PLANT CITY — Britney Pattie got an early start Monday to land a prime spot at the Florida Strawberry Festival grand parade.
She knew the best places fill up long before the parade begins at 1 p.m. So she staked her claim more than four hours early on a parking space at the post office, steps from the route.
Pattie, her 2 1⁄2-year-old son Brycen and 10-year-old niece Dallas Gunn sat in the bed of her pickup truck and had a perfect view as the parade marched by on Reynolds Street.
“This is Brycen’s first parade ever and he’s having a blast. I saw his eyes light up when the fire trucks came by. He loves fire trucks,” said Pattie, who lives in North Carolina but grew up in Plant City.
Thousands of people jammed the 2-mile route from the historic business district to the festival grounds.
The parade helps celebrate the strawberry harvest and the Florida Strawberry Festival, which runs through Sunday. With weather in the low 80s, the route was crowded several people deep in some places. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day for a parade,” said Gail Lyons, president of Berry Fine Productions, which stages the event.
The 115 entrants in the procession included antique cars, marching bands, high school JROTC groups and Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Jessi Rae Varnum and her court.
“Lizard Lick Towing” reality TV star Bobby Brantley, the grand marshal, drew screams as he rode on a Brewington’s Towing Service wrecker.
Shriner Doc Riley thrilled the children with a motor trike, which is a three-wheel vehicle with a steering wheel.
“The little kids they just love it,” said Riley, who said he likes to ride in parades to promote the Shriners’ hospitals and their charity care.
Many families lined the parade route, including Andrew Morrison Sr., who brought his 1-year-old grandson, Treshawn McKay. Morrison, who was joined by his daughter Ashley Morrison and two other relatives, Trance McKay and Cedric McKay, said his family looks forward to the parade each year.
“We never miss one,” he said, motioning to his grandson, he added, “I’m starting him out right.” About a block away, Edith Langston was enjoying the parade from a shady section of sidewalk with an entourage of about 20 family members and friends. “I bring food and we eat while we wait for the parade to start. We make a day of it,” she said.
Patty Baxter took advantage of the fact that her mom Maggie Brodie’s home fronts the parade route. She and her children, 4-year-old Abigail and 9-year-old Hayden, ate lunch on the porch before moving to the curb for a closer view. Midway through the parade, Abigail already had a handful of beads around her neck.
Brodie said the parade is a social event for her family.
“We see people who we haven’t seen for some time. We see police officers we know and other people in the parade who are walking by,” she said.
The family’s day of enjoyment wasn’t ending with the parade, Baxter said.
“We’re going to the festival later today because Abigail is dancing,” with a kids dance group, she said. “We just love the festival and this time of year.”