Revelers rule the night in Ybor
By JOHN BALZ and DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
TAMPA -- As Cheri Iben watched the families stroll past her roadside bead stall in Ybor City on Saturday afternoon, she knew they wouldn't last.
"In about three hours get ready to see everything change," said the 35-year-old veteran of the famously raucous Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade in Ybor. Parade watchers "will be leaning over the barriers, lifting up their shirts, yelling for beads. You won't see any kids. It's not a family affair."
The parade, Gasparilla's final hurrah, wound through downtown and Ybor City on Saturday night. It got livelier as it went, eventually turning Seventh Avenue into a corridor of flesh and flashbulbs.
The 75 floats, and the swashbuckling krewes that rode in them, carried armfuls of the precious plastic, tossing necklaces to those who screamed the loudest or showed the most skin.
By the end, most everyone in the crowd, estimated at well over 100,000, had been beaded. Even the statue of Vicente Martinez-Ybor, cigar industry pioneer and founder of Ybor City, wore a necklace of school-bus yellow beads.
The star attractions were roughly 50 New York City police officers and firefighters from Engine 16, Ladder 7, who were in the parade as guests of the Tampa Fire Department. It was a different set of men than those who came for the gala along Bayshore Boulevard two weeks ago, but they received the same cheers and salutes from an adoring crowd.
"The outpouring of affection and admiration from the whole country is amazing," said firefighter Brian Finley, 28. "We never expected it."
The only krewe not participating was the Krewe of Cavaliers, the parade's only gay club, which organizers said was barred for its behavior in last year's festivities. The krewe has said it will reapply to be in next year's parade.
Police reported the usual shenanigans for the Knight Parade: a few arrests, but nothing serious as the festivities stretched into the night.
Earlier Saturday, the tone was much more easygoing during the Family Fiesta, a collection of rides, arts, crafts and music for the little ones that preceded the parade.
A minicarnival occupied a few downtown streets and centered on Joe Chillura Courthouse Square.
While a clown painted butterflies, beads and flowers on little cheeks, children created jeweled crowns, threw darts at balloons and danced to live music.
A light sprinkle didn't keep Marianne Wlasiuk, 51, from bringing her 3-year-old granddaughter, Ravyn, to the fiesta.
She, like many people, saw it as the perfect opportunity to grab a good sidewalk seat for the parade and still be entertained.
"We've never gone to Ybor," Wlasiuk said. "We just hang around here and still get to enjoy the parade."
The parade began at Kennedy Street and Nebraska Avenue and ended in Ybor, where the party usually goes into the wee hours.
"My girlfriend dropped me off and said, "Call me when you're done,' " said Rick McGrill, 31, from Ocala. "I said, "If I don't call, pick me up at daylight.' "
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