Daniel Ruth: Farewell to Guavaween's Ybor City Mama Guava Stumble Parade

Published Aug. 11, 2012

It was hardly a story of earth-shattering significance. But this year's Guavaween revery will, after some two decades, be deprived of its traditional decadent Mama Guava Stumble Parade. Let the sobbing begin.

The technical reason for this cultural crisis is that paying for the Ybor City parade simply became too cost-prohibitive.

The more esoteric explanation is that it is sort of hard to produce a spectacle celebrating Ybor's weirdness, its eccentricity, its bizarreness. its X-ratedness in a single parade, when one can witness the parallel universe of Ybor's fantasyland of kinkiness the other 364 days of the year.

Really, this was a bit like Las Vegas holding an annual march to celebrate the social contributions of its hookers.

The Mama Guava Stumble had become a bacchanalia of self-indulgence, a sort of homage to Fredericks of Hollywood meets 9 1/2 Weeks. You know, a very classy, dignified tribute to the Marquis de Sade. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Especially in Tampa, a city that loves to promote family values even while holding an annual Gasparilla Parade honoring a fictional, drunken, rapacious pirate. Put that beer down. Don't you know there are children present?

For years of drooling, the Guavaween Mama Stumble Parade had been a fenced-in event that charged revelers for the high honor and privilege of being slammed together to watch other besotted parade participants caught up in the sheer joy of cocktail-fueled exhibitionism. What fun — more or less.

But the festivities were put at risk when City Hall determined that a fenced, closed event that charged an entry fee could no longer be eligible for a city co-sponsorship, in which the Ybor Chamber of Commerce paid about $50,000 for police officers and other expenses.

With the fences going away, so did the entry fee. And the city refused to offer any additional help. And thus the Mama Guava Stumble, which no one has ever confused with the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, was given the bum's rush into history.

Guavaween can loosely trace its roots to the late 1970s when a group of artsy-smartsy types created a deeply implanted tongue-in-cheek response to Tampa's snooty social scene.

One of the early events was the Daughters of Bizarro Artists and Writers Ball. Not that I would care to have this in my obituary, but yes, I was a Daughter of Bizarro. And I didn't even inhale.

It was never meant to become a time-honored institution, but merely a gathering a few friends and friends of friends for a year or two to poke fun at the Gasparilla Krewe crowd.

Well, one thing led to another and by the time 30 years or so passed, before you knew it the silliness had morphed into dancing phallic symbols gamboling down 7th Avenue. Who knew?

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Ybor City always has been a schizophrenic riddle for Tampa's leaders. Yes, it is the cultural cornerstone of the community, recalling a rich and vibrant history. And equally yes, it is also Tampa's epicenter of naughtiness.

And no one has ever denied Tampa likes its sin served up on the rocks. It's just that no one wants to admit it.

Some may decry the passing of the Mama Guava Stumble. Some may say good riddance. But here's a prediction: someday something else bigger and raunchier will come along to replace it.

This is Tampa . You can't keep a good dancing sex toy down forever. We have our standards.