Saturday, April 30, 2011

Erotic Verse: Pillow Poems

Four of my Pillow Poems to end National Poetry Month ...

Pillow Poems - Cinammon


When the sun rises,
I become a dewdrop
On a blossom of jasmine
Distilled from your night blooming kiss.


You dig into the rivers of my body,
Sift through pebbles and stones,
To find yourself there, my precious love,
Hands awash of gold.


A sea change:
Low tide recedes, craving.
High tide returns, fulfilling.
The bed where we make love
Is bountiful when empty.


Let my mouth write on you, beloved
For the sake of memory.
My indelible kisses will remain
Etched on your wrinkles,
Traces of words once written
On once smooth skin.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rum Renaissance Kicks Off With Zombie Jamboree

Rum Renaissance Festival 2011 - Zombie Jamboree
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry mixing up a 1950's version of the legendary Zombie cocktail.

Rum experts, judges and fanatics have alighted in South Florida from all over the world for this week's third annual Rum Renaissance Festival. The event kicked off in Fort Lauderdale on Monday with the Zombie Jamboree at the Mai Kai. Robert V. Burr, son of Robert and Robin Burr, founders of the festival, organized the event.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Also known as "RumScout," the younger Burr's enthusiasm for rum was clearly evident during an impromptu interview while we took in some fresh air between drinks and dinner. For him, making rum drinks is an art form. "Mixology reminds me of jazz. Nobody does it like Miles or Bird," he said. "Everybody does a different riff, even though it's the same melody."


Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, author and expert on tiki cocktails and cuisine, lectured on the fascinating history of the Zombie cocktail, which heralds back to 1934 when Donn Beach created the popular drink at his restaurant Don The Beachcomber in Hollywood, California. Beach was reticent about the ingredients in the cocktail, some of which were written in a secret code. As a result, bars around the world started creating their own versions of the wildly popular Zombie. Berry's meticulous research unlocked the secrets and as a result, we were able to taste as close an approximation as possible to the 1934 original as well as a 1950's version.

World War II, which sent so many American soldiers into the Pacific and Polynesia, certainly didn't put a damper on the immense popularity of tiki drinks that came after the Zombie. Soldiers returned with tales and souvenirs from the Pacific, Hawaiian eventually became a state, James Michener published Tales of the South Pacific, which would eventually become a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein -- all this and more would romanticize the Pacific Islands for Americans. Don Beach himself settled in Hawaii and kept the tradition alive, although it's ironic that drinks made with Caribbean rums have come to be synonymous with Pacific cultures.

As I always say, the history of the drink is just as interesting as the drink itself and Monday night's Zombie tasting was no exception to my philosophy.


After Beachbum's lecture, we sampled modern versions of the Zombie from half a dozen independent mixologists.

Rum Renaissance Festival 2011 - Zombie Jamboree
These two tiki bar owners from Manchester, England, were irrepressible. They "anglicized" their Zombies by adding the juice of various berries. Lyndon Higginson (left) of Keko Moku and Bart Murphy (right) of Hula Tiki Lounge.

Rum Renaissance Festival 2011 - Zombie Jamboree
A refreshing Zombie made with DonQ.

Rum Renaissance Festival 2011 - Zombie Jamboree
Joe and Nicole, expert rum judges, own the Rhum Rhum Room in New York City.

Rum Renaissance Festival 2011 - Zombie Jamboree
Atomic Grog also supports tiki culture and is based in South Florida.

A good Zombie is not your ordinary fruity cocktail. Forget your average strawberry daiquiri or piña colada here; this is the mother of all tiki drinks, and while it does contain fruit juices, this vintage beverage also packs a buzz, hence its namesake. All Zombie's feature various rums in combination with other liqueurs, juices, falernum and bitters. A Zombie is a classy, elaborate tropical concoction with intense flavors -- quite the cut above the watered-down slushy drinks you'll find at the average bar.

