Week of February 1, 2015: Mardi Gras

In the midst of the routine of life, the job, the house, the kids, the pets, there has to be a little balance.

We all need to cut loose sometimes; to release the inhibitions, to get a little wild. After all, they say life is like a party. And what’s a bigger party than Mardi Gras? So this week as Mardi Gras gets under way in New Orleans, join us here at home as we talk to people about their experiences at the festivities, the city that hosts them, and what getting a little wild means to them. We’re finding out that getting “crazy” can be radically different for everyone, but that everyone has a little streak of “crazy” inside them.

February 6, 2015

Let The Good Times Roll…Taking a Walk on the Wild Side.

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*PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED FOR THIS POST*

WHEN DID YOU START GOING TO MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS?
“In ’93 I had gotten in a car accident and was laid up from work so I went to Florida. We were sitting in a hotel in Daytona, the Sunday paper came and there was a section on Mardi Gras. So I said, “Wanna go to New Orleans? It’s only 10 hours from here.” So we got in the car and drove to New Orleans. I got there for the last two nights, I guess Monday and Fat Tuesday. That was the first time. Now the shortest time I’ve been there was 3 days, but on the average I usually go for 5-7 (days). So I do the last 5 days of it. The last 5 days are the biggest.”

WHAT IS THE “LINE UP” AS FAR AS THE EVENTS GO?
“Now they’ve added the Thursday before, that’s real big. There’s a new parade called “Muses” which is an all women’s parade. It’s very campy. It’s all locals. They spend all year decorating shoes. Everyone wants a shoe. I actually have one in my house. They literally design their shoes and hand them out. That’s what their throw is. They give out shoes, so you try to get those.
Friday night is d’Etat and something else, which are the political satire ones. And then when you get into the weekend, Saturday there’s parades during the day and then you have super krewes, which are the big ones. So that’s Endymion, which is Saturday night. That’s a huge one. These are the big ones that are 50 floats, 75 marching bands. Then Sunday all day, there’s a bunch during the day: Isis, Okeanos, Thoth, Mid City…that’s during the day. Then at night there’s Bacchus. That’s another super krewe. Then Monday there’s nothing during the day and at night is Orpheus, which is the one I’ve ridden in the last 5 years. That’s the last super krewe one. That runs Monday night. Then Tuesday there are parades, which is Fat Tuesday, which is Rex and Zulu. The first couple years we always did them, but maybe I got jaded cause I’m in a super krewe, I don’t find them nearly as entertaining as I once did. I switched more now, on Fat Tuesday, to staying in the French Quarter cause in the gay district they do the costume contest. They spend all year building these huge costumes. And nobody can costume better than them. Some of them, it takes four of them to carry a costume. And there’s a full costume contest run by two “queens” right on Bourbon St. called the Bourbon St. awards.
Then there’s also walking krewes which I’ve gotten involved in a couple of those. One is the krewe of St. Anne, which we do every year, which parades from Frenchman St. through the quarter up to Canal st., back down and then out to the water. Originally when it first started, it was to dump somebody’s ashes in the water, so if somebody died that year, you’d bring some ashes and dump them in the water. Basically, the last 10 years is where I spent, in just the quarter. That’s where I’ve incorporated the Mummers costumes because these people all costume. Fat Tuesday is when you do a costume. The first years I just wore masks, but the last 10 or 12 I’ve gotten costumes.
There’s a bunch of sub, little krewes of people that form their own parades and just walk through the quarter. All the streets are closed off, everyone’s in costume all through the quarter and you can just jump in the parades. Some of them hire bands. Some of them are bands. Then at midnight there’s the trash and police parade where they clear the streets. All the trash trucks, all police, all fire trucks shoot down Bourbon St. and chase everybody off the street. Of course people come back out. But the idea is to let everyone know that Mardi Gras is over.”

WHAT MAKES YOU GO BACK EVERY YEAR?
“I was amazed at how big it really was. It was everywhere you went, every bar, every street corner, every house, this is through the entire quarter. The first year I stayed outside, in Metairie, in a hotel. I didn’t know the extent of what it was. The next year, I came back and stayed in the French Quarter and was just blown away by it. It’s relatively problem free. Everybody’s having a good time. I’ve always liked parades and it reminded me a lot of the Mummers parade. It’s really the Mummers parade done right. Between the music end of it; you’ve got the marching bands. Down south, marching bands are a religion. Like up north if you’re in a (marching) band, you’re a geek and down there if you’re in a (marching) band, you’re a rock star. You’ll be on a parade route and they’ll be like “There’s Kenner High School from…” and they know exactly who they are and those people are rock stars. A full-on southern marching band in a parade going full-on is incredible. On both sides of the street, people are dancing. You have the guys doing the flipping of the tubas and all the girls dressed up in their outfits doing sachets and all of that.
On the parade route, it’s a lot of the same people, same spot. For Bacchus, I’ve stood on the same corner in front of the same hotel for about 20 of the 22 years. Only year I missed Bacchus was the year the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. But I’ve stood in the same spot and seen the same people every year. They know that’s where they watch that parade every year.”

HAVE YOU MADE FRIENDS WITH SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE?
“Oh yeah. I’ve met different people over the years. Some have come and gone. But you recognize a lot of the same people. I met people over the years from different parades. I met different people on forums. That’s how I got into one of the krewes by meeting people down there.”

