I've never seen where the parades line up and start. It just seems to happen in some not-place. For Bacchus we stood practically at the beginning of the parade route on St. Charles and I could not tell you where the floats came from.
Will Ferrell was the King of Bacchus. Everyone agreed this was Too appropriate. As he came down the way he scooped up and dumped cowbells and beads onto the crowd. When he first appeared in front of us, he regally raised his arms over his head and the crowd went fucking nuts, screaming and cheering.
I stood next to a group of college kids and a teenage German exchange student. They passed around a bottle of vodka tonic. The German was going hard.
"Hey, man," said one of the college kids, "slow down."
His girlfriend chimed in, "No! It's Mardi Gras! Go all out. There's no time for this."
Just then a man tried to cross the street while a high school marching band went by. One of the adults escorting the band grabbed him and threw him violently back into the crowd. The college kid told him, "Don't mess with the bands, man."
On Sunday I ventured with a few friends into the Marigny. All the bars were, of course, overflowing, but the entertainment was on the street. One of the Krewe du Vieux marchers was out with his little float - a grocery cart decked out as a dragons head and a sound system within. He was parading up and down the street while a group of about a hundred people danced around him. He then slowly started down street, took a turn, and stole the entire crowd off of Frenchmen St. pied piper style.
I followed the crowd to R Bar where a young Irishman walked up to me, very confused. "Uh, what's going on?"
I looked from him to the dancing mob and back again. "Well," I tried, "there's this guy over there with a shopping cart decked out like a dragons head and a boombox inside. And there's this crowd of about a hundred people following him around dancing in the streets."
The Irishman stared at me for a moment. "Is this a parade or something?"
"No. It's actually just that."
"Is this normal?" he asked, concerned.
I considered this for a moment and then admitted, "Yeah."
By this time the crowd was moving away toward Esplanade. The Irishman watched them leave and then turned to me, asking "What should I do?"
"Well, follow them, obviously," I said shooing him with my hand. "Go on. Follow them. Have a good time. Welcome to New Orleans."
The Irishman ran in pursuit of the crowd and my friends and I dove into the R Bar.
On Lundi Gras night I walked with L, AC, and and L's friend, P, to Canal St. through the Quarter to see Orpheus. We did not stay long and I did not get any beads, but I decided that Orpheus had the most beautiful floats of any parade I had seen. We then journeyed onto Bourbon to see what the fuss was about.
A friend once told me that "On Bourbon St. there's no appropriate behavior. But there is no inappropriate behavior either." I think that you will never see a better example of that than on Mardi Gras.
Honestly, it wasn't any different from any other time I had been on that godawful street. There were just more beads. We waded through the crowd, holding onto one another's shoulders because there was no other way to keep track of everyone. As we walked past the ever present Jesus Freaks, I actually felt a little sorry for them.
Bourbon was - as it is every night - a Warzone. If you didn't keep an eye on the balconies you would probably get hit by beads, but if you didn't watch the ground you might step on vomit or a puddle of piss or a body. I had to laugh when I saw a woman gesturing for beads while simultaneoulsy shaking her head chidingly at the man up above trying to convince her to flash him.
We were almost to the end of the of madness when we encountered a gaggle of bros chanting up at a woman on the balcony, "Show your tits!" We all stopped to see how this would play out. It looked, oddly enough, like a Mexican standoff. There were the bros and there the woman, apparently waiting for a critical mass of onlookers before obliging. Wild cheers followed by a whirlwind of beads and then the bros Disappeared in five second flat. It was like watching the QC Cabrolleros appear in real life.
"Well," L said, "That just happened. Now we can see we saw tits on Bourbon"
"That, my friends," AC said, "Is the definition of 'mission accomplished.' Now, let's get the hell out of here."
We fled to Lafitte's Blacksmith's shop where we found expensive drinks, but safe haven among the dim, gas lamps.
Mardi Gras day began at 7:30 in the morning at our friend Je.'s house. There was too much food, a keg, and bloody mary's. We were on the war path. Krewe of Zulu marches right outside Je's house and so we were more than prepared by the time it arrived.
Which was, it turns out, not a good idea. By noon all of us were more or less defeated and most of the crowd and float riders appeared to be in the same condition. Following the parade, however, AC and I decided to venture down to the intersection of Orleans and Claiborne in hopes of seeing the Mardi Gras Indians.
A side note: the Krewe of Zulu (or Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club) was the first - and I believe the only - all black parade. They are famous for throwing decorated coconuts into the crowd, sort of like the Krewe of Muses' tradition to throw decorated shoes. The crowd for Zulu is, like the riders and Krewe members, predominantly black and I think that our small group around Je's house were among the only white people for blocks.
Anyway, as we walked down the street, AC was quiet. He kept looking around us and seemed to be searching for something. Eventually he said, "Sam, how many police did you see at all the other parades?"
I shrugged. For all events in New Orleans the police come out in force. I said, "Three or four on every corner."
AC Nodded. "How many do you seen now?"
I looked around at the thousands of people on Orleans St., grandparents, kids, families, toddlers, adults, and did not see a single officer. After a few more minutes of walking I asked, "What do you think that Means...?"