Sunday, Feb. 14th - In case you didn't know, this was Valentine's Day. I was, most unfortunately, not with my Valentine. The bummer factor of this statement is multiplied by the fact that (besides Erin) I was surrounded by people who were with their valentine's. I'm not even a fan of V-Day, but when I can't be with her, it just makes me want it more.
A 24-hr. plague had infested some of the wedding goers - the first casualty being Megan's Uncle Jay, who couldn't make the wedding - he had been feeling that badly. The next victim, inexplicably, was Megan's brand-new husband, John. Then it was Megan's mother, Connie. Our caravan to New Orleans was supposed to contain all of these people, but circumstances being what they were, Connie and John stayed in Baton Rouge. So Erin, Megan, Paul (Megan's step-brother), Grandma Gloria, and a handful of Megan's aunts, uncle, and cousins came with us. We actually dropped Paul off at the New Orleans airport, but not before we stopped for Daiquiri's.
Discovery #6: Daiquiri huts. There are whole stores dedicated to Daiquiris ... that's all they sell. a wall of churning slushy machines dedicated to every kind of daiquiri flavor you can imagine - tropical fruits, pina colada, MUDSLIDES, White Russians - and they come in massive 32 oz. containers. It's a college student's spring break dream - the drink that keeps on giving.
Once Paul was off and away, we kept along our epic trail, driving by Lake Ponchartrain, which looks like the missing Great Lake. There was something eerie to me about driving over it - because of Hurricane Katrina. The highway is divided over the Western portion of the lake, and I could just imagine lines and lines of cars fleeing the city on these tiny little two-lane roads floating over this lake. Anyway.
If you ever drive into New Orleans, you'll see two or three cemeteries on either side of the highway - and in the French fashion, the cemeteries are all above-ground mausoleums, which I find ghoulishly fascinating. From the back seat of the car, I caught a photo of this guy - a Southern Officer of the Civil War. The South will rise again!
To reach NOLA's downtown area, you must pass the Superdome. Which is huge. Mardi Gras balls are held there, floats are parked and stored outside, and the streets around are closed off for the various parades. That's right, parades - plural. I was under the foolish impression that there was only one Mardi Gras parade - the one clip that would ever make it onto the evening news in Los Angeles. So imagine my great shock when Megan tells me that there are multiple parades. All the better to capture beads at, my dear...
The traffic, while not as bad as my foray the night before, was still quite rough. We had to park and hike to the hotel. I had brought all of my luggage, for no apparent reason, so I was left to scurry behind Megan and Erin, who had a purse and a backpack. I was quite brave in hauling my wheeled luggage behind me, my messenger bag slung across my back. Yeah, I'm a road warrior, and I'm not ashamed to say it. As we walked along, some guy wearing camouflage stopped Erin and said, "Where are you from?" She replied, "Phoenix." The man said, "Do they have crime there, too?" Erin looked to us for help. Our response? Keep walking.
Discovery #7: Camouflage. I have never seen so much camo in my life than I have in Louisiana. All kinds of it, too - military camo, hunting camo, multi-colored camo - if the people watching the parade weren't dressed in Mardi Gras colors and costumes, they were dressed in camo.
We encountered one of the parades as we walked along - the Thoth Parade. All of the parades have different names, because of the "Krewes" who produce them. See all those Krewes? They ALL put on parades. At any rate, we stopped to watch the Thoth Parade, as we couldn't get across the street. We settled behind an area that had been sanctioned off for some people somehow remotely related to LSU. The danger in doing this was that some of the Thoth Krewe members knew these particular LSU-ers, and randomly started pelting (and I mean pelting!) beads from their float, which was easily 10 feet taller than we were; and not just beads, whole BAGS of beads, being launched at us at the speeds of a major league fastball. I was beaned in the head. By a bag of beads.
There was a break in the parade, and we were finally able to cross the street, and make it around the corner to our hotel. We relaxed for about 45 minutes, and then met up with Megan's family to go walk down to the French Quarter. There is no possible way for me to describe the French Quarter, especially not during Mardi Gras, so I'll just post these photos:
I will say that everyone walks around with open containers of alcohol, and the alcohol that's sold is quite cheap. Drinks of choice range from everything between beer and bloody mary's, to Hurricanes and Hand Grenades. I don't know what a Hand Grenade is, but they sell a lot of them. And the police? The police just watch to make sure that fights don't break loose. Or like, anyone gets killed.
