How to be the most awesome person at Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. World famous for being the absolute apex of party times in a city long and gloriously celebrated for partying, Carnival in New Orleans is something that needs to be truly experienced to be believed (if not wholly remembered). However, despite its depiction in the media as being little more than a braless free-for-all appreciated only by boorish, beer-filled louts, Mardi Gras time is special and sacred to New Orleanians, and believe it or not, there is in fact, a certain etiquette to celebrating Carnival in the Big Easy. Here's how to be the most awesome person there:
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
With public drinking not just legal but pretty much encouraged, a lesser person won’t realize that a Mardi Gras parade (or, better still, Mardi Gras weekend) is a lingering affair. Start chugging shots of whiskey at the beginning, and you’ll miss out on all the really amazing things that happen later on. Pace yourself.
2. Respect the children (Part 1).
Wait, there are children around during Mardi Gras!? Like... actual small humans? Believe it or not, Carnival is a family time, and parades are filled with families looking to share in the spirit of the season. A huge spectacle with elaborate floats, costumes, music, and free stuff literally flying through the air? Kids LOVE Mardi Gras. So, if you happen to catch a cool throw because you’re three feet taller than the kid behind you, be a gent and pass it his or her way. It’s just plastic bull crap anyway. Plus, you never know who might be watching and appreciate your generosity.
3. Respect the children (Part 2).
Many of these children arrive with their families and a Mardi Gras ladder, which is a contraption that is essentially a wooden seat nailed to a stepladder, so that the kiddies can see over parade-goers and hopefully catch some cool stuff. Try to stay out of their way and let them enjoy, and God forbid, don’t get hammered and decide you want to climb up there with them when their parents aren’t looking. Yes, this happens. Do not let it be you that does it.
4. Stake your claim modestly.
For particularly big parades, a popular and smart move is to arrive in advance and save yourself and your friends a nice bit of territory in prime viewing range. Bring the cooler, a couple of folding chairs, some snacks, and a few tote bags to cart away your haul, but note that Mardi Gras isn’t the Oklahoma Land Rush. Don’t mark off giant swaths of territory and scowl at people who dare to wander through.
5. Once you have your modest parade-route fiefdom, rule wisely and generously.
The absolute best person you’ll ever meet at a Mardi Gras parade is the one who reaches down into his cooler for a fresh, frosty cold one... and then offers you one, even though he doesn’t know you from Adam. Your chances of encountering this person increase exponentially if you are a friendly, decent sort. Better still, you can actually BE THIS PERSON.
6. Mind the fingers and toes.
Beads are flung throughout the air from floats during a parade, and are fairly easy to catch that way. Doubloons (colorful, oversized commemorative coins that are a Mardi Gras staple), a little less so. If you’re looking to grab one once it’s hit the ground, beware your digits -- many unfortunate paws have been stomped in the process. Keep an eye out for the digits of others, and you’ll be a swell guy, indeed. Conversely, don’t ever even think of stepping on someone’s hand for something as trivial as a friggin' parade doubloon. Speaking of which...
7. Relinquish contested throws.
Yeah, I know that sweet-ass plastic light-up pirate sword/squirt gun/spear (seriously, why all the fake weaponry?) was totally yours in the air, but now you and a silver-haired lady with cat's eye glasses and a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" T-shirt both have a death grip on the damn thing, so a decision needs to be made. Just let it go, man. Just let it go.
8. All hail the once and future king, bringer of Popeyes.
Chances are, if you’re hanging out at an aptly named Fat Tuesday parade, you’ll be in a group. At some point, this group will get hungry, and not all restaurants tend to be open in New Orleans late at night or on Mardi Gras day. The one notable exception to this is Popeyes, which is well-known to be both a New Orleans and a Carnival institution. Should you happen to be the one to peel off from the group to bring them a crap-ton of chicken and biscuits, you will be forever hailed as one of the most excellent people to have ever existed.
9. Get funky.
With some of the most amazing marching bands in the world playing for free, all but the most stone-hearted will be compelled to shake a leg to the thumping drums and killer brass. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a former Soul Train star or the gawkiest white kid in the Crescent City, everyone dances at some point, and the more you embrace that, the more your powers of awesome will increase. That said, do it on your own turf, NOT in the middle of the street with the band, which is exceptionally frowned upon, no matter how much you’re feeling the spirit.
10. Yell your brains out.
The traditional cry of a Mardi Gras parade is “Throw me something, mister!” (seriously, that exact phrase is famous). You might, however, encounter someone -- often a group of people -- who actually knows a rider on one of the floats. These folks usually have big signs with that person’s name on it, which they scream as loud as humanly possible when their friend/relative’s float finally passes by. If you join with them in the cheer, chances are you won’t just make some friends, you’ll also likely get some cool stuff from someone literally high up. And maybe some beer.