KEY WEST -- Before the Fantasy Fest parade could even begin Saturday night, about 40 people had to pass breathalyzers.
They were not intended for the drunken masses who lined mile-long Duval Street several rows deep and the many perched on balconies to collect beads and watch the creative spectacle. The breathalyzers were for the drivers of the floats.
“I think we have to take them one or two more times during the parade, too,” said Bob Harvey, a retired salesman and fleet captain of the Key West Yacht Club. “That’s OK, because I don’t drink. That’s why I’m driving.”
Harvey’s pulling “Fears – The Villainous Bar,” a takeoff of the popular TV show Cheers. It’s right in theme for the 35th Fantasy Fest, whose theme is “Super Heroes, Villains… & Beyond.”
While much of the country was suffering from unseasonable cold temperatures, it was a perfect evening for the tens of thousands of costume-wearing, partiers of all ages to watch a parade in Key West. The only complaint from those with floats was a light but gusty breeze that played havoc with balloons and other decorations.
“We have 500 balloons for the Munchkin Village to Emerald City,” said Mark Austin Riggs, who worked on the “Wizard of Odd” float.
The float crew, mostly performers and artists who show off their skills and handiwork at the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, arrived at the setup sight at Truman Annex at 4 p.m. Friday. But much of the balloon work they completed that day had to be redone Saturday because of strong winds overnight.
“It’s a good thing the wind died down,” said Austin Riggs, a performer who rides a unicycle and has an act featuring a tightrope on fire.
Most of the 42 floats were the creations of the creative people in the Keys. In addition to building the floats, they created performances to try to woo the crowd — and the judges.
“The Wonder Women of Womankind” float featured 25 identically dressed Wonder Women, complete with costumes from China that arrived by FedEx.
“When they all put their costumes on it’s hard to tell who is who,” said Ann Lorraine, who designed the float. She comes with great credentials as the longtime float and window designer for the now-closed Fast Buck Freddie’s store that had been a fixture on Duval Street.
Lorraine created an “invisible airplane” made of white Christmas lights. The Wonder Women primarily are the doctors and nurses who work at Womankind, which was formed in 2001 to provide accessible and affordable primary, gynecological and mental health care for women and girls.
The parade featured a real super hero to many, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who was asked to be the grand marshal after becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage. She rode atop a life size replica of the Southernmost Point Buoy.
Of course, the 10-day festival known for body painting and showing off body parts that don’t usually see the sun, also had a less PG-rated form of female super heroes — “The Amazon Women of Ur Anus,” whose mission was the total enslavement of Mankind.
“We put collars around the men’s necks, do bad things to them, and then eat them,” said Tammy Guminski, a nurse by day and an Amazon Woman by night.
Steve Estes, publisher of the News Barometer on Big Pine Key, was one of the enslaved men: “Do I look like I mind with this smile on my face?”
Estes says he know what the crowds want: beads — and lots of them.
His group bought 25 cases, with 720 string of beads per case, at $33 each. “Beads have really gone up,” Estes said. “It’s one of our biggest expenses.”
One float was made into a large Casino Royale, with 00-70 written on the side. It was based on the spoof of a James Bond movie, done by Woody Allen, Peter Sellers and David Givens.
“It’s actually a surprise birthday float,” said Nicolette Alex-Sands, an assistant manager with Banana Republic clothing store in Key West. “We told Paul to show up in a white dinner jacket.”
Paul is Paul Toppino of Toppino & Sons Construction Company. Saturday was his 70th birthday.
In addition to beads, the Super Chicken float — made by the nonprofit Presents in Paradise that gives Christmas gifts to kids of domestic violence or have parents recovering from addiction — gave out 9,000 colorful condoms donated by the Monroe County Health Department.
Their float was a gigantic egg, based on the 1960’s TV show. “It’s about a mild-mannered chicken who wants to do good but is introverted so a long says to try a secret sauce which turns out to be a martini,” said Frank Yowonske, founder of Presents in Paradise.
Captain Tony’s Saloon sponsored the Krazy Krewe float, decorated with plenty of hanging bras, or as Alvin Campbell, a writer from Jamaica, called them: “Donations from the ladies.”
The Little Red Shop at Flagler Station sponsored the Super Red Cupman float, which had a giant beer pong cup on it with the saying: “Get Your Balls Wet.” “It’s interactive,” said Val Marmillion, the shop’s proprietor. “The balls are big because we don’t want people to miss.”
No float would be complete without a well-disguised portable potty. Tom Phillips showed off their hidden bathroom on the “Despicable We” float designed and built by a bunch of Key West locals who spent $3,000 of their own money.
“We’re minion mayhem,” he said. “But it’s tasteful for the kids.”
The Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West rented a float of a train from a company in Tampa. But the float broke down on Alligator Alley, so Jodi Weinhofer, the association president, said they had measured all the decorations of the float to go with the train before the parade. “But we’re doing the best we can with what we got,” she said.
The show must go on — and the crowd was most appreciative.
That was especially the case when the Marathon Misfits rolled down the street with a float dedicated to the “Heroes Among Us.”
These super heroes did not come from another planet. They are America’s military.