After our tour through the Quarter, we left Megan's family at a corner of the parade route by the hotel, and we walked for what seemed like miles to the complete opposite end. This parade was the main event - the Bacchus Krewe Parade. The Bacchus Krewe is famous for having famous people as their grand marshals. This year's famous marshal? Who but the King of New Orleans himself: Drew Brees.*
As we furiously made our way past Lee Circle (see: Robert E.), I realized that my hands were getting a little shaky. Massive amounts of alcohol, coupled with lots of walking without food = a dumb idea. Erin was quite inebriated at this point, and as Megan's the fastest walker I know (faster than you, monkey!), I mandated a stop at one of the several street meat vans along the way. We waited in line for about half an hour, but I'll tell you, that was the best corn-dog I'd ever had. And the shrimp on a stick? To die for. Megan got a tray of nachos, and Erin bought something called a "Columbian Tamale," which was potatoes and chicken in a banana leaf.
Once fed, we found a place along the route, next to a charming family that Erin (in her drunkenness) kept proclaiming as "The most beautiful family ever!" They laughed at her and thought she was sweet. And so she was. Megan and I kept giving each other side-long glances of ironic delight. Erin is a huge light-weight on the alcohol scale. It was hilarious. More beads were thrown, more beads were caught. All three of us actually scored an awesomely rare necklace with large red hearts. To see us, you'd have thought we won the lottery.
(That's Karen. From New Orleans. Yeah, I have no idea who she is, either...)
The Bacchus parade theme had to do with love cliches of all varieties, so there were lots of hearts all over the place, and obviously different characterizations on the Roman god himself...along with multiple bottles of wine. It was, perhaps, the most fitting parade for capturing the Mardi Gras spirit. Again, more men with concealed faces. CREEPY. There was also a great number of marching bands during this parade - in fact, they were between every float on the route (and there were tons of floats).
We watched the entirety of the parade, but didn't see Drew Brees. We walked back toward downtown, the three of us famished again. At an intersection, while once again waiting for the parade to subside so we could cross, we met a gaggle of very nice University of New Orleans boys - who, like us, found Erin to be hilarious.
Megan took us to the Crescent City Brewery, where we ate, and drank, and I drunk-dialed my girlfriend. There were inexplicable Jellyfish lights on the ceiling. Why? Who knows. But they amused me. By the time we finished our Po'boys, it was raining. We got our beers to go (because you can do that in New Orleans) and walked back to the hotel, soaked, but very happy.
A few parting shots for you:
(That's Officer Duncan. He was nice.)
Monday, Feb. 15th - PAIN. Massive amounts of pain. No, I wasn't hung over. But between my oh-so-blistered feet from all the walking, and my lower back from all the standing - I was one hurtin' cowpoke, as my dad would say. My throat was also a bit raw from the hooting and hollering for beads. Erin's knee was also giving her tons of trouble. We gathered our stuff, resolute on getting out of town as soon as possible, and finding the nearest McDonald's for breakfast.
We drove back to Baton Rouge. It was only upon arrival that I realized I had left my laptop cord at the hotel in New Orleans. I didn't have enough time to drive back down there and fetch it - I had to drive back to Houston. Daniel was thankfully still in NO, so he picked it up for me, and is shipping it to me down here. I had no charger in the interim, so I went to Best Buy and bought an universal charger and an auxiliary cord for my ipod during the drive back to Houston. We got back to the Hilton, said goodbye to John (who was feeling much better), and Connie (who was better as well). I said goodbyes all around, hugs were given in multiple, and I got in my rental car, and drove to Houston.
As you might imagine, the drive back to Houston was not nearly as interesting as the initial drive to Baton Rouge. Not only was it dull, but that raw feeling in my throat from earlier kept growing. and growing. and growing - so that by the time I reached Texas, I was positively shivering with aches and exhaustion. I made it to Houston by 7:30 p.m., found the right hotel after some trouble, checked-in, and then went to drop off my rental car.
When I got back to the hotel, I took the hottest shower I possibly could, ordered a pizza, and took to organizing my luggage so that I could sleep in the next morning.
As Stephen the Cajun had told me, perhaps prophetically, there is balance in the culture. So much fun could not have been had to the fullest extent without a price. I'm still paying for it in sniffles and coughs.
But I wouldn't change a thing. ;)
This blog post brought to you by:
The Vancouver Winter Olympics
*For Tracy, Fee, or anyone else who may not recall, Drew Brees is the quarter back of the New Orleans Saints. Those guys who won the super bowl last month. He's kind of a big deal in NOLA...