This year’s Bacchus parade here in New Orleans reminded of why I love Mardi Gras. It’s not the beer or the beads. It’s the sheer, unadulterated joy that flows through the crowds from start to finish. And, oddly, all the kids.
If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, your view of it is undoubtedly skewed by portrayals in national media of wild revelers flashing untanned body parts, stumbling drunkenly around the French Quarter, and generally behaving badly.
That happens. It’s true. But those are primarily Texans and they do that kind of thing every big weekend whether they are here or at home. No, unless you come to New Orleans, you’re liable to miss something important about Mardi Gras: the celebration changes from neighborhood to neighborhood and it’s not the drunken debauch so often portrayed in media.
I’m staying Uptown in a friend’s house about five blocks off St Charles, the main parade route up here, lined with live oaks, Spanish moss, and stately homes. If I should forget a parade is happening, there’s the thunder of drums in endless marching bands to remind me to throw on shoes and a coat and get my ass down there.
And what’s there? A tailgate that snakes for miles along, and spilling over, the streetcar tracks. There’s beer here, sure ~ coolers full of it and in kegs pulled along in wagons by students from Tulane and Loyola. Just what you expect at a tailgate, along with grills and propane stoves stocked with sausage, burgers, and jambalaya giving off enticing smells.
But also generations of New Orleanians, from grandparents to infants, line the streets. Unlike the jostling, drunken, Girls-Gone-Wild crowds thronging Bourbon Street, Uptown parades are largely family affairs. The littlest toddlers are perched up on ladders while grade schoolers get front row spots where passing float-riders often reach down and hand them beads, necklaces, and plush toys, throws that they’re just tossing to everyone else.
During the Proteus parade, I spoke with a couple visiting from Alabama. The husband was from here and wanted to bring their two small boys to Mardi Gras. He wife was appalled at the idea. Until she came and realized—as all the locals know—it really is a safe place for little kids, older adults, and everyone in between. One son—who inititially claimed “I don’t want any beads”—was throwing his arms in the air after a mere six floats, screaming “Throw me somethin’, mistah!”
Now, I like catching parade throws as much as the next guy and lord knows I don’t mind a nip during a parade, but up here, among so many families—these are parades I never want to miss. Seeing rapturous kids beaming with smiles and hearing their whoops of delight remind me that Mardi Gras will outlast us all and that—for as long as I get this sack of bones to the route—parades will roll here in New Orleans.