Battle of the Mardi Gras Beads
War stories from life on the Carnival parade route
It’s not a stretch to say we live inside Carnival in New Orleans. Our place is about 15 yards away from St. Charles Avenue in Uptown, just a few blocks from where the parades line up. It’s admittedly not for everyone to have your life overtaken by marching bands, beads, dancing and walking krewes, beads, floats, riders, beads, costumers, beads, parade goers and more beads for three or four weeks, but those of us who live on the routes throughout Louisiana are a kind of Carnival comrades in arms. Our weapons are rest, vitamins and a good sense of humor. The rations consist of gumbo, jumbo-sized snack foods and Costco-sized bottles of liquor. You may not be invited over any other time of year, but when Carnival season kicks off, we are your pit stop, refuge, basecamp, meeting spot and blessedly clean and private bathroom. We are Carnival commandos in the battle of the beads and like any experienced veteran, we’ve seen it all.
In 2014 — the Thursday before Fat Tuesday and our first year on the route — a truck pulled up in front of our building and dropped off a U-Haul trailer. Later that day, it was overrun with LSU students who for the next five days performed every imaginable feat of strength involving beer. We observed countless hours of revelry, drama, one benign visit from the police (which subsequently answered the question: can you have a party out of a U-Haul trailer and not get arrested?), drunken antics, laughter, tears and keg stands all from the prime location of our perch on the porch. Unbeknownst to the festive pride of Tiger fans, a friend of ours who is a nurse always does a Mardi Gras weekend tour, so there was a medic nearby throughout their beer bong boot camp. To this day I give those kids a lot of credit, because while I did end up hosing someone’s lunch off of my walkway, it belonged to an adult passerby who had been overserved and not to the students. Geaux Tigers!
The next year, a friend of ours who is a member of a dance krewe shimmied by us at our usual post on St. Charles then jumped out of formation to come in and use our bathroom. She grabbed a quick bite on her way out the door, caught back up with her troupe and boogied on down the road. In 2017 when a friend heard we’d have a fresh pot of gumbo on offer for our open house on her parade day, she asked if I’d bring out a cup and try to get it to her while she marched past us, because she didn’t want to be mistaken for a deserter. When she got within yelling distance, I got her attention and passed off a go-cup of piping hot andouille gumbo. I’m sure the bystanders were mystified by the scene or more likely thought it was a boozy beverage. The text I received from her later on thanking me for the fortification made it worth the hour I stood sentinel on the lookout. A soldier never abandons her post.
This year I enter into Carnival season with literal battle scars from 2017, when I managed to cut my arm during a parade. The A-team at the emergency room had me stitched up and released in time for the next parade. Surprisingly, the cut and stitching hurt less than the year I got hit in the face with a bag of beads. However, despite the injuries — both physical and to the senses and sensibilities — and those inevitable parade days that feel like a forced march, I’m ready to report to duty for another Carnival season. Forward, march!