HOW DID YOU WIND UP BEING ON A KREWE?
“The Times-Picayune, which is a newspaper that they have online now and Nola.com has a forum. (Every year I’d go down and try to find more information.) I saw that online and there was a forum. So I joined the forum for Nola.com and it was all people from around the country that go every year to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Over time, from being online, you get to know people. And the people make these schedules. Like we meet on Friday “here” cause it’s the greasing of the poles in front of the Sonesta. All the poles they cover in grease and fat so people can’t climb up the balconies. So every year, the forum people, they turn what was something the hotel would do so people didn’t climb, into a reason for a party. So now there’s a theme for the greasing of the poles. The hotel did it to protect the hotel. Mardi Gras people turned it into a party. Then there’s different meet ups.
From that I met a guy who was a lawyer in Baton Rouge and he was a lieutenant for Orpheus. That was the first parade I went to when I got there on Monday night. A lot of them turn over members especially the super krewes cause it’s not cheap. I mean there’s some people that can spend 10 grand. People spend 3-$4000 just on what they throw out to people. Then there’s the cost for your dues, the ball, it can get expensive. So they’re always looking for people to fill it. He said “I’ve got a couple spots open.” I was like “Really? What do I have to do?” I had been going probably 10 or 12 years and I wanted to be in it. It’s one thing to watch a parade and it’s a whole other thing to be in a parade. He told me how much it cost and I said I’d figure it out. It’s like $1500 in dues and that gets you your ride and your ticket to the ball and your costume and stuff like that. You’re responsible for what you throw to the crowd.”
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WHAT DO YOU THROW OUT? WHAT OTHER EXPENSES DO YOU USUALLY INCUR?
“I spend on average, about $1000-1500 for throw outs. There’s people on my float that double that. I know people on Bacchus that spend $3000, $4000 on that. I only had to do it once. You’re on a float and you turn the corner and the crowd (we’re one of the first floats in that parade) goes nuts. I’ll pull out a light up sword and stick it out and you watch the little kids eyes light up, screaming for it. The one year, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, I bought a bunch of Saints jerseys, like 20 jerseys. There were people practically rioting. I pulled out a Drew Brees jersey and people were knocking over barricades. There were people holding their kids into my float as it’s going by at 10 miles an hour. The cops are reaching for it. They were going nuts, screaming. They all want something new. There’s stuff that hangs in the windows. They’re picking out what they want. They know what the new stuff is. They have their favorites. Like we had Harley Davidson beads, if they’re a motor cycle guy, they want that. They want the roses. The kids want the light up stuff. There’s 1,400 people in our krewe, so there are 1,400 masters of ceremonies. You can’t get into a better party than that.
People from the forum make signs so that they can get what they want. I’ll be on St. Charles street and they’ll be a sign with my name on it. Or it’ll be just a generic Nola.com logo on a sign. Someone will tell someone else that they have a friend on the float in like, the third spot or something. If someone comes up and knows who I am, I might throw a bag of beads at them. You’ve got certain people that you take care of that you see at other parades. I have a friend that is a lieutenant on another float. When him and his family are there and I know exactly where they are, we all throw a bunch of stuff at them. One time, he posted, “There’s nothing like seeing that train come around the corner and seeing Jerry hanging out of the train like some drunken hobo throwing light up swords and bags.” I’ve literally knocked people over with 40 pound bags of beads.
After the parade ends you pull into the convention center and that’s where the ball is. You get in there and there’s 3000 people in ball gowns and tuxedos all screaming to throw them beads. We’re the beginning of the party. Being the first is kind of special. The celebrities go in before us though. The floats change every year except the signature floats, mine’s a signature float, the Smokey Mary train. It’s a recreation of the train that ran from New Orleans to Nashville. I can’t ever see myself not doing it. It’s an all day event. You ride out on the back streets leaving at like 2:00 and as soon as it gets dark (usually at 5:30-6:00), the parade starts. You don’t pull into the convention center till like 10:00. This is a thing of pacing yourself. There’s people drinking first thing.
I’ve brought whole bars down there to give people what they like to drink. I’d give them their own bottles. The first year, the guys loved it. Their wives hated me because by the time they got into that ball, people were literally falling off the floats. I overdo stuff. That’s what I do. It’s a vacation for me. If I’m spending thousands to throw plastic at fucking strangers, I can spend another couple hundred dollars to get people what they drink. Even the women I’ll grab champagne for, though they don’t partake as much.
After we get back to the ball, the bands play. They have bands that play till like 2:30 in the morning.”

WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO DOWN THERE?
“I’ve gotten to be a bit of a foodie over the years and you’re not gonna find a better place (for food). Everything down there is incredible. I spend a lot of time making reservations for my breakfasts, lunches and dinners a month out. I have my favorites, but you have to time it too. There’s certain times it doesn’t make sense to go to a restaurant after I’ve been drinking for 12 hours. I’ve done it where I’ve eaten a bunch of ecstasy and gone to Emeril’s and have no desire to eat anything. So you have to schedule it. I’ve had them box it up and put it in a bag and take it to the parade route. It’s not uncommon that I’m eating a $300 dinner, cold at 3:30 in the morning back at my hotel room. You can always find some place to eat.”

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ARE RESTAURANTS OPEN ROUND THE CLOCK?
“Yeah because for them that’s when they make their money. There’s a million people wandering the streets. Depending on the scheduling, where it falls, this year my parade is on Presidents’ Day which is a holiday, which means people have a three-day weekend. That kicks it up. Saturday is Valentine’s Day. Officially, Fat Tuesday is a holiday in New Orleans so the businesses are shut down. The bars and all are still open. You can always see somebody walking through the corridor with a sign that says “everywhere else it’s just Tuesday”.

HOW FAR AHEAD DO YOU START PLANNING? WHERE DO YOU START?
“The krewes spend all year setting it up. Myself? I start looking a couple months out. It was different when I was booking hotels. But I stopped doing hotels cause I’m spoiled and I like to have houses. It depends how many people I have. I have 4 or 5 that come pretty regularly. I’ve done as many as 8-10 people. If it’s just 2 people you can get a hotel. The first 10-12 years I pretty much stayed at every hotel that’s possible in the city. I have a couple favorites. Now I like to stay in the houses. It’s just nicer. You have a house to come back to. I like to get a balcony. This year I’m right across from city hall. I have a third floor balcony overlooking the parade. I like to stay in the quarter. I don’t want to think about it (traveling to the quarter), especially this year. Last year was a horrible year. The beginning of this one has not gotten any better. I cannot wait to get the fuck out of the city. I can’t wait to get down there and forget about stuff for a while.”

WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’VE DONE OR SEEN DOWN THERE?
“There’s different levels of that. Running through the French quarter high on acid in Mummers costumes on a regular basis is kind of crazy.
I got filmed having sex with somebody on the dock on the waterfront at like 3:30 in the morning. I never saw the videotape. I never realized the guy was filming from behind. I always wonder if that tape is gonna show up. So, I hope I look good.
There’s so many levels of craziness. Just jumping in your own parade is kinda cool. The Bourbon St. Awards is just crazy. Standing there squeezed in. Every year has something interesting to add.
Two years ago we were running around with fake mustaches. Driving down, I stopped at a truck stop and bought a pack of all these fake mustaches. We went to a five-star restaurant. We were whacked with fake mustaches on. They gave us a plate to put our fake mustaches on. One of the guys in our group (who is Jewish) had a Hitler mustache on and the server was Israeli. They have a good sense of humor. When we were done, the server came back with the plate so we could put our mustaches back on.
There’s a place called The Dungeon, that doesn’t open till 2:30 in the morning. You go through a side, side, side, around back and it’s like a mausoleum and I “came to” there at like 4:00 in the morning in one of these “stalls” with somebody. You do things to such excess but even I have a tipping point. But still, my favorite thing is riding on the parade float. The Mummers costumes always blow people away.”

AFTER HEARING SOME OF THE STUFF THAT GOES ON THERE, SOME PEOPLE MAY BE TURNED OFF. WHAT REASONS WOULD YOU GIVE THEM TO GO?
“I’d ask if you like parades. Do you like friendly people? Down south everyone says hello, thank you, please. If you have a problem, they’re helpful to you. Even in the worst parts of the city, people are friendly. I’ve had just as many quiet, candlelight dinners, dressed up in a three-piece suit. Went to a parade, sat at Café August, had a bottle of wine. I tend to go all night but I know people that go and are in bed by midnight so they can get up at 7:00 in the morning so they can have their Bloody Mary. No one’s forcing you to do anything. If you can’t have a good time there, then you don’t know how to have a good time. Cause whether it’s a museum you want to go to, if you wanna go on the voodoo runs, look at the architecture of the garden district, a swamp tour, there’s so many different things rolled into one. You can go with a group of 12 people all wanting something different, and all 12 people will say “that was amazing!”, and not one single person was together. And that could be anyone from a priest that spent the entire time at the cathedral or a degenerate gambler that never left the casino to a sex freak that never left the pole while he was dancing at Cats Meow.
If you’re a person that likes to watch things, New Orleans, you’ll never find a better place. You can sit and watch a parade or just sit on a street corner and watch people go by. People will come up to you and perform for you, right there. They call it the worlds largest free party and you don’t have to spend a dime. Just show up. There’s music everywhere you go, people everywhere you go. All the ingredients. If you told me some of the things that you like, that you’d consider a good time, I can give you five places in New Orleans you could do that. I don’t care what you tell me it is. I think that’s why it draws such a diverse crowd of people. They’re all coming to let loose, have a good time. The nature of it is being the last party before Ash Wednesday, let loose before your abstinence. Some people just take it a little farther than others. But no matter what you like, if you wanna have fun, you’re gonna find a place to do it.”
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February 5, 2015

Let The Good Times Roll…Life’s a Party!

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ARE YOU A BIG FAN OF MARDI GRAS?
“Yes! I am fascinated by the culture behind it. The origins of it. I am fascinated by the entire city of New Orleans actually.”

WHAT IS THE CULTURE BEHIND IT, THE ORIGINS?
“Well the idea of the revelers, or the carnival, goes all the way back to ancient Rome and Greece. In ancient Rome they’d have these festivals, and people would give out little coins or tokens to the attendees. It was supposed to be a symbol of gifts from the three kings. That is I assume, where the idea behind giving something out (like beads) came from. But, the tradition of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and the way we see the events today goes way back. The French obviously settled in the area, that was way back in the 1600’s. They brought the European customs of carnival with them. They would have private masked balls for the members of society. People (common people) would wear masks and wander the streets in disguise. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s some time that a small group of people formed an organized association to kind of put it all together. It all has a lot to do with mythology and Comus who was the Roman God of mirth and revelry. That was who the first “krewe” was named after. He was the son of Bacchus, the God of wine. There were a bunch of secret societies at that time. There is so much that happened after the formation of that first crew to what it is today. You should look it up some time if you are interested. It really is an interesting mix of cultures and customs and people that got it from there to what it is now.”

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS THAT FASCINATES YOU SO MUCH?
“Everything really. It’s the city proper, and all around it really. It is filled with so much history and mystery. It is incredibly diverse. It is so unique! You have all of these old historic plantation type homes, huge gorgeous homes. Then you have these shacks, literally shacks that people live in, all within such close proximity to one another. And they are all unified by this whole culture that exists there- of food, and music, and revelry, and history, and magic. There are 5 star restaurants, strip bars, and voodoo shops on the same block. There’s just nowhere else like it.”

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN THERE?
“I’ve been to 11 years of Mardi Gras. Twice for Jazz Fest. And then probably a dozen or so times for trips and visits when there was nothing “special” going on.”

