Mardi Gras. An event that I grew up hearing about, but not really knowing about. In college the student center would give out King Cake for free, and I thought that was pretty cool, so Mardi Gras had to be pretty cool. Because of cake. I love cake.
While we were trucking across Texas, Jake suggested that instead of turning around and heading back towards Cali (we’re running the Big Sur Marathon in late April, so that’s our next ‘destination’) in Houston, we try to make it to Mardi Gras. So we did. Because when you live in a house on wheels you can do things like that. And I needed some real King Cake.
When we had the great idea to go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we did not have, nor plan to have, a 4 year old traveling with us. So, that changed things up a bit. Not necessarily in a bad way (for me at least), just in a ‘way’. Jake’s friend Chris also decided that going to Mardi Gras sounded awesome, so he came down to stay with us for 2 weeks. Yes, he also made that decision before the 4 year old invasion thing.
Jake, DavidMoon, and Chris partook in many more of the ‘expected’ Mardi Gras celebrations (i.e. Bourbon St, bars), so their tales would probably be a bit different from mine. I did walk down Bourbon St for exactly 3 minutes on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, saw a ton of drunken, half naked tourists and some pretty sweet street performers, and then happily resumed exploration of the rest of the French Quarter with a single Hurricane in hand (trust me, you don’t need more than one).
The biggest surprise in regard to Mardi Gras (for me) was that it was not a ‘one day’ deal. Heck, it wasn’t even a week long deal. January 6 is the start of Carnival season. It doesn’t end until Ash Wednesday, with the big ‘hurrah’ being Fat Tuesday. By Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), even I was sick of parades (but not King Cake- if we had a scale on board I swear it would have taken a serious pounding after our stay in NOLA). Also, the kids down in NOLA don’t have ‘spring break’ week, they have ‘Carnival Break’ week. And many of the adults get the much of the week of Fat Tuesday off of work (it’s a legal holiday). Also, it is celebrated all over the place- everywhere in and around the city and general 500 mile radius. There was even a mini parade in the state park we called home for 2 weeks (Bayou Segnette). In other news, you don’t need to show skin (i.e. boobs) to get beads. You just show up at a parade and people on floats will attempt to impale you with beads and various other items (i.e. plastic swords, bunny figurines, tortillas, moon pies, underwear, etc.) as you stand by and wave your hands around hoping that you can catch the item before it maims you. And you don’t have to worry if a few of the throws disfigure the person standing next you; they hurl so many trinkets at you, that after the hoards of people begging to be smacked with some cheap token leave for the night, the city brings out front-loaders to scoop up all the abandoned loot and dump it into dump trucks. This goes on nearly everyday for a month.
Speaking of the parades (and other Mardi Gras happenings), here are some things we learned.
- There are all different types of parades. Parades that specialize in political statements. Family parades. Sexy parades. Parades for dogs. Something for everyone!
- You better get there early if you want to have a place to stand. No joke, the street is lined at 7:00am for the super krewe parades that start at 6pm. Super Krewes are important because they showcase double decker floats. This increases your chances of being decapitated by a flying tchotchke as it is pretty difficult to keep an eye on all of the angles they could be flying from; therefore, it also increases the fun. New Orleanians like to live on the wild side.
- You better bring a sacrificial virgin if you want to use a bathroom. No virgin for sacrifice, no bathroom.
- The NOLA police dance. And it wasn’t just a ‘one cop’ thing. I personally spotted numerous police officers ‘whipping’, ‘nae-naeing’ and ‘cupid shuffling’ in the street. In between shouting at revelers to ‘get out of the tree’ of course. The police in NOLA during Carnival were incredibly friendly and personable, especially for being on tons of overtime during the season of drunken idiots.
- Ladders. They line the street for the week leading up to Fat Tuesday and double as a ‘place holder’ and also a corral for children. That way the adults and run rampantly back and forth into the street in an attempt to get struck by the largest token of junk being thrown off of a float while their children are contained high up in the air. Hey, it’s more appropriate than cages I guess.
- Don’t wear clean/new/white/loved shoes to the parade, unless you’re going for that ‘severely abused and filthy look’ next time you wish to wear them. Think ‘pee-rade’. I’d recommend rainboots.
- The bands here are amazing. And they are (mostly) highschoolers. They walk/boogey up to 6 miles per parade. The drum majors dance/prance 6 miles per parade. All in heavy uniforms. They’re pretty incredible.
- The smells of the parades are as festive and evolving as the parades themselves. In the best and worst ways possible.
- Don’t worry if your mouth just can’t chew another piece of King Cake (amateur). There are many other options for you out there! Kind cake flavored coffee. And Vodka. Lattes. Sodas. Daiquiris. Sadly, I didn’t stumble upon any toothpaste of this excellent flavor, but I’ll keep my hopes high.
- You don’t have to actually attend a parade to see the parade floats. The entire time we were in NOLA we kept having to re-route our drives into the city as roads were blocked by floats being transported to one place or another. Dexter thought it was just another parade, so we usually stopped to watch the empty floats being dragged about town. This also helped decrease the ‘loot’ which was quickly filling up our small home on wheels. It also probably saved us a trip to the ER.
- Mardi Gras traffic blows. It’s even worse when you are attempting to hunt down a drunken friend who can’t figure out where he is and therefore can’t even attempt to find where you are. Also, drunk driving is a thing. A scary, dumb thing. In the future, there will be no driving in or near the city during Mardi Gras for us (scary things were witnessed!). If you get the chance to go to Carnival, figure out a way to not have to drive around the city during prime drinking times (which happen to be the entire time).
