Mardi Gras 2007, I made a discovery. It was the night Bacchus and Endymion rolled back to back, and it was a long one. I was with some friends, who were a year my senior, and after getting settled at our base point, where our parents were watching the parades next to Superior Grill, I followed them into the crowd.
Into the crowd, behind the ladder-lined neutral ground across the street.
It was as if I had crossed some imaginary boundary from which I would never return. The Mardi Gras experience of my childhood had given way to a new reality. Growing up, I had never really noticed it, but now, as a 7th grader nearing the beginning of my high-school career, I suddenly discovered an entirely new world. A world that had somehow remained camouflaged to me until this moment.
Behind the line of parade ladders on the neutral ground lies a raging block party more than a half-mile long. A block party you suddenly discover as you are creeping up on your high-school years.
You don’t really watch parades any more. You occasionally look up to see what float number it is, or what krewe is currently rolling, but for the most part the goal of catching pounds, on pounds, on pounds of beads is gone.
You no longer cram yourself back into a crowd of adults as bands pass, brass instruments swinging precariously close to the tip of your nose, and you generally aren’t found running after floats for crazy throws, unless you know someone in particular.
Once you cross this imaginary boundary on the ladder-lined neutral ground, your Mardi Gras experience shifts to a block party, with some cool decorations, passing floats, live music in the background, and thousands of your closest friends.
You realize that the Uptown frats buy kegs of Natty (or other equally nasty beer) and sell $10 all-you-can-drink wristbands to high-schoolers who probably don’t know any difference. I bought one in 8th grade, but promptly gave it to a 10th-grade friend of mine after drinking about half a beer.
You figure out that the high-school kids gravitate toward Superior Grill and the college kids toward Cannon’s (RIP) and Fat Harry’s.
Somewhere in there you realize that the chapter of your childhood Mardi Gras has come to a close, and the chapter of Mardi Gras as a young adult has opened. It has opened with blank pages to be filled with equally entertaining (maybe crazier) memories.
It all happens when you cross beyond the ladder line.
— Elizabeth Kukla, NolaVie contributor