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Read Part I here.
We woke up on Mardi Gras Saturday to bright sun and warm weather. So far, the weather had been pretty glum and so we were pretty much beside ourselves that our first full day of celebrating would be under blue skies.
If I were on my own, this would be the point where I’d probably head for the French Quarter along with the other billion tourists who’d arrived overnight. But instead, after a quick brunch in the Garden District, we hopped in my sister’s car and drove towards Mid City. We had been warned it was insane to drive during Mardi Gras but we sailed through with zero traffic and found a parking spot after just over ten minutes of searching. My sister, having quickly adapted to the finer points of Southern living — such as low rent and ample parking — almost lost it over this inconvenience. “If we have to circle the block once we come in complaining that parking was a nightmare,” she told me. Still having a New Yorker’s parking perspective, I rolled my eyes at her and told her she had lost her mind. Ah, sisterhood.
Mid City reminded me of the suburbs of upstate New York where we grew up. Houses with yards, chain restaurants, and every big box store you could imagine. And, on this fine Saturday, prime real estate for watching the Krewe of Endymion roll through.
Our destination was an annual house party directly on the parade route featuring a crayfish barbeque, matching Endymion t-shirts, and beer pong. Like I said, a true local experience.
Pretty much every attendee had either grown up in New Orleans or been there to experience multiple Mardi Gras, so they barely looked up from the crayfish table when the parade started rolling through. Unable to contain my excitement, I grabbed two other newbies — a Teach For America friend of my sister’s and her sister — and tried to squeeze up to the front.
While the lighting was dreamy and the view wasn’t bad, the crowd was actually pretty hostile in that area. Feeling fairly unwelcome among the territorial revelers, we didn’t stay long. The girls made their way back to the party, but I was itching for some daylight photos of the floats, so I started walking along the parade route solo, anxiously looking for a break.
I was started to get a bit discouraged — it was packed, and groups were super set up with lawn chairs, coolers, and ladders (or as I like to call them, the VIP seats of the people). Then finally, I found an in.
I saw a group of twenty-something preparing to pass to the other side of the street, which being backed by houses, I could only assume would be at least slightly less sardined. I was right. After jumping in with the group and making my way to the other side of the street, I found a friendly collection of mostly families who were more than happy to make room for one more.
One one side I had a guy with his daughter on his shoulders who told me he’d lived in Mid City his whole life, and who I promised to email my photos from the day when he lamented forgetting his own camera. On the other I had a friendly woman from rural Alabama who by the time the parade wrapped up had invited me to come stay with her the next time I passed through Monroeville. Together we enjoyed our front row view of the floats and marching bands that passed by, and our prime spot for catching throws.
Endymion is Mardi Gras’ biggest parade with over 2,700 masked revelers riding more than 27 floats. While they weren’t clever or political like the parades we’d watched so far, the floats were intricate and beautifully crafted, and I loved being able to see them in the light of day.
Eventually evening started to fall, and loathe as I was to leave my prime spot, I knew I needed to get back to my sister and the party. The evening ended with another special Mardi Gras tradition — being stuck in mind-numbing traffic! The drive that had taken us twenty minutes earlier in the day took over two hours on the way back. Luckily I had amusing company — and lots of happy memories of a bright and colorful day — to ease the pain.
Stick around for my final installment of Memories of Mardi Gras — Lundi Gras Monday and Fat Tuesday!