Chewbacchus Mardi Gras Parade 2014, Episode 3: Return of the Truck Guy


Chewbacchus Masterminds Ryan Ballard and Brett Power Powow at Chewbacchanal (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Chewbacchus Masterminds Ryan Ballard and Brett Power Powow at Chewbacchanal
(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Earlier as I’d marched with Chewbacchus I’d periodically run into—sometimes quite literally—a darting and jumping Spiderman who’d apologize before swinging off again. No offense taken. We were all stumbling by that point! As I arrived at the Trash Palace, though—so named because it was a disposal company warehouse before purchased with plans (plans, not reality yet!) to make it an events space—where I was supposed to take money from public entrants into Chewbacchanal, I found Spiderman already frantically trying to keep up with the steady stream of public partygoers. I was supposed to start at 10:00 but had rushed straight from the parade so figured I’d be fine, yet the public was arriving before we’d even quit rolling. I worked the door for two hours and the procession remained so steady that I never learned Spider Man’s secret identity!


Chewbacchanal Babes (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Chewbacchanal Babes
(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

I’m not sure what folks thought, having a giant in drag taking their cash, but it gave me a chance to extend the gag. Admission was $10 in costume and $15 without and sometimes it was difficult to tell the difference. There is so much obscure fandom out there that I gave the discount to every offended entrant who was affronted by my ignorance. There were also a lot of people on the guest list, and if I couldn’t find their name it was a judgment call. If they were a douche it was no dice, but if they were cool and convincing Spiderman just shrugged and we let them pass. I’d had zero seconds training, so it was all spontaneous crisis management!

Despite a few double D-bags, I was enjoying meeting folks and checking out the outrageous costumes, for some parade fans were as decked out as the participants. I would often ask for $15 from people in the gaudiest, most outrageous costumes just to see the reaction of the half that didn’t instantly get the joke.


Red Shirt Volunteers Gather Around Their Complimentary Keg (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Red Shirt Volunteers Gather Around Their Complimentary Keg
(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chrissy is tour manager for Galactic—one of the first New Orleans bands I came to love and still a favorite—and this expertise led to her recruitment as Event Planner General for Chewbacchus; thus, she was the one coordinating this party and who’d recruited me to work the door. Therefore it shouldn’t have been a surprise when a guy came up and said, “My name’s Robert Mercurio—I should be on Chrissy’s list.” I did a double take. “Hell, yeah, you are.” It was Galactic’s phenomenal bass player. “Of course you’re on the list,” I gushed with a lack of coolness—but, hey, I was in a dress and wig so I added: “I’m a big fan.” He did a double take at Lt. Uh-the-horruh and thanked me for listening as I waved him and his group through. I’m sure he was hoping I never made it back stage.


Spiderman and I continued to furiously take wads of cash and slap on wrist bands since our reinforcements never arrived. Chrissy finally showed up and apologized profusely, but I didn’t mind. I was still working the crowd. Sometime after 11:00 she returned with replacements and I wandered into the large, unadorned warehouse where a brass band was playing on a portable stage to an enormous crowd. No wonder we’d been so busy!

Chewbacchanal (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Without a parade or people handing me wads of cash I’d lost my permission again, so I wandered the floor lost. I chatted with a couple of K.R.A.P. members, was handed a shot of something that glowed, and got knighted with a special Chewbacchus medallion by another Uhura who declared my consumed most beautiful of the night.

By now, though, these expensive cheap costume boots (why are specialty costumes so costly and yet be made so cheaply?!) were wearing unbearable blisters on my feet so I wandered outside for some air where I ran into some friends from the pre-party. When they wandered off, though, I started the long trek back to my truck.


A few years ago I learned about the futility of catching a cab during Mardi Gras the hard way. After Better Than Ezra’s annual show that my Jacksonville friends had skipped, I started at 1a.m. trying to get a cab alone to Metairie. Stranded in the CBD late at night, I was in full panic mode after a few hours, but met a girl also trying to get to Metairie so we joined forces. When a taxi finally stopped at 4:30 we offered to pay any cost to get us the hell out of there!

Starfleet, We Have a Problem!

What? You Won’t Stop for THIS Guy!

As I left Chewbacchanal and walked down Elysian Fields, dressing in drag didn’t help change my past luck. Giving up on a cab the time I turned down St. Claude, I pulled up a map on my phone and almost cried when I saw how far away my truck was. It was after 1 a.m. but fortunately the streets were fairly busy for I wasn’t sure how safe it was here on the edge of Bywater in the 9th Ward.

