Sunday, March 6, 2011
Take a Trip to Shreveport's Mardi Gras
North Louisiana has been doing Mardi Gras for a couple of decades now with a couple of "big" parades and some smaller parades. I'd venture to say that the Highland Parade is our third "big" parade even though the media still acts like Gemini and Centaur is all there is.
The parade route for both Gemini and Centaur is the same. People stake out their spots and usually return to the same spots each year. The parade starts downtown, travels along the Red River along Clyde Fant Parkway, comes up Shreveport/Barksdale, then makes the turn along the bayou (aka the "duck pond") and ends in the Broadmoor neighborhood.
If you're reading this from somewhere other than the south, the whole concept of Mardi Gras might be baffling to you. And with good reason when you think about it. Why would anyone stand alongside the road for hours waiting for a bunch of floats blaring rock music to pass by? Why would you stand on the side of the road and scream like a maniac, wave your hands, wear funny hats, and yell for cheap plastic beads made in China that will live in your garage for the rest of eternity?
Last weekend we had gorgeous weather - 70 degrees and clear blue sky. I live within walking distance from the parade route and as soon as I stepped outside onto my deck last weekend I could smell the woodsmoke and the BBQ pits. People gathered along the bayou all day getting their grills fired up and parade sites organized - putting out chairs, tables, flags, tents, music systems, all nestled amongst the city supplied porta potties. Steve and I based ourselves at a friend's house along the route, across from the bayou, where there were three fire pits (even though it wasn't cold it helped with the mosquitoes!) and two grills going full time. All along the route people were cooking boudin, burgers, hot dogs, red beans and rice, jambalaya, crawfish, and shrimp on a stick. At the Centaur parade a church group with a U-Haul filled with bottled water was tossing water out to passers by.
And the people - they're everywhere, walking, milling about, looking at each other and being seen. People taking pictures, throwing footballs and frisbees, walking dogs, eating, drinking, listening to music, dancing...everywhere along the route there is music. Not far from where we based ourselves there was a party with a live band in the front yard. They were serving jello shots in plastic syringes.
By the time the parade gets to our end it's 7:30 and has been dark for an hour. The parade announces itself with blaring sirens and the firetrucks blowing their horns. You have to cover your ears or risk a busted eardrum. The honor guard and flag comes through and people salute and are respectful as it passes, usually. Then the floats and other parade units come through. There are horse patrols, marching bands, hot rods, tow trucks, hay trailers with live bands performing, and the floats...
The floats are awesome! Loud music blaring, loaded with dancing krewe members, lots of lights and color, the floats pass by while you yell and scream trying to get some poor krewe member who is busy untangling beads to notice you. There are anywhere from 20 to 50 members on a float and with some 30 floats in a parade there are plenty of opportunities to catch things.
At the Centaur parade some guy leaned over the side of his float and handed Steve some beads with a medallion honoring policemen which was cool since Steve is in law enforcement. We caught nerf balls and footballs in purple, gold and green Mardi Gras colors, lots of beads and cups and a few stuffed animals. The real "treasures" are the beads with medallions on them. The medallions depict certain float themes or krewes.
We have a friend that was on one of the floats who saw us and said, "You like Jimmy Buffet beads?!" and tossed us some beads with margaritas and parrots in them. We got beads denoting the various branches of the military. Some of the beads are huge and heavy; I've known people to get a black eye by getting hit in the face with beads while not looking! One year a float was throwing CDs until they figured out how dangerous that was - a friend of mine had to go get stitches after getting cut under the eye by a flying jewel case.
Other floats throw, besides beads, moon pies, yo-yo's, cups, stuffed animals, candy, and other trinkets. We got a Highland Jazz & Blues Fest poster!
During the Highland Parade today Steve and I were up front catching stuff (and passing most of it off to the kids around us) but once the hot dog float came through we moved to the back just to watch. I opened a beer and he ate his hot dog and we just watched the last half of the parade but even still we were pelted with beads. There was this cute older man near us and he and his wife were racking up! Almost every float threw something at him! They were having a great time!
The parades last about an hour on average and when its over the trash along the route is incredible. Just incredible. Bottles, cans, plastic bottles, broken beads sparkling in the headlights, various wrappers, broken glass, crawfish heads, broken plastic cups, etc. By midnight, it's gone. The cleanup brigade comes through and the route is pristine by the next morning.
We came home, I leaned over the table and pulled my beads over my head and emptied my plastic bag. We'll keep the cool medallion beads and give the regular ones to Milly who gives them to her customers. Steve will eat his Moon Pie. I caught a big container of mini-Tootise Rolls which I'll eat and I caught some Skittles for the Teenager!
And so, for us, Mardi Gras 2011 is in the books. We skipped the Dog & Cat parade, i.e. Barkus and Meoux, because the weather was dicey and we were worn out from the Centaur Parade the night before. And what is one to do with all these beads, really? I've tried for years to be creative and think of something to do with them. One guy told me today he hangs them on his ficus tree. Another said he covers the dirt of his houseplants with them. Some people make wreaths out of them. I once saw a joke that said, "You know you're from the South when you have to reinforce the floor in your attic to store Mardi Gras beads." This is not far from the truth. I have boxes and boxes of them in my garage. Surely there's a good use for them? I just don't know what it is. It sure is fun when you make eye contact with someone on a float, they point at you and throw, and you snag them out of the air while he looks back and gives you a big thumbs up!
Until next year, laissez les bon temps rouler!