RAIN, RUN-OFF, & OTHER SUBSTANCES YOU’D RATHER NOT IDENTIFY (WHAT ARE PIRATE HOBOS MADE OF?)
As I reached Canal Street, newly baptized in hot chocolate and ready to cross into the Quarter, I found myself trapped. The truck parade was still limping along (it had started around noon and it was now past 4pm!) down roads lined with metal barricades. Emerging from St. Charles, the parade turned up Canal, rolling out of sight and creating a blockade that could take miles to circumnavigate. My feet were already throbbing and my cold certainly wasn’t improving. I’d spent over two hours and countless miles to get this far, so law and order would have to accommodate me at this point rather than vice versa.
Police presence, however, was strong this close to parade ground zero, for there is always a crush of tourists and over-enthusiastic locals on Canal Street radiating up and down the blocks adjacent to Bourbon. I headed north until I saw that people were beginning to leap barriers and rush up to floats with outstretched arms. Reaching a point where the breach was large enough to provide cover, I leaned over the iron railing and sat my hobo pack on a discarded, crushed box. Rain was still misting down and the streets–notorious for potholes in this town–were covered with puddles of rain, run-off, and other substances you’d rather not identify, and I wanted to keep my ‘luggage’ out of this slush. As I leapt the railing, however, I accidentally kicked my pack into a puddle, soaking the bandana. Between the dishevelment from waking so far in the rain, the hot chocolate, and the wastewater, I was beginning to truly look and smell the part of pirate hobo.
THE HAZARDS OF BEING A FORWARD-LOOKING PIRATE
Crossing without incident, I walked a block in to avoid the throngs on Canal and then cut down to Bourbon Street where, opposed to much of the novelty I’d witnessed, all was familiar insanity though the weather seemed to dampen some of the revelry. Still, the crowds were thick, bottlenecking in clusters at every cross street and popular bar, forcing you to wedge through shoulder-to-shoulder. As night fell, this mass of humanity would extend the whole of Bourbon, making passage near impossible.
As you walk along this voyeuristic carnival of excess and exhibitionism most people want to scan the street for freaks, flashers, or complicit friends, yet you can’t help but constantly look up. The elaborately wrought iron balconies that encircle the buildings in the Quarter have morphed in purpose far beyond their tastefully decorative origins to become an integral part of the insanity. This prime real estate, which allows restaurants and hotels to charge insane premiums, has become a loft for the privileged to shower down beads upon the mingling masses. Perhaps surprising some readers, as many women as men seem to get a thrill from holding court on these perches and 95% of throwers are simply looking for your attention. Usually people from the street wave, call out, and, catching an eye, either flirt, negotiate, or make the thrower laugh in a Pavlovian play for beaded recognition; nevertheless, as kept happening in my case, often throwers will single out a target from their sniper’s den and try to get the target’s attention. As with other forms of flirtation, ignoring the instigator, even if inadvertently, is the ultimate tease; thus, being dressed like a pirate hobo and focusing on the big picture rather than begging for beads made me a prime target. I learned to quickly look up with outstretched hands the split second I heard “Hey, pirate!” lest I be pelted solidly upside the head.
AREN’T YOU A LITTLE YOUNG TO HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN WATERGATE?
As I made my way down the street, there was some flashing going on, but it wasn’t rampant like at my first Mardi Gras in 2000 where shirts were going up and down in every direction like flashing Christmas lights. I don’t know if it was an off year, crackdowns by police have had an effect, the weather had kept away the wilder element, or the gag had simply grown old. My energy was waning quickly, though, and I would not have the fortitude to brave Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras night as my immune system crumbled, but I heard, as expected, things ratcheted up after dark.
In the waning hours of daylight that I did observe, as many people still seemed in awe of the spectacle as apart of it. I stopped and chatted with one such couple from Baltimore who were smiling and spinning around in wide-eyed wonder. It was their first Mardi Gras and I assured them it would only go downhill, handing them a card as I pointed out my fading black eye from a jiu-jitsu accident. Explaining that I’d lived in Virginia and spent time in Baltimore, I said I had even sported black & purple around my eyes in support of the Ravens last weekend. Now that’s loyalty! Moving on, I was soon accosted by a couple of mid-western girls visiting a local friend for their first Fat Tuesday. They requested a picture for the blog and one asked if it was allowable to hold the hobo pack. I gladly shared my soggy novelty piece before handing them cards and urging them to stay tuned.
Walking on, I laughed out loud at a bar balcony sporting a banner claiming “The World’s Strongest Drink.” I vacation every summer across the lake from Franklin County, Virginia, dubbed ‘The Wettest County in the World’ and have read much about its history. I’d guess that there’s more than one moonshiner there that would take umbrage with that boast. Having stopped to take a picture, I put my phone down in time to observe, right beside me, what could be one of the most lude acts for beads I’ve witnessed without flesh being displayed. Somehow a very young girl (was she that young or am I that old?!) communicated a promise to a man on a balcony for which he delivered a long gold strand of beads that she proceeded to deep throat in its entirety. As I stood there, shocked, I jokingly asked if she wanted her picture on my blog to commemorate her feat. Rather than being embarrassed, she eagerly posed, missing the sarcasm in my request. It was approaching five o’clock, yet I don’t know if Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett had this in mind when they sang their ode to Hurricanes, the unofficial drink of Bourbon Street!
OKAY, SEINFELD, BUT IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THIS?!?
I was now approaching St. Ann Street, the unofficial dividing line of Gay Mardi Gras where dressing up is all but mandatory if you’re a participant (straight tourists wander through to gawk, but few people sans costume hang around). Here, the more flamboyant the better, and wildly exaggerated gender reversals were the norm. Although nothing was illegally bared such as breasts on the other end of the street, the costumes tended to be scant in all the wrong places. Walking through this transgender circus of shocking self-expression is best described as how I imagine a Village People concert would appear on an acid trip. I kept trying to pick a costume to photo that was flamboyant enough to convey the atmosphere yet not so revealing that I’d be embarrassed to post it, yet it was a difficult balance to strike. The crowd was surprisingly thin this year, and I quickly passed through this section without spotting a costume possessing the right balance of shock and restraint. I had little desire to double back having almost reached my final destination of Frenchman Street. I was desperate to find a seat somewhere and live music in a not-too-trendy club was much more my speed than flamboyant drag queens. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”