“Take a look at this, guys,” I said one afternoon, a couple of weeks ago. “The Gambit Weekly has previews of all the Mardi Gras Parades.” Each entry included a map of the route with a list that included the theme, king, queen, number of floats, and an item called “throws.”
I started reading the entries out loud, avoiding the “family-friendly” ones and selecting the more outrageous ones to entertain my two male companions. “We could do this one, Cleopatra. All the women on the floats are female,” I announced with a grin.
Brian perked right up. “I’m there!” he said. And just like that, we were off to our first parade.
Well, maybe not just like that. We decided to take Peepcar, in case parking was a problem. With a car that small, you know you can always pick up the front end and scoot it into the space. First, we had to contend with hideous traffic and bad New Orleans drivers. Pouring rain, dark, wet pavement, lame windshield wipers. We got a little lost near the parade route, so we stopped at a MacDonald’s for directions. The employees were all busy, but there were a few kids hanging around. An ebony-colored 7-foot tall giant with 1/4-inch diamond stud earrings told me the best place to watch the parade was in front of Wal-Mart. I was trying not to stare at his gold bicuspids.
Back at Peepcar, we folded Barry up and stuffed him into the back seat again. But a block later, another stop beckoned. Since Louisiana doesn’t have any open container laws, New Orleans is full of daquiri shops, many of them drive-ins. We walked into a cross between a Wendy’s and a bar. Behind the counter was a whole row of alcoholic slushy machines, with labels like “Hypnotic Chill” and “Hi-Octane.” The three girls ahead of us looked to be about 17, but they all walked out with 24-oz larges.
I tried asking the lady behind the counter (in a place like that, is her job title “bartender,” or “slushy barrista?”) to describe some of the flavors. She just shook her head, “I’ll give y’all a taste. I don’t want to sell you nothin’ without you tastin’ it.” What was she thinking? If I tasted all 16 flavors, I’d be in no shape to continue driving! As it was, I had to overcome twenty-plus years of conditioning just to get into a car with three open containers, my medium-sized amaretto-pineapple safe in the passenger’s hand.
A few blocks later, it was apparent that we were on the parade route by the cars and mobile toilets parked by the side of the road. We parked at Wal-Mart and sat in the car for a while, steaming up the windows in the rain and making inroads on our daquiris. By the time the parade started, we hardly noticed the drizzle, we were so warm inside. The downside was that Brian kept having to leave the parade to find a bathroom.
At first, there were just marching bands and junior ROTC groups. Standard parade fare that we’ve seen in other cities. But then came indications that we weren’t in Kansas any more.
First, there was the queen herself. She sat on a throne in full regalia, about 10 feet up, in front of (not under!) a decorative canopy. The rain poured over the canopy and onto her miserable head, and the poor thing shook and shivered with possible hypothermia. If she spent thousands of dollars and many months having her costume created, she was certainly regretting it now.
And then there were the floats. The rain was nothing compared to the beads that showered down upon us. Metallic, shiny beads in green, gold, and purple. Huge strands of fake pearls that hung down to our knees. Red, blue, pink beads, some shaped like dice or hearts. Translucent chokers in yellow, green, blue, and pink. We smiled and waved at the nice ladies, and they buried us in beads. Every one we caught, plus some we picked up from the street, we put around our necks.
And still came more beads, children’s toys, and baggies of peanuts. Brian caught the eye of several of the ladies, who elected to give him special gifts. One handed him a purple-and-red stuffed pig. Another waved him over to give him a 5-foot-long snake in green and gold with a purple mouth. I caught a purple hippo and a plastic scepter. One of the strangest items was the Sheriff Harry Lee refrigerator magnet — he’d recently had a gastric bypass operation, and the magnet showed a normal-sized version of him wearing hugely oversized pants.
When the parade was finally over, you could hardly see our raincoats under all the beads. If we stooped to pick up another strand from the street, there was a risk that all the weight would simply topple us over. It was impossible to get into the car with them on, and all three of us struggled mightily to get them off. Fortunately, one of the best throws was a large zipper-topped Mardi Gras bag, into which we piled them all. When we returned home, I couldn’t resist weighing them — 21 pounds of beads and toys. Ain’t it wonderful what Mardi Gras does for the Chinese economy?