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First Gasparilla: an introvert’s experience


Gasparilla is one of the most anticipated events of the spring semester. A day where drinking suddenly seems to become an extreme sport and is basically an excuse to be drunk before the sun rises, many students here at UT, as well as residents of Tampa, party like a pirate. However, some of us would much rather enjoy their day in their room, watching Netflix or maybe even getting some work done.

My decision to participate in Gasparilla this year came with great hesitation and second-guessing. I had to invent a reason that gave me no choice but to go: writing this article. Even then, I couldn’t help but hope for a reason to cancel. Alas, I wasn’t so lucky.

Now, before you go thinking I am some anti-social loner, I do actually like going out and hanging out with my friends. I just prefer to do so in small increments and usually like to spend my Saturdays in the comfort of my room. I am also more of a night owl, so if I do go out for drinking and dancing, I like doing so in the evening.

So, I begrudgingly decided I would attempt to “do Gasparilla” like everyone else, and went to the Walmart liquor store on Friday night. I had never seen it so packed. I showed my ID at the door and as soon as I walked through the doorway, I stopped in my tracks, my eyes widening. An, “Oh, shit” slipped out of my mouth at the sight of the long line that snaked around the store, causing the guy at the door to chuckle behind me.

Still, I continued in and picked out two different bottles of vodka, a box of RumChata creamer that is meant to go in your morning drinks, and some champagne. I also went into the regular Walmart to get orange juice and Sprite. As I did my shopping, I was texting one of my friends that I was planning to go to the parade with. We eventually agreed to meet up around 11 a.m. in her dorm.

I started my day off with a Keurig hot chocolate spiked with a RumChata cup before heading over to my friend’s dorm building. As we’re both 21, I wasn’t particularly concerned and continued to to sip on my hard hot chocolate until one of her roommates came back with a group of her friends. They had just been busted with alcohol in the common room, a rule that we had forgotten about. We grabbed what we had out and put it in my friend’s room where it was allowed.

We walked downtown once the rest of the group had arrived. The other girls found a pizza place but I had to stop at the Puerto Rican food stand on Ashley; I saw alcapurrias and I just had to have some.

It was when we made it back to campus that we started to get into the spirit of Gasparilla and broke out the drinks. I finally managed to get the champagne open and made a mimosa. We also took to doing rounds of shots and I experimented a bit with the RumChata and plain vodka. By the time we left for the parade, I was sufficiently tipsy, as was the majority of the group, minus the designated “mom” of the group.

At this point, I had been having a pretty good time. Nothing had really bothered me yet and I was looking forward to actually getting in the middle of Gasparilla, maybe acquiring some beads.

We walked to Bayshore from campus, where we saw tons of interesting characters before stopping for a bathroom break. I am the type of person who can get overstimulated by large crowds and I suddenly found myself in the middle of one the biggest I had ever been in. However, as I was one of the more sober group members, I was able to distract myself by helping to make sure our crew stayed together. At some point the parade started, though I admit I didn’t really watch much of it.

Despite maintaining my calm, I did have a minor freak out when I went to forage for food and returned to find that my cohorts had disappeared from where I had left them. This lasted for about 10 minutes while I tried to call them and searched around the area. Luckily, they had simply slipped into the crowd near the fence where the parade was passing by. After that I didn’t let them out of my sight until our “mom” got back. By the time she did, I was pretty much sober and wanting to head back to campus already.

But we stayed a little longer. I continued to observe my surroundings. I was amused by the people passed out the ground, a sight I had never seen for myself before. One of the highlights of my day was running into someone I had met the previous week while at a bar (see, I go out); I made it a point to learn his name this time.

We stayed until the parade was over and by the time we were heading back, I had a building headache and my heart was pounding a bit. I had planned to take a shower and then maybe go back out to get something to eat. But when I lay in my bed, I had no desire to leave it; I was completely drained. And that was when a lot of the suppressed nervousness came to the surface. So I settled for making myself some ramen noodles and watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Overall, it wasn’t necessarily a bad experience, but I’m not sure it’s something I plan to do again. I can definitely see the draw of Gasparilla and maybe I didn’t quite put all I could have into the experience. But I think I’ll stick to my normal routine next year.

Ivy Velazquez can be reached at

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