Carnival has been celebrated in New Orleans since 1856 (with a few interruptions for wars and strikes), but there are many for whom Mardi Gras is a whole new experience. With that in mind, we'd like to review some of the basics — and provide updates for experienced parade-goers as well.
Some changes — The Krewe of Atlas canceled its parade for the second year in a row, which may leave the final night of Family Gras in Metairie without a parade. Meanwhile, there are two new parading krewes, both comprising women: The Krewe of Athena rolls on the traditional Metairie route Feb. 6, while the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale will follow Alla on the Uptown route Feb. 8. Several walking krewes have grown tremendously, especially the Krewe of Chewbacchus, which steps off Feb. 7 on a new route in residential areas of the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. For a full rundown of this year's highlights, see Rex Duke™'s cover story on p. 17.
Pardon our progress? — Anyone who has traveled Uptown recently has seen the multiple drainage projects that have shut down neutral grounds and blocked lanes of traffic, especially on Napoleon Avenue. Many have wondered how the extensive construction will affect parades that begin on Napoleon and turn onto St. Charles Avenue. Master float builder Barry Kern and leaders of the Rex Organization tell Gambit that even the biggest floats should be able to make the turn. But if you're accustomed to standing on the neutral ground there, you'd better make other plans.
New rules — The New Orleans City Council passed several new Mardi Gras-related ordinances last year: no portable toilets along parade routes; all ladders must be at least 6 feet from the curb; and no roping off public property. No telling which ones actually will be enforced, or where, but always be on the lookout for tow signs on streets where you customarily park. Also, throwing things at parade riders is dangerous — and carries a $250 fine.
Parking and riding — Getting around town is always tricky at the height of parade season. Consider using public transportation. Buses and streetcars start to detour about two hours before a parade, and Fat Tuesday will see Saturday public transit schedules. You can download a complete schedule of the Regional Transit Authority's Mardi Gras changes at www.tinyurl.com/mardigrasnorta. The Algiers Ferry already has extended its schedule through Fat Tuesday, with final departures from Algiers Point and Canal Street at 11 p.m. Feb. 6-13 and midnight Feb. 14-16. For full details, visit www.nolaferries.com or call (504) 309-9789.
Be smart — Only take what you need (a little cash, one credit or debit card, ID) and leave the nice shoes and jewelry at home. Cellphone signals can drop as everyone tries to upload photos at the same time; if you can't make a call, try texting. If you have kids, arrange a meet-up point if someone gets lost — and tuck your phone number into a child's pocket.
Old rules — Don't get into squabbles over throws, and don't reach down to pick up a throw without putting your foot on the throw first. If you pee in public, you will go to jail. Same with fighting. Flashing is illegal everywhere, including the French Quarter — and the law is strictly enforced along family-friendly parade routes. And while weed may be legal where you come from, it's not in New Orleans. Above all, if a cop asks you to do something, just do it and ask questions later. New Orleans cops are the world's best at crowd control, and they are especially tolerant during Carnival — but don't test their patience. And speaking of New Orleans' finest ...
"Adopt a cop" — Several years back some very nice folks in Lakeview came up with the idea of showing their appreciation to New Orleans police officers who work long hours during Carnival. They launched "Adopt A Cop," a program that allows citizens to say "thanks" very inexpensively. For as little as $5, you can sponsor a hearty breakfast or lunch for a cop during Mardi Gras — and businesses can sponsor the program by giving more. You can donate online (and even direct your contribution to a particular police district) via the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation (www.nopjf.org) or by purchasing a coupon at any of the local businesses that are participating in the program. For more info, call Nancy Lytle at (504) 208-8179 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Mardi Gras!