The tiki craze is alive and well today among rum lovers worldwide. In fact, tiki culture is popular a group of Ohioans developed The Fraternal Order of Moai, which now boasts several chapters around the country, including one in South Florida called the Gumbo Limbo.


The Rum Renaissance Festival is on-going until Sunday. The weekend promises to be memorable, with two grand tasting days at the Deauville Hotel, featuring cocktail competitions, seminars and more. It's a celebration of all cane spirits, not just tiki culture. With tickets at only $25 for a full day or $45 for both Saturday and Sunday, this has got to be one of the best cocktail "education" events in South Florida year-round. For other tasting events year-round, visit Gifted Rums.

Robert V. Burr writes the blog RumScout and co-hosts a local underground Tiki Horror Club with Andrew Lazo. The events combine bad movies with great drinks at a modest price of admission. Find the club on Facebook.

The 10th annual Hukilau Festival, a celebration of all things tiki and Polynesian Pop, takes place June 9-12 in Fort Lauderdale.


For a true tiki experience in South Florida, head to the Mai Kai. "This is one of the best tiki bars in the world," Burr said. And that's clearly evident in the beverage menu, which features classic tiki drinks that are hard to find elsewhere in the area.

Rum Renaissance Festival 2011 - Zombie Jamboree
A Mai Kai bartender in front of one of their signature drinks.

If you live in or visit South Florida, don't miss the Mai Kai for a special treat. You'd never expect such a lushly landscaped oasis would be on a bland, strip-mall area of North Federal Highway, yet there it is and has been since 1956. Newcomers should experience dinner and a show, which features music and dance from various Polynesian islands with male and female performers. I was expecting it to be kitschy, but it was definitely worth it; I've seen greater Polynesian kitsch in Waikiki.

dancers mai kai fort lauderdaleA taste of Polynesian culture is available year-round in Fort Lauderdale at the Mai Kai, which offers an excellent selection of tiki-inspired drinks. Photo courtesy of Mai Kai.

Dinner and show costs $45 per person. Choose an appetizer, main course and dessert from the Bali Hai menu, drinks not included. You can also order a la carte from the regular menu and pay $10.95 to enjoy the show while dining.

If you're a regular, or don't want to see the show, you can still have dinner elsewhere in the restaurant's different rooms, including outdoor seating in a garden area with waterfalls. Try the marinated roast pork, which is cooked tender in the Mai Kai's huge stone Chinese ovens.

For light bites and drinks, stop by the Molokai Bar, which I especially loved, since it's decorated in the fashion of a pirate ship. Happy hour takes place daily from 5 - 7 PM and offers 50% off appetizers plus most drinks.

Valet parking is complimentary at the Mai Kai.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Silicone Bitch: How To Spot a Social Media Douchebag

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

Just for fun ...


Interviewer: Hi, we have reviewed your application for Social Media Douchebag. What makes you think you are qualified?

Douchebag: For starters, my shrink told me I'm a total egomaniac narcissist.

Interviewer: Impressive. There are few people like that in the social media industry. What else?

Douchebag: I have social media douchebaggery down to an art. I tweet all kinds of self-promoting stuff, organize self-promoting events and masturbate in front of a mirror.

Interviewer: Aren't you supposed to engage people and be social?

Douchebag: Oh yeah, sure, but it's all a ruse. It's all about ME, ME, ME all the time. I never support anyone else's social media events unless I can milk it for my own purposes. I love leeching off other social media influencers who are genuine.

Interviewer: It certainly seems you are qualified. We will notify you after we've interviewed other applicants.

Douchebag: I'm the greatest social media douchebag of all time. Don't waste your time interviewing those other social media douchebag posers. When I log onto Linkedin, people tremble in fear.

Interviewer: Great. So you won't mind it if the door kicks your ass on the way out.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Poetry: Morne des Sauteurs

In honor of National Poetry Month and the O, Miami Poetry Festival -- both of which are all about sharing verse -- I thought I'd revive some previously published poems of mine for the remainder of April. This poem was published in the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review in 2004. It was inspired by my travels to Grenada, West Indies.

