Imagine this: You’re clipped to the side of a Mardi Gras float with a three-foot harness (six-feet, if you’re on the second floor). Stacked all around you are bags and bags of beads, pendants, and toys, so while a meter-square area seems like it’s manageable (especially to an archaeologist—meter squares are our jam), there’s nearly no room. You even have to be careful of how you arrange your throws—some are on hooks on the railing in front of you, some are hanging from hooks in the ceiling—and you need to keep spaces clear so others can get safely loaded onto the float—some of the chains I bought could have taken your teeth out, if you’d walked into them the wrong way. After the door is shut, you can arrange things to be a bit more comfortable.
You plan bathroom breaks carefully, going when you can before you get rolling, and using the porta-potty on the float when you must. I’ve used porta-potties all through my archaeological career, but this was new, going while moving, when you can see the road passing beneath you.
It’s every bit as glamorous as you imagine.
Everyone in the Krewe buys their own throws. I went a little crazy, because I love shiny things, but they all got tossed. There were pallets of bags of beads being loaded onto the floats before we left. Preparing for the parade was exactly like launching a military maneuver: everyone had to be in the correct position, all the riders had to have their harnesses and masks on, and there was a lot of camaraderie, and sharing of mimosas and snacks.
I rode with The Krewe of King Arthur. There were about fifty floats and 1600 people in our parade, the seventh largest to ride in Mardi Gras. We rode on Family Sunday, and it was really a family event, much like a block party. The route is about five miles long, and the weather was perfect (having been soaked by a torrential downpour the night before, we’d earned it). The theme was “And The Arthur Goes To...” because it was Oscar Night as well. Our float had a pinata, so we were called “Coco,” after the animated film.
I really loved the masks we had on our lieutenants’ floats. I thought it would be harder to connect with people in the crowd, but oddly, it didn’t. And connecting is the key—I asked how you know who to throw to, and the answers generally boiled down to you like someone’s t-shirt. You like the little shimmy they’re doing to get your attention. You think someone is cute. You make eye contact, and then throw the beads to them. If it’s something special, you make sure to point to them, so that others won’t try and steal their prize away.
It’s a bit overwhelming: you have a DJ on the float, you can hear the music from the bands and the other floats around you, and the crowds are screaming. People hold up there kids, which can be disturbing when you suddenly see a toddler’s head eight feet off the ground. You dance around and dangle trinkets to see who will make the most effort to get one. Bryan gave me a grail (one of the most sought-after throws) to toss to someone: I chose a little girl whose face absolutely radiated surprise and delight when she saw it. And despite feeling exhausted after the parade, it was exactly as glamorous as you imagine.