NOLA Trip, Day 5: The End

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

And then it was over. It seems amazing that after such a monstrous, weeks-long, city-wide party, the street could be clean and things could be back to what looks like normal so quickly.

I did a few errands, including a stop at Francis’ bakery to get a king cake to take to work on Thursday. I walked in the open front door, between stacks of FedEx boxes. The front room of the bakery is dirty, and tired, and the woman who came up front to meet me looked exhausted. “Do you have any plain king cakes?” I asked. She breathed out, a little short breath, and she leaned on the counter and looked at me over her glasses. “No, honey. We GOT to take a break SOMETIME.”

We really did eat this many Randazzo’s king cakes while we were in town, and they weren’t the small ones. We ate the king cakes, and we have the babies to prove it.

We loaded up the car said our goodbyes. I found one last baby in the last chunk of king cake I ate before we got in the car. We stopped in Amite to visit Grandma Sig and were home by midnight.

NOLA Trip, Day 4: Happy Mardi Gras!

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

When I got down to Veterans at 6 am, wearing a coat and a jester hat, most of the grass at the edge of the neutral ground was already staked out. Either people had left blue tarps out all night, held down by ratty lawn chairs, or they had stayed out in person to reserve a spot. People in lawn chairs and blankets were everywhere, still trying to doze in the early morning cold.

I walked a couple of blocks before finding a square of unclaimed grass in the neutral ground, but there were some stakes lying on the ground nearby. I texted Bryan “have found a good spot but am unclear about property rights; please advise.”

Some guys walked by across the street, carrying cases of cheap beer and yelling.

“I like your hat!”


“Where’d you get it?”

“Really, I have no idea.”

“Yeah, man, I’m like that about most things. Happy Mardi Gras!”

Bryan arrived a few minutes later, with a ladder, and we staked out our family’s square of grass with chairs and a ladder. We built a little perimeter with beads left on the ground from the night before, and we waited together until about ten am when his cousins arrived to take over.

Our little square of grass slowly filled with people. Beth and Jeff had arrived with baby Lucy, and even Grandma Schambach and Aunt Dot came out to watch the parades. Our spot was near the end of the parade route, so the Argus parade didn’t reach us until about one in the afternoon.

The bands and marching groups were a little tired-looking. They were near the end of the last parade of the last day of the carnival season, and I think most of them were just ready to be finished. But the floats were still funny and the riders were anxious to get rid of their last toys and beads before the end of the parade.

We got daiquiris from the daiquiri store’s walk-through window. I hadn’t known that “Octane 190” was a FLAVOR.

Mandy enjoyed watching everyone from her perch at the top of her ladder. She’d made a “My First Mardi Gras” sign with posterboard, hoping for more throws, but she quickly abandoned it in favor of a bulls-eye.

Lucy watched the proceedings calmly and with great interest. She seemed to really enjoy all the people and the activity around her.

After the “traditional parade” of the Krewe of Argus had passed, the Jefferson and Elks Jeffersonians truck parades followed, each with about 75 floats. Aunt Dot went home. We caught wads of beads. I managed to get a feather boa for Mandy. Grandma Schambach survived being crashed into by a guy trying to catch a Saints football. Lucy fell asleep. The parades ran together into a sort of colorful, hours-long blur of loud music and screaming people and things flying through the air.

And then the parades were over, and people went home. Bryan and I walked back down to Veterans, which was still closed. The street was empty except for the trash left by the crowds: food wrappers, cans and bottles, plastic bags, and beads were everywhere. It looked as if drunken clowns had exploded in the street. Bryan sat in a folding chair someone had left, and a young man in a toga sat next to him.

Toga Dude: “Whatcha doing?”

Bryan: “Waiting for someone.”

TD: “Yeah, man, me too.”

TD: “Do you see those girls over there? They’re pretty hot, aren’t they?”

B: “They’re cute, I guess.”

TD: “Think we can get a lap dance?”



TD: “Hey, man, if want to, lets go right now and get a shot.” (motions to bar across the street)

About this time I came back, and Toga Dude stood up and introduced himself.

TD: “Hey, I’m Ivan. I’ve been friends with him forEVER.”

Toga Dude/Ivan wandered off to warm up in the aforementioned bar while Bryan explains to me what just happened.

This photo was taken near sunset on Veterans Memorial Highway after the Metairie parades on Mardi Gras Day.

And how do they clean up the awful mess? Here’s a time-lapse video of the Last Parade, with a special appearance by Ivan (look for the toga at the 37-38 second mark):

Here’s the final photo of our Mardi Gras loot, all 145 pounds of it. As always, click on the photo to see it larger.

NOLA Trip, Day 3: On Lundi Gras, We Eat

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

The whole bunch of us tried to go to Deanies for lunch, but we were foiled by the hour-and-a-half wait for a table. We had to eat some more fried oysters and garlic fries at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood instead. Also, Mandy has somehow become addicted to cream soups with crawfish. I’m not sure how that happened.

After a trip to the grocery store, I made a couple of chicken pot pies just on the principle that it’s good to have chicken pot pies around. Mandy sat for a couple of hours and looked at photo albums with Aunt Dot, talking about traveling and listening to stories. In the evening we walked down to Veterans with Kevin and Julie and Emma to see the Zeus parade.

Click on photo to see it bigger.

NOLA Trip, Day 2: We See Breesus

This is a multi-day trip report, so if you haven’t already started at the beginning please click here to read from Day 1.