WOW. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED GOING DOWN?
“We went down there actually because my best friend was looking into going to Loyola (University). It was shortly before Mardi Gras, actually there were already some festivities going on, but it wasn’t the big stuff- the last several days. We went down with his family. The plan was to fly down with his parents, look at the school, stay for a day or two to see some stuff, rent a car and drive back. We decided the day after that we were going to stay and check out some of the Mardi Gras stuff. His parents were NOT thrilled. They decided to get a flight out that night. He and I tried to get extra nights at the hotel we were at but it was booked up. We tried like 5 more places which were all booked too. We figured we’d have to go further out if we wanted to get anything because it was Mardi Gras time. We had no clue it would be hard to find a place. We were out at some little place getting something to eat, I don’t even remember the name of it. It was in the French Quarter, not on Bourbon Street though, off on a side street. I’ve been there 11 times and I still can’t remember how to find it, or where it is, and I look. I look every time we go. Sometimes I’m like, whoa, maybe it never really existed (laughter). Like maybe it was an apparition. New Orleans can be weird and creepy like that. But I know it existed because that is how we found a place to stay. We were going on and on about hotels and making lists and making calls, and some guy sitting in there heard us. He started talking to us and wound up offering us a place to crash during Mardi Gras. What’s weird is that we didn’t even hesitate on saying yes to staying with a total stranger! So, we stayed there, slept on his floor, for like 8 days.”

AND YOU HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME YOU KEPT GOING BACK?
“Basically. I mean, he did not wind up going to Loyola. He would up going to Alabama. He’s done now. But at that time it worked out because I would come down on the Wednesday or Thursday before Fat Tuesday and he’d drive in and we’d meet up. We got a lot better at planning. Like, we’d get a place to stay at least a few months out. And actually the last few times we stayed at the same place. It was a few years of staying in not so great places because neither of us really had any money. But after he was done school and so was I, it got a little better. That was around ’08. Now we go with a group. It was a great place for college kids to let go though. It was like Spring Break and every other college free for all rolled into one.”

SO HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN THE HISTORICAL STUFF?
“I don’t know really. Just checking out all of the sights and stuff. I guess I just wanted to know more about it. I talked to a bunch of locals and I read some books and stuff. I read up about the formation of these Masonic societies and stuff that predated the organizations that are those affiliated with Mardi Gras today. I’ve always been interested in that kind of stuff. But, that didn’t really come until we’d been going for a few years. Apart from that first time when his parents came down with us, I don’t think we left the quarter or the first 3 Mardi Gras’ we attended.”

SO IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE PARTY THOSE FIRST FEW YEARS?
“Oh yeah! Two (at first) then three, four, five, college kids. No parents. No authority figures. Alcohol and drugs abound. No curfews. No exams. No RA’s. No rules of any kind. I have never ingested so many unhealthy substances in my life as I did the first few years down there.”

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HAVE YOU MELLOWED SOME THEN?
“I think the last few years we haven’t really partied as much. I mean, we are not necessarily out ALL night. I haven’t woken up in a place where I didn’t remember how I got there in a long time, so that’s a good thing.”

YOU’VE DONE THAT, WOKEN UP AND NOT KNOWN WHERE YOU WERE?
“Yeah, I have. I’ve woken up in other people’s rooms and stuff like that. I’ve forgotten whole evenings. One time, we started out at Pat O’Brien’s, which is not unusual. I remember being at someplace on Canal. Then I’ve got nothing. My friend’s girl said that we called her from some bar in bywater, and then told her we were trying to get a cab. We showed up back at our place at like 8 a.m. she said. I still have no clue how we got there or what we did in those hours in between.”

YOU’RE NOT MARRIED, NO KIDS, HOW ABOUT YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU GO WITH?
“I’m not, no. He’s not either. He has a girlfriend now and she came with us last year. She is in school though and won’t be coming this time. I don’t think she loved it. I mean, she had fun, but I don’t think she is sold on the whole, ‘we have to do this every year until we die’ concept (laughter). One of the guys we go with is married with a 3-year-old. His wife is very cool. She hasn’t come with us yet, but she wants to as soon as it can all be worked out. Another guy we used to go with, he got married last year, actually 2 years now, and we lost him (laughter). Yeah, his wife was like, nope- not gonna happen. And that was that. So, we are down to anywhere between 4 and 6 on average. I can’t really see that changing in the near future, but who knows, everyone seems to be getting married. They’re dropping like flies.”

SO DO YOU REALLY HAVE A PLAN TO GO DOWN EVERY YEAR ‘UNTIL YOU DIE’?
“Basically, yeah. I mean, we made this plan to meet up here, the Thursday before Fat Tuesday, every year until pretty much forever. It was like one of those pacts you make. No matter where our lives take us, what we do, where we wind up, we’ll find a way to make it to our meeting point each year. And if we lose touch somehow we even have a standing meeting plan. It sounds kind of weird now that I say it all out loud (laughter). But really it’s just a way we plan to stay connected no matter where life takes us. I know things change, people change and all that, but for now anyway, that’s the plan.”

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 February 4, 2015

Let The Good Times Roll…It’s a Marathon Not a Sprint.

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WHAT YEAR DID YOU GO TO MARDI GRAS AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO?
“2013. I had a couple of friends that were habitual Mardi Gras goers, every year for like 20 years. I had never been and it wasn’t really on my bucket list, but I figured if I’m gonna go to Mardi Gras and experience it with somebody, I wanna go with somebody that’s been there (going) for 20 years. I figured it’s a great place for the atmosphere, food, whatever. So it came to pass that the opportunity was given to me for me to go along, per say, and go in on the house they were renting, and it was only about a block and a half from Bourbon St. by Lafitte’s bar.”

“WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LAFITTE’S BAR? (Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop)
“It’s where Satchmo used to play, still has a dirt floor and doesn’t have electricity. They want to keep it like it used to be, so they keep the dirt floor and they have extension cords running from other people’s houses to the back of this bar which powers the daiquiri machines and lights and music and stuff like that. It’s one of those historical things you go see and it happened to be at the end of our block. It was funny, you could see, it’s very clear, they tell you there was no electricity, you’d look out the door and out the alleyway there’s these big orange extension cords coming from people’s houses into the bar. On the way to Bourbon St. every day, we’d have to stop in and get a Voodoo daiquiri.”

