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Revelers brave chill at Rubonia Mardi Gras

RUBONIA — With a beer in hand and her neck heavy-laden with colorful beads, Andi Ruddeforth of Wimauma somehow managed to dance to the festive music that blared Sunday afternoon in the Manatee community of Rubonia.

“Gasparilla just doesn’t compare to this parade,” Ruddeforth said as she jumped into the air and caught a string of purple beads. “This parade is so much more hometowny. Plus, there’s better beads here!”

Ruddeforth was one of an estimated 3,000 people who attended the 30th annual Rubonia Mardi Gras Parade that stretched 10 blocks along Bayshore Road, from 69th Street East to 79th Street East.

The windy, chilly day did not prevent onlookers from crowding the streets to celebrate.

Spectators lined up along the main street of Rubonia and cheered for beads as colorful and sometimes bizarre floats passed by, including that of The Bradentucky Bombers roller-derby girls.

Behind them, Beanie’s Bar and Sports Grill shot beach balls out of black cannons on the back of its float.

Area car clubs also paraded their neon low riders and flashy sport utility vehicles, pumping bass into the streets.

As the parade wound down Bayshore Road, the aroma of barbecue pork, funnel cakes and fried chicken wafted in the heavy breeze of the festive day.

Thaddeus Starling III, age 7, took advantage of the smell. He quickly devoured a corn dog while standing in front of one of the dozen food vendors.

His parents, Thaddeus Starling Jr. and Tara Neely of Sarasota, stood by, watching the parade and eating chicken on a stick.

Neely, who has attended the parade since she was a little girl, said she brought her son to carry on the family tradition.

A few blocks down from the family, Jessica Gill, 30, stood beside a bin of fruit she was selling.

She and her business partners brought 600 coconuts up from Key West to sell at the parade.

“Because of the cold weather we haven’t sold many, but we don’t care. It’s cool.

“We came to party, too,” Gill said as she waved to a man on a float, then caught a string of beads.

Nearby, Jackie Matthews sat in a lawn chair in her front yard next to her grandchildren — Tavarien Dunbar, 5, and Latoria Dunbar, 3.

“I’ve come to every parade since it started here,” Matthews said. “It began years ago originally for the youth in the area. It’s all about bringing the community together.”

A few blocks down, 9-year-old Christopher Wylie stood beside his parents, Clayton and Jennifer Wylie, and clutched a set of beads he brought from home.

His mission, he said, was to go home with a lot more.

But he had some serious competition, including a group of rowdy onlookers crammed into the bed of a large black Chevy pickup truck.

They yelled, they screamed and they cheered.

And sure enough the float bead tossers delivered.

More than two dozen Manatee County Sheriff’s officers, including some on horseback, manned the area for crowd control.

Manatee County Emergency Medical Service workers also were on hand.

Sheriff’s Lt. Barry Overstreet called the day a success from a police standpoint, saying officers made fewer than a half dozen arrests. A few people were arrested on minor drug charges, and the rest were taken to jail on outstanding warrants.