Carib's Leap, Grenada

Morne des Sauteurs

(Carib’s Leap, Grenada 1998)

I step onto the sun-baked soil
just past the cemetery gate
and the bone-filled earth cries to me
my body turns cold
in the stifling heat, an electrical current
shocks me from the ground up
sacrum to skull

Children’s laughter
from the schoolyard nearby
travels through chicken wire windows
laughter accustomed to the presence
of death in learning

Unmarked mounds
rusted iron crosses
a few gravestones
half-eroded by wind and rain
Johnson or Smith 1891 or 1897
here lie kings and queens of Guinea
nameless to the marrow
flesh branded after their English masters

Another graveyard over the cliff
where according to French accounts
from the seventeenth-century
Caribs leaped to their deaths
refusing to accept Christ as their savior

Jutting out over the foam so far, so blue
beneath my unsteady sandals
a rocky ledge prevents the fall
of a few window panes
construction debris from the school
carelessly dumped perhaps

Poised at the edge
I witness the past
through fractured glass
pounding waves wash
the memory of fallen bodies
but not of voices
still living
My body is embraced, swept up
by hot swirling air
the soil and sea
beg me to open
incoming tides flood
the threshold of my heart
as if some witchcraft for compassion

The island is alive
burning in the midday sun
a house without walls, doors or windows
where I might step on this broken earth
gaze down this cliff
grab your arm and say
no, do not leap
please stay a while and speak to me

And you tell me
my crossing shall be easier

And I tell you
never having known the pain of exile
I am a tourist to your suffering

A frangipani blossom
from this hallowed ground
decorates my hair
sweet bloom growing
from African blood and bones
pink sinewy petals
surviving ever fragrant in the salt air
indebted to a leap of faith
faith to live and die here
forcing a flower out of a gray, leafless limb

There is learning in death
children’s laughter rises
on the whim of nutmeg-scented breezes
and returning to the tour bus
I hear the deep, dark voices of the dead
echoing cold in the hollows of my flesh

Morne des Sauteurs is a true story; I really did feel a strange electric shock straight up my spine when I stepped onto the graveyard. Carib's Leap is an infamous spot on the island where Indians committed mass suicide in the 17th century. Today, children play in a large school yard adjacent to the cliff, oblivious to the bloody history of colonization and slavery.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Diary of a Sex Addict at Empire Stage

Empire Stage is a small black box theater located by the train tracks on Flagler Drive just north of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Despite its industrial warehouse surroundings, inside is a little cultural gem, offering edgy, thought-provoking entertainment.

It's here I recently saw The First Step: Diary of a Sex Addict, a dark comedy about a gay man's struggle with sex addiction, directed by Michael Leeds, a New York transplant who has been directing plays in South Florida for six years. The play explores an obsession with sex that affects every personal and professional aspect of the lead character's life. Joe, as he's called, is a gay man, but there's something here for everyone, regardless of orientation.

At times, the play is funny -- a hilarious musical rap scene makes fun of online screen names -- but the play also engages the darker side of sex and relationships in ways that may make you question your own proclivities.

Earlier today, I interviewed Henry Covery, the play's writer. Diary of a Sex Addict is Covery's first play, the product of writing down his sexual history under the guidance of a sponsor.

SATB: Most people associate addiction with alcohol, drugs or food. What can you tell us about sex addiction?

Covery: Sex addiction is isn't as easy to spot. It's hard to acknowledge, there's shame attached to it and you stay in denial a long time. Some people might think "so what if you watch a little porn?" but this is different.

SATB: Certainly, Joe is obsessed with sex. He's thinking about it all the time and sees everyone, even a paraplegic, as a sexual being. Sex is a natural act and it's part of life, but Joe is sexually abused by his father. Those scenes in the play are rather disturbing to watch on an emotional level. Is that a typical history for sex addicts?