ARE YOU GLAD THAT YOU WENT?
“Oh my gosh, yes. I went for 8 days. It was the end of Mardi Gras. We went on Thursday and that was really the peak. It actually goes on for like a month, month and a half. There’s parades every day. At least 5 or 6 parades. Just a great time. But you have to be able to walk….a lot. Miles a day.”

IT’S BEEN OFFERED TO ME TO GO ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, BUT HONESTLY, IM A LITTLE NERVOUS I WOULDN’T HAVE THE STAMINA TO HANDLE IT. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THAT?
“You wind up being so drunk you don’t think about that.”

THAT DOESN’T MAKE ME MORE INCLINED. (Laughter)
“I’m not the workout king or whatever, but I did go to the gym and walk for three miles day. I worked up to it. The first day there, and I spent extra money on comfortable shoes and orthotics and all.”

SO YOU WENT INTO TRAINING?!
“You just go and it doesn’t matter.”

WAS IT FROWNED UPON FOR PEOPLE TO TAKE NAPS AND SUCH IN BETWEEN DOWN THERE?
“The people I went down with, it’s like, if ya hang, ya hang. If ya don’t hang, ya don’t hang. It’s all good. We carried each other back to the house, pretty much. The first day, I got blisters, which is really bad. You’re walking like 3,4,5 miles or more a day. You really have to have good, comfortable shoes. And that didn’t help. I never knew you could walk blisters into callouses the way we did. We found a really good thing, these Asian massage places. They gave you foot massages, just phenomenal. That helped us a lot. They would solicit you for everything else, but you’re only interested in the foot massages, ya know.”

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WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST SELLING FEATURE TO GOING TO MARDI GRAS?
“There’s probably 2. Just being at Mardi Gras and being in the middle of it. If that kind of thing is on your bucket list, ya have to go during that last weekend before Fat Tuesday. We literally went to at least three parades a day.
The second thing, which is the best, for me: the food was just phenomenal. It was the best food vacation I ever had. We went places that were four star and places that were the local places where we got our bloody Mary’s with the oysters in them (which is really pretty good too). Every morning we’d get up and either got bloody Mary’s or went to Café DuMonde and had beignets and coffee.”

DID YOU SEE ANY REAL CRAZY STUFF WHILE YOU WERE DOWN THERE?
“Of course! We were there for a week! Not crazy, crazy. I would think it would be normal, but growing up in the 70’s and being in college in the 70’s, it felt kind of normal. There’s nudity, which is not a big deal. There’s only really two rules:
You don’t fall down and not get up. And you don’t urinate in public.”

WELL, AT LEAST THERE’S SOME GUIDELINES!
“Believe it or not, the only time we saw the police get involved with anybody, even in the peak of Mardi Gras; where we lived, there was a little corner store that served food and groceries. There were these two girls that were just TRASHED! There was a policeman sitting in the car across the street, paying them no mind at all. Until the one sat down on the stoop, still didn’t bother the policeman at all. The one girl kinda couldn’t get up and the critical mistake they made was the one girl came to the police car to ask for help. At that second, he got out of the car, handcuffed them, got back in the car and drove off. They’re the only two rules apparently, we found.
On Bourbon St., every time you buy a drink, you have to get your receipt and keep them in your pockets cause that’s the only time you can use a bathroom is if you’re a paid patron of that place. You’re like “I bought a gallon daiquiri an hour ago. Obviously I have to go.” They will ask for your receipt. Every other store for a mile or two of Bourbon St. had daiquiri machines. They’re like the Slurpee machines at 7-11 or Wawa. A Slurpee machine are these little one foot circles. The daiquiri machines are three-foot circles. They have 18 different flavors. You walk in and there’s a wall full of daiquiri machines. And this is every third store. Every store is either a bar, a daiquiri machine place or a place to buy souvenirs and beads.”

DID YOU VENTURE OFF OF BOURBON STREET MUCH?
“Before Fat Tuesday, we ventured to eat. We’d do the tourist trappy things. We’d do one a days like the Imperial Palace or something else that was a landmark place that all the tourists went to. Then we would eat at another place that was not. Ranging from a four star restaurant to a local place that served soup (étouffée).”

DID YOU FIND THE PEOPLE TO BE DIFFERENT THERE THAN HERE IN PHILLY?
“Eh, yeah. They were nice. There were a couple friends that had been going down there for so long that we kind of felt like we were in the inner circle. We were tourists of course. We wore mummer suits and dressed up. So whenever we went out we were always dressed on something.”

DO YOU THINK YOU’LL GO AGAIN?
“Kinda. But, there’s big expectations to live up to to compare what we did before. I might go to visit, knowing that other people are gonna be down there, for a weekend or a day or two. But I don’t know that I would go for the whole time again.”

LASTLY, ARE THERE ANY STORIES THAT STAND OUT IN YOUR HEAD THAT YOU’D BE WILLING TO SHARE?
“(Laughter) It’s almost like Las Vegas. What happens down there sometimes, really should stay there and shouldn’t come back. It was just lot of drunkenness, rival rousing and it was just a really great time.”

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February 3, 2015

Let The Good Times Roll…Just in it for the food. 

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I UNDERSTAND YOU AND YOUR SISTER HAD A GIRL’S GETAWAY TRIP TO MARDI GRAS LAST YEAR? HOW WAS THAT?
“Yeah. She and I and my old college roommate and her two friends all went. It was… crazy. Not really sure what else to say about it. Cool but crazy.”

SO YOU DIDN’T ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE?
“I did. I mean, I like to try new things. I like to be able to say, I did this, or I did that. Kind of like another item off the bucket list, ya know?But, it’s not something I would really care if I did again.”