As I stumbled along gingerly, several panhandlers approached me, apparently nonplussed by my drag. I merely huffed, waved a hand down my dress, and said, “Do you think I’d be walking if I had cab money?” Considering the hour and my location, it was a justifiable lie.

The boots soon began to hurt so bad that I took them off and walked barefoot in my hose, but the asphalt shredded my feet into hamburger. In truth, it was only a couple of miles walk and normally I scoff at people who act like a mile or two stroll is epic. As I hissed with every hesitant, slow, and painful step, though, two miles was a daunting distance that would easily take an hour. I just kept telling myself ‘This too shall pass,’ and almost cried with joy when my truck finally came into view!


Chrissy, Event Overlord, Takes a Break From Breaking Down To Share Stories

Chrissy, Event Overlord, Takes a Break From Breaking Down To Share Stories

I’d quit drinking at the party since I had to drive and my scar trek was definitely sobering, so my system was cleaned out by the time I hit the pillow. The next morning I didn’t feel too bad.

I didn’t feel too good, either!

As I lay in bed sipping coconut water and watching LA Confidential, I dreamed of the amazing pancakes I’d had at the Frost Stop when my brother, Jerry, was visiting, yet could barely stand on my hamburger feet. I settled for cereal instead.

Bryan 'Rocksteady' (Left) Checks His Phone To See Who He'd Drunk Dialed

Bryan ‘Rocksteady’ (Left) Checks His Phone To See Who He’d Drunk Dialed

I’d told Chrissy I’d help clean up, though, and had gotten caught up with the parades Friday and missed setup, so soon sucked it up. It meant missing Sunday’s parades, but I couldn’t walk and the weather was horrendous, anyhow. I hope you weren’t waiting for photos!

Although salvage began a noon it was 1:00 before I rolled in, but there was plenty left to do. I quickly located Chrissy, who had somehow twisted her ankle and was limping so good thing I didn’t wimp out, and she put me to work lifting and loading, soon pressing my NOLA christened truck into service. Everyone was still in a good if subdued mood, and as we shared stories apparently I was one of many that commented on seeing Bryan ‘Rocksteady’ Tibbets wandering around in a smiling daze. Everyone seemed to remember but him!


My Figurative Train Wreck Housing Search Becomes A Literal Truck Wreck

My NOLA Christened Truck

Still, after the amazing night that had passed, it was hard not to feel let down that it was over. In most trilogies, it’s common criticism that the middle installment is the weakest—a mere transitional vehicle—although the franchise that inspired ChewbacchusStar Wars—is the famous exception. I’d guess a narrow majority of fans [although I’m sure my Facebook and blog comments are about to blow up!] and lion’s share of critics rank Empire Strikes Back as the best installment. (I’d have to admit Star Trek II is the best, as well, despite the fact that IV was my favorite film as a teen. But that’s more like a baker’s dozen than a trilogy!)

This Star Wars inspired trilogy of posts is also such an exception, making me almost want to skip part III, though I’m too obsessive to leave loose ends! I’ve spent a year working up to this and wanted to document what it’s like before, during, and after. The after, though, is all bittersweet memory.

Thus it was with a mix of satisfaction and longing for next year that we hauled our heavy equipment to the Den of Muses where I picked up the K.R.A.P. trike and grocery cart. All I wanted to do by then was find food and take a nap, but first had to run by Danielle’s house to pick up my left over black-eyed peas and collards and then drop the trike and cart off at Rachel’s. This endless list of chores soon began to feel as long as my trek to the truck as my headache returned, but it was a small price to pay for the high of the night before. As my head finally hit the pillow sometime after 5:00, my phone beeped with a message from Rachel: “Thanks for being the truck guy.”

The truck guy.

I was a man again.

THANK GOD!!! That would surely make me sleep easy.





My Summer In The French Quarter: Top Ten Lessons Learned

Although my time as a French Quarter resident wasn’t the literary romance I’d hoped for, resulting in anything but a happy ending, I’m still glad I can say I lived in this quirky and historic neighborhood for a summer. A single season isn’t very long to gain an insider’s perspective, but I did learn a few things. Here are my Top Ten. (Disclaimer: Subject to change upon further reflection!)


French Quarter Residence or Giant Christmas Present?

French Quarter Residence or Giant Christmas Present?

Despite the millions of tourists who make a beeline for this 13-block expanse, the French Quarter is at its heart a residential neighborhood and its denizens constantly fight the city to keep it that way. Still, I didn’t meet a lot of my neighbors, and I get the feeling it takes longer to be accepted here than anywhere in the city. It’s a curious mix, too. There seems to be a  polar split between wealthy owners of luxurious renovations with private garages and service workers and other low wage earners who don’t own a vehicle and bike or walk to work, the store, etc. If you work the bars and restaurants, its convenient to live there and stay put. The lack of parking and easy egress seems to keep away your average white collar worker, thus keeping down rents on the low end for anyone living outside the 9 to 5 work week.


