A few strands of beads, just for a souvenir, I thought. I don’t need more than that.
My resolution fades in a heartbeat, I’m caught up in the frenzy, yelling and waving to the riders on the Mardi Gras floats, trying to catch coins, cups, toys, and ropes of shiny, shiny beads. All I can think is: It’s all about the competition with those around me. It’s participation in an event that has almost mythic dimensions. My anthropological mind is coming up with analytical answers, but they’re only rationalizations. I want the damn beads! I’m not actually throwing elbows, but my friends and I sheepishly admit, we’re in it to win it.
It’s my first Mardi Gras parade, and I’m already caught up in it.
Two weeks before, and my friend Bryan, whom I met through the good folks at Crimespree Magazine, texted me: “It’s short notice, but we have room on our float for Mardi Gras. Do you want to ride with us?”
Mardi Gras is something I never thought I’d encounter. I had the image everyone did, of drunken mobs on Bourbon Street, a debauched frenzy, not at all my cup of tea. I don’t like rowdy crowds and I prefer to sit and talk with friends while I sip my cocktail. But the idea of seeing it with local friends, and the chance to actually ride a float pushed aside any hesitation I might have had. I was looking up flights even as I messaged my husband: “So…I have the chance to go to Mardi Gras…”
My mistaken notions were quickly dispelled. Most of Mardi Gras—the local Mardi Gras— is a family celebration, a block-party atmosphere. There is etiquette (how close you set up next to the people next to you on the parade route, you don’t run after throws obviously intended for someone else) and there are laws (riders must be masked while visible on the float or risk a fine, no obvious drunkenness).
They kept marching despite the rain…
The Krewe parades had floats as well as local high school marching bands and dance troupes. Watching them dance and perform over a route that is miles long is impressive, and even more so when you’re watching them in a downpour. You clap all the harder, knowing you’re sitting at the mid-point of the parade, and they have a long, drenched and shivery way to go.
Of course, it’s worth it to watch parades in the pouring rain. Those more fainthearted leave, and you’re likely to get much better throws. Not that I needed them...but I wanted them. It’s part of the experience.
I was really happy with the throws I caught during my first parades. Plenty of basic beads, a handful of doubloons (coins marked with the stamp of the Krewe, a new design every year), krewe specific toys and pendants, and a grail. Every krewe decorates grails to hand out to parade watchers who make an especial impression. There is even a “grail of grails” handed out by the royalty of the krewe to an especially impressive onlooker. I think it was the mask that I made that got me a grail from the Krewe of Cleopatra.
It’s an opportunity to celebrate community, eat good food, and share the event with friends. I fell in love with Mardi Gras, and this was even before I rode with The Krewe of King Arthur.
NEXT: Riding on a Mardi Gras float