump it on your head like you're a waffle and it is warm syrup.
Girlfriends: Now is not the time Kyle might finally notice if you elongate your legs with those leather-upper wedges. Now is the time to wear the ugliest shoes in your closet, the ones with the Swedish memory foam and the expanded toe box. You will feel elongated in a more internal, holistic way when you see other women walking barefoot to their cars parked in Wimauma, perhaps crying, carrying strappy sandals. Kyle is into it.
Although the open container rules are restricted to the "wet zone" on the parade route, Tampa takes on an air of New Orleans looseness at Gasparilla. Honestly, the flashing-for-beads stuff is mostly urban legend (we reported on it). But you do see plenty of people posing for Instagrams they will regret when it's time to defend that graduate thesis. In the same way you designate a driver, designate a close friend to tell you when it is "Time to give Special K a rest and bring back Kelsey."
At the same time, don't be that friend rolling his eyes for six hours, telling everyone how dumb this is. They all know Brazilian Carnival is better, don't talk about your college study trip. If you end up at Gasparilla for any reason, you might as well embrace all that it is — messy, sloppy, loud, fun, not fun, fantasy, reality and over in a matter of hours. Then you can go home and nurse your sunburn, because if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that no one ever learns.