TAMPA — More than 1,500 fans of the definitely-not-for-little-kids cartoon Rick & Morty overtook a bar and its surrounding neighborhood Wednesday night, creating such a big crowd that the event was riggity riggity wrecked when Tampa police officers and organizers had to end it early.
Rick & Morty is an animated science fiction comedy about the interdimensional adventures of depraved scientist Rick and his anxious grandson Morty, which has produced a cult hit for Cartoon Network.
The "Rickmobile" — a truck bearing Rick's likeness — has been taking a road trip across the country, opening its pop-up shop with exclusive merchandise and gear in different cities.
Wednesday was Tampa's turn. And unfortunately the event was about as chaotic as an episode of Rick & Morty: Attendees parked on peoples' lawns, littered and drank outside designated areas, ignoring instructions from the tavern and police.
Bar co-owner Cliff Stevenson, a huge fan of the show himself, said he's sympathetic to those who were turned away.
"We did everything we could," he said Thursday. "The line was simply more than was expected from both parties ... and what we could handle."
The bar's other owner, Robert Leonard, said the bar itself reached capacity before 6 p.m. So workers could only let people in as others left, creating another line.
"Between the poor setup, the lack of parking, the lack of places to stand, and the obvious lack of organization ... no wonder it was shut down," said attendee Jon Lee, 30, of Temple Terrace.
Lines to see the Rickmobile, buy merchandise and enter the Parcade snaked through the neighborhood. Lee said when those in line stood on the grass, neighbors were upset, but when they were in the street, the off-duty officers hired to monitor the event told them to move.
The waiting line had to be capped at 1,500 people — which happened at about 5:30 p.m.
"But that didn't stop hundreds of more people from showing up," Lee said.
The Parcade opened at 3 p.m. and the truck was scheduled to begin sales at 5 p.m. and end at 8 p.m Lee said he got in line to see the Rickmobile and buy his gear by 4:15 p.m. Worried about the line, the truck started selling merchandise early at 4:30 p.m.
Then around 7:30 p.m., police stopped the sale and told people to leave. The bar owners said the decision to close out the lines was a joint one.
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"Safety was our top concern," said Stevenson, who spent much of the night trying to make sure people in line stayed hydrated.
James Kirkbride, 33, said he was five people away from buying the items he'd been waiting three hours for when police started telling people to leave.
"They flatly told all volunteers and those selling merchandise to completely shut it down and to stop all transactions," he said. "People were mid-purchase and had to stop."
Tampa police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said that while the event organizers hired two off-duty officers, additional officers were dispatched to "assist with crowd control and keep traffic flowing around the area." Police also wrote several parking tickets.
We were some of the last people able to get merch before shutdown. We went as mortys. #rickmobile #rickmobiletampa #RickandMorty #adultswim pic.twitter.com/EzeZwZxYkE— Art of Cain Hopkins (@chopkinsart) September 28, 2017
Lee said it should have been held at a bigger venue that could accommodate the massive crowd that turned up to celebrate show. His partner even spent the day under the hot sun in an elaborate Mr. Meeseeks costume so good people probably assumed he was a Rickmobile employee.
"I have respect for the people who came out in full costume in that heat," Stevenson said. "That shows that dedication."
The bar owners welcome anyone disappointed and in need of hugs (or beer) to come back on Sunday nights. That's Rick & Morty night at the bar, where they watch the show from 11 p.m. to midnight.
Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.