THE REVENGE OF MAX HEADROOM
For our theme of Morpheus Cruises the Streets of New Orleans I was riding on float #6: Jefferson Avenue. To add a little extra flair to our Jeffersonian theme (and surely surpass the minimum required 15 pieces of flair), float lieutenant Kim Morgan glued a glitter outlined replica of the Declaration of Independence to the top of each hat. As I boarded the float in front of Generations Hall, though, there was a minor problem. I couldn’t stand up!
Although I didn’t have a tape measure, I’m pretty sure the clearance on the bottom level was about 6’6” between the horizontal rafters which hung much lower. I’m 6’4” so when I tried to stand my Declaration pushed against the ceiling, and I was certain I was going to knock myself out before the end of the ride on one of the low hanging impediments.
Waving in Kim’s direction, I informed her I needed to perform surgery, but she was so frazzled trying to wrangle the krewe in place that she just shrugged with a look of exasperation. “Do what ya gotta do!”
She’d used some mighty powerful glue, though, and the thick foam board wouldn’t detach so I finally ripped it in half. Even with the document removed, the top of my Shriners-style hat scraped the ceiling. And such are the tight quarters on a Mardi Gras float.
50 SHADES OF PURPLE, GREEN, & GOLD (ONE MAN’S TORTURE IS ANOTHER MAN’S TITILLATION)
I didn’t realize until Thursday loading day how tightly packed riders are, having little room left to stand once they load aboard all the goodies they’ll throw back to the crowd. Yet we’d be squeezed on here for at least six hours with nowhere to sit while wearing itchy costumes, plus masks for about half that time. (Legally masks must be worn during the parade, but the wait is just as long as the ride!)
Back in August I witnessed the actual construction of such a float while visiting and posting about Mardi Gras World. These giant jolly rolling boxes are framed with steel I-beams atop a trailer chassis, then the sides and center stairwell are filled out with plywood. Mercifully portalets are also built into the frame.
The upstairs is open above the waist-high wall but the floor creates a low ceiling below lined with hooks for hanging beads. Although convenient for storage, these bead repositories are really meant to tantalize the crowd so they can view the specialty beads that many will beg for but few will receive; however, an unintended but equally important function is served as the beads create a barrier and visual cue that keeps you from knocking yourself out on an I-beam, as I feared!
The barrier is also waist-high below and is drilled with holes where you can screw in additional hooks, though I learned you needed to purchase these yourself. Eye hooks are sunk at regular intervals atop this wall for attaching your harness–you must remain strapped during the route or police can pull you from the float. (And that past Sunday two unharnessed riders had toppled off, as mentioned previously.)
Being strapped in such a tiny rolling box in cloying costumes while on your feet all day serving an encroaching mob of screaming strangers almost sounds like punishment. At the very least you’d think it was a crummy high school summer job at some local theme park; yet we had all paid good money for this privilege and were psyched out of our minds to do so, some traveling from all corners of the country. Again it’s good to note that Mardi Gras is the one major entertainment events where the performers pay rather than get paid to entertain the crowd, and to do so is a thrill and an honor. Maybe we’re all crazy to play by these rules, but if so it’s a community wide affliction and no one would have it any other way.
Still, it seems to be a mixture of alcohol and adrenaline that pulls most riders through. Fortunately, a year’s worth of anticipation provided the adrenaline and Kim helped with the booze, having brought a huge bead bag full of Jello shots to share! We would be a well lubricated float. Being thus buoyed by adrenaline and alcohol—and anticipation and curiosity and the Bag of Donuts rendition of “We Will Rock You”—I took my position, grabbed a handful of beads . . . and waited.
CHANGING FORTUNES & FRIDAY THE 13TH
As we sat outside Generations Hall I organized beads on hooks, stuffed plush toys in the cubby space overhead, and arranged flashing wands and night caps on the I-beams behind me. This bit of OCD shopkeeping was, of course, interrupted by Jello shots with Don and chats with Marco, riding to my left. It was at least a half hour before we moved, so I moved on to filling Morpheus cups with doubloons (specially themed faux metal coins) and high bounce balls to place on the ledge overhead with my stuffed moons and sheep, praying we wouldn’t pick up enough speed to topple it all.
I was ready to go to battle long before we moved, so took a moment to retrieve my phone and thank Connie Hibben again for making this happen, sending her and husband Eddie all my love and a prayer that we’d be riding side by side come February 13th 2015.
(Yes, next year Morpheus rolls on Friday the 13th! I’m starting the campaign here and now for our masks to be old style hockey masks!)
C’EST A PETIT MONDE AFTER ALL
New Orleans truly is a big small town, and thus my friend Yoda Pat (who also knows the guys in Bag of Donuts) had included me in a Twitter conversation with two friends who also happened to be riding on my float. When I asked my new friend, Marco, if he knew Clint and Jason he said, “Yeah,” and pointed his thumb to the left. They were riding on his other side.
So of course we shared a Jello shot!
FINALLY MOVING (SORT OF)
At long last we finally sputtered into motion, turning onto nearby Tchoupitoulas which runs along the river and levy throughout Uptown. I was relieved that nothing I’d tucked away came spilling back down from overhead, but my excitement was short-lived, for we didn’t make it very far before we stopped again. Thus began a pattern of traveling a short distance and then stopping for twenty minutes or so. During each such stop other riders would jump off, but being unfamiliar with the routine and lacking explicit permission, I’d stay on board until frustration and claustrophobia overtook me. This was all that was needed to get us moving again, for as soon as I’d get the nerve to step off and mingle in the street we’d be told to load back up to move!
