We're squarely in the middle of Mardi Gras season — the best time of the year in New Orleans. The streets will be packed with Carnival veterans and thousands of newbies, marveling at the greatest party in the world: its color, its music and its sheer scope.
Some good news: The city began clearing ladders, furniture and other space-hogging items from neutral grounds last week, heralding "constant sweeps" until 24 hours before parades roll. This crackdown is long overdue, especially since the City Council enacted strict new rules regarding parade safety in 2014 (largely at the behest of Councilwoman and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell) — and then the city failed to enforce most of them. Space-hogging in the form of chained-together "ladder walls," giant tents and spray-painted boundaries has gotten out of hand in recent years. It's time to restore the "public" to public space.
The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) works long hours during Carnival and is more focused on public safety than interrupting a good time along parade routes. Nevertheless, there are a few things NOPD won't countenance. Local defense attorney Craig Mordock has a list on his website of "The 5 Most Common Ways to Get Arrested During Mardi Gras," and they include doing drugs in public (it's still illegal, including weed, though cops have an option of writing a summons or making an arrest); public urination; public nudity, particularly outside the French Quarter; mouthing off to a cop; and jumping on a parade float. (To that list, we'd add severe public drunkenness.)
In general, if it's illegal any other time of the year, it's illegal at Mardi Gras. And while Orleans Parish Prison isn't a desirable destination ever, Carnival is the worst time of all to land there.
Besides cops, two groups of people who work hard during Mardi Gras are meter maids and tow truck drivers. This is not the time of year to park too close to a stop sign, block a driveway or even let the back of your own car in your own driveway hang over the sidewalk. If you're going to a parade, consider public transit, cabs or ride-hailing services.
Some tips from us after years on the route: Do wear a costume. Don't wear good shoes. Bring a fully charged cellphone. If cell networks get overwhelmed, you still may be able to text family and friends. Do step on any beads or throws before you pick them up so your hand doesn't get stomped. And it's not worth getting into a fight over even the most cherished throws (Zulu coconuts, Muses shoes, Nyx purses).
Coordinate a meetup spot if people get separated, and write your cellphone number on little ones' arms. A "shorty" roll of toilet paper is a good thing, as is a travel package of wet wipes. Leave wallets and purses at home and bring the minimum (identification, a credit or ATM card, just as much cash as you need), keeping it safe in a zippered pocket.
Most of all, have fun — and make all your Mardi Gras memories good ones. See you on the streets!