Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Ronal Serpas and other city officials presented their annual Mardi Gras plan last week. Given the number of "new" New Orleanians and the hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to town, we thought we'd do the same. The city's presentation was borne of laws and many years of professional experience. Our reminders may not always carry the force of law, but they're distilled from years of parade going, celebrating and occasionally nursing both a sore throwing arm and a throbbing head.
Parade safety — Ladders must be as far away from the curb as they are tall, and don't rope together two or more ladders. That's the law, not just parade-watching etiquette. Also keep bicycles, skateboards and in-line skates at least 50 feet away from all parade routes as required by law. The same goes for pets; animals within 50 feet of a parade route can actually be impounded (service animals excepted, of course). If you absolutely have to cross a busy parade route, find a cop to help you (and be patient if the officer asks you to wait).
Parade politesse — It's sad, maddening and not at all in the Mardi Gras spirit to see people get territorial along parade routes. Serpas says NOPD officers will crack down on tent cities that sprout up on St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street hours (or days) before parades. We applaud that policy. Moreover, hauling sofas or other furniture onto a street or neutral ground to mark your space is against the law — and taping, spray-painting or roping off "your" territory is obnoxious and futile. Once the parade rolls, no one will pay any attention anyway.
Throws — Never reach down to pick up a throw in the street — you may get your hand stomped. Plant a foot on it gently and get it when everyone else has lost interest. Don't get belligerent over throws — most are just plastic, and there's plenty for everyone.
Getting Around— The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission has provided overtime funds for dozens of cops from across the state for additional DWI checks, which began Feb. 5 and will continue through Fat Tuesday. If you don't have a reliable designated driver, consider taking a streetcar, bus or taxi to the festivities — which will spare you the aggravation of finding a parking space.
Drinking — It's legal to drink beer and booze openly on the streets, as long as it's not in a glass container. Bars all have go-cups at their front doors; use them. Be aware that marijuana and harder drugs are just as illegal during Mardi Gras as they are at any other time of the year — and yes, the cops will arrest you for doing drugs.
Be street savvy — While some crime is down in New Orleans, smartphone theft in the French Quarter remains a major problem. Don't walk down the street using your phone, oblivious to your surroundings. In general, it's best to forego a wallet or purse and instead carry your ID, some cash and one credit card in an inside pocket. If you're a visitor staying in a downtown hotel, make sure everyone has his or her own card key; most hotels will ask you to show your key at the front door.
Respect the police — Our cops take a relaxed approach during Mardi Gras. They also put up with a lot in the process, all while working multiple 12-hour shifts. It's stressful. So if a cop tells you to do something, just do it. Above all, don't interfere with a cop who's making an arrest. This year, police will be even easier to spot because NOPD officers in the French Quarter and on parade routes will wear reflective vests. There also will be lots of plainclothes cops on patrol.
When nature calls — "Ain't No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day" is a real song, but it isn't just a song. When leaving a bar or restaurant, use the bathroom on the way out. The city provides a few portable toilets in and around the French Quarter, but they can be hard to find. Never relieve yourself in an alley or on a stoop. The Vieux Carre is a neighborhood, and nothing enrages residents there more than seeing someone urinate (or worse) around their houses. And if a cop catches you, you're going to jail.
Finally, mask! Don't just go to the greatest free show on earth, be part of it. Have a happy — and safe — Mardi Gras.