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Steven Rom walks the parade route, tossing beads with the Krew of Zingaro during Guavaween
YBOR CITY -- It's something like the greatest freak show on earth.
The chaos, consumption and, of course, the costumes -- from Shrek to the pope, that spill onto Seventh Avenue.
Welcome to the three-ring circus that is Guavaween.
Ring 1: the preparade party for the kiddies.
Ring 2: the Mama Guava Stumble, a.k.a. the parade.
Ring 3: the postparade debauchery assuredly aimed at the adults-only crowd.
For most, the main event is the Stumble.
Organizers started the parade at 8 p.m. again this year instead of at dusk, in hopes of getting the thousands of revelers to actually patronize Ybor's restaurants and businesses before they head to the freaky street festivities.
While some restaurants expected the later-starting parade to bring in more business, the assistant manager at the Ybor landmark Columbia Restaurant saw no huge influx.
"Our business usually slows down when theirs picks up," Rob Boguszewski said of the bars and street vendors.
For the most part, it was business as usual at dinnertime. That is, except for the pirates, schoolgirls and the priest that came in to catch a bite to eat.
"It's still early," he said. "The freaks aren't out yet."
Oh, but they were on their way.
During that gray area that falls after the Family Fun Fest and before the parade, the show was in full effect from the balconies of clubs lining the parade route to the street.
Faux flashers equipped with homemade genitalia, seven-foot tall drag queens in booty shorts, a menacing fellow wielding a chain saw and women wearing cat ears and G-strings roamed the street between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. when the parade typically ends.
Some parents, like David Allen of Tampa, decided to stay around with their children.
What about the crazies?
They're not so bad, said Allen. Plus, "she wants to see a band," he said pointing at his 14-year-old daughter Marisela Allen, a Hellyeah fan.
"I'm down with the craziness," she said with all the attitude of a teen and a roll of her neck. "I love it. It's cool."
Dressed as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter, Jeannie and Jim Barlow brought their 5-week-old twins to Ybor City in a double stroller.
Crazy? The Orange City couple doesn't think so.
They planned to leave at the parade's end. That's when it's something like a madhouse out here, Jeannie Barlow said. "It's pretty bad."
Despite the noise and random flashing lights, cherub-faced twins Jared and Chrysanthee slept as they were rolled down the street. Mom and dad planned to dress them as white rabbits, but the costumes they ordered were too big.
Other kids, from infants to teens, donned costumes earlier in the day in droves at the Family FunFest, which was all bubbles and butterflies and bumblebees and cans of Budweiser in the cup holders on strollers. There were Great Danes painted like zebras, a chihuahua dressed like a donkey and a busty Coyote Ugly waitress passing candy to tiny trick-or-treaters.
"What do you say, guys?" their mother asked.
"Thank you!" the kids said.
A group of dancers from Orange Grove Middle Magnet School held hands in a circle on crowded Seventh Avenue before a performance at Gaspar's Grotto. They bowed their heads.
"Lord, please bless us on stage," one girl said. "Help us not to fall."
Added another: "Help us to pop it."
Girls from Tampa Gymnastics and Dance gathered beside the Mix 100.7 stage before a rendition of a dance from Cats. Tatiana Fabian, 7, was decked in silver stretch tights, black boas, kitty cat face paint and hair out to here.
"It took about half an hour to do her hair and makeup," said her mother, Sabrina, who also made the costume.
How long is the dance?
"About two minutes," Sabrina said. "And there's the rub."
Down Seventh came a -- well, a float, in miniature kid-sized scale. The theme was Wizard of Oz, rendered in meticulous detail, with a yellow brick road, synthetic grass and a giant rainbow.
Patsy Iampieri, 42, worked about 30 hours assembling the float for her grandkids, Anne-Marie Iampieri, 4, dressed as Dorothy, and Jaiden Majors-Quamina, 6 months old, dressed like the lion.
Iampieri admitted the project was her creative outlet. Last year she built a 5-foot papier-mache genie lamp for Anne-Marie.
"You do for them what you couldn't do for your own kids," she said.
And even as the sun went down, the night began and the freaks came out to play, some embraced their inner child, coming dressed as Shrek, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, a Transformer and even Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch complete with a garbage can and a sign that said "SCRAM!"
And scram is exactly what Sacramento native Lewis Johnson planned on doing after the parade. Johnson's made the cross-country trip since 1994 for Guavaween, and this year was no different.
"I've got a 10 o'clock flight back home," said Johnson who had his hair braided into devil's horns. "After the parade is when it gets a little too wild."