by Lauren Clark
I have always been a huge fan of Mardi Gras. French for Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras is a major event in the coastal South. Akin to Halloween, where children trek door-to-door to gather as much candy as possible to ring in All Saints Day, Mardi Gras is Halloween on steroids. Fat Tuesday, the Super Bowl half time show of all shows, ushers in Lent, the period of fasting between Ash Wednesday (or “Trashed” Wednesday, depending on how much you had to drink the night before) and Easter Sunday.
My earliest memory of Mardi Gras was watching the parades with my Daddy on our black and white RCA television set, live from Mobile, Alabama on channel WKRG. Every high school band that was worth its salt marched in these nightly parades. Just about any civic organization could be a participant in the parades so long as they could fog a mirror and wave their hands. There were marching groups, and walking groups and people riding in cars and of course, the floats. Mardi Gras originated in Mobile and eventually, like a flock of drunken ducks looking for a bigger and better place to party, migrated west to New Orleans.
My first Mardi Gras parade was in Biloxi, Mississippi where I marched as a trombone player in the Our Lady of Victories school band. O.L.V was a small parochial school, so we were only able to field a few musicians for our band. We were so small, you could have crammed the lot of us in a Volkswagen Beetle with room to spare. But I was happy to be marching in the parade, until someone sprayed me in the face with a squirt gun. Based on the smell, the liquid ammo was either very old beer or something from a very old racehorse with a bladder infection. Needless to say, the rest of the parade was a blur to me.
Mobile and Biloxi pale in comparison to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The unofficial motto for Mardi Gras in the Crescent City is, laissez les bon temps rouler… “let the good times roll.” Believe me, the motto was enforced throughout the city with great gusto.
I especially loved the night time parades, each organized by various social clubs or “krewes”. There’s just something magical about the French Quarter at night: both sides of the narrow streets packed several feet deep with just enough room for the floats and bands to pass; people hanging over the black wrought iron balconies, waving, flashing their tatas and puking. (I guess you had to have been there—it loses something in translation.) Then came the parade.
The floats were very elaborately constructed and theme based. Each float was flanked by several flambeau (torch) bearers who danced along to the music of the marching bands or to the music blaring from the bars along the way. It made for a very festive time. The revelers on the floats jumped up and down, throwing beads, candy, doubloons and beer cans to (or at) anyone who caught their attention.
One of the traditional parades was the King Zulu parade, which was originally an all African American krewe. The Zulu parade route and the time of its start was shrouded in secrecy; it could start anywhere, at any time. In the old days, the people on the King Zulu floats threw colorfully painted real coconuts which, I’m sure, knocked a few screws loose to unsuspecting parade attendees. Years later, due to financial payouts to injured coconut recipients, the Zulus started using lightweight, plastic coconuts. But I digress.
Alcohol flowed freely during Mardi Gras, which contributed to a major problem for most parade goers: finding a bathroom. Back in the day, the Porta Potty was a new invention and had not yet made it to the French Quarter. Weaving through a sea of humanity to find a restroom was quite an ordeal. As the parades came to an end, the New Orleans Mounted Police would trail the last float, which was the cue that the parade was over and that it was time to disperse and take your party elsewhere. Any night in New Orleans would be incomplete without the customary trip to Café du Monde for a post parade cup of café au lait and a beignet, blanketed in powdered sugar.
I miss Mardi Gras and the spirit of people just being themselves, celebrating life. If only we could “let the good times roll” more frequently, rather than focusing on gloom and doom, perhaps life would be more of a party than an ordeal. Hey, let’s start our own Mardi Gras tradition. Now where did I store that trombone?
Lauren Clark is the owner of Creative Wellness for You and a recruiter/consultant with Nikken. As an amateur comedian, she believes that humor is an important part of wellness. She frequently participates in local open mic nights where she performs stand-up comedy. Lauren also enjoys writing, through which she shares her unique and humorous perspective through memories and stories from her own life. For a more complete experience, read this story again, and don’t forget that the author is a master of sarcasm and dry humor.