Perhaps the biggest concern of first-time Mardi Gras riders is “How much stuff should I buy?” There is no set answer, however, because it depends on your personality. Heavy throwers—like Marco beside me with a stash bigger than one of the elephants he trains—constantly fire beads and novelties like a machine gun, often tossing the unopened cellophane packages of a dozen strands that fill 20-25lb vinyl bags, and occasionally throwing the whole dang bag. Conversely, light throwers take plenty of time to sip their drinks and soak it in, tantalizingly dangling favors before the crowd until spotting someone in a sufficient frenzy to warrant the reward. Then there are folks in the middle like me. One of the first bits of advice I’d gotten before my first ride was “See who you throw to,” and that seemed to fit my style.
At least theoretically
Between the haste of our drivers after being stranded behind Krewe d’Etat, the overwhelming newness of it all, and a few too many Jello shots, I’d done my best to spot my targets but that first ride had been a blur. This year, however, as we rounded the corner onto Magazine Street I immediately felt like more relaxed and in control, like a second year NFL quarterback admitting the game has slowed down.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR BIG DUDES & TOURISTS
As we crept down Magazine it was immediately apparent that this crowd was special. After last year’s delay we’d lost many spectators—especially downtown—but this year the crowd remained thick and enthusiastic throughout. Perhaps it was because our delay hadn’t been as long, or our Freaky Friday theme kept them enthralled. It certainly wasn’t the weather. Last year we’d been blessed by the most gorgeous day of winter before a steady descent to a wet and frigid Fat Tuesday. This year we again had clear skies, but freezing temperatures made my fingers ache, and I quickly wished I’d brought gloves as I dangled beads above the crowd.
Despite another bit of advice I’d received last year, “Throw your best stuff Uptown, ‘cause those are the locals,” I noticed that people in those first few blocks—especially kids—had already been saturated by eager riders. This eased my urgency and, along with the slower pace and a somewhat sober mind, allowed me to relax and soak in the love radiating from the streets.
As I settled into my groove, though, I resumed just like last year throwing to kids and adults of all sizes and genders in equal measure, taking care to target the big dudes since I’ve experienced first hand how we are often overlooked. Yes, I’ve tirelessly explained that the beads and plush toys were originally intended for kids—not boob starved adult-olescents on Bourbon—but everyone wants a souvenir to take home—even the tourists.
For the rest of that advice was: “The folks downtown in the bleachers on St. Charles are rich folks, so @#$# them, and on Canal Street it’s mainly drunk tourists who don’t know the difference so load them up with junk beads.” But back in 2000 I had been that drunk, clueless tourist who didn’t know the difference between Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus, and Zulu, yet I still treasure those krewe medallions dated ‘2000.’ And look at me now! So while I threw heavier Uptown, I resolved to save some good throws for the end. Just like I’d resolved to stay sober!
MANIC REVERSE STREET SWEEPER
Last year I’d tried desperately to spot friends who’d forewarned me of their locations, but they always popped up as a surprise, for once we started moving I could have been cruising the streets of Istanbul for all I knew. This year I had a better sense of my bearings, but slipped so naturally into a flirt-and-reward rhythm with the revelers that everything else escaped my mind; thus I was surprised when my friend, Maggie, whose bookstore had briefly been my refuge, materialized near Magazine and Cadiz. Unprepared, I tossed her a handful of beads and a childish flashing wand, embarrassed that I hadn’t thought to retrieve a Morpheus pillow or embroidered cat.
A few blocks later we turned up Napoleon for a few blocks before turning onto St. Charles and following it downtown. Here Yoda Pat popped up again like last year, though this time I was a bit more prepared. Nevertheless, my bearings were slipping a bit. I’d made it halfway through my WV tumbler of vodka, started into the six-pack, and taken countless tiny sips of Captain & Coke bottles Marco kept pulling from a bag that seemed as bottomless as a clay oil jar in an ancient Jewish temple.
Once on St. Charles, the crowds grew even stronger and more jubilant. And all along the way people had seemed more polite. Last year I’d noted what a difference it makes when, especially after tossing a prized throw such as a plush toy or medallion bead, someone mouthed a simple ‘thank you’ or took a moment to inspect it in admiration, and I seemed to encounter this more this year, though I still felt a pang of disappointment when a premium throw was chucked into a bag by someone’s side and hand immediately upraised without pausing to even inspect their prize. Still, there can be no expectation of social contract between thrower and recipient when you’re rolling down the avenue furiously unloading cheap imported kitsch like a manic reverse street sweeper!
