After early reports were confirmed that there had, indeed, been a shuttle disaster, word went out to halt the Gasparilla parade. Whether it was canceled or just postponed, it was over. Please understand and go home.
Yes, there was a flotilla in the water, and hundreds of vendors and several hundred thousand spectators, a number from out of town, were already positioned. And many more visitors were flowing in — with still more on the way. Traffic, not yet clued in, was inexorably inching its way forward, as others were now looking for escape routes. The police were doing what they could. Still, it was an ad hoc mess, one that not all drivers handled with proper Columbia reverence.
In fact, some drivers, amid the near-chaotic dispersal, were as confused as they were imprudent behind the wheel. U-Turns and alley exits turned South Tampa into a labyrinthian nightmare. Barricaded exits on the Interstate resulted in several chain-reaction accidents.
Gridlock behavior was obviously incongruous with memorial deportment. And that, in itself, was sad — but all too human. And predictable. Some pedestrians and motorists were unluckier than most. A couple of accidents were beyond fender benders. One, alas, was fatal. A teenager was backed over by someone in a hurry to go nowhere.
Mayor Greco, we know you give more than a rat’s patootie about doing the right thing, but what were you thinking? Doesn’t point-of-no-return have any meaning to you? Had it been, say, the smaller, bawdy Night Parade, it might have been manageable. But doing a 180 on Gasparilla when so many and so much were already in place?
You were, we’ll acknowledge, faced with a no-win situation, but you didn’t have to add to the loss. We’ll concede that your heart was in the right place, but you issued an order that resulted in an eighth victim. Not an astronaut, mind you, and not a hero, just an otherwise anonymous kid who was merely very important to a lot of other anonymous people. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time because there were no right places in that fire-drill-gone-wrong of an exit.
It’s fitting, however, that there will be an inquiry into the resultant chaos. Next time there is an unexpected exodus of nearly a half million people, things should go better. There is at least one family, though, that will find that scant consolation.
Of course, there’s no denying that there’s precious little in a Gasparilla Parade that lends itself to proper respect for the Columbia 7. What would you have done? Periodically pause for a moment of silence? But, still, people — especially the ones with young children — would have understood — and agreed — had the parade gone on.
Admittedly, it’s easy to scare up a scenario like this. Maybe it’s a cheap shot.
And Mayor Greco certainly made it easier for armchair critics by saying that drive-by moments of silence “will honor them even more.” Hardly. That ill-phrased comment, however, was a function of wishful thinking and deliberation-challenged timing. It wasn’t “seedy,” as one pundit cynically characterized it.
Given the logistical fait accompli , proceeding with the parade was not “insanity.” It was the less worse option. However quick on his rhetorical feet, Greco isn’t a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan.
But, then, neither is anyone else, including cheap shot-delivering Sunday-morning quarterbacks.