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Gasparilla invades Tampa

400,000 people attended; 100 were treated by Tampa Fire Rescue, with three serious injuries; and 28 were arrested, two of which were booked on felony charges of cocaine possession and DUI boating.

By BEN MONTGOMERY AND CARRIE WEIMAR
Published January 27, 2007


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The Mummers stepped off their bus Saturday on Bayshore Boulevard and took in Tampa.

Sunshine. Salt water.

And walking their way, wearing matching short shorts, tight tops and long legs, came Sheila Suhar, Carollynn Mirabile and Joanna Grant ("As in, I'll grant all your wishes," she said.)

"I love your costume, baby," said Grant.

"You're bringing sexy back," said Suhar.

The Mummers watched them promenade. "We're not in Philly anymore boys," one of them said.

They had come - 40 of them wearing $1,000 costumes resembling sequined, psychedelic pirates - from a city where the low on Friday was 10 degrees.

They found paradise Saturday.

Gov. Charlie Crist welcomed them. Mayor Pam Iorio welcomed them. The ladies of Ye Royal Krewe of Charlotte de Berry served beer from a keg.

"I love this," said Bill McIntyre, son of the brigade's founder. "Such friendly people."

The group, called Bill McIntyre's Shooting Stars, won $5,000 for finishing second in the New Year's Mummers Parade, Philadelphia's version of Mardi Gras, where brigades like theirs compete in costumed dances for neighborhood bragging rights.

They put their proceeds toward airfare and hotels for Gasparilla and hooked up with the ladies from Ye Royal Krewe of Charlotte de Berry.

But what would Gasparilla be like? They had no idea. ***

Beads shaped like marijuana leaves, $8 a piece, were the hot item at a vending stand at Oregon Avenue and Bayshore.

"Can you break a $100 bill?" a customer slurred to Lisa Harris, 43, who was running the booth.

She smiled politely, took the bill and handed back beads. She's sold pirate scarves and T-shirts at Gasparilla for years and the drunks don't really bother her any more. She only gets annoyed toward the end of the parade, when people begin demanding her trinkets for free.

"They'll offer to do things for you in exchange for stuff," Harris said. "I had one guy try to pull down his pants for me last year. I was like, 'What are you doing? Go away!'"

- - -

Atop Charlotte de Berry's float, one of the Mummers, a Philadelphia police officer, groped the breasts of a fiberglass mermaid.

The float passed a man holding a sign that said, "My bald head loves beads," and a woman holding a sign that said, "Pirates ROCK my SOCKS."

The Mummers, wide eyed and slinging beads, soaked it up.

"We're definitely coming back," said Rocko Rounbehler.

- - -

Outside 1005 Bayshore Blvd., people spilled beer and screamed. Inside the regal brick mansion, all was calm and almost eerily quiet.

For 364 days of the year, this is one of the best places in Tampa to live. On the 365th day, homeowners Jill and Scott Kelley hire security guards. Three of them, to be exact. It's not that the Kelleys have anything against Gasparilla. They say they're just protecting their home and three daughters, ages 4, 2 and 1.

"It's the unexpected that makes me nervous - what could happen next?" said Jill Kelley, 31. "Is there going to be a fight or something?"

Her fears aren't without merit. Last year, a drunken man tried to charge their house. He made it 15 feet across the lawn before the security guards tackled him. The Kelleys also caught a woman urinating in their backyard.

Jill Kelley said her neighbors warned her about Gasparilla when she and her husband, a surgeon at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, moved in three years ago. Some neighbors put up fences, but she said that wasn't for her.

"People just push them down," she said. "Besides, there's no reason to barricade yourself."

So she pays $400 per guard to patrol the lawn from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Then she stays inside the house and tries not to look out.

"Ignorance is bliss," Jill Kelley said, laughing. "I usually don't say that, but for one day of the year, it's true. I don't want to know what's going on out there."

When a young woman in a black tank top sat down on the concrete ledge surrounding the Kelleys' yard, guard Sherry Raposo was there to firmly instruct her to move along.

This offended the woman's boyfriend. "Ooohhh," he said, smirking. "I guess these people get paid a lot of money to make sure you don't sit there."

Raposo, 29, doesn't react. It's best not to argue with people in the crowd, she said. "Right now, most of them are fairly cordial. But they'll get more belligerent as the day goes on," she said. "I'm just happy as long as no one throws a bottle at me."

On the other side of the lawn, Joseph Conover, another guard, fended off drunken comments.

"They'll say things like, 'Taser me' or 'Show me your gun,' " said Conover, 29. "Mostly they say, 'Who the hell are you guys?' "

Two blocks south, other Bayshore homeowners took a different approach. Instead of keeping people away with guards, they threw a party.

"We were told when we moved here that you should either give a party or leave town," said Joan King. "We elected to give a party, and so far it has been great."

King belongs to the all-female Bonney Read Krewe. Dozens of friends crowded into King's house Saturday to dine on bagels, shrimp and smoked salmon and prepare for the parade.

"We have a good time," said King, who declined to give her age. "As a pirate, it's your chance to be a rock star."

- - -

On the Platt Street bridge, the Mummers ran to one side and leaned over. Below, on several boats, women lifted their shirts.

One Mummer lit a cigarette.

- - -

James Every arrived at Bayshore at 9:30 a.m. to stake out his spot along the route, across the river from Tampa General Hospital, he and Georgie, his 4-year-old Burmese python. At 12-feet long and 60 pounds, Georgie attracted a lot of attention. Some people tentatively reached out to touch her. Others squealed in disgust.

So why bring a gigantic snake to a parade?

"It's educational," Every said. "People fear snakes. This helps them get over their fears."

Okay. Why really?

"You get more beads, more attention, more pretty girls," he admitted. "She's a chick magnet."

As if to prove his point, an attractive blonde woman asked to have her picture taken with him. Every wrapped the snake around her neck and leaned in.

"Let's make your boyfriend jealous," he said, conspiratorially.

- - -

By the time they reached downtown, the Mummers were exhausted. One, out of beads, gave his fancy sequined jacket to an elderly woman in the crowd.

"This is the craziest thing I've ever seen," said Steve VanVechten. "Ever."

"Fifteen deep at every turn," said Rounbehler. "It's just wild."

The men from Philadelphia turned down the final stretch as the crowd roared. They were sweating and disheveled, their $1,000 costumes asunder.

And they were smiling.

[Last modified January 27, 2007, 22:33:27]


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