SUDDEN SEQUELS & FLIPPING THE SCRIPT
Halfway through Uptown the sequel to last year’s script continued to repeat as two K.R.A.P. friends, Melanie and Carson, again appeared to run alongside the float mouthing ‘We miss you!’ as I furiously unloaded bags of beads their way. My heart warmed as I mouthed the sentiment in return. All the familiar faces kept reminding me of how many wonderful people I’d met in such a short time.
And another close friend was supposed to be waiting ahead, but when we reached my favorite coffee shop, Krewe du Brew, owner Eugene was nowhere in sight. I tucked a few choice throws aside, having already planned to squat there the next day to watch parades anyhow (and would learn he’d been swamped on this chilly night, as I’d suspected.)
After a few blocks more we passed under the Calliope overpass marking the boundary between the wide avenue Uptown and the narrow one-way streets of the CBD. Lee Circle with its statue in the middle of the road lay just on the other side—the last open oasis before roads narrow. And just like last year, Aimee was waiting there. After that ride I’d described my disappointment when she’d failed to push to the front so I could hand over the special beads I’d held back. (Though later she and her two companions popped up unexpectedly, saving the day.) This year I’d coached her on pushing to the front and following alongside the float.
So, flipping the script, we were both ready. The next day was Valentine’s Day and, though we both still avoided defining our relationship, to both our surprise we’d continued spending time together even after my stint in New Orleans, so I’d snuck aboard a card and pink gift bag that I eased overboard as Don and Marco loaded her with specialty throws. From the looks of her, though, she was faring just fine with strangers.
FLIPPING THE SCRIPT II: THE REVERLERS RETURN
After Lee Circle the streets narrow and are lined with pay-for-entry bleachers. By then I was holding the rails to stay steady. Although I hadn’t went off the deep end like last year, I’d sorely failed in my goal to stop at a strong buzz. Beside me, Marco fell backwards as the float jolted and stopped, skittering around in his harness like a bug on its back. I helped him up for the first time that night. Damn those endless clay jars!
Just as I’d failed in my vow to stay clear-headed, I’d also failed in rationing my throws though I wasn’t too worried. Last year the bleachers had been almost empty and Canal practically deserted, and I’d disembarked with several full bags of beads. Because of this surplus, I’d bought less booty his year. So of course the bleachers were still over half full and Canal Street packed.
Suddenly I morphed from a medium thrower to an ultra-light, tantalizing and teasing with every bead to hide the fact that I was going broke. Yet whereas we flew through the CBD last year, the procession now dragged down this narrow stretch of St. Charles at a snail’s pass, pushing my talent to its limits. The slower I’d throw, the slower we’d go!
BUSTED BOOTY & PACING PROBLEMS
By the time we turned onto Canal Street I was bust, scraping stray beads from the floor where they’d been trampled all night while floating in a stew of stale beer, sweet vodka, and Captain & Coke. Earlier that evening I had been sandwiched between Don and Marco’s massive piles of loot with barely room to stand. Now the floor was eerily barren. Apparently I wasn’t the only one suffering from pacing problems!
Still, we made the most of what we could scrounge, and the riotous French Quarter crowd hardly seemed to notice. God bless the tourists!
I’d still managed to hold back a medallion for one of my K.R.A.P. friends who’d messaged that she was waiting at Canal and Tchoupitoulas, but she never appeared as we made that turn (and having seen her outlandish costumes, I knew she’d be hard to miss) so I tucked the few specialty throws I’d reserved away and set back and to enjoy the ride.
And helped Marco off the floor.
K.R.A.P.ING TO A HALT/READY FOR A REDO
Once on Tchoupitolas heading back towards Generations Hall the parade isn’t officially over for several blocks, but the crowd dissipates and we were all out of throws, anyhow; for all intents and purposed you’re done once you leave Canal. This is a rather anticlimactic ending for such a grand day, but since we don’t have the funds or desire to roll into the convention center or Superdome where paying crowds await as with Super Krewes, I don’t know what more we could do: ride through a ring of fire and then drop down onto a rollercoaster rail and turn a few loop-tee-loops?!
As we sputtered to a halt, however, I was thrilled to find another K.R.A.P. friend waiting to greet me (the streets were littered with K.R.A.P. that night!) She was working nearby and soon had to shuffle off, so I stumbled back into Generations Hall where Aimee was waiting. It was close to midnight and my head was spinning, but as we dug into the breakfast buffet I rattled on excitedly about my ride.
I had sat there earlier worrying that I wouldn’t be able to get up for the ride, and in the weeks before departing I’d begun lamenting the expense and wondering if I needed to skip next year. Now, as I basked in the afterglow, my mind was already spinning with ideas for next year. Unbelievably, this year had eclipsed 2014, and there was no doubt that 2016 would find me back in Generations Hall to greet my float friends as we prepared to play our tiny role in hosting the world’s largest—and best—free party.