With the parade onslaught approaching, I offer some tips for procuring the throws you desire. I derived these strategies from observations last year, and they would probably be discouraged by most riders.
First of all, be aware of the Mardi Gras hierarchy. Little kids > Grandmas > Young Women > Old Men > Young Men. Riders find little kids irresistible and literally throw them everything, whether the kids want it or not. Grandmas come close behind. They are also cute, and people admire their will to party at an advanced age. Plus, they have been coming to Mardi Gras since before you were born, so they know every trick in the book. Young women are beautiful. People, especially krewes full of men, enjoy seeing them smile and giggle and flirt. Older men tend to station themselves away from the floats. They drink Abita, catch up with friends, and grill or boil for the family. They seem to not even care for the throws, but when they do, they are married and mature—not direct competition for the young women. On the other hand, young men are annoying, ugly, and a threat. They might have better luck with the female krewes, but in general, they are at huge disadvantage.
Strategy 1: Those Meddling Kids
Not only do their angelic smiles win everyone over, but despite being the shortest people around, they somehow end up near eye level with the riders. They enslave fathers to carry them atop their shoulders or to wheel out ladder thrones. They look down at you during the entire parade, while catching everything you want. Who cares if they don’t appreciate the historical and cultural significance of that Zulu coconut as much as you do? They will always get one before you. There are two ways to deal with the no-neck monsters.
Plan A: Avoidance
Choose a location far away from any child or ladder. Without any kids around, you suddenly seem infinitely cuter. Riders start getting trigger fingers after rolling a block or two without any adorable targets. Your unabashed enthusiasm and lust for beads will amuse them enough to throw some scraps your way.
Plan B: The Vulture
If you watch the parades Uptown, you probably cannot avoid the kids and their ladders. If you can’t beat them, join them. Locate an area with a high density of extra-cute kids and park underneath them. Fortunately, children lack coordination. Gather beads and footballs after they bounce off their little heads. Trapped on their high horses, they cannot recover what they let fall to the neutral ground. Kids also have short attention spans. Once they let down their guard or go crying to mommy, you will be right there to fill the void. Finally, recognize that children have different priorities. A plush dolphin? You don’t need that, but you do need the Bacchus signature throw. Jump for the future collectibles while they reach for the child labor-stuffed animals. Just don’t sink low enough to wrestle anything out of their hands.
Strategy 2: Repetition
You spy a cool new throw that you cannot live without—female shoes, spears, beads the size of a child’s head, or even toilet paper. Run up to the float, point at what you want, and ask for it in the most simplistic and loud way possible. “Blinky light!” Continue pointing emphatically and repeating your request until you end up with what you want or until the float rolls out of range. “Blinky light! Blinky light! Blinky light! Blinky light! Blinky light!” This sounds like a terrible idea, but a few parades into last year, I realized that it works surprisingly well. Maybe they appreciate your directness. Maybe they get so annoyed that they just hand you something to shut up. Either way, you’ll feel the rush of victory when you run back to your friends with that blinking light dangling from your neck.
Strategy 3: Persistence
If the rider rejects your request, do not despair. Keep asking for the same throw at each of the subsequent floats. My group struck out on Zulu coconuts until the final four floats last year, but we each walked away with at least one. Chances are you will see a better throw as the parade progresses anyway. When you finally find that special token that makes you want to punch a baby in the face for it, consider following the float whose riders are throwing them out. Walk or run along side of it, focusing on one person. Point and repeat what you want, but continue doing it for several blocks. They may reward your persistence or you may wear them down. If you still come up empty handed, do not take it personally. You gave it your best shot.
Strategy 4: Exploit Friendships
Know someone in a krewe? Be sure to find out their float number and what side of the street you should stand on. Last-minute changes can happen, so send out a “supportive” text before the parade to verify where they will be. When they come rolling by, shout their name and reap the benefits.
Warning: Be careful what you wish for. Last year, we cheered for one of our medical school administrators. We ended up with more beads from that single float than from the rest of the parade, but it came at a price. The whole float unleashed a furious assault and pelted us with balls and unopened bead bags (i.e. plastic bricks). I ended up with at least one bruise from the ambush.
Strategy 4: Bartering
This is the lowest yield method. Last year, we thought it would be genius to offer cold beers or snacks to the riders in exchange for an awesome throw. Turns out most of them have had more than enough alcohol before even getting on the float, and they have an onboard supply, too. Occasionally, riders ask for something specific. At this year’s Krewe du Vieux, a marcher really wanted whiskey. If you have what they crave, jump at the chance. You probably will be rewarded handsomely. If not, you just gained some Mardi Gras karma and finding a ride home or a free bathroom will come much easier.
Final Advice: Do Not Be Stupid
No throws are worth a fight. Maintain perspective: While you feel like a boss in the moment, most of your acquired treasures will end up in your closet or a recycling program within a month. Keep it positive and enjoy the Mardi Gras Magic.
Jarod DuVall currently lives the not-so “Big Easy” life as a Tulane medical student. In his ample spare time, he enjoys exploring New Orleans. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis as a Howard Nemerov Writing Scholar.