Here's a sign that New Orleans' post-Katrina recovery is progressing: Nobody is questioning the wisdom of our Mardi Gras celebration this year or our ability to pull it off successfully. It's normal once again for New Orleans to host its signature blowout just before the solemn season of Lent, as is our custom. In fact, the primary focus of the national media this week as regards south Louisiana is our lack of a presidential primary on "Super Tuesday," Feb. 5, which this year has the misfortune of coinciding with Fat Tuesday. For the record, Louisiana's presidential primaries will be next Saturday, Feb. 9, by which time most Carnival revelers will have returned to life's more serious pursuits. Until then, it's Carnival time in New Orleans. As is Gambit Weekly's custom, we offer the following tips for making the most of the season:
Watch out for traffic. The Safety Council advises everyone to 'be aware of your surroundings when driving or walking near parades and parade traffic." That includes keeping bicycles, skateboards and roller blades at least 50 feet away from all parade routes as required by law. In addition, the council advises, never run between or chase floats for throws, nor reach under a float to retrieve a trinket even if the float has stopped. Always clear a path for marching bands and other marching groups as they go by, and never approach horses especially those ridden by NOPD officers unless the rider indicates that it is OK to do so.
Obey special parade-related laws. The city has adopted many laws specifically intended to promote Mardi Gras safety and security. For example, pets found within 50 feet of a parade route can be impounded, and glass containers are banned. In addition, it is unlawful to spray string or throw objects at parades or near them.
Keep kids safe. Never leave children unattended, and always have a meeting place in case anyone gets separated from your group. Instruct children to ask police officers to direct them to lost-child stations if they become lost or separated. Finding cops along parade routes is easy. As an added precaution, give small children cards with your name and cell phone number on them.
Arrive early and with a group. This is a great habit for several reasons. Arriving early increases your chances of getting a safe, legal parking spot. Bear in mind that parking fines are increased and towing is the order of the day along parade routes. Going as a family, or with several families, also adds to the fun (and the safety) for everyone. Mardi Gras has always been about crowds, so bring your own.
Give people their space. Many people arrive really early to "stake out their space," and many adopt a proprietary attitude after claiming the same spot year after year. If they have camped out the night before, they may feel they've earned the right to put a few chairs, ladders and blankets on that neutral ground. Let 'em have it. If you see a few empty chairs or a ladder with no one on it, respect the fact that someone else got there first. Once the parade starts, there's always plenty of room for everyone. Besides, many riders love to throw to the back of the crowd to reward those who respect others' space. And if you're one of those who stake out space early, keep them behind police barricades; don't chain ladders together; and leave room for others.
Respect the police. Our cops take a "live and let live" approach during Mardi Gras. Then again, police put up with a lot in the process drunks, loudmouths, traffic and parade accidents, lost children, fights, rowdies, you name it. It's stressful. So, if a cop tells you to do something, just do it. Don't gripe or cop an attitude. If you must say something to police, try, "Thank you!"
Obey the (few) drinking laws. Sure, it's the world's biggest party, but we still have some laws that don't bend, not even during Carnival. That includes ordinances that relate to drinking and partying. It's legal to drink beer and booze openly on the streets as long as it's in a can or a cup, not a glass or a glass bottle. As an added measure, don't consume out of a metal container, either. Make it paper or plastic instead. Above all, make sure your out-of-town guests obey the legal drinking age. It's 21. And while you're at it, make sure someone in the group is a designated driver and that they take that responsibility seriously.
Mask! Mardi Gras is the one time of year and New Orleans is the one place on earth where you can dress up as anything you can imagine. Don't just go to the greatest free show on earth, be part of it!
Have a happy and safe Mardi Gras.