There were five parades today on the ‘Uptown parade route‘ but we hung around the house too long to catch them all. We walked into the middle of the Mid-City parade, with shiny floats built with colored aluminum foil. We wandered through the enormous block party that followed, dodging the running kids and the barrage of footballs thrown down the street. We found Rick and Judy and their family and squeezed our chairs in near theirs, across from St. Elizabeth’s Asylum, just before the Thoth parade started.

We’re told that usually the crowd thins in the couple of hours between the day parades and the evening parade, and we hoped that we’d be able to spread out a bit and move closer to the street. But Drew Brees, the Saints’ QB, is this year’s King of Bacchus. The whole city’s turned out to catch a football or a string of beads from his nearly-anointed hands. Even more people pressed themselves into the tiny gaps in the crowd, and the people next to us continued drinking and chain-smoking, and the street was full to bursting by the time the Bacchus parade started at 5:30.

We’re starting to get the hang of the way this is done. I took my turn holding an 80-pound kid on my shoulders to get her closer to the bead-throwers and passers-out-of-toy-spears, but Bryan was much better at it.

We did in fact catch a whole bag of special beads and a stuffed animal from Breesus’ float. The parade went on and on, with beads and cups and stuffed things flying through the air, and people screaming. The local bands shoved us back against the curb. “GET IT BACK, PEOPLE! WATCH OUT FOR THE SWORDS!” I actually overheard one of the big, burly drum boys say very calmly, almost to himself, “I’d knock theah ahms off.”

Police are a constant presence at these parades; I don’t know that there’s been a time at any of them that I haven’t been able to see a policeman. The crowds are loud and pushy but generally much friendlier and more polite than I’d expected. It wasn’t at all unusual for people to catch something and then give it to a child nearby. At one point, two guys crossed the street in the middle of a marching band, and the nearby policeman shoved them hard, pushing them back across the street and into the crowd, delivering a terse lecture about manners.

Then, just a few floats later, in a quiet moment, the same cop looked straight at me and said “Hewwo.” I stared at him, completely baffled, and he added “My name is Elmah Fudd.”

It’s a strange, strange place.

Click to see the photo bigger.

NOLA Trip, Day 1: A Missouri Yankee in Mardi Gras Court

I woke up this morning to find that Bryan and his mom had taken the car to buy king cakes–eight of them. We went to New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood for lunch. Oysters. And so it begins: two items already crossed off my ‘to eat’ list.

Today’s big parade was Endymion, and we made arrangements to meet Bryan’s cousins Rick and Judy and their family in “Mid-City”. We thought they’d have good advice about where to park, and where to stand. (Bryan asked “So have you been parking in the same place for this parade every year for the last twenty years?” Judy thought for a moment and said “No, I think it’s more like thirty.”) Also, we like them.

We waited in front of a huge building, still standing ruined and empty and paint-tagged five years after Katrina. The parade started at 4:15, and the first floats and bands reached us about two hours later. Here’s an interesting side point about bands in Mardi Gras parades. Normal parades have well behaved crowds, obediently sitting on the curb, like we did for the parades of my childhood, politely waiting for a wave or a handful of candy. This is different. It’s not that Mardi Gras crowds are BADLY behaved, it’s just that they’re crowd-y, and they actively push in toward the street, taking over the space, looking and waving and yelling and catching things. The out of town bands don’t know how to control this, being from places like Wisconsin where people wait meekly at the curb, and they end up shoved to the center, the whole band in a sad little knot walking in the middle of the street, a three-lane marching unit reduced to a lane and a half, sort of in crisis mode, looking worried and bumping into each other as they play.

So the NOLA high schools have BOUNCERS — this is not a joke — and they precede the band and they shove people back. “BACK TO THE LINE, PEOPLE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO MOVE IT BACK RIGHT NOW.” Big guys and black women in track suits, out ahead. “KEEP IT BACK, PEOPLE.” And then the band comes through, and the band DOES NOT GIVE UP this space, and the guys on the end walk that lane line and if you’re in their way you’re just going to get knocked down, or hit with a drumstick, BOOM BOOM BOOM right in the head. So they put the BIG kids on the outside — the hefty burly band kids next to the pushing crowd, the little ones in the middle of the band, protected. And they keep that street, and it’s THEIR STREET.

The special throws for Endymion this year were a special stuffed football (in honor of the Saints’ great season) and a stuffed, embroidered penguin (because a baby bird was born on this day last year and named Endymion in honor of the krewe.) We caught enough beads to fill a huge bag, two of the footballs, and an amazing array of other junk: doubloons, cups, stuffed animals, a blinking necklace, fabric roses. Mandy didn’t get the special penguin, in spite sitting on Bryan’s shoulders and shouting requests for them at nearly every float. We’d only seen two penguins the whole time. They were pretty rare.

After every float had passed, we turned to leave. Back to the last float, headed toward the car, Mandy was in mid-gripe about her penguin-less-ness when she squealed and pounced on something lying face down on a patch of bare dirt. It was a penguin.

We got back to Metairie about ten, when the Isis parade was just reaching the spot a block away from the house. Mandy stayed with Aunt Dot while Bryan and I, along with his parents, walked down and waved at some more floats and got another half-shopping bag of stuff, including a couple of their special throws for this year.

(Stupid, stupid, I know. It’s like materialism but in a totally useless way, a strange combination of silliness and greed. What in the world am I going to do with plastic boxes full of beads? But it’s a new thing, and it’s funny, and we’ll have lots of nifty things to share when we get back to Little Rock.)

Click to see the photo larger.