Covery: More than half the people I've met at meetings do have some sort of abuse in their background. It could be verbal, physical or emotional and not just sexual. But one thing I've found is that many addicts have in common is a sense of grandiosity coupled with extreme insecurity.

SATB: Tell me about the organizations and meetings.

Covery: The SCA is Sexual Compulsives Anonymous and the SLAA is Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

SATB: Love addicts?

Covery: Yes. The difference here is someone going on a date and thinking "I hope he calls," versus "my life and happiness completely depends on whether or not he calls." I'm not in AA, but everyone in the sex addicts program who has participated in AA has told me that it's much harder to get sober when you're a love or sex addict. I wouldn't have thought that. In this case, you can't get sober simply by quitting alcohol or drugs.

SATB: While your lead character is gay, you do highlight sexual obsession from gay and straight orientations in a funny scene mocking a dating game. Does sexual addiction affect different lifestyles?

Covery: Absolutely. In fact, lately I've been seeing more straight women at meetings. I've been to meetings where straight men and women share. When they do this, they shed light on the opposite sex. It's never really about the act, but about the commonality of the obsession, whether it be online porn, compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex, romantic obsession or voyeurism. Everybody has their own bottom line, pointing to their lack of self-worth. Sometimes an "abuser" will share his story, which can be an important healing step toward forgiveness for those hearing it who were abused.

SATB: Have you helped others by writing this play?

Covery: I wanted something creative to come out of my writing down my first step. In 12 Step, you are only as sick as your secrets and when you write it down, it's easier to examine your history. I've had people approach me after seeing the play to tell me that they're going to join SLAA.

The First Step: Diary of a Sex Addict continues this week starting Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, April 24. Visit Empire Stage for more information.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Silicone Bitch: Foursquare, Weather Tech, LinkedIn and More

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

foursquare day miamiNothing square about this gang. Photo by @nataschaos.

There's a bunch of goodies for your Easter basket this month ...


Yesterday was Foursquare Day, which is basically a worldwide excuse for businesses to lure patrons and for friends to party. And that we did -- starting at 4:16 PM at Sugarcane Raw Bar in Midtown Miami for cocktails and appetizers, moving along later in the evening to JimmyZ in Wynwood for some good eats. Roughly 50 or more local Twitter pals showed up for what really felt like an old skool tweetup. Save for some confusion about cocktail prices (Foursquare attendees were supposed to pay $4.16 for cocktails, but some of us still got stuck with full price), the gathering was a blast. Some folks even earned the much-coveted swarm badge.

(A special treat for me: having a NYC friend text me pictures of herself posing with Foursquare founders Naveen Selvadurai and Dennis Crowley.)


Silicone Bitch loves useful technology, which is why last March's Refresh Miami is worth mentioning here. Matthew Wensing, co-founder of, gave a funny, engaging presentation about this homegrown technology that provides weather data to millions of people and numerous Fortune 500 companies. When significant weather affects business, companies use Stormpulse to assess risk. As well, news networks use Stormpulse's interface for weather broadcasts. And we know that the regular Joe here in Florida needs good weather information too -- visits to spike anytime a hurricane threatens in the Atlantic.


April's Social Media Club South Florida was a smash hit, covering all the ins and outs of Linkedin. Hosted by Ana G. Mendez University in Miramar, the meeting featured panelists Patrick Barbanes (The Branding Professor), David Rose (Yellow Dog Recruiting), David Suarez (addventures) and Seth Elliott (Startup Forum) -- all four of this wily crew moderated beautifully by author Denise Jacobs. The panel focused on ways to make Linkedin better serve individuals and companies, either for self-promotions or as a research tool. "Everyone should be on Linkedin," said Barbanes. "It's online gold."


wlrn under the sun sticky notesAmazing things happen when brains come together for a good cause.

Earlier this month, WLRN's Under the Sun corralled a group of active social media users and professionals for an intense brainstorming session. About twenty of us sat at the roundtable, jotting down ideas on sticky notes that could help the radio program gain a stronger foothold in the community using social media. Although some of us usually get paid to dole out this kind of advice, this was community collaboration at its best.


