Usually when people have travel stories, the tale seldom centers on the part when the airplane was taxiing on the runway. For August Perez III, a glimpse through the window would open the way to a major innovation in Carnival and another listing in the late architect’s career accomplishments.
Perez noticed, and became fascinated with, the luggage carriers – a train of units filled the suitcases that was pulled by an engine-like devise. What fascinated him was that as the engine made a turn the units that followed would each turn at the very spot where the engine had turned. Most people would not see anything unusual about that but without technology in the wheelbases, the units would just be dragged in the engine’s direction. Perez’s mind was turning.
Perez’s architectural credits included Canal Place, Harrah’s casino and the convention center. In his other life he was a founder and co-captain of the Krewe of Bacchus. From the beginning the krewe would try to be a sensation by being innovative and doing things in a big way. That got him to thinking about a float built with the same type of turning system as the luggage haulers, so that a series of floats could be connected. Doing that would add an entire new menagerie to Carnival parades. There could be block long alligators, dinosaurs, serpents plus steamboats and trains, and eventually Endymion’s seemingly endless float that celebrates the former Pontchartrain amusement park with blinking lights that raced, like a Zephyr, from one float to the other.
Bacchus’ bosses and Blaine Kern’s float builder were always up for a challenge and this was a big one. To be known as “tandem” floats the first of the breed, the three piece Bacchagator, made its debut in Bacchus’s 1986 parade. Others would follow, most notably in Endymion, Orpheus, Zulu and Thoth. One tractor could pull a tandem float whose combined ridership had more members than some of the early krewes. Carnival had just just gotten a lot bigger and more spectacular.
This past Carnival was not a good one for the concept of the tandems. Two deaths along parade routes, each inked to paradegoers working their way to a spot between tandem units, has called for investigations and reviews of safety procedures.
Invention always create great new possibilities but bring with them new problems that need to be solved. The problem of preventing paradegoers from getting between floats seems solvable, especially with nearly a year to plan.
We owe a tribute to August Perez and his vision and hope that never will that vision be turned in the wrong direction.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.