In my time there, I walked and biked every street in the French Quarter countless times, always searching for that mysterious, undiscovered spot. They don’t seem to exist. This small area is densely packed with curious tourists, so there seems to be few ‘best kept secrets’ in this part of town (though they abound elsewhere.) I’m sure there a few guarded secrets revealed to you once you make the right connections, but, as I said, I wasn’t there long enough to run with the ‘in crowd.’


I’ve been told that Coop’s was once a hidden local gem, but apparently word got out, for the line stretches out the door most nights in this authentic and undeniable dive. Don’t come for the ambience or comfortable seating. But the jambalaya, red beans, friend chicken, and fried seafood po-boys are some of the best in the city. And it’s relatively cheap (though the cheapest po-boys will always be in gas stations, and you’re not a local until you’ve bought lunch or dinner with your diesel!)


There are quaint gift and antique shops and seedy bars with local color . . . and stench . . . on every French Quarter block. At least a half dozen dive bars lined the block where I lived alone. However, the coffee shops tend to be corporate, such as couple of Community Coffees, or tourist focused, such as Café Beignet. Café Envie is the one place that really fits the bill as a  local haunt. The coffee is excellent, the atmosphere inviting, the staff friendly, and the food fresh and excellent. They are open late and serve alcohol, as do many Marigny and Bywater coffee houses, but it was work and wi-fi that lured me in—not because it was merely the best nearby option, but one of the best spots in the city. I will miss living a block and a half away.


I was warned that French Quarter parking would be impossible to find, but that’s not true . . . entirely. You can find parking in the French Quarter, just not all the time. Of course, summer is off-season and I’m sure this gets worse in late winter and spring. I only had to park off site a couple of times, but this was because I learned to plan my parking carefully, which leads to the next  point . . .


This is not a park and forget it place. There is street cleaning twice a week, so you must be constantly aware of where you’re parked. I learned it was best to park on a ‘Tuesday’ street (Remember: Tuesday to the river and Thursday through the river) so I only had to worry Monday night or Tuesday morning. Even doing this, though, streets are poorly marked and regulations not always apparent, as I learned being towed in my first week, so I found myself biking past my truck to check it daily just in case I was inadvertently illegally parked. There are also spots you can park at night, but must move by morning, as slipped my mind my last week there, resulting in another tow.

But most of all, you have to plan when you leave and return. I believe this is why there is the juxtaposition of the wealthy and service workers. You either have enough money to own a space or not work, or you have a job you can walk to because you just can’t just expect to find a spot returning home at 5:30 every day. Early mornings and early in the week are good times to stray. Don’t expect to find a space at night until after midnight and don’t dare go anywhere on the weekend because every nook and cranny fills up.

Then there’s the city’s policy on resident parking, which is mind-boggling. During the day there is a two hour parking limit in resident spaces, which discourages but does not preclude non-permit parking. This is why early mornings and early in the week are best to run errands or visit another part of town–tourists are scarce. Yet visitors during the day don’t drink as much, and I’d rather have to park far away and walk during the daylight because of non-restricted parking, so why not lift restrictions then? Instead at night when everyone pours into the French Quarter to get tanked, the city lifts regulations and allows a parking free-for-all, encouraging visitors to drive in to drink, thereby forcing residents to park far from home and stumble around the French Quarter alone at night. In the dark. Brilliant!!!


My constant parking worries forced me from sleep several times at five or six in the morning to relocate. As I passed those half dozen bars on my block, most were still rocking! As I pointed out before, it cracks me up that the one Wal-Mart in the metro areas closes at 10pm but many French Quarter bars and restaurants are open 24 hours!


Like I said, the French Quarter never sleeps. There’s a constant kinetic energy that is both invigorating and draining, and there’s not much greenery to revive a battered psyche. Since you have to plan your driving carefully you best own a bike and hop on it ever couple of days to head Uptown or to one the major parks (City or Audubon) to breath deeply and let your blood pressure fall. Perhaps it’s just the country boy in me not ready for city living, but I read this tip on another blog before moving to the French Quarter. This lady compared it to living in the heart of Paris or Manhattan, and her advice to flee to green space frequently proved prophetic.