Sapient Nitro, one of the world's largest integrated marketing and technology firms is headquartered in Boston and its Miami branch boasts the grooviest office space on Lincoln Road. They're responsible for equally groovy projects, including the latest partnership with with Tourism Queensland to get you and your coworkers down under for the trip of a lifetime. Any company with at least three employees can apply for the five-star, million-dollar travel adventure by submitting a 60-second video to Million Dollar Memo. The deadline is May 1.


Many thanks to those who voted for me in the Sun Sentinel's Best of Blog Awards! I won Best Personal Twitter Stream (@vicequeenmaria) with minimal social media whoring, so I'm pretty sure I deserved the honor, although sadly, Sex and the Beach lost to a cat blog under the "Defies Categorization" category. I guess I need to start writing more about pussy. Other Sex and the Beach faves who won: Accidental Sexiness, A Guy on Clematis, Beached Miami, Midtown Chic-a, Photography Is Not A Crime and Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds.


The Startup Forum has organized a second pitch event for April 25 at Miami City Hall. The last event had over 250 attendees, so get your ticket now to see 5 judges decide which one of 4 startups will be the winner in this fast-paced competition. (And while you're at City Hall, gaze upward to the historic ceiling mural.)


Some SxSw posts fell too late onto Silicone Bitch's radar since the last edition of the column. Here's some coverage at Miami Beach 411, in case you missed it: Content and Networking is King and the very controversial Miami Still Lagging Behind When it Comes to Innovation.

And don't forget, SxSe is definitely on the radar for July! Reserve your room soon at The Eden House in Key West. We're working on a pub crawl that is sure to become the stuff of legend. Details at SxSe.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Clever Miami Street Bum

collecting money to kill communist dictators

A classic "only in Miami" moment if there ever was one! This photo made me laugh so hard yesterday, I almost choked on dinner. Taken by my friend @alexdc around Civic Center.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

South Florida True Stories

It's National Poetry Month and Miami has its own poetry movement, but don't forget about prose!

On April 23, I will be reading a short story on stage at Actor's Playhouse among other local writers, one of whom, Jeremy Glazer, you've already read about here on Sex and the Beach.

Lip Service, a regular literary event co-produced by Books and Books, is teaming up with WLRN Under the Sun for a one-night live storytelling and radio event.

The competition was rather fierce; sixty-nine stories were submitted, but only nine made the final cut. You won't find any fiction the night of the event; every story has to be true and about South Florida. Each of us will have eight minutes to read our stories.

Doors open at 7:30 PM and the show starts promptly at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

To see the event flyer, click here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New York City Beat My Ass

Abercrombie & Fitch fifth avenue store male model
Cute enough, but not my first choice for a "Summer Ho" ... I prefer them beefier.

I went to New York City last week and all I got was a lousy photo of an emaciated Asian male model at Abercrombie and Fitch on Fifth Avenue, a store that can't decide if it's a South Beach night club full of douchebags or a haven for tourists. Oh wait, that's the same thing.

I also caught a few cabs and a nasty cold that kept me bed-ridden for over 72 hours.

Mind you, it's not even the first time I've been to New York City, but it's always the same.

My bones were rattled, my timbers shivered, my nerves frazzled, my senses overwhelmed.

Vertigo on the sidewalk, grime under the cuticle, every street corner like rubbing a brillo pad against chalkboard, faster than fast needs to be. Since when was Nascar a bipedal sport?

On your feet. Always vertical. Buying $5.95 hose at H & M. Changing into stilletos across Grand Central Station.

Madhattan, you are, indeed, quite mad. Abrasive. Like having sex with an armadillo.

Cold. Coat on. Hot. Coat off. Bipolar.

Under. Over. Subterranean life. Subway stairways make me feel like a dingy rat and I'm not even a germaphobe.

Coat checks like dropping off your guilty albatross that you don't want to carry. Stories of sex in bathrooms.

