It is official. I survived my first New Orleans Mardi Gras. I am sore from walking, I have a mound of beads on my kitchen table and I am sick of King Cake, but I'm feeling good. Ever since this Carnival season started, I have been so curious about how the actual Mardi Gras day was going to go. While my own Mardi Gras experience wasn't perfect, it was fascinating to be in New Orleans for the city's legendary party.
Here's how my first Mardi Gras went:
7:15 a.m.: On the streetcar
Chris and I wanted to see Zulu, which was set to start at 8 a.m., so we were on the streetcar by 7:15 a.m. We were dressed in our last-minute costumes – 80's workout girl for me and Cristiano Ronaldo for him. No one else on the streetcar was in costume, so I felt silly. “Are other people going to be dressed up?” I asked Chris. “Yeah, just you wait,” he said.
7:40 a.m.: Walking and people-watching
The streetcar dropped us off on Canal Street, near the Joy Theater, so we started walking towards St. Charles Avenue. It was kind of a long walk, but the phenomenal people watching made up for it. My favorite was the "60-year-old rapper with a bad knee," who stopped his car just off the parade route and started rapping and dancing for parade watchers. When a policeman said he had to move his car, the 60-year-old rapper reluctantly said yes but when the policeman turned his head, he kept on rapping. (And of course this guy has a YouTube channel. Enjoy, my friends.)
8:41 a.m.: Zulu arrives
Chris and I kept walking until we settled on a spot at the corner of Josephine and St. Charles Avenue. With a six-pack of Abita Jockamo IPA (in cans! Perfect for parade watching), we were ready for Zulu.
The parade was great! While I think Muses was actually my favorite of the whole Carnival season, Zulu was also amazing. It was nice to see Mayor Mitch Landrieu on a horse greeting the crowd and taking pictures with little kids. It was fun to see all the elaborate costumes of the King, Queen and others. And then it was cool to watch Warren Sapp throw out some beads.
And while we did have to move away from some adorable kids stealing all the throws, Chris caught a coconut! Known as the "most coveted throw of Mardi Gras," someone behind us had said he had been to 15 Fat Tuesdays and had never caught one. Chris was quite proud when he caught his and it was the highlight of our day.
10:45 a.m.: Hungry
It was around this time that Chris and I got hungry. We wanted to find a place with the three necessities: food, bathroom, beer. All of the places around us were extremely crowded or the bathroom was out of order, so we walked away from the parade route. We started walking a little too far and ended up in a residential area. There were no places for food, a bathroom or more beer, so we just kept on walking. We walked all the way to Tchoupitoulas to go to Walmart. I actually hate Walmart, but at times like these, Walmart can be a beacon of hope.
Unless it's closed. Walmart was closed! We were upset because now we really had to use the restroom and we really wanted some food. We luckily found a Subway across the street. I have never been so happy to see a blinking "Open" sign in my life.
After a quick lunch, we started walking back to the CBD. At this point I was really glad I had decided to wear my '80s outfit because I could wear my running shoes. I was losing steam at this point. My legs hurt, my feet hurt and I just wanted to sit down.
12:21 p.m.: Feeling faint
After our lunch adventure, we found a spot on Canal Street to watch Rex. It was raining a bit, but nothing to deter parade watching. We sat on the curb and waited patiently for the parade.
When we saw a few trucks start coming down the parade route, we stood up to get a better view. But that made me feel dizzy. Really dizzy. All of a sudden I had that feeling like I was going to faint. It's that awful feeling when you're light-headed and you see spots of black and you can't think about anything other than sitting down.
“Chris I need to sit down,” I said.
"Oh?" Chris said. "Are you okay?"
“I need to sit down.”
The ground was wet, but I plopped down on Canal Street and put my head between my knees. It was gross because there were cigarette butts and empty Popeyes cups all around me, but I felt so dizzy and foggy. I stood up again but kept feeling like I was going to faint. I drank some water, but still felt awful. “You can go watch Rex,” I told Chris, “but I'm going to find somewhere to sit down.
Being the great boyfriend that he is, Chris decided we should go home since I felt awful. As we walked back to the streetcar, I felt defeated that I was leaving Mardi Gras this early in the day and I felt bad that Chris couldn't see Rex. I was also supposed to meet some friends in the morning and the afternoon but I hadn't seen anyone yet. But at that moment I felt dehydrated and all I wanted to do was lie down and drink water.
2:30 p.m.: Back at the apartment
When I got home, I laid down to rest my eyes but then fell asleep. When I woke up, I sent a few apologetic texts to the people I was supposed to meet, telling them that I probably wasn't going to make it back out because I was tired and had failed at Mardi Gras. I was feeling lame, but my friends were nice and told me "No problem." They were tired, too.
10:05 p.m.: State of the Union and parade thoughts
I ended Fat Tuesday with the State of the Union address and the 10 p.m. local news. Watching the highlights from the day, I was upset that I didn't force myself to stay out later, but overall I'm still okay with my first New Orleans Mardi Gras. Even though it ended earlier than I anticipated, it was still fun to be part of an event that's reported about all around the world. And it was great to hear on the news that so many visitors were talking about how they were happy to see that New Orleans is capable of putting on huge events such as the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras. While locals know New Orleans has gone through an amazing post-Katrina recovery, it was great to hear that the rest of the world is discovering that, too.
Like one of the commenters on this blog said “Mardi Gras is a marathon not a sprint.” Next year I will drink a lot more water and take some breaks from walking. I'm impressed with the endurance of New Orleanians and I hope to build up my stamina for next year. Learning about Mardi Gras and the whole Carnival season has been so eye-opening to me and I have enjoyed learning about this huge event that I knew nothing about. I'll be more prepared next year and I will be ready for an even better Mardi Gras. Mark your calendar for next year's Mardi Gras, which is March 4, 2014. I will see you there, New Orleans!