WHAT WAS IT THAT DID NOT APPEAL TO YOU?
“It’s not really that it didn’t “appeal”. I love New Orleans. I’ve been there a couple of times for work related conventions. I’m just not a super partier I guess. I would go for the food way before any of the craziness.”

NOT MUCH OF A PARTIER. SO WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE?
“Geez, I have no idea. I mean I partied and had fun in college like everyone else, but I don’t know if you could call it crazy. Oh, you know what, when I was in my last year of school, there were a bunch of protests going on, I can’t honestly even remember what they were for. We staged a big school wide walk-out. It was my job to distract our econ professor in his office so that they could put the plan in motion. So, I went to see him and I pretended to be really sick. I basically fake passed-out on he floor of his office. It sounds so funny now. It was so cheesy. So, so horribly cheesy. Like right out of a bad cliché, a Lifetime movie or something. But yes that may be the craziest thing I have ever done! I’m a terrible nerd I guess. Oh I got alcohol poisoning once. I’m such a rebel.”

NOT EVERYONE WAS BORN TO PARTY I GUESS. SO DEBAUCHERY ASIDE, WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU DID LIKE ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE?
“Like I said, I liked the city. I like the sights, the restaurants, the shops. I really did like the floats and the costumes- I mean most of them. I’m just not really one to be up 24/7, be drunk for days at a time, show my boobs to strangers, etc.”

I GUESS A GOOD PARADE FLOAT ISNT ENOUGH TO GET YOU BACK?
“Eh. I mean, I have The Mummers for that. I know it’s not quite the same. I can do a parade anywhere. And costumes for that matter. Hey, I’ve got Halloween. I’d just as soon go to the beach and sit there for a week with a daiquiri in my hand, and stare at the ocean.”

YOU SAID YOU LIKED THE CITY THOUGH, THE FOOD AND SIGHTS. WHAT DID YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT NEW ORLEANS?
“I just liked walking around. We took the cemetery tour which was cool. And we took a river boat cruise. The food is great. Commander’s Palace. Oh my God. So good! I’m kind of a “foodie”, so that is more appealing to me. I’m that annoying girl in the nice restaurants that is taking 15 pictures of her dinner to put on Instagram before she eats. I took close-up shots of the little crawfish on my plate! I take a lot of pictures, just not of people’s boobs or of people puking into a garbage can. Although they make interesting shots too I guess.”

MARDI GRAS CULMINATES ON FAT TUESDAY, THE DAY BEFORE LENT. I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE GIVE THINGS UP, FOOD, VICES, ETC. DO YOU GIVE UP ANYTHING?
“I’m not Catholic so we don’t do that. I can tell you I’d never give up food! Or coffee. I’m not sure what I’d give up. I’m kind of glad I’m not Catholic now that I think about it.”

SO IF YOU DID HAVE TO GIVE UP SOMETHING, ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
“I guess I’d give up trips to Mardi Gras (laughter).”

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February 2, 2015

Let The Good Times Roll… From Brazil to Bourbon Street.

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YOU WENT TO MARDI GRAS LAST YEAR DIDN’T YOU?
“Yes! My sister and a few friends all went for a girls getaway.”

WAS THAT YOUR FIRST TIME THERE?
“No. I had gone with my ex-boyfriend three or four times over a decade ago. Then we broke up and I met my (now) husband and had a baby. That was pretty much it for trips to Mardi Gras, or anywhere like that.”

ANYWHERE LIKE THAT? HAVE YOU BEEN TO OTHER SIMILAR PLACES?
“Well, we went to Burning Man the first year we were together. And a bunch of other festival type deals. But, when I was much younger, my Godmother and I went to Carnival in Brazil. It was part college graduation gift, part going away party. She was moving to Spain for work and we were really close. I knew it’d be really long stretches between times we’d see one another. And that trip was what really made me just love that kind of thing, that carnival type atmosphere.”

WOW. CARNIVAL AS A YOUNG COLLEGE GIRL! WHAT WAS THAT LIKE? CAN YOU TELL PEOPLE WHO ARENT FAMILIAR WITH IT A LITTLE ABOUT IT?
“Well, I was 20, so not even legal to drink here in the U.S. but yeah, it was totally beyond anything that I had ever seen. Like a million times beyond. Basically it is a big street party that takes place in Rio (de Janeiro, Brazil) every year. It lasts like 4 or 5 days. It is just total debauchery. Naked or half naked people parading down the streets. Really elaborate costumes and flashy floats in a big parade. It all culminates with a big masquerade ball. I actually think I was too young to even fully appreciate it. I mean, I thought it was cool obviously. I was really excited by all the drinking and the staying out all night and that stuff. I really didn’t appreciate the cultural aspect of it, and all of the incredible costumes and masks and things like that.”

SO YOUR TRIP TO CARNIVAL INSPIRED YOU AND YOUR BOYFRIEND TO MAKE THE TRIP TO MARDI GRAS?
“Well, obviously people always draw on the similarity of the two. It was really his idea though. It was while he was in grad school. His friends wanted to go in lieu of going on spring break that year. I basically tagged along. I wasn’t even really thinking about the connection. But we had so much fun and it had been really reminiscent of having been at Carnival several years before that. We went back the next, I guess three years in a row.”

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SO, MARDI GRAS AND CARNIVAL HAVE SIMILARITIES. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT MARDI GRAS?
“Well, when we go down it’s usually the Friday or Saturday before Fat Tuesday, but there is stuff going on for a while before that. It starts right after The Epiphany, but the parades and all of that culminate in the big party on Fat Tuesday. It’s always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent, so basically it’s the last hoorah, the last chance to go crazy before giving up whatever vices you plan to give up for Lent. It’s pretty much accurate as to what you see it portrayed as. Drunken revelry. Parties. Parades. Lots of women (and men) showing their breasts and other things. Beads. It’s pretty much a no-rules, no holds barred situation.”

