Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras . . . Fuhgeddaboutit!

This is only the second time in my life that I have been in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The first time I attended, I was too young to appreciate what was going on around me. Now that I'm old(er), I've been able to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of "Carnival Time" with the awareness of a fully functioning (well, nearly) adult.

Well, let me be blunt. If this "holiday" ever needs an Ebeneezer Scrooge, they need to have my resume on file. Bah, humbug.

Mardi Gras is great if you're coming into town for a visit. If you live here, it can be a real pain in the posterior. Traffic is ridiculous and parking is next to impossible to find. Even traveling on foot requires wading through a sea of slack-jawed gawkers, or, as some call them, "tourists".

Speaking of tourists, their presence gives every merchant in the Crescent City free license to hike up prices and charge for amenities which used to be, well, free of charge.

Parking: $20.00
Bottled Water: $2.00
Use of the bathroom: $5.00
Hot Dog: $4.00
The ability to jump forward in time to Ash Wednesday: Priceless (Sadly, not available)

From the French Quarter to the Central Business District, the streets are littered with beads, beer cans, and other debris. The scent in the air is not magnolias, but rather a stench of sweat, vomit, and stale beer. It's sad when you walk by a dive bar and are sorely tempted to step inside because it looks and smells so much better than the outdoor environment.

I spent much of the weekend before Fat Tuesday journeying back and forth between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I did not have pressing business in the state capital. I was not visiting family or friends. No, I was simply getting out of the Big Easy, courtesy of the "Swift Bus". The Swift Bus is coordinated by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Louisiana Department of Labor, the CATS transit system in Baton Rouge, and the RTA transit system in New Orleans. It runs seven days a week and was originally intended to help those displaced by Katrina to travel between the two cities free of charge for legitimate purposes (work, school, family concerns, etc.). From what I saw this weekend, it has also become a means to kill time or get taxied to and from a night of drunken revelry.

I fought the good fight as best I could, but on Sunday and Monday I succumbed to peer pressure and actually watched two of the parades. On Sunday, February 18, I stood at Canal Street and St. Charles for the Krewe of Bacchus Parade.

Krewe of Bacchus

The theme was "Through the Eyes of a Child". Certainly fitting, if said "child" is a drunken, middle-aged tourist. Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini, was this year's "King". I saw him. I waved to him. He did not throw any beads in my direction. This will not be forgotten.

On Monday, February 19, I again stood at Canal Street and St. Charles. This time it was the Krewe of Orpheus Parade.

Krewe of Orpheus

This time, I fared much better in the bead department. I did get hit in the head once, though, as I tried to have a conversation with a young woman from Houston, Texas. I did not get her phone number, but I did get those beads. I had to snatch them out of the hands of a little girl, but, hey, it's survival of the fittest out there. She turned on the water works, of course, but I'm pretty sure those were crocodile tears.

Overall, my haul of useless junk was pretty impressive. I did not have a Scrooge-like ephiphany, but, I must admit that I had a good time at those two parades.

So, Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

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