Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bill Rides in the Krewe of Elk!

Mardi Gras only comes but once a year and some local Orleanians plan out their whole week of Mardi Gras a year or more ahead of time. In Mardi Gras 2011 I met my girlfriend catching a parade with mutual friends.  I thought it was kind of strange how she dove for doubloons (plastic medallions thrown by the float riders) but who isn’t strange during a Mardi Gras parade?

Val Kilmer throws daubloons as King of Bacchus in '09
Around August 2011, six months before Mardi Gras, Annie, my girlfriend, asked if I would ride in a truck parade through downtown New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day.  I told her I would love to because it would be my first time riding in a parade, but I was not certain I would be in town.   

About three months went by and she was still bugging me about it. Just like any other wonderful boyfriend would, I told her “Yea my schedule is free, it will be a lot of fun!” and I paid the dues to ride even though I knew something was going to come up, and with my luck it would be the week of Mardi Gras.  We try to avoid scheduling mock trials on Mardi Gras, but you never know what the schedule will look like.  We came right up to the brink this year, but thanks for the red eye out of NOLA I was able to ride.  And what a ride it was!

The weekend before Mardi Gras we had to meet up with the krewe of the float to decorate it and go over a few rules.  It was only then that I learned we were going to be the firemen float and I was supposed to dress as a fireman.  I was told that we would all have to wear shirts with make-shift suspenders, hats, and even put soot on our faces. We were also told that we needed to be on the float by 7am! 

The day before Mardi Gras Annie’s dad and I loaded a ton of beads (actually one thousand pounds) onto the float so Annie and I had enough beads to throw to people.  Annie refuses to discard Mardi Gras beads, so she had a massive collection waiting in the attic.  On Mardi Gras day, Annie and had to wake up at 5am to get ready to ride on the float.  When we showed up and the sun had not even come out yet.  It was chilly and everyone looked pretty sluggish.  Once the sun peeked through the trees it started warming up and by that time we were on the rode freezing from the 50 mile per hour winds coming at us, but at least it started to wake everyone up a bit.

We weren't the only ones setting up in the wee hours of the morning
Our float was pretty early to the meeting point.  We had the float parked in our respectable spot and made a quick trip to the Burger King for breakfast and to use the restroom.  You don't want to have to go to the bathroom when you're stuck on a float.  Parade goers generally prefer to catch beads.  Once we returned to the float we started socializing and popping the tops off beers, now we were starting to have some fun.

After about 3 hours of hanging out, getting to know people, and joking around we were finally ushered onto the float by a police officer with a megaphone.  After 3 hours of beers, a few of us needed a little orientation.  “AND WE’RE OFF!” screamed the girl next to me, also excited that it was her first time riding in a parade, except there was no one around to catch the parade.

We were starting to think that people had forgotten that the parade was scheduled when Annie heard us griping.  She explained that the parade route did not start for another 10 blocks, and that ti would take up to 2 hours for our float to get there!  Needless to say, the line of floats was long, and I though we were close to the front!

Ten blocks later we came up to the parade route and there were about 10 rows of people; some standing, some sitting, some on ladders, some on parent’s and boyfriend’s shoulders, some on platforms; you name it!  The sea of people was crazy and all they wanted were the beads, beads, beads.  It's one thing to watch a Mardi Gras parade from the ground, but it is an entirely different experience from up on a flat.  

I had a giant pile of beads and I threw them as fast as I could with people screaming, clawing, clamoring, pleading, begging, and...well, it was Mardi Gras!  I just couldn’t throw them fast enough to satisfy this raging torrent of humanity.  I quickly came to the realization that throwing beads was more work then I previously thought.  Not only did I have to throw the beads but I had to grab them out of bags and grab more bags of beads to throw.  I became so absorbed with hurling bead after bead that I almost missed my friends who were yelling my name right in front of me!  

Luckily Annie heard them and got my attention.  I looked down and immediately started showering them with all the beads I could grab.  Knowing someone in a krewe and getting doused with pounds of beads while your shoulder to shoulder neighbors watch jealously is half to fun of going to a parade.  

Annie, ever prepared, had an app on her phone that she could use to track the parade.  Before I realized it she was telling me that we had already passed the half-way point and that I'd better start dumping beads even faster.  I looked down and was still surrounded by beads.  It was like one of those giant pasta bowls that always looks full no matter how much you stuff your face with Alfredo.  I started throwing bundles of beads without regard of who caught them or even if people fought over them.  And then we turned onto Canal street.   Canal is one of the main roads through downtown New Orleans, and it happened to be near the end of our parade route.  Just then I lifted a sack of beads and discovered a bag full of old stuffed animals and started handing them down to little kids as fast as I could.

As we made a left turn towards the end of the parade we could see other floats turning off to go home and I vigorously started shoveling full bags of beads over the side of the float, not knowing where they came from but just chucking them over the side of the float like I was bailing water, right onto people screaming to be showered by them.  As we pulled to the end there was a police command post with a cop inside shouting “Stop throwing! this is the end of the parade stop throwing!” through a PA system.  Mardi Gras is a time of carnival craziness and at times almost frightening excess.  It is a defining part of New Orleans, but one that the city tries its best to keep orderly.