I THINK EVERYONE PROBABLY KNOWS ABOUT THE BEAD TRADITION. SO, DID YOU EARN YOUR BEADS?
“Well since I’m not giving my name and I know my kids won’t dig this up someday, I have definitely earned a few strands of beads in my day. But that was before I was married with a child.”

SO ON THIS LAST TRIP THERE WERE NO BEADS GRABBED?
“I’m going to plead the fifth on that one.”

YOU MENTIONED LENT, DO YOU TYPICALLY GIVE UP ANYTHING FOR LENT?
“No. I’m not Catholic. If I did, I’d probably give up something I really wouldn’t miss all that much, like doing laundry (laughter). My husband is Catholic, at least he was raised Catholic, and every year he tries to give up bread. Every year in the 7 that we’ve been together, bread. Usually by about 4 days in I find him in the kitchen making french toast or eating a bagel, and I’m like, “How’s that whole Lent situation going?” It’s harder than it sounds I guess.”

ARE YOU HEADED DOWN TO MARDI GRAS THIS TIME?
“Nope. We had a great time last time as a girls getaway, but we are planning on trying to do a different place every other year.”

WHAT’S NEXT?
“I think we’re doing Austin next time. Riverwalk and all of that stuff.”

THAT’S A BIT OF A DEPARTURE FROM MARDI GRAS AND CARNIVAL ISN’T IT?
“You think (laughter)? If it’s somewhere I can take my son, it is definitely NOT anything like Mardi Gras!”

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February 1, 2015

Let the Good Times Roll…Welcome to New Orleans!

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YOU NOW LIVE IN NEW ORLEANS. WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM?
“I’m actually from Madison, Wisconsin. I grew up there. Then I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota for about 13 years and then made my way to New Orleans.”

WHEN DID YOU MOVE TO NEW ORLEANS?
“It’s been 6 years.”

WHAT BROUGHT YOU THERE?
“I had come to visit. I really had not even heard of New Orleans. I came to visit a friend and literally, the day I came here, I was like “I love this place. I want to live here!” So that kind of got the wheels turning and 2 years later I sold my house, changed my job and got a new house in New Orleans.”

WHAT DID YOU LOVE SO MUCH ABOUT IT, THAT YOU WERE WILLING TO UPROOT YOUR LIFE?
“Everything! I loved the people. Everybody’s so laid back and fun and spirited. Everything’s a parade, a party. I love the houses, the architecture, the food, the music. Any given night, you can go listen to free music. Amazing music anywhere you go.”

THE MUSIC WOULD BE A HUGE DRAW. WHEN I VISITED THERE LAST YEAR, I WENT TO FRENCHMAN ST. AND SAW SOME GREAT LIVE MUSIC!
“What’s cool about that is it’s not as touristy. That’s where a lot of locals go. It’s not as frat house as Bourbon St. is (laughter). It goes all night long, music in very single club.”

I REALLY ENJOYED THAT. PROBABLY MORE THAN BOURBON STREET.
“Right. And people do. That’s what’s so wonderful. A lot of people will come to New Orleans and they’re like “Agh, this is it?” Cause they hear about Bourbon St., but it’s kinda like a frat house extended down the street. But if you can get them onto Frenchman or some of the local places, it’s a completely different atmosphere.”

DO YOU EVER REGRET MOVING THERE?
Oh, never! Never, never, never! Especially when I go home and it’s like 20 degrees. I love it (here) so much. What’s so wonderful is that, when my family comes to visit, they absolutely love it. So much so, that my mom bought a house last year here. It’s a rental. She’s not living in it. She comes to stay with me. She comes a lot. My brother and my dad, they’ve come quite a few times. I miss my family and I at least get home quite a few times a year, so that makes it worth it.”

WHAT DO YOU DO DOWN THERE?
“I run my own business called “Rustik Nola”. I make art and furniture out of recycled wood and tin. There’s still so much home construction going on since Katrina, that there’s just so many recycled wood items. It’s such a big thing here. I have my items in two different stores. That’s really nice. I do art markets.”

DO YOU SELL OUTSIDE OF THE NEW ORLEANS AREA?
“I do. I have a website (www.rustiknola.com) and a Facebook page (Rustik Nola). Quite honestly, I’ve put pictures of the art booths on Facebook and I sold and shipped it in different states. They’ll look at the picture and message me that they want the wall hanging in the left corner or something.”

SO, DO YOU LIVE ANYWHERE NEAR WHERE KATRINA HIT?
“What I learned the first time I came down here, and I had no concept how much of the city was flooded until then, was that 80% of the city was under water. I didn’t really understand that until somebody said “Picture the city you live in (Madison, Wisconsin) that 80% of the city boundary being under water.” Anywhere from 3 feet to 18 feet. In that aspect,I was able to really see and understand how much of their city was really hit. And the fact that it wasn’t that the water just came in and left, it sat, because New Orleans is like a bowl, for weeks. So that’s where the damage really happened, was sitting water for that long. My house (previously owned) didn’t flood. It came up to the step. And the only reason was that my block and a few blocks around my house, sits just enough on this little ridge, just enough so that the water only came to the top of the steps.
I’m right in the middle of the city, I’m 3 blocks off the street car line.
2 blocks away my friend was under water and she couldn’t get in her house for 8 months and she’s only a few blocks away. She was living a little outside the city and coming in to work on her house every day. She had to rip out sheetrock and all. She had about 3 feet of water, I believe.”

DO YOU STILL SEE DAMAGE AROUND THE AREA?
“Definitely. It’s crazy, but they are rapidly fixing up houses right now. It’s getting further and far between where you see it like that. Certainly, when I came here two years after the storm…I mean, how much work has been done in those years is unbelievable. It almost doesn’t see like the same city.”