Mardi Gras aside, New Orleans itself is an incredibly interesting, beautiful, cultured city. We were warned to be wary and on guard, so of course, we were. There was never a time where I felt unsafe, however, we try to make ‘smart choices’ while still immersing ourselves into a place as much as possible. The ‘downtown’ districts (French Quarter, Warehouse District, Garden District, etc.) are all each unique in their architecture and culture. Walking down a residential street in New Orleans you might stumble upon public housing. Then, suddenly, there is a beautifully manicured mansion. Then a few white picked fences. And then -bam- boarded up homes mingling about. It’s obscenely rich next to desperately poor with just regular folks in between. So yeah, we heard about the crime. And violence. But you know what I noticed most about New Orleans and it’s people? Happiness. Everywhere. It didn’t matter if it was a private party being held in front of one of those beautiful mansions, everyday folks just shooting the s*** on their front stoop, or bartenders working a bar on Frenchman Street, everyone smiled, greeted each other, and was approachable. Now, let’s be clear, much of this happiness and friendliness may have to do with NOLA’s laws on open containers: if it’s not glass, you can pass. Aka, you can walk down the street with your happy drink. Also you can buy alcohol 24/7. Oh, and did I mention that they have drive through Daiquiri Shops? Yes. Not only did New Orleans give the world Jazz, it also gave it drive thru daiquiri shops. Now, I’m not here to argue which is more important but… 30 seconds to delicious, cold, happiness in a cup? These shops were highly convenient and delicious for our drive back to Dyna (who we parked about 25 minutes outside of NOLA proper). Also, don’t worry. You can’t drink and drive because they keep the straw wrapper on your daiquiri straw when they hand you the delightful nectar in it’s styrofoam (really, we’re still using styrofoam?) vessel. And since i’m pretty sure the straws are magic and can’t be opened while a car is in motion, it isn’t a concern. We didn’t try, but i’m pretty sure about this. **PSA- Don’t drink and drive. As mentioned before, it is stupid and not cool**
Not only did New Orleans give us the gift of drive thru daiquiris, and King Cake, but it also provides beignets of the highest quality and deliciousness for all. Oh, and Po’ Boys. And did I mention crawfish? Actually, the folks of this city seem to be able to turn any bottom feeding sea creature into a delicacy. (High five, NOLA) In short, we didn’t have trouble finding something delicious to consume at any given moment while in New Orleans. However, we did have difficulty pronouncing the names of said items, or the locations where we might be able to find said items. “If you want a Beignet (Ben-yay) from Cafe Du Monde, you’re going to need to get off at the Tchoupitoulas (Chop-ah-too-liss) exit.” Oh, and those tasty little delights spelled ‘pralines’? Yeah, you better ask for ‘PRAW-lins’ or you’re going hungry. Or how about the name ‘New Orleans’? Well, we learned, through chastising, that it said ‘Noo-OR-Linz’. And if the names of things wasn’t hard enough for us to wrap our tongues around, we found that a portion of what native New Orleanians say is in code. I learned that I can ‘make groceries’, which sounds 100x more productive than just swinging by the Piggly Wiggly (which is all ‘making groceries’ is). And while I’m at the store, I might as well pick up an alligator pear (avocado). Then, I can take my alligator pear down to the neutral ground (the grassy median strip between the two sides of an avenue) if it’s Carnival to catch any number of Krewes (an organization that puts on a parade) parading around town. And as was said to me on more than one occasion, bless our hearts.
Dex and I spent a lot of time exploring the city together, sometimes with the rest of the gang, and sometimes just the two of us. We hit up the Children’s Museum a few times (it’s a good one!), walked around the various areas of town, stopped in every candy store we passed and watched street performers do their things. We splurged on a horse drawn carriage tour of the French Quarter (which made a pitstop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in NOLA) and found an art gallery that featured Pete the Cat (he’s one groovy cat and one of Dexter’s favorites). We also did a swamp tour over at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park where we saw a giant Alligator named ‘No-see’ (he was missing one eye), and held a baby alligator.
Something cool has been happening since Dexter joined us on our adventure; we’ve been meeting tons of people. Not that we didn’t meet people before, it’s just that now when we meet people, there is an instant connection. That connection goes a little something like this: ‘hey, you have a kid. Me too! *Looks of desperation and unspoken understanding pass between two parties* Great, they can play together so that we can each have 30 minutes of sanity time’. So, we’ve been enjoying many playground dates. And happy hours in which the happiest part is that the kids are entertaining each other (and that’s saying something). So, thanks to Emily & company, Heather & company, and Shane & company for letting us play, and dropping your words of parenting wisdom on 2 lost 20 somethings who are suddenly traveling with a 4 year old.
Recently, Dex decided that being outside is cool. Which is really cool for us because Dyna isn’t as big as she seems when we need to turn into a tight space. He’s been running with Jake & I, practicing a little yoga (he lasts about 2 minutes and 30 seconds) and has found the joy of flying a kite.
Wanna know what wasn’t cool? That time that I single handedly ripped the hose connections out of the ground. And the park rangers not only had to fix it, but in order to do so, had to turn off water to the entire park. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t impressed with my own strength, but I also won’t pretend that I felt like a complete @$$. And on that note, peace out NOLA!