I’ve always found it pretentious when people like me who love to travel hate on the tourists who visit their own cities. (I know, I know, you don’t travel like a tourist.) However, Bourbon Street’s very appeal is for people to  act obnoxious and shed all inhibition, making a fool of themselves like they never would at home. Then, in oblivious irony, they run back and tell people how crazy New Orleanians are, projecting their own bad behavior onto the residents who avoid Bourbon like a plague.

That being said, the majority of tourists are fairly normal and respectful, but there’s a sizeable minority that are completely clueless and always swarming, so you have to constantly be on guard. I was amazed at how consistently people would walk in front of my truck or bike without even looking. It’s actually easier to hit the brakes to keep from killing them than to swerve your bike in time to avoid killing both of you. Yet it happened on nearly ever ride. I always tried to lightly clip them with my elbow just to send a message.


In addition to living with Jake and being constantly bombarded with his twisted logic, I had a chance to talk to a few street dwellers and performers who lived partially by taking what they needed. None of them, though, self-identified as thieves and, in fact, enjoyed expounding on their moral rationalization. Like everyone else, they lived by rules of conduct. They just had a different since of time and abandonment. They would only took the bike that wasn’t chained up or was ‘abandoned’ overnight, because clearly the owner didn’t care. The laptop had to set unattended for a designated period before it was okay to lift it, so it’s okay to do a Number 1, but best skip the number two in a French Quarter coffee shop. Whereas things fall into public domain after months, years, or even decades elsewhere, it’s a matter of hours or minutes in the French Quarter. Unless it’s a wallet. Those are always fair game. I stumbled on two stripped of their contents in just three months.




From New Orleans Visitor To New Orleans Visionary (Why I Write In & About New Orleans)


Why Would THIS Guy Want To Move To New Orleans?!

Why Would THIS Guy Want To Move To New Orleans?!

Okay, so the title of this post sounds a little conceited, but I’ve been working on a catchy title for some time and this was the best I could do. Besides, it fits for, though I may not be some transcendent, visionary artist, I do have a vision of New Orleans growing into a city full of visionaries. People frequently ask me why I moved to New Orleans: “You can write anywhere!” Yes, but, in addition to my long love affair with this city and the fact that there’s so much beauty, weirdness, brilliance, and absurdity to document on a daily basis, New Orleans is going through an artistic Renaissance and I’m hoping to hitch my wagon to its shooting star of synergy.

Unlikeable Protagonist; Unlikely Pulitzer Prize

Unlikable Protagonist;
Unlikely Pulitzer Prize

Since moving here I have read many sources state in many ways (and have observed enough to agree) that New Orleans is in a historic period of artistic rebirth.  Granted, this has always been world-renowned as a creative city, but the artistic commodity it has produced has largely been relegated to a niche market. Some singers have made a national splash from [Read more…]

Better Than Bipolar: A Night of Joy and a House of Blues….


Last we spoke, I’d just left Michaul’s to rush to the Joy Theater for the first of two nights of concerts that are the centerpiece of Krewe of Rocckus.  As I arrived with Pete and Vince-not-Vinnie the firefighers and Alyssa, the two attorneys, (they earlier combined their names, Melissa and Amanda, celebrity couple style in jest—not that there’s anything wrong with that!) still in pirate costume, the ticket-taker declared I was her new best friend, confessing she loved dressing like a pirate.  Who knew it was a fetish?!

BTE Rocckussing Out at the Joy Theater

BTE Rocckussing Out at the Joy Theater

As we entered, Sister Hazel had already begun.  Although not a Hazel Nut–the nickname given their loyal fans–I’ve respected the band since seeing them live at a festival on Mayo Island in Richmond, VA where I’d gone, ironically, to see Better Than Ezra.  When Sister Hazel first hit it big I found “All For You” a little Hurricane sweet for this Sazerac sipper, but the great thing about music festivals is you come to appreciate bands you may otherwise ignore.  SH won me over with solid songs and impressive chops as well as some killer covers, most unexpectedly a kicking “Gold Dust Woman.”  You wouldn’t think a bald dude in black frame glasses could pull off Stevie Nicks, but Ken Block interpets it well and guitarist Ryan Newell uses it as a chance to stretch and show off along with their cover of “One Way Out.”  Although we were treated to neither of these covers at the Joy, they spun a solid set of originals capped by their finest tune “Change Your Mind.”  As Block tapped his temple and reminded the crowd that they held the power to change their own lives, it occurred to me this could be the theme song for My Year of Mardi Gras: “If you wanna be someone else; if you’re tired of fighting battles with yourself…change your mind.”  While self-help songs often annoy me with their ‘duh!’ wisdom presented as epiphany, the catchy wordplay of this song has always resonated.  It’s such a simple sentiment yet we often forget that we create our own reality and happiness. [Read more…]