Another Mardi Gras is in the books.
Friday night before Fat Tuesday, the forty days of revelry preceding Lent are in high gear. My wife and I hadn’t been to the Friday night parades in a few years, but we had a friend marching in one of them, so we decided it would be a good time to check things out.
We got there about an hour before the first of three parades on the night, located a nice spot in an intersection by a school and set up our lawn chairs and cooler; we like hanging out in an area with families, away from the pockets of rowdy college kids and assorted partiers. Contrary to much mythology, Mardi Gras is primarily for families. Yes, there are places for rowdy people to be rowdy, and there are a few krewes that roll each year with satirical themes and more adult oriented humor, but for the most part, it’s mostly PG rated stuff at worst.
Our friend Kristin was rolling in Krewe d’Etat, the second of the evening’s extravaganza, and we figured two parades would be plenty for us as we had been to two-of-the-three Thursday night parades. Just as the evening festivities began, we noticed a multi-generational family sitting next to us. The grandma and grandpa we had exchanged pleasantries with when we first set up, but a husband, wife and young son had just arrived at ground zero and were ready for action.
It was a toss-up as to whether the kid or the dad seemed more psyched.
We were about four blocks from the start of the parade and by the time the first units started coming into view, the excited little boy and his amped-up dad were inching their way up to the curb, where the dad said “Ready?” before crouching in a frog-squat so his son could climb up on his shoulders.
Then the fun began – theirs and ours.
For the next half-hour, the dad would step into the street, kid on his shoulders, waving for the attention of the float riders and their various throws, while his tentative son, wide-eyed, tried to catch whatever came their way; beads, stuffed animals, trinkets of all sorts. After the first three-or-four floats, the kid was starting to get into it – waving his arms and yelling along with his dad. Every time they would get a couple of armfuls of goodies, they would head back to mom, grandpa, and grandma, dump their treasures into a big back, then get back on the street for the next float.
The dad, who I pegged as being in his early forties, was working hard at giving his son the true Mardi Gras experience. I guessed from the kid’s body language and facial expressions that this was his first Carnival, and dad was working it; the kid spent probably twenty-five of the first thirty minutes of the parade on dad’s shoulders, briefly dismounting to stand in the street, waving for stuff with other kids and giving dad a (brief) respite to roll his shoulders and neck. But dad was a gamer; the kid was not on his feet for long.
This routine continued the full hour-plus of the Hermes parade – sans a few short breaks where the mom, whom I also thought to be in her early forties, would take the kid on her shoulders for a minute or two at a stretch. She was smaller, and the kid was a load, but she, too was in it for keeps. The kid was amassing a fairly impressive haul of stuff – in large part because of the visibility provided by his perch and the fact that he religiously yelled “Thank you!” at anyone and everyone who threw him something. Float riders I am sure could not hear him, but they can read lips and body language.
And smiles of awe.
The grandparents mostly stayed in their lawn chairs, with looks of wonderment nearly equal to that of the father and son, and a lot of bemusement. There is a short gap – ten, fifteen minutes – between parades, and this gave time for the dad and mom to take a breather, and for grandma and grandpa to ooh-and-ahh with grandparental amazement as their grandson observed for himself, then showed them, his accumulated treasures. Then it was time for Krewe d’Etat, and the craziness (and piggybacking) started all over again. Different parade, same routine; father and son crazily waving arms, running up to floats, collecting stuff. Dad and son bringing stuff back to mom to put in bag, grandma and grandpa beaming from the cheap seats.
About halfway through the second parade, there was a lull in the action, as a couple of non-goodie-throwing units were cruising by. The mom of the family we had been having so much fun watching was standing next me, and we exchanged a bit of small talk which turned the father-son spectacle we had been experiencing all evening into something a bit more special.
Her son was four, and as suspected, was experiencing his first Mardi Gras – as was his father, who, while being born here, had been back sporadically to see family, but never during Mardi Gras. The family currently lives in California, so the whole New Orleans Carnival experience was new to them all, and as she confided to me, “I still cannot tell which one of them is having more fun – neither can my in laws!” She glanced back their way, I waved at them, they chuckled and shook their heads, as their grandson was at the moment waving a prize throw he had nabbed in exultant celebration. Dad turned our way to give his family a big ‘thumbs up’ but you could tell he was running out of gas – but there was still plenty of parading to be done. The mom was alternately taking pictures and rubbing her (for now) childless neck. “I sure hope you guys can locate his-and-hers chiropractors’ tomorrow.”
“That’s probably not a bad idea” she laughed, rubbing and twisting her neck, “I’ll get some referrals from in-laws!”
Here came more floats. Action time.