There's only so much you can do to contain Mardi Gras
On the ride back to Luling everyone had their fair share of beers and whatever else they brought with them.  Immediately as we left the city we came into heavy traffic which sparked a dance party on the float!  People in the cars next to us were staring at us like we were nuts,  although some honking their horns in encouragement.  At 6:30 p.m. we finally arrived where we had started the day.  We had to empty everything out of the float and rip all the decorations off the side.  Annie still had about 12 bags of beads in spite of our best efforts to dispose of them, which was unbelievable.  After the float was broken down we finally got home around 7:30, thoroughly worn out.  

Riding in the parade was an exhilarating, if exhausting, experience; one that has given me a whole new perspective on Mardi Gras.  Having lived in New Orleans all my life I didn't think that was possible, but in a city like this, there's always something that will surprise you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Post Mardi Gras Report

Posted by Benson

Phew!  This Mardi Gras was crazy awesome!  I wish I could have posted this sooner, but I have been a little held up.  I did have to leave for New York on business Mardi Gras day and all.

Well, Liz and I totally made it to Bacchus this year and we had ourselves an awesome time!  We had planned to meet up with Jamie and her family, but we were sadly unsuccessful.  Now, this wasn't because Liz and I didn't get to where they were, I just couldn't find them in spite of the fact that I could have hit Jamie with a beer can from where I was standing.  Cell service was also virtually non-existent.  I suppose when 2,000 people try to check Facebook at the same time the cell towers go into crisis mode.

I could have nailed her if that kid hadn't been standing up so high
Liz and I got to the parade a little late, as in we got there an hour before it started rolling and that's what it looked like.  Jamie's husband Ryan and others of her kin had been camping out since the night before to secure a good spot.  Bill told me that it was fairly mercenary too.  Apparently he was the one drunk enough to shamelessly fed off tourists and small children with barrages of obscenity.

Supposedly Jamie is off to the left somewhere

But we didn't let this little snafu disturb us...well, I got a little frustrated, but a couple of beers made everything okay.  Even from where we were, Liz and I had a great time.  Although it took a little persuading, I eventually managed to get Liz to push to the front of the crowd with me and yell for beads like a true New Orleanian.  She performed with aplomb!  I have several videos of it that I will post once I get them off of my camera.

We were watching the parade on Napoleon street, which is where all of the local families typically set up.  The whole thing is like a giant tailgate.  The nice thing is that you don't have to get into fist fights with belligerent, drunken tourists.  You can get into fist fights with your belligerent, drunken relatives instead!  The bad thing for someone like Liz is that there are guys with kids all over.  No offense to Liz, but she's not the tallest person in the world.  Kids are short too until you hoist them on your shoulders, and then they're not only twice as tall as you, but terribly cute as well.  In other words, Liz had to work hard to get her beads.

Like all of the super parades, Bacchus was quite long and very impressive to watch.  We got to see Will Ferrel, which was awesome.  We were very early on the parade route and he seemed a little timid, but I hear he really got into it when the parade hit St. Charles.  He was even throwing little cow bells!  We got to see the Louisiana Bicentennial float, and we got to hurl beads at King Kong!  For those of you not from New Orleans, Bacchus rolls with a King Kong float, which you traditionally pelt with your beads.

I'm supposed to throw these things, right?
I gotta have more cowbell, baby!
Fat Tuesday was a big day for me.  I got dressed up in my post-apocalyptic costume and hit the streets of the Vieux Carre.  The costume was a big success.  It came out far better than I had expected.  Even my son Ieuan was super excited about it!  I think he enjoyed all of the necklaces, zippers, and doodads.  Liz was slightly disturbed by how excited he was with my tooth necklace, but when all of the baby toys are charred and irradiated, what are you going to do?

The whole group looked awesome.  Everyone put a lot of effort into their Mardi Gras costumes this year.  Most of my pictures came out a little blurry...which was totally not because I was inebriated or anything.  It was obviously the light that day, or the camera settings.  However, a few good shots made it through my sweet daiquiri-addled fugue.

Wes went with a very official look, with a set of auto mechanics coveralls and a fancy baseball glove epaulette.   He looked like the self-proclaimed dictator of a Fallout village.  Here he is sharing out the emergency Miller High Life rations.  You never know when your flask will suddenly run low.

Mark decided to go primarily with old tires and chains for hit post-apocalyptic duds.  He also had himself a genuine hubcap shield, which served him well when were were pelted with beads from Bud Light balcony party.

I assured those ladies that although I was flattered, I was not going to expose myself for their beads.  They did not react well to my polite rebuff, which was probably because it was composed of three words and an expressive hand gesture.  As we discovered, declining beads in such a manner is also a great way to receive them; very speedily and carefully aimed.

As usual, Clay outdid all of us with his costume.  He made it onto the news again, which is a yearly tradition.  We also ran into another group of folks who had similarly gone all out in honor of the impending apocalypse.  They had constructed a huge Ragnarok horse which they had carried into the Quarter in sections and assembled on site.  I was complete with a moving head, special effects, and its very own porta-potty!

Unfortunately, I had to leave early since I had to catch a flight to New York that afternoon.  But I was able to see the traditional crazy Christian fundamentalist protesters in their always fantastic Mardi Gras outfits!  These fellows come down every year with such dedication.  Their costumes seem to get better every time. One of them even has a sign which identifies the types of people that are doomed to Hell.  Every year there seem to be more sinners added.  This year we learned that n addition to all of the usual denizens of the abyss, "strong women" had been added to the roll of the damned.

Surprisingly, we did find Jesus that day too, and John Coffee.  Neither of them thought that any of us were going to Hell, which was very reassuring.  Besides, they had been yelling about how we needed to trust Jesus all morning.