No Bourbon At This Mardi Gras PartyMarch 8, 2011 - 5:01 PM | by: Adam Housley
In a vacant lot on St. Charles, miles away from the revelry and insanity that devours Bourbon Street this time of year, families from all over set out chairs and fold up the ladders. A unique blend of music blares from speakers and the smell of spice drifts in steam as the crawfish, corn, potatoes and sausage boil. Street vendors roll by selling everything from funnel cakes to purple and green hats….and everywhere, hanging from everything….beads.
This is the Mardi Gras I have come to know as an outsider, with now a little bit of insight. It’s men and women, kids and grandparents, involved in one massive region-wide block party.
While the French Quarter gets all the coverage and pictures of a crazy two-week party, it’s just a postage stamp on a massive celebration that envelopes this entire region. For those who haven’t come here during Mardi Gras, which runs two weeks up until Fat Tuesday, outside of the French Quarter it’s kinda like one big yearly family reunion. As my longtime friend Chris Laiche tells me, “I may only see some people once a year, but after so many years, they have become family and it’s like no time has even passed. I look forward to seeing them.”
What you may not realize is that Mardi Gras isn’t really all about Fat Tuesday and most parades don’t roll down Bourbon Street through the French Quarter.
As one local explains, “only walking parades can go through the Quarter because it’s more like an alley. It’s all about Canal Street and St. Charles.”
As someone who rides at least every other year in the massive Endymion Parade, I can tell you crowds spill out of “The Quarter” on the nights leading up to Mardi Gras Day and thousands upon thousands stand in some places 15 people deep down Canal to try and catch the coveted beads.
Most of these plastic jewels will be in drawers and garage shelves by the end of the week, but during Mardi Gras…bigger and brighter is better and are worn with such pride that you’d think diamonds and ruby’s are draped around the neck.
While today Fat Tuesday is the final orange slice on top of a Pat O’ Brien’s Hurricane, throughout the two previous weeks parades are everywhere.
From kids in wagons on the streets outside their grammar schools, to small town floats, it seems every street in Southern Louisiana is shut down or blocked at some time. Before you can walk here, you know parade schedules and what comes along with them.
Music, bands, comraderie, amazing southern food and of course drinks. Unlike tourists teetering in the Quarter, out here Mardi Gras and the celebrations it brings are bled in the blood.
Kids I watched in my first Mardi Gras are now graduating college and looking forward to affording a ride in one of the big parades…like Endymion which runs on the Saturday night before Fat Tuesday.
This year a brutal storm front did the nearly impossible, forcing Endymion to move to Sunday night after yet another “big ride” the Bacchus Parade.
It became huge news here in New Orleans, people changed plans, parties were moved, Jumbalaya was set on low, ladders and chairs folded up for the next day. Oh, and as for those ladders, it’s like nothing I have ever seen before.
On top, a box is bolted as if the little ones have their own mini suite perched 10 feet above ground. On the rungs about half way down, a platform is wedged so mom, or dad can keep an eye out and yet at the same time have a great spot to also grab beads. All along the route for miles on end…ladders. Behind them are the folding chairs for everyone else.
Back on the lot we arrive around 9am. The food cold food and snacks are already out, the crawfish boil is full steam ahead, and a slight wind provides a chilly wake-up.
Spots up and down the street on both sides are marked off by families from all over and the first of 5 parades in this area of town begins to roll.
Bands march, dance clubs twirl down the street and yes beads fly. Not to be left out, trees and phone lines are adorned and for this day, a day late for those of us in Endymion, everything is right in New Orleans.