It’s been several years since I’ve been down to visit my mom in Louisiana. So when she suggested I come for Mardi Gras this year I jumped at the chance. Between a year in Baton Rouge when I was 17, another in LaPlace when I was 19, and several trips after, this was my fifth Mardi Gras (I think).
I’ve determined a few things. The first is that I’m too old for this shit 😉 Another is that I don’t do well without sleep–I get sick. And lastly, drunk teenagers suck mega wang. Not literally…Okay, maybe literally.
For anyone who hasn’t actually attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans, there are generally misconceptions. I’m going to address these in an outsider’s perspective.
Mardi Gras Misconceptions (New Orleans)
- You have to flash your genitals to get beads — While this definitely helps, it’s not a requirement unless you’re on Bourbon Street. In many sections of the city it’s frowned upon to do this at all.
- Mardi Gras takes place in the French Quarter (Vieux Carré) — While there are certainly plenty of events in the French Quarter, I’ve only popped my head down Bourbon Street twice during my five runs through carnival season.
- Everyone is drunk — Not so. I’ve never actually gotten drunk during Mardi Gras. Woozy, yes. But not fall-down drunk. And I’ve been around others who haven’t.
- It’s not for families — Many of the throws are family-oriented such as frisbees, footballs, light up swords, etc. It all depends on the area of the city you go to. Closer to the Quarter you get, the rowdier the crowd.
- Everyone dresses up — I don’t know about in Europe, but in New Orleans only a few people dress in costumes (check out the chicken man up there on the left, he was my favorite!). More get all dolled up on Fat Tuesday. The people on the floats generally have some sort of costume or mask but the revelers wear casual clothing.
What is Mardi Gras?
Go Google it because just about everyone else can explain it better than I can.
In a nutshell, it’s when Christians party hard before lent & Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras literally stands for “Fat Tuesday”. Here in the States, many places have Mardi Gras celebrations but no one does it like New Orleans. Did you know many New Orleans businesses are closed on Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday?
There are even elaborate balls held around the city where floor-length gowns are a requirement!
Mardi Gras in New Orleans
This year we got a spot on Lee Circle (a rare roundabout, shown left at 3:30am Friday). Portapotties were plentiful and there was a convenience store behind us. The location would also grant us access to six different parades in two days.
We got there early evening on Friday, Feb 8th for “Vendredi Gras” and parades from Krewe of Hermes, Krewe d’Etat and Krewe of Morpheus.
A quick break to explain how this works. Mardi Gras is REALLY all about the parades. At least that’s what I think. A “Krewe” sponsors each parade. These are a members-only kind of thing. People have to pay big bucks to ride on a float.
The way the parades tend to go are they have a specific route — be it Uptown, Midcity, Westbank, Metairie etc. These routes are well known. There’s even an iOS app that shows the route and tracks where the parade is currently located.
A parade generally starts off with law enforcement, perhaps clydesdales pulling a beer wagon, a marching band and then a float. After that it’s float, marching band/musical act, float, marching band/musical act, float, rinse and repeat.
Here’s a video that illustrates the above:
Every float is themed. Sometimes the float has throws to go along with the theme. For example a float titled “Banana Wagon” tossed beads with bananas and banana keychains.
So on Vendredi Gras in Midcity, Krewe Hermes tossed out beads with the Caduceus (medical symbol) on them. Krewe d’Etat tossed beads with skulls on them and a few of glowing skeletons. And Morpheus tossed fairly ordinary beads. The last parade of the night didn’t finish up at Lee Circle until around 1:30am.
I popped my head onto Bourbon Street at roughly 3am (Right — a tiny ass ambulance at the mouth of Bourbon and Canal). It wasn’t as packed as the last time I’d been through during Mardi Gras but it was still pretty annoying. No doubt every college in a hundred mile radius dumped their students on it. I stayed long enough to get a frozen daiquiris and head out.
For “Samedi Gras”, Saturday, Feb 9th, we scored basically the same spot on Lee Circle for Krewe of Iris, Krewe of Tucks, Krewe of Endymion.
Iris and Tucks were afternoon parades while Endymion was in the evening. We had a long pause for grilling burgers (even though the cops got a bit ticked with our grill). Lee Circle filled up by six o’clock (Left — our spot Saturday before the crowd turned up). We’re pretty sure many were drunken high school kids. There was plenty of pot smoking going on. Even with police every hundred feet. Several fights broke out between people behind us. The mounted police had to get involved. Thankfully I stayed safe, albiet feverish (remember, I don’t do well without sleep).
Endymion finished out my Mardi Gras because it was cold and rainy after that. I’m ok with that. I was paraded out after six parades. I only wish I could have seen one of the cajun “Courir de Mardi Gras” (Mardi Gras Run) because I heard there was chicken chasing!
Check out my YouTube channel for more (brief) videos and see the AWESOME marching band all the way from Switzerland!