DO YOU THINK THERE HAS BEEN PROGRESS AND IMPROVEMENT IN NEW ORLEANS SINCE THE STORM?
“It’s hard for me to really gauge that since I wasn’t living here then. But things that I DO hear, is that the school system they’ve improved. And it’s cleaned up tons of housing that was dilapidated anyway. That has changed. They’re building a world renowned research center, VA clinic and all that in the downtown area and that’s been being built over the last couple of years. I think that’s changing things tremendously because the whole area is bringing in a lot of professional jobs and people. The rent and housing has gone up. You’re bringing in thousands of people to work in these clinics and they need homes. So that’s been a fast track to fixing things up.”

BEING A RESIDENT OF NEW ORLEANS, AND OBVIOUSLY, MARDI GRAS IS GETTING READY TO TAKE PLACE, WHAT’S THAT LIKE AS A LOCAL?
“When I first moved here, the week that I moved here, was the start of Mardi Gras. I was blown away cause I’d never seen anything like it. I worked downtown where a lot of the parades are. And there was this smell! I went into work and was like ” What is that smell outside?” My co-worker said “Well, like my Grandma used to say; it smells like sin.” (Laughter) I’ve never forgotten it. It was my first year and it totally does smell like sin outside. So that’s kind of a little phrase that I think of at Mardi Gras. It kind of encapsulates it all.”

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DO YOU ATTEND MARDI GRAS EVERY YEAR?
“I have gone every year that I’ve been here, yes. It’s so prolonged that there are parades every night. So I don’t necessarily go every night to the parades, but I’ve gone to a few parades each year. Last year I didn’t go on Mardi Gras day. But other than that, I go down every year.”

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEBODY THAT MIGHT BE A LITTLE AFRAID OR INTIMIDATED TO GO TO MARDI GRAS?
“Oh my goodness! Go! You can always pick and choose. Every night they have like three parades in a row. You can go to the first one, then go back to your hotel. Pace yourself. I think people start out the first day and they are gung-ho and then they can’t make it.”

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WHEN I WAS THERE, IT WAS JANUARY, NOT EVEN MARDI GRAS YET, AND IT WAS PACKED. I CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW CROWDED IT MUST GET! DOES THAT ANNOY PEOPLE THAT LIVE THERE OR DO THEY WELCOME IT? I MEAN, IT’S A HUGE FINANCIAL BOOST TO THEIR ECONOMY I’D IMAGINE.
“I would say there’s a rally small percentage of people that don’t care for it. They (the ones that don’t like it) actually go out of town. Because all the kids have off the week of Mardi Gras, so a lot of the families may go on vacation, skiing and stuff like that, I’ve heard.
The thing that’s amazing; It does get crowded, but when you go to a parade, there’s just as many locals there as there is tourists. It’s so mixed. When you said that your site is “One, Unified” (and what it meant), that’s what’s kind of cool about it. There are so many tourists, but there are so many locals that every year think it’s the most awesome thing, as if they’re seeing it for the first time. That’s the thing that’s so amazing. You can go to a parade and there may be three others parades going on in the city at the same time and it’s packed, it’s rows deep. And I’m like “Where are all these people from? There’s so many people here and there’s other parades going on as well, that there’s just as many people at!”
You cannot catch a cab. I had some cousins come down one year for Mardi Gras and I took them out, not even Mardi Gras day, a few days prior, and you can’t catch a cab. It is packed.”

WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’VE SEEN THERE DURING MARDI GRAS?
“Probably Mardi Gras day in the quarter. We typically go early, like 9:30 in the morning, and it’s crowded but you can still move around. Just the costumes! You could sit and people watch and hours could go by and you think it’s 10 minutes, just cause of the costumes that people come up with. I don’t know if there’s any one specific moment. To me it’s just the whole thing. It’s hard to describe. To be honest, we leave the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day by 3:00 in the afternoon ’cause it’s getting jam packed where you can hardly move. I never even stayed down there at night time on that day.”

IT REMINDS ME OF OUR MUMMER’S DAY PARADE, THOUGH IT DOESN’T GET QUITE THAT UNRULY. YOU DON’T TYPICALLY SEE ANYONE PULLING UP THEIR TOPS AT A MUMMERS DAY PARADE. (Laughter)
“You know what, this is actually a good thing (to share with your readers):
On Bourbon Street you certainly see a lot of that but at the parades, it’s very, very family friendly. I was at a parade a couple of years ago. It was a day parade and, you know, of course there’s people that are absolutely loaded around there. And this woman pulled her shirt up and the police came and got her. She was a tourist and they were like “You know what? This isn’t what this is. This is a neighborhood. There’s kids all around.” She was crying. I don’t know what wound up happening. They took her to their car. I don’t know if they gave her a ticket, or what they ended up doing. My cousin, from out of town, couldn’t believe they “arrested her” or whatever. But people don’t do that at the parades, cause it is family friendly. I mean people are drinking but it’s very family friendly. Now, going down Bourbon Street is a totally different story.”

MENTIONING THE POLICE; DO THEY HAVE A HARD TIME HARNESSING PEOPLE?
“I would say it’s almost organized chaos. I think every police officer in the city has to be on duty during Mardi Gras. They also call in the state police, just so there’s police presence. But what’s amazing is that the energy is so happy. There may be pick-pockets here and there. But I think the police just, with their presence, and there’s certainly people that are drunk, but it never seems to get out of control. It’s such a happy time that people are happy drunks and in a happy mood that it never seems to (get out of hand). I’m sure there’s some arrests for public drunkenness. I’ve never been around, at any parade I’ve been at, or really even heard of anything horrible happening. It’s so different from anything that I’ve ever experienced. It’s just fun.”

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