New Orleanians have celebrated Mardi Gras for centuries, but each Carnival season brings new twists and innovations. This year will see the continued concentration of parades on the Uptown route. Just a few decades ago, parades rolled through nearly every neighborhood in town, but now the vast majority of krewes parade down St. Charles Avenue. Unfortunately, the Uptown route will be vexed again this year by ongoing infrastructure repairs and limited parking.
Otherwise, many things remain the same — including municipal laws and common-sense precautions known well to longtime Mardi Gras lovers. Here's a review:
• General advice: Do wear a costume. Don't wear good shoes. Do bring your ID, cash, one credit or debit card and a phone. Don't bring a wallet, expensive watches, jewelry or anything you might lose. Do designate a meeting place with all family members in case someone gets separated. If you have small children, write your cellphone number on their arms. Do step on any beads you plan to pick up before reaching down. Don't fight over beads; there are plenty for all.
• Respect the law: New Orleans cops are the best in the world at crowd control and keeping Mardi Gras running smoothly. Last year, NOPD officers worked almost 59,000 hours in the days before Fat Tuesday. This year, 170 Louisiana State Police will assist them, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu said some 100 FBI agents will work security as well. In general: If a cop asks you to do something on a parade route, don't argue.
• Respect public space: The New Orleans City Council spent months redrafting Carnival ordinances before Mardi Gras 2014 — only to see few of them enforced. For the record: It's illegal to block off public space; tents and other large structures (including portable toilets) are prohibited along parade routes; and ladders must be set back at least 6 feet from the curb.
• The big no-no's: Flashing for beads is illegal everywhere, but doing it anywhere outside the French Quarter will land you in jail. Cops in the Quarter might turn a blind eye to a single flash, but if a crowd gathers, all bets are off. Don't even think about dropping your pants. And cops as well as locals abhor public urination; it's also a crime. Regarding drugs, despite New Orleans' "anything goes" reputation, state law says you go to jail for weed. And if someone in your party does go to jail, he or she may not get out until Ash Wednesday. Best advice: Don't break any laws.
• Lagniappe: Cops work extra long hours to make Mardi Gras safe. You can say "thanks" by supporting the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation's "Adopt a Cop" program. For as little as $10, you can feed and hydrate a cop working long shifts on a parade route. Go to www.nopjf.org to help.
Most of all, enjoy all Carnival has to offer. See Rex Duke's previews to help you plan your Mardi Gras. See you on the route!