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A Letter to Jose Gaspar: Thank You. For Gasparilla. For Everything.

Our city's greatest day is this Saturday. This is why we love her.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Dear Jose,

I am one of the army of 300,000 to 500,000 people that help you invade our town annually, and I wanted to say thank you. Gasparilla brings out the best in my city every year, and I love the role it plays in the patchwork of my hometown that I love. You're a big reason Tampa is so special, and Invasion Day has surpassed every other holiday as my favorite. Maybe it's the closet rogue in us all... or maybe it's because you throw one rather bad-ass party.

I love that the invasion is the most egalitarian of possible celebrations. Old money, new money, & no money combine to take to the streets in a love of pirate culture and a city that calls her home. The entire mosaic of Tampa comes together for a day in celebration of pirates, parade floats, and booty (defined as both stolen treasure as well as the more modern characterization). I can dress and talk like a pirate all day if I want, and not a soul would think I'm being over the top. You allow your lieges to get into this as much or as little as you'd like, but a simple shout of "AARRRRRRGGHHH!!" is a rallying cry that brings us all together.

I love watching your army sailing up Tampa Bay and invading our gorgeous natural harbor. It's a flotilla of seaworthy crafts as diverse as the sobriety of their passengers, and one that's well-lubricated for battle hours before noon each year.

You invade the prettiest part of our city, right along the world's longest contiguous sidewalk. What so many of your army probably don't know is that it was developers Alfred Swann and Eugene Hottsinger that gave us this gift: they chose to build those stately homes back away from the water and on the other side of the road so the entire city could share in the beauty of Bayshore. It changed our fair town forever, and made your invasion postcard levels of beautiful.

I love the Krewes founded in your honor, one of the great traditions that make Tampa so special. Their purpose is both philanthropic and social, and they represent every class, creed, and color we have. But all unite under one overriding cause: to build the best damn floats and throw the best damn parties possible every year. Social clubs are in a lot of cities, but rarely do they extend through all the branches of the diversity tree. I love that you help to unite us all.

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You're preceded by the only Friday night of the year I want to be in bed by 10pm so I can be ready to handle the copious amounts of beverages forthcoming. Like every other resident within 10 blocks of Bayshore, we've been planning our house party for weeks, and we're proud to be part of a city that collects pirate schwag all year to be ready. And now that we have two parades on consecutive Saturdays because the second one got so rambunctious the little ones needed a day to themselves? Genius. Gotta let the adults have a bit of PG-13 fun out there too.

The baby sitters in town really love you, as they charge a small fortune per hour every last Saturday in January. Liquor store managers have told me the day before you invade is far and away the busiest day of the year, and they start planning for you months in advance. And the event planners in town seem to take it up a notch annually, breaking out their best work in the tents and homes that line the parade route. I try to explore the invasion in a different way every year, and my only dislike is no matter which way I choose I'm always missing something amazing somewhere.

I love that you've expanded your reach to all through all the early months, adding film, arts, and music festivals to your reign. The quality of these events increases annually, and they're such an important part of the fabric of Tampa. I'll put these festivals up against ones you'd see anyone across the country, and the banner they fly under is a major reason for their success.

I love that the entire premise of your story is one based on rebellion, and that there's just enough anarchy in the legend that it permeates through the culture of our city year round. We still have laws and such... but sometimes the traditions matter even more.

So thanks again, Señor, as you make me love Tampa so much more. I'm already hydrating for Saturday, and will be ready to charge north again.



P.S. Got a boat slip I can borrow??