Mardi Gras 2017 likely will be remembered for two things: the unseasonably warm weather, which made watching parades and costuming a comfortable (if humid) affair; and a traffic-related tragedy on the Endymion parade route, which occurred even as city officials beefed up French Quarter security — in part to prevent such an incident on pedestrian-packed Bourbon Street.
First, the weather. Metro New Orleans saw the warmest February since 1962, according to the National Weather Service. Rex and Zulu rolled under sunny skies; the Society of St. Anne staged its fantastical walking procession in the early hours of Fat Tuesday; Argus rolled in Metairie for the 44th time; and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser served as honorary grand marshal of the Mystic Krewe of Covington. The weather was a welcome departure from previous years of chilly temperatures and soggy skies and was welcomed by marching groups, "pretty" Indians and neutral ground campers alike.
The other anomaly of 2017 was the calamity on the Endymion parade route, where 32 parade watchers were struck — 23 of them hospitalized — when a car drove into a crowd at Orleans and North Carrollton avenues. Suspect Neilson Rizzuto, who was apprehended at the scene, reportedly had a blood alcohol level of .232 percent — nearly three times the legal limit. Incredibly, no one was killed, which many counted as a Mardi Gras miracle. Another tragic miracle: A man was shot near the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles avenues during the Krewe of Tucks parade that same day — apparently by someone inside a port-a-potty — but survived.
Several krewes skewered President Donald Trump, such as Krewe du Vieux's takes on his Russian scandal, his remarks about women and other topics. Ditto for Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, whose sexting scandal provided fodder for the Krewes of Chaos, d'Etat and Muses. Other crowd-pleasers included Bacchus' sarcastic "tribute" to the Atlanta Falcons ("The Young and the Ringless"), Muses' delightful new signature float of a mother rubber duck followed by rubber ducklings, and Krewe du Vieux's sendup of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which saluted the "N'awlins Cash & Shelling Out Our Heritage Festival."
The traditional battles for space along Endymion's route reached ridiculous new heights this year, with some spray-painting their "claims" on the neutral ground more than two weeks before the parade rolled. It's anecdotal, but we heard more than one lament about the Uptown route getting less collegial and more territorial — which some ascribed to short-term rentals attracting out-of-town Carnival-goers.
But Carnival, as always, is what you make of it. There are a million experiences to be had; it's a choose-your-own-adventure day. In the waning hours, we followed our traditions — the meeting of Rex and Comus, and the ceremonial end of the day, led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison on horseback on Bourbon Street. This year also had a different endnote: Trump's address to a joint session of Congress, a different sort of meeting of the courts.
And with that, Ash Wednesday was upon us. We hope your Mardi Gras was wonderful. See you on the route next year.