Brick, concrete, glass, horseshit, bullshit everywhere in this gritty salad, dressed with the scent of pee and roasted kosher hot dogs and fresh falafel. If you were an innocent fly on which piece of prime property would you like to land?

Sometimes I wanted to toss my hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore (yes I know, wrong city but still the same feeling) and scream "STOP GET OVER YOURSELF OK SO YOU ARE SO FUCKING GLORIOUS SO WHAT"

End stop.

Dizzying, perplexing, thrilling. Love it. Hate it. Can't wait to go back, but I'll wait until the lilacs in the dooryard have truly bloomed because my Celtic ancestors left the cold gene in the motherland.

Oh New York City, you may have beaten my ass yet again, but I feel like you are finally truly a worthy adversary. You're not gentle New York, but you tell it like it is, and if anyone knows what that's like, it's me. And this is why I love to hate you and hate that I hate you ... which is kind of like love, aint it?

If only you had more trees and a warmer clime.

In the meantime ...

It's good to be back home in my Corona commercial Miami, lilting my life with the swaying palm trees. If I listen closely enough, I think I'll even hear a slack key in the distance ...

This version of my story doesn't reflect the actual wonderful people I met, dear friends who hosted me and experiences I enjoyed. More on that later and more local posting soon. There is just something visceral about New York City that I had to get off my chest. Pardon the pun ... and the dust!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Gasparilla Pirate Festival

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
Ahoy! Pirates invading Tampa Bay!

In my endless pursuit of Florida pirates, I drove up to Tampa in January to check out the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which features a pirate "invasion" and a parade.

The event dates back to 1904 when a group of the city's social and civic leaders adopted the legendary pirate's name for a city-wide celebration involving a royal court and parade. The "Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla" was formed and invaded the city on land until the commission of an authentic pirate ship replica in 1954 made the krewe seaworthy.

José Gaspar's existence is doubtful. According to legend, Gasparilla the Spanish pirate may have called Charlotte Harbour and surrounding islands home in the 18th century, but there's no definitive documentation. And if there's one thing the Spanish were really good at, it was keeping records of everything that happened in the New World, especially when they were running the show in Florida.

So Tampa took over the story of a certain Spanish rogue, one who allegedly had ties to royalty and the military, and romanticized the legend. But whether or not this pirate existed really doesn't matter -- the fanciful story with an equally fanciful name translates today to a wild event in Tampa, a city with a rich history often overshadowed by its east coast counterparts. Everyone talks about Henry Flagler; no one ever talks about Henry Plant, another railroad tycoon who helped build Tampa, but that's another story.


I arrived at the Tampa Convention Center for a $10 parking spot around 8:30 AM. I stayed at the Sheraton Suites, a great hotel only ten minutes away by car, but I had been warned about traffic later in the day, what with the throngs of folks attending the event. Getting around downtown would be impossible and this was no surprise -- by 8:30 AM all the parking spots were full on the lower level.

By 9 AM, different krewes were on their boats firing gunpowder weapons either docked by the convention center or tooling around the bay. The outdoor café was serving reasonably priced beer and Bloody Mary's (excellent call, City of Tampa). It was all good, except that I had to wait another couple of hours to enjoy the official Gasparilla brunch. The wait was worthwhile, but it would have been more fun with travel companions. Nevertheless, the air was filled with not only the sound of gun shots, but also with an intangible, buzzing anticipation. I had no idea what I was in for; it was interesting to be a Gasparilla virgin!

By 1 PM or so (yes, at this point I was ready for a nap after a Bloody Mary and couple of vodka tonics), the pirates arrived in Gaspar's ship. The invasion was nothing short of eye-popping spectacular. The vessel, laden with pirates, docked at the convention center followed by an entourage of smaller ships, all of which were firing gunpowder. Hundreds of members of the Mystic Krewe disembarked and then a mass of humanity walked over to the parade, which went for miles, much of it on Tampa's gorgeous Bayshore Drive.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
Wow. Just wow. They were dressed to the nines hours before the parade. It's all about the beads.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
A friendly Tampa bartender, serving drinks in the morning.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
This fella was greeting everyone at the door for brunch.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
A beautiful ship. The gun shots were actually quite loud.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
A boat load of pirates invading Tampa at the convention center.