As we made this sputtering crawl upriver, a few stragglers wandered along our ranks seeking beads or toys, but it was actually surprising how few people were out on the streets. Some residents would walk out on their front porches to greet us or wave from the living room windows, but only perhaps a dozen people wandered by during the hours we were lined up.
One of those visitors, though, caused Kim to suddenly jump up and down excitedly. Kim greeted her and then looked over at me, smiling proudly while looking a little surprised. “That’s my niece!” Kim leaned handed her down several toys before she waved and walked on down the ranks to see what she could score.
BUSTING A MOVE BUT NOT DROPPING A DEUCE
As we first set out I met a couple of sisters—Melissa and Debbie or Laura maybe (Did I mention Jello shots?!)—who come in from out-of-town every year with their husbands to ride. They’d been hanging with us downstairs at first, though their perch was up top, and after two hours of pre-gaming of waiting and imbibing I needed to visit the restroom; however, I couldn’t get around the narrow corridors by the staircase to the front because they were blocked by riders and beads, so headed up top where the sisters halted me suspiciously.
I explained my dilemma, and they reluctantly relented, instructing me not to “drop a disc.” I assured them I was only returning my deposit on beer. As I entered, though, they were quite proud to show off the disco lights they’d strung inside. When I emerged a few minutes later they asked if I’d defied them and “dropped a disk.”
“Nope,” I said, pointing to the disco lights, “but I did bust a move.” They both laughed and gave me a high-five. Oh, the bonding power of potty humor.
AN UNEXPECTED GIFT
When I returned to my station, Marco handed me a tray of warm crawfish. Apparently someone was having a boil and walked over to offer us some. “Where’d that come from,” Kim asked, eyeing the tray suspiciously as I turned around. I shrugged and pointed to the row of houses. “Over there somewhere.” She gave me one of those ‘You’re really not going to eat that?’ looks but I shrugged again. “How are you going to spike crawfish?” She just rolled her eyes and did a Jello shot.
It had been a while since my snack at Generations Hall and the mud bugs tasted great, but after shelling a few I suddenly realized I had no napkins and, worse, a sink. I was going to be sticky and smelly the whole parade. I guess I should have listened to mom!
About this time the two sisters came down to verify my claim of blocked egress and cried ,“Crawfish!” in unison. “We love crawfish!” After setting ground rules that only those of us trapped in the back could use the Dicso John, they grabbed the tray and jaunted excitedly back up the stairs.
A DOUCHEMOBILE FULL OF DILL DIPS
As we lingered on Tchoupitoulas past dusk our float DJ kept the music, jamming and I was thrilled when he played “Good” by my favorite NOLA band, Better Than Ezra whom I was seeing the next night. It was a sublime moment and everything seemed to be going, well, Good, until we noticed a commotion in front of us. A rumor began rippling down the line from float to float. NOPD was holding us up and had boarded float #5 directly in front of us. They were being pulled from the lineup, and supposedly NOPD was considering canceling the whole parade?!?
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting someone had stood up announcing that they were from VH1 and thanked us for letting them ride along on a float as they filmed a reality show. Everyone but the BOD seemed as surprised as I was, though it sounded like a cool idea. We all applauded. I have no idea how this came about, though guess (and this was later confirmed) that VH1 paid the Morpheus organization which is, by law, non-profit, to ride along with us. Again, it sounds like a good idea since publicity can help grow ridership and funds are always needed to offset the member-supported cost of this expensive operation, and I don’t blame the Board of Directors for jumping at the idea. I doubt anyone would have faulted the decision beforehand, yet suddenly I could imagine the awesome and hardworking people who’d organized this parade slapping their foreheads and thinking, ‘We should have known.’
Word was that the VH1 dill dips had gotten into a fight on the float right in front of NOPD. (Later I would learn it was the girlfriends) As we all leaned overboard to try to see what we could ascertain, I spied only one of the removed riders in handcuffs being hauled around by police, TV cameras following their every move.This fight was sooooo staged, I instantly thought. When I spotted several BOD members conversing with police I feared there could be some truth to the rumor that the idiocy of these classless and clueless interlopers could ruin it for all the people who’d paid so much money, spent a year preparing, and (some) traveling from across the country. Later I was told that this wans’t on the table and NOPD couldn’t cancel an entire parade, but for a few moments my morality faltered, and if polled I would have voted heartily in favor of a little police brutality. Ugh!
As police for some reason shuffled the handcuffed attention addict from spot to spot along the street while the cameras tailed closely behind (apparently he’d gotten arrested making a scene after being pulled off), I just shook my head thinking: I want more than anything for my writing to someday be noticed, yet I’d rather spend fifteen hundred years in obscurity than have my fifteen minutes as a reality TV douche bag. Don’t even get me started on this cultural blight.
Later I would learn from the Board that they’d written strict rules of conduct into the contract with sharp financial penalties to prevent such antics, but these standards had been blown all to hell before we could even finish lining up. Stay classy, VH1.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL
As the douchemobile was hauled out of the lineup and into a nearby strip mall, I hopped off and went to check on the Make-A-Wish float, #4, which was now ahead of us. I’d missed them at the party and at least wanted to say ‘Hello.’ Jackie, the organizer, waved me over and asked if I’d heard what happened, confirming that it had, in fact, been a fight. “I think it was staged,” she said. I nodded, having already drawn this conclusion.
Once again, though, my stepping off the float was enough to get us rolling after about an hour delay. I rushed back aboard where Kim drilled the troops to make sure we had on masks, hats, and harnesses. This wasn’t a drill. It was past 8:00, over three hours since we’d boarded, and we were finally ready to meet the waiting crowds.
To Be Continued . . . .