A friend was chillin’ in my dorm room the other night when he happened to catch sight of my bed post. The bed post where my Mardi Gras beads hang. Turning to me, smirk already plastered on his face, he asked the question I’ve heard time and time again: “What’d you have to do to get those, Alicia?” He giggled, probably silently high-fiving himself.
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from my two-day, three-night adventure into the land of Mardi Gras, but I still get asked (typically by your average frat boy, but also by inquistive females) the question of whether or not I had to flash anyone to obtain my precious Jagermeister beads. For any perverts who think this is going to be a detailed description of where, when and how many times I flashed, please move on.
The fact is, Mardi Gras is not just what you’ve seen on Cops or Girls Gone Wild. Yes, many people drink all day, and yes, there is the occasional topless chest for the male over-50 crowd to ogle at, but the Mardi Gras celebration is so much more than that.
Misconception #1: Bourbon Street = Mardi Gras
Let me clear this up once and for all, for anyone who has never visited New Orleans or looked at a detailed map of the city: New Orleans consists of more than just Bourbon Street. I promise, I’ve seen it. While Bourbon Street is what immediately comes to mind and is often associated with Carnival celebrations, no parades actually run down the narrow street. Lined with bar after bar, many of them open 24-hours, and accompanied by the perk of legal drinking on the street (provided your beverage of choice is in a plastic container), Bourbon Street has become a must-visit for every traveling reveler. However, to experience the real spirit of Carnival, attending parades is a must.
Each parade is sponsored by one krewe, a social group that organizes balls and parades during the Carnival season. Running throughout the streets of New Orleans, parades take place both during the day and at night. Each has a unique theme and most consist of elaborate floats, marching bands and mock royalty. Some more popular parades, such as Endymion and Bacchus, have celebrities ride on floats. This year Kevin Costner, the Doobie Brothers and the Go-Gos rode in the parade for the Krewe of Endymion, and the all-powerful, could-definitely-kick-my-ass Hulk Hogan was king of Bacchus.
Misconception #2: Mardi Gras is just one crazy day
Carnival officially begins on Jan. 6 each year. It’s the holiday that encompasses Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras. While it is common for the entire celebration to be referred to as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, that only refers to the day before Ash Wednesday and the last day of the of Carnival season. Parades begin the second Friday before Mardi Gras, initially only on weekends but with growing frequency as the holiday approaches.
Misconception #3: Throw Me Something (other than beads) Mister!
The insanity that inspires people to obtain as many plastic 25 cent to $2 beads as possible is beyond any explanation I could come up with. Regardless of why we do it, shouting, begging and crying for beads is standard operating procedure. At Carnival, self-worth may as well be measured by how many beads you can fit on your neck. Parades do offer trinkets other than the cheap beads though, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be.
On top of the standard solid plastic beads, krewe members on floats also offer a variety of specialty beads. Making eye contact with a float rider and causing them to think you are either sad or deeply in love with them could win you beads with pigs on them, beads with baseballs or, um, beads with a ceramic devil’s head on them. You just have to trust me when I say that a craze comes over you.
Doubloons (plastic or wooden coins) bear the krewe’s name and emblem and are thrown more at people than to them. Stuffed animals, spears and other cheap toys go to the loudest or most convincing revelers. And plastic cups (my favorite Mardi Gras souvineirs) with the krewe’s name and the parade theme are thrown to attendees as well. A prized treasure from this year’s festivities is my cup from the Krewe of Endymion with Kevin Costner’s pretty face on it. What’s better than drinking out of a Kevin Costner cup? Extra bonus: now I don’t have to buy cups for my apartment next year. The roommates will be overjoyed.
Misconception #4: Right, the Flashing Thing
All right, the big one. The truth is that some people (men too, though it is less common and more likely to get you arrested) do resort to flashing as a means of gaining more beads, but this is by no means the only way to get beads — nor is it customary outside of Bourbon Street.
Because many of the parades take place during the day, families make up a large percentage of the revelers, and this means one thing: babies are everywhere. So as to shield their virgin eyes, flashing to get beads along parade routes is frowned upon. Police are not very understanding when it comes to a 20-something drunk college girl flashing floats at two in the afternoon as little Johnny watches.
There are several other more effective ways to appeal to float riders. As I said before, making eye contact is usually a sure bet during the day parades. Getting on a friend’s shoulders may grab attention — just make sure that said friend is, well, sober. Other successful tactics are using an upside-down umbrella as a catch-all; making a target out of cardboard or poster board; or simply standing on a ladder or chair.
I think I’ve figured out the trick though, but keep it to yourselves because this is genius. The real secret is to keep your clothes on and steal a baby instead. Stay with me now. People love kids. They feel sorry for kids. They’re cute, they wear bows, they cry for beads and, most importantly, they lose their beads in between floats to gain more sympathy. Genius, right?
So to answer your question, I got my beads not by baring it all but by stealing a six-year-old named Maggie. No matter what you do there, Carnival, Mardi Gras, whatever you choose to call it, is an amazing celebration and one that you will want to come back to year after year. Laissez les bons temps rouler!