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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Riding a Float - New Orlean Mardi Gras Part 2

I'll be honest. I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I volunteered to ride a float with the Krewe of Morpheus. First I had to join the Krewe. Membership covered the cost of the costume and pre and post ride bash. Being in Australia I missed the social events that went on during the year, such as the Captain's Crawl, a pub crawl through the French Quarter accompanied by a jazz band...that would have been fun.

The next major decision was which "Throw Package" to purchase. I had visualised a few strings of beads and a packet of doubloons. trusty Float Lieutenant, MKL,  informed me. The route is 6 miles long and you will run out very quickly. So, taking a deep breath, I invested in a throws package guaranteed to restore the economy of Louisiana. That was all we had to do was turn up.

My dear friend, AK (a friendship that has dated since we were both the nerdy kids with funny accents in a new school in Australia), met us at New Orleans airport and took us straight to the float staging area where the throws were being loaded. Naively I had assumed this to be a large warehouse with busy people loading throws on to floats. It was a dark, deserted street in the old port area down by the Mississippi.  We bumped down pot holed, unlit roads and over rail lines to where the dark silhouettes of the floats loomed against the sky. The always prepared Aussies had torches so we carried AK's bags of throws down the long, ominous line of floats where weird faces loomed at us from the dark and no other living soul seemed to be around.

The theme for our parade was Friday Night at the Movies so we passed Batman and Pirates of the Carribbean floats. Ours (Number 16), one of the smaller floats, had a Star Wars theme. I have to say that unlit and in the dark you realise they are just  painted canvas contraptions built over a frame  and pulled by tractors. I had paid for our throws to be preloaded and nearly died when I saw the HUGE pile of stash I had invested in. "We'll never get through this," I said to DH (darling husband) as we eyed the 26 bags of beads and 5 big blue bags of other throws.

We have our take away slushies...
Friday, parade day, dawned and festivities kicked off at 2.00 pm with the pre-ride bash at Generation Hall but first we had to lay in supplies for the ride. DH and I packed water (sensible) but we stopped off at a take away Daquiri shop (yes I did say a take away Daquiri shop) and purchased large frozen slurpies of daquiri, white russian and (for me) margerita. These were stowed on ice to be loaded on to the float.

Ready to rock at the Bash
Admission to the pre-ride bash was by silver bracelet and tunic (our costume was a turquoise blue with silver sequins worn with a silver face mask and a hat that looked like an upside down icecream container crossed with a French Foreign Legion hat). Hardly flattering but it guaranteed anonymity.

Mixing with Royalty. The Queen of Morpheus
Generation Hall was already pumping to an 80s cover band, Bag o'Donuts. The King and Queen of Morpheus and their court was duly presented. There was plenty of food and drink and by the time the floats arrived at 5.00pm we were ready to rock!

Float 16, Star Wars and one excited rider

I actually think, in retrospect, that the long, slow ride to the staging area (under police escort) in the gathering twilight of a New Orleans evening was probably the most pleasant part of the day. We broke open the first of our bead bags and organised ourselves as best we could around the bags of throws (with 4 of us in one small area it was cramped). The addition of a cheerful DJ called Sidney with a dubious taste in rapper music that blared loudly right into our ears all night, made it even more squeezy.  We had 19 or 20 floats (I didn't count) and being small, we were towards the end of the parade. High School marching bands squeezed in between the floats.

The slow ride to the staging area

Morpheus Throws
Then we were off...and then we stopped...then we started again...and then we stopped. It seemed ages before we finally seemed to be moving and the whole parade began to blur. The early crowds were thin but eager. By the time we reached the beautiful St. Charles avenue, it seemed to be a sea of hands reaching up, children perched on their parents shoulders, fishing nets reached out from strategically placed ladders. Everyone clamouring for more stuff to be thrown. It took a while to get in the rhythm  I quickly learned that you needed to make eye contact with a potential recipient, not just throw willy nilly on the off chance someone would catch it. I saved the soft, fluffy toys for small children. Among the beads, I had special medallions, doubloons (very popular and collectable), hundreds of plastic cups, bags, sleep masks, flashing balls, flashing medallions, gold medallions, yellow "sleep hats". Interesting to see what is popping up on EBay! And beads, literally 1000s of elegant purple, yellow and green beads. We threw them in groups, we threw them still in their bags. Sweat began to pour from under my mask! Overnight rain had turned the dusty float into mud which had seeped into some our throw bags. I was hot and muddy! Thank heavens for my frozen Margarita!

I hated seeing beads and cups fall to the ground unheeded. Hey, mister, I PAID for those!!!!

Half way, sweaty and muddy!
We stopped again. Chinese whispers said we only had half a mile to go. DH and I looked at our undiminished stash and began jettisoning overboard. The wait dragged on...45 minutes while a broken float from the previous parade and a flat tyre on one of our floats were dealt with and then we jerked forward again. Not half a mile...half way through! We still had half the parade to go but by the time we turned into Canal Street, unrecognisable behind the stands, DH and I had run out of throws. Seriously...we had run out!
Canal Street
Kind Krewe members took pity on us and passed over spare throws.  I had one "gold medallion" I was saving for the token drunk Aussie we would see in the crowd but six miles passed and not one identifiable drunk Aussie, token or otherwise!

The float made another turn and it was over. We saw other Krewe members from earlier floats, walking back up the path towards us. I wore no watch (too much risk of it going overboard with the throws). DH told me it was 1230. We had been on the float for 7 hours and it had gone in a flash!

Exhausted riders!
Suddenly I was terribly tired but the night was not over, we collected what was left our bits and pieces and trudged back toward Generation Hall where the after party was in full swing. Our feet ached, we were hot, mud ingrained our fingernails, our hair clung to our foreheads in sweaty bands...but we needed to eat and drink and we desperately needed to sit down. Being peripherally related to the Queen we gained entrance to the royal court where we just collapsed, clutching a beer and a plate of sandwiches. up...and dance...

It was 3.00 am before we got to bed but it took a while to go to sleep as the passing sea of faces and hands, the thump of Sidney's execrable music still echoed in my mind.

On Monday we posted two expensive parcels with our memorabilia from the night to share with disbelieving friends and family back home...$150 worth or memories. Can't wait to unpack them.

But Mardi Gras was far from for Part 3 or How I Nearly Got Shot in Bourbon Street...