Last week, I had the opportunity to ride in my first Mardi Gras parade. Riding in Orpheus was great, but lessons I didn’t expect were learned. For one thing, it was harder than I thought –and a bit overwhelming. I’m glad I had the experience, and now share my lessons for those who get the opportunity to ride at some point in their lives.
For those who have ridden before, let me know your thoughts. I would love to know if you agree, or if you had a different experience.
1. Floats do not come equipped with cup holders.
Considering that drinking is to Mardi Gras parading as bacon is to eggs (or anything for that matter), the float did not come with a designated place for my beer. While I was able to fashion one out of some beads, I unfortunately got drenched with a wide variety of beverages whenever someone from the top level of the float spilled his or her drink. Which was often. However, safety was a priority for Orpheus, so I was provided with a harness to strap me on the moving vessel in the event that I did try to jump off to save a falling can of beer.
2. The float bathrooms aren’t as primitive as you would think.
Before embarking on our maiden voyage, I debated whether to use the real bathroom at the Convention Center as much as possible or just not use the bathroom all day. However, after a couple of beers and a cocktail, I decided that I wasn’t above using one of the restrooms on board. Needless to say, it wasn’t the bucket or the litter box I expected. It was more like a rolling outhouse, and came fully stocked with single-ply toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
3. Each part of my costume served a purpose.
My fellow float passengers and I were each given a multi-piece costume that completely covered us from head to toe, which traditionally gives the effect of anonymity during the obligatory debauchery and revelry that ensues. Tradition aside, my costume resembled what I believe a harlequin-esque clown in sequined and polyester glory might wear, but that’s not really the point. (I did get to keep it.) However, while we joked about the un-sexiness of our costumes, I soon learned that each article of clothing served a very calculated function.
Considering the group above us on the float was quite the rowdy bunch, I was grateful to have my sequined hood to protect me from falling drinks and bead debris. The white gloves were black by the end of the night, so clearly those were to clean off the dirty beads before throwing them to children who may be sticking them in their mouths. And, the pants – well, I was just grateful that I got to wear MC Hammer pants to the Orpheuscapade party instead of a floor-length gown and heels like all the other women.
4. Throwing beads is quite the nerve-wracking experience.
Even while literally knee deep in beads and high on the power of being able to throw them to people, riding can be quite the overwhelming experience. I actually felt like I was responsible for everyone’s happiness and legitimately felt bad when I couldn’t please everyone who came into my radar. In addition, I think our float was going exceptionally fast to avoid any impending rain that evening, so it sometimes was hard to calculate my toss, resulting in what I hope weren’t serious injuries along the parade route. This is exactly why I always duck and cover when I am walking along the parades.
5. But, it’s also really gratifying.
As simple as it seems, when I did get the chance to give a first-time parade attendee a bushel of beads, or a purple crab stuffed animal to a child, I got an overwhelming sense of gratification. I had succeeded in my mission. And, I could tell that my float mates felt the same way, because as the parade went on, we each started hoarding the stuffed animals that we were initially trying to pawn off on one another.
As rowdy and overindulgent as Mardi Gras can get, it actually brings out the best in people. Everyone – from children and adults to new and veteran parade attendees – said “Thank you” and “Happy Mardi Gras” for their throws.
7. And they are also really clever…
While the laundry baskets and basketball hoops were super fun to throw beads into, I have to say that my favorite targets were a toilet seat with Roger Goodell’s photo and a prosthetic leg.
Even on this chilly and drizzling Lundi Gras night, my friends and family waited until the end of the parade to see me riding on the last float of the evening. The float was moving at what felt like maximum speed, so I just started tossing things off the float when I knew the designated locations where my friends and family would be. I didn’t see everyone, but I knew they were out there and saw me. I know because they made fun of my bead tossing, or shall I say, bead-bumping ability, and I appreciate them for that.
So, to my family on Napoleon and my friends by Ms. Mae’s, The Columns, and Canal: I hope you caught the weird stuffed, green crawfish cow creatures I saved for each of you; or, at least, I hope you caught a good image of me dumping it off the float.
9. Don’t let your kids stick the beads in their mouths.
They are really dirty, and may have been doused in peach-flavored vodka. Just FYI.
10. It’s an experience everyone should try.
While I don’t think I will choose to ride in a parade again, I do recommend that everyone try it at some point if given the chance. It was a fun, once-in-a-lifetime New Orleans experience that gave me a new perspective on Mardi Gras and our wonderful city.
Now, who can ever pass up an opportunity to try that?
Adriana Lopez writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.