Surviving Gasparilla

Creative Loafing co-workers and members of our Street Team arrive at my South Tampa apartment around 10 a.m. Saturday. The back alleyway is already a lively block party thanks to my downstairs neighbors arranging a tent and tables lined with liquor and mixers — plus speakers blasting classic ’80s and funk jams like “Superfreak.” In fact, I’m pretty sure all eight units in my building threw their own respective Gasparilla celebrations that spilled out into the alleyway full-force by 11 a.m.

Shortly before noon, our CL crew of about a dozen leaves my apartment and joins the exodus of revelers marching down Howard Avenue toward Bayshore. My fifth beer kicks in at this point, causing the inevitable breaking of the seal. I have to piss — already. Not a good sign.

When we get under the Crosstown expressway, I find a couple of bushes and discreetly relieve myself. Our first stop is a house party on Watrous Avenue, where the Street Team stashed (with the homeowner’s permission) a shopping cart loaded with Creative Loafing beads and promo material. I down my sixth beer, and by the time we reach Bayshore I’m forced to make a risky stop under a tree within about 10 yards of a cop car. Luckily, after spending years drinking beers at outdoor events with few available restrooms — and knowing full well I have a bladder the size of a lima bean — I’m like a ninja when it comes to pissing in public.

All the same, finding a place to momentarily hide every 15 minutes is annoying. No more beer for a while. I unveil my 375ml flask of Canadian Club whiskey and take a healthy pull. Sal knocks some back, too. Lola puts it to her lips and nearly chokes.

“What the hell is that?” she complains.

Lola washes the whiskey down with another gulp from her giant sports bottle that was once filled with spiced rum and diet cola but now is almost empty. By midafternoon, Lola has reached a level of intoxication that makes her a bit pouty and surly. She waves her plastic pirate’s hook in the faces of passersby, amusing some while angering others. Before the parade even reaches our spot on Bayshore and Willow, my co-worker Jessica suggests we hang out on her friend’s boat.

Fine with me. I’ve never joined the mob and begged for a string of beads — and sure have no intention of starting that sorry practice this year. Fuck the floats, the krewe members, their plastic trinkets and the assholes who fight for ’em.

We head northwest toward Platt Street but Jessica, Lola, Lyndsay and Sal all have to pee (I’d been using the alleyways) so before we reach our waterfront destination we decide to pony up the $10 cover charge and enter Four Green Fields. No problem. We hang there with the large, older-yet-fun-loving crowd and end up staying for a couple hours.

By 8 p.m., most everyone has reconvened at my apartment, where we continue partying until way past midnight, toasting our great day of decadence. Walking, sightseeing, drinking, pissing and staying above the fray — that’s a good Gasparilla.

Here's my account of Saturday's Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. It will run as as a Bar Tab column in the Creative Loafing that hits newsstands Wednesday. Pictures taken at the event by a co-worker should appear here tomorrow.

Pictured left to right: Me, Lola and Lyndsay.

Just another day of debauchery.

There are few things more horrific than being in the midst of 400,000 drunks. Positioned near the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Willow Avenue Saturday afternoon during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, I can’t help but think that this might be the closest many of us will ever come to entering a war zone. It’s chaos on a greater level than I can typically handle. Fortunately, I have achieved a perfectly calibrated buzz: It minimizes my claustrophobia and creates a sense of euphoria that allows me to tolerate the fat, beered-up beast who just bumped into me — again.Tampa’s most depraved annual tradition, the Gasparilla day parade is an event so hedonistic and ugly that it should probably be banished to one of those backwoods clearings up in Zephyrhills where 98Rock formerly threw its equally wanton Livestock orgy — far away from the eyes of polite society.

Instead, for the past century, Tampa civic leaders have marched the swashbuckler-honoring bacchanal right through the city’s oldest, richest and most venerable neighborhood. And I like that. There’s something perversely appealing about witnessing the affluent members of South Tampa subjected to all manners of alcohol-fueled savagery. I also enjoy watching those pillars of the community who embrace the day of debauchery — the prosperous dirty old men who stumble and lurch across their roped-off Bayshore lawns, leer at the young gals in bikini tops walking past, and then when the old lady isn’t around, offer the loaded coeds sets of monster-sized beads in exchange for a quick flash of perky boob.

Gasparilla is an outing rife with madness and uncertainties — worsened by the poor cellphone reception most people experience there. Plans are inevitably broken. Groups get separated. That’s why you just gotta go with the flow: Attend whatever parties you can, stick with your ride home, and keep plenty of cash for a cab stuffed in sock or bra just in case you find yourself passed out on a stranger’s lawn at 3 a.m.

I also have come to understand after years of Gasparilla-going that if you’re hanging with a large contingent of women — or guys like my pal Sal who refuse to piss in the bushes — a substantial part of the day will be spent seeking out restroom facilities. That’s just the way it is.

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