Because I had a press pass, I was allowed to hang outside police lines on the street. I found a friendly officer and staked out my position, but only to wait another two hours standing on my feet for the first floats to go by. The wait was tedious for me and unfortunately the officer, though handsome and single, was quite busy. Note to self: next time, do this with a bunch of friends and not as a reporter.

By 5 PM, I had seen five arrests from drunk and disorderly revelers. The police man told me that the paramedics had already done the round of the drunk frat kids by 11 AM, who set up kegs illegally further down the parade route. (It's illegal, but somehow it's tolerated.)

I saw one of those kids coughing up blood on the way to the live music show after the parade.

But it wasn't all mayhem. In fact, considering the number of people flocking to Tampa Bay that day (up to half a million or more, I was told), the crowd was quite tame and under control.

Behind me were families standing with their kids, all eager to pick up beads, which parade participants were flinging from their floats. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with those kids, especially since I was the only idiot who went to the parade in costume. Several drunken fools also asked to pose in photos with me and I played good sport, wishing, at this point, that I was just as drunk. (I stopped imbibing when I knew that my only relief was a port-a-potty shared with several thousand people.) Festival attendees don't do costumes on the invasion day though, so lesson learned.

Also, I loved the live music at sunset on Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park -- a gorgeous expanse of public space on the river, right smack in urban downtown -- where I was able to finally sit down and relax.

At this point, you've probably noticed I haven't talked much about pirates. That's because even though there were pirate krewes, floats and participants in costume, this was not a traditional pirate festival like the one in St. Augustine -- it's more flashy a la Hollywood -- without the painstaking reverence to historic authenticity. In fact, I met Gasparilla pirates in St. Augustine who told me "yeah, we're all about the bling." As gaudy as it seemed compared to the event in the nation's oldest city, Gasparilla does get major points for street party though, and if that's something you love, you'll be in heaven here.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
Just about every float was as colorful in character.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
Gotta pay tribute to Anne Bonney and Mary Read!

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
I can't stop laughing about the I <3 Publix button under the Jolly Roger.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
This pirate was scary!

I only kept two bead necklaces, one with roses and the other with skull and crossbones, which were handed to me personally by two different gentlemen. My pride and joy, of course, was the skull and crossbones tattoo stamp I got from a member of the Mystic Krewe when I flashed just a tiny bit of cleavage from under my buccaneer coat.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa Bay
The closest I'll ever get to a tramp stamp!


If you attend the Gasparilla invasion, it's definitely worth staying walking distance to the events either downtown Tampa or Harbour Island, so book a hotel room early. If you book on the outskirts of the bay, plan ahead to use public transportation or downtown parking.

The parade itself is free, but I recommend paying for the brunch as you'll have the best seat in the house for the actual invasion. Then pay for a bleacher seat at the parade, as it will be too crowded by then to stake out a spot. Coolers are allowed and so is alcohol but don't bring glass bottles or cups.

If you've got little ones, a kid friendly version of the festival takes place around the same time. But there were plenty of kids in the invasion parade as well; just make sure they can deal with crowds.

Make a whole weekend out of it. Tampa gets back to normal rather quickly after the festival and there's much more to do in the area. To name a few: shopping at International Plaza, touring historic Ybor City, dinner at Columbia (try the salad, you'll thank me) and Charley's Steakhouse (mouthwatering), sunsets on Clearwater Beach (the causeway drive is beautiful), and a visit to Tampa Bay History Center to learn about the Gulf Coast's role in Florida's history.



Many thanks to Tampa Bay and Company, GM in the Southeast (they provided my ride -- a sweet Chevy Cruze) and Sheraton Suites Tampa for supporting Sex and the Beach's pirate expeditions!