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Nothing for Granted

More than anyone, we understand this is the city where you can let your hair down. But that's not a carte blanche for stupid behavior, so you should know your limit and your friend's limit.

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Last week the New Orleans chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) released "Carnival Rules -- Ten Ways to Mardi Gras" (as in, to Mardi Gras), a helpful guide for visitors coming in for what just might be the most historic Carnival that this city has ever seen. "The world is going to be watching to see how we handle the world's greatest free party," AMA Vice President Malcolm Schwarzenbach said in a press release. "And for our city's sake, if we can help avert a single bad incident that the national media would use to tag the city unfairly, then we as marketers should do what we can."

We couldn't agree more, and we would add that now more than ever, the burden of creating a safe, efficient and clean Mardi Gras is a shared one. Just as it is important for our visitors to understand and appreciate what makes Carnival so special and important to our heritage and reputation, our citizens need to take the lead and be an example. Yes, the world is watching. But it goes beyond that; in some ways, the city is hosting Mardi Gras on a wing and a prayer. It's not just an attempt to bolster our spirits; it's a way to bolster our flagging economy. And if we don't get it right this year, we'll not only run the risk of losing future visitors but we'll also run the risk of losing our own displaced citizens. This year's Mardi Gras has to be safe. There is no other option.

The 10 presented rules are the essence of common sense: Maintain tolerance and patience, even if someone's behaving in a way you don't like; use the portable toilets or businesses' restrooms and not our city's streets, which even on a good day are difficult to maintain; don't pet the NOPD horses, who may be beautiful but can occassionally be spooked by crowds; avoid violence of any kind, from guns to fistfights to shoving; respect the fact that public nudity is against the law; be mindful of children, whether you have them or observe them; keep all beverages in paper or plastic containers, not glass or metal; respect the "no parking" signs; clean up after yourself; costuming, as always, is encouraged.

As proud as we are of our citizenry, and as much as we tend to scoff at the misbehavior of many visitors (whom we accuse of not "getting it" when it comes to Mardi Gras), who among us has not broken at least one of these rules? They're universal, really, and need to be respected.

We'd like to take these rules and expand on them, particularly in light of recent events. We put it to visitors and locals alike to remember that, as much as we'd like to celebrate in the face of such a tragedy as Hurricane Katrina, we'd be deceiving ourselves if we didn't admit that the city's psyche is incredibly fragile these days. We're tired, we're frustrated, we're anxious -- frankly, many of us are a bit on edge, anguished by our recent past, struggling with our challenging present, uncertain about our future. So the guiding principle behind the AMA's first rule (titled "Roll With It") needs to be manifest. That means using the Golden Rule with everyone, whether it's how you treat the reveler next to you or, especially, our police force. If a cop tells you to cool it or move on, remember that not only is that cop working overtime, that cop probably is dealing with such weighty issues as where he's going to be living next week.

That cuts both ways. We encourage our police force to use the utmost discretion in dealing with revelers. We also recognize that NOPD has a great international reputation for effective crowd control. That said, even one use of excessive force could cause serious injury to one person and our national image.

The same could be said for alcohol consumption. More than anyone, we understand this is the city where you can let your hair down. But that's not a carte blanche for stupid behavior. Know your limit and your friend's limit. Conversely, our city's bartenders need to know when someone's had too much, and to cut them off. This is especially important given the fact that, even with the reopening of Tulane University Hospital and Clinic last week, our emergency rooms are being stretched to the limit. Besides, everyone knows you can get just as much of a rush from catching a medallion bead as you can from a shot of tequila.

Do we sound preachy? Like your maw-maw? Perhaps. So many of us live in New Orleans because we believe in living life on our own terms, because we have been captivated by its pirate's defiance. Yes, there is magic in this city.

But this year's Mardi Gras is being held in the shadow of a grim reality. And it is up to all of us to maintain the balance between fun and foolishness. There's too much at stake.

Happy Mardi Gras.

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