NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY KREWE
TAMPA - Susan Toll couldn't believe it. She had been in well over a dozen Gasparilla Pirate Fest parades, as a member of the Krewe of Alegria and the Rough Riders, and had loved Gasparilla ever since she was a child in the 1950s, when the pirates threw blank bullets and candy. But this was something new and pretty cool.
About a year ago, she was browsing the Web site of Ye Mystic Krewe, the elite male pirate krewe that rules Gasparilla, and, ohhh! There it was! A little love story tucked within the section titled "History of Gasparilla - The Legend."
The short version was this: Jose Gaspar, the mythical pirate behind Tampa's signature blowout, had loved a kidnapped beauty named Ann Jeffrey. She rejected his marriage proposal, and yet he didn't kill her.
Toll, 60, was amazed she hadn't seen this little yarn before and that some lucky krewe hadn't already snagged the name Ann Jeffrey. She thought it was a great name for a women's krewe, so she quickly staked her claim by incorporating the Krewe of Ann Jeffrey - still just her concept - and registering it with the state.
Toll, a Tampa native, wanted to form a krewe that was based on a pirate theme and elegant costumes. She remembered how the Gasparilla parades of her childhood had seemed so glamorous.
She had cleared the first hurdle in the business of forming a new krewe, one that might have a chance, at least, of being invited to join the biggest parades of the Gasparilla season and the Inter-Krewe Council, a social network of some 50 Tampa krewes.
She had a theme. She had a name. She had a corporation. All she needed now was a float - parade floats cost $20,000 or more to rent for four or five parades a year, and much more to own. Then there was the million-dollar insurance policy, the bylaws, the fabulous costumes, sponsors, parade application fees, a security team, a mission statement and a signature medallion.
And, oh yeah, she needed a krewe.
Toll, a Tampa real estate agent, and her close friends Terri Keirn of Tampa and Linda Blick, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., but comes back to Tampa frequently - plus a host of others - managed to pull it all together in about three months. They began with a charter group of 10 that met last summer, and the Krewe of Ann Jeffrey grew to 32.
Then things got magical. A float appeared for sale in the classified ads. It looked like a brown tugboat run aground, but it was only $9,000 and could be renovated. With the help of Toll's friend Ron Bauman, a carpenter and member of the Krewe of Chasco, they worked weekends to turn it into the "Florida Blanca," their own pirate ship. They painted and added layers of fringe, a port-a-potty and sound system.
Glitter Wins The Day
They were on a roll. Still, friends in established krewes warned: Curb your enthusiasm about getting into the Gasparilla parade the first year. It typically takes two to three years for new krewes to win a spot.
Glitter might have given them an edge. Keirn and Toll wanted their Gasparilla parade application to look special at the office of Ye Mystic Krewe, where applicants are yeaed or nayed, so they hand-delivered the $500 application fee in a glitter-encrusted envelope. It was decorated with a treasure chest that boldly beseeched, "Surrender the Booty."
Surrender they did. The Krewe of Ann Jeffrey will be No. 109 in the 2008 Parade of Pirates.
When Toll talks about Gasparilla, her eyes sparkle. It sounds like a cliche, but really, they do. "We have a theme song," she confides. "Are you ready? ... 'Pretty Woman.'" Van Halen version, not Roy Orbison.
She sighs. "People think, 'I'll start a krewe.' But it's a lot of work."
Toll likes to do things just-so. Which is good - today's krewes need CEOs. They handle serious cash in membership fees and raise thousands at charity fundraisers. The Krewe of Agustina de Aragon, founded in 1997 by Peggie Sherry and now up to 300 members, has its own store in a warehouse near Cypress Street. It sells 30 to 40 krewe-themed products, including jewelry and jackets, to members.
That's not to say a group of best buds can't form a laid-back krewe. In party-saturated Tampa, the more the merrier. But a catchy name, a case of Jack Daniel's and a honkin' truck won't get you into the big time.
Times have changed since Dyann "Rocky" Valdez - dubbed Rocky after she decked a lecherous drunk at Malio's one night in the 1970s - brought the first Tampa women's krewe into being in 1986. Valdez and her friend Dianne Henry rented two Carmen Miranda outfits and crashed the Sant' Yago Knight Parade. They threw beads and wowed the crowd before being spotted and ratted out to Valdez's boss, now-retired Hillsborough County Judge Vince Giglio.
Giglio, a member of the Sant' Yago Krewe, gave them the what for, then let them stay. It was the start of the Krewe of Alegria, a 20-year fixture in Tampa, with 70 members and a charity that collects shoes for needy kids.
Ye Mystic Krewe director Jim Tarbet recommends new krewes consider rallying around a charity of their choice. Toll and her friends put that ideal in their mission statement; they plan to do something for the disabled.
Of course, they plan to have some fun, too. Two weeks ago, they met at Iavarone's, the popular bar and restaurant in Carrollwood, to discuss details of their upcoming really-big-deal: They were No. 11 in their first Children's Gasparilla Parade on Saturday. (The parade was abruptly halted - only about 30 minutes after it began - because of a tornado watch and forecast of heavy rain and lightning.)
'Batista Boys' Do Security
Toby Aldridge, a friend of Toll's and chief of the krewe's volunteer male security team - affectionately called "the Batista Boys" by the Jeffrey girls - came to the meeting in a white pirate shirt, black pants and bandana. He soaked up the happy vibe. Why not? He was surrounded by three dozen gleeful women, who were showing off their custom-stitched pirate jackets. The krewe chose a costume of fitted brocade jackets, lace cuffs, bustiers, black pants and boots.
Newbies learned how to throw beads: Put them in a ball, toss. Toll demonstrated the wrong way by swinging a strand like a lasso, near her head. "You'll hit yourself ...," she warned. Don't fling, fling, fling. Walk 15 or 20 steps between throws, or you'll run out. Avoid the cheapy short beads, added Renee King, formerly in the Krewe of Pandora. "They'll throw them back at you, and it hurts."
On Saturday, the Krewe of Ann Jeffrey will sashay past a half-million bead-thirsty spectators at the Gasparilla parade - contributing its own new and pretty cool piece of Gasparilla history.
* CREDIT: TAMPA TRIBUNE
By SUSAN HEMMINGWAY, The Tampa Tribune
Published: January 24, 2008