The first time I actually went to the Gasparilla parade was 1964. I took my Harley down to the parade route and tried to pick up girls. I was unsuccessful.
This year I park in the parking garage in the Channelside area. Dozens of new condominiums have blanketed this area during the housing bubble/mortgage fraud crisis of the last five years. It used to just be the docks, a very run-down area.
I walk though downtown and over the river to Bayshore Boulevard, about 1.5 miles. The crowd appears to number at least a million and there are lots of vendors selling beads, Italian sausages and beverages. A number of rock bands are set up along the parade route with huge sound stages to provide mass entertainment.
About 1:00 PM I make cellphone contact with a group of my former students and we go into the reserved bleacher area to watch the Parade. The parade takes five hours as pirates, rough riders, gauchos, Caribbean cowboys, firefighters, high school bands and other freaks parade down Bayshore.
We only see two young handcuffed men being whisked off to jail in a golf cart. They are bloodied and bruised. Apparently they had been fighting. Otherwise, the crowd is intensely good-natured, screaming happily and hoping to get beads from the pirates. As the day and the drinking wear on, the crowd on either side of the street also begin to throw beads to each other.
Two of my former students (Jeff and Soche), now both 50 years old are still mischievous. As the marching bands approach they yell "TUBA" and attempt to throw beads into the tubas.
I don't remember Soche. He tells me he made two "F" grades and two "A" grades on my tests. He says I sat beside him while he took the 4th test. He says I told them what would be on the tests. I did believe in outlining specific learning objective for each chapter. I thought it was good educational theory.
Ann-Marie Mezzetti was there. She is 50 now too. She reminds me every year of my prediction for her at age 20 that she would be a fat Italian mother. She points out that she's still lovely and shapely. I tell her that I did her a favor.
It's a happy crowd. Years ago there was only one very exclusive Krewe of pirates. They were the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla: bankers, lawyers and other community leaders who spent this one day swigging whiskey and firing off cannons and pistols. Now there are dozens of Krewes of every ethnic persuasion and sexual orientation. It's grown into a monster.
Mike and Steve are there. They've been our great friends over the years. Lots of camping trips and lobster hunting weeks in the Keys.
A good time was had by all. It was better when we had the house by the parade route and they all came back to party after the parade, but time moves on. I pick my way though the debris and broken bottles to my car. The clean-up effort begins the instant that the parade ends.