Just to my right was another family – a younger couple than the first, with a small boy in a stroller. His vantage point down there was of little use, so his dad had picked him up and was holding him up high enough so he could see what was going on, but the young man, aware of the other kid on his dad’s shoulders, pointed, then taped his own dad on the head. Dad got the message, and soon the two boys were side by side, perched atop their fathers, and now drawing even more attention from the bead and trinket-tossers on the floats.
Quite the attention-getting pair – or quartet, I suppose.
As with the first family, the newest young man had a look of bewildered glee, indicating that he, too, was experiencing his first Mardi Gras. The younger man and smaller child (a bit over three, I learned from his mom) had a bit more energy than the first father-son combo, but all four guys were having a blast. By this time, both moms were wildly recording the craziness with their phones – the younger mom breaking only to answer a quick call or send a text, before returning the camera focus to her husband and son. Then I heard her mumble, “Incredible!” I looked up to see that her son had been handed a foam rubber sword, and that the young man on the other dad’s shoulders was also handing her son something: a foam crown that he had been given. Apparently, the older boy (and/or his dad) thought the younger boy needed to have the whole set.
The mom next to me was shaking her head, mumbling ‘Unbelievable” over and over as she took some video, then stopped to send it to someone. “Going through a lot of your plan data tonight?” I said with a laugh, which she returned. “You got THAT right! Between his aunt in Houston, and his grandma in north Louisiana…bye-bye data for this month!”
“His first Mardi Gras?”
“Yep. His dad’s first one, too. He grew up in Chicago. I’m from Louisiana, I’ve been to Mardi Gras before, but I didn’t grow up here in New Orleans. This is crazy!” Her phone beeped. “Oh-oh. I guess I am a little slow in feeding video to my sister!” With that, she returned to feeding a live stream to her sister in Houston.
There are worse ways to burn through a data plan.
The parade continued, each boy enthralled as each float rolled by, as every strand of beads was flung, as all the noise, the lights, the music, and the color flooded our little intersection of Napoleon Avenue and Chestnut Street. With both father-son combos standing in front of me, I continued to enjoy their interactions; the boys with their respective dads, the boys with each other. A few times I caught the dads looking at each other and shaking their heads in amazement, and though over the tumult I could only catch snippets of their conversation, I am decent at reading lips, eve in profile; “Wow” was their common refrain.
As D’Etat began winding down, so did both kids, and at least the older of the two dads – though in fairness, he had been at it longer – with an older, heavier kid. The older of the two boys had by now become fairly adept at waving, getting float riders attentions, and catching stuff thrown his way. He was also becoming increasingly generous with sharing his bounty with his younger friend, who, in his awe, could only look at the older boy in amazement as his father added repeated ‘thank yous’ to the older boy and HIS dad. The surrounding crowd of mostly adults was now also into the piggy-backed-boys scene, and had taken to cheering every time a float rider made note of the two boys and tossed them both something.
By the time the parade ended, and people started gathering their third wind, my wife had returned, and we were packing up to go, as were both the families with whom we had been interacting. The three-year-old was returned to his stroller, his eyes transfixed on a pretty elaborate set of beads he had obtained. His mom thanked us for giving them a grocery bag that we had handy, as they had not thought to bring anything of that sort, and had been stuffing stuff in the pouch beneath he stroller. As they said goodbye, the mom smiled at me, adding with a chuckle and a shake of her head, “I have no idea how much overage we’ll be paying on our data, but oh well…”
“Happy Mardi Gras” I laughed in response, waving goodbye.
The other family had come prepared, and they were efficiently exiting in typical New Orleans fashion, with folding chairs and cooler quickly and neatly stashed in a small wagon, goodies in bags stuffed and stacked appropriately. Grandma and grandpa, it turns out, are seasoned pros at this, with lots of family in the area. But even they seemed to be seeing the whole carnival experience in a new light, via the first timers; their son and grandson.
The crowd began filing toward the street as the final parade was coming, so it was easy to make our way in the opposite direction, back towards our car. We emerged from the crowd walking next to the family from California, and I got a chance to talk to the dad.
“It was a lot of fun watching you and your son. Your wife said this was your first Mardi Gras?”
“Yeah, I was born here, but we moved away because of my dad’s job. I get back a lot, just haven’t been here for Mardi Gras. We live in California, and now that he is old enough, we had the time and the chance, and I wanted to do this with him.”
We had reached the end of the block, and we were about to veer left, they were drifting to the right, and the father, who had a now nearly asleep four-year-old using his head for a pillow, grinned at me and said, “You know, I just wanted to give him the experience and have it with him. I’m just trying to be a good dad and give him great experiences, you know?”
“Well, it was very cool to watch. Made it more fun for me. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
“Thanks. We will.”
As they turned right at the corner, and we turned left, I could hear the man talking to his son, his voice trailing away; “Hear that buddy? Other people had fun watching YOU have fun…”
My wife and I had seen our friend dancing in the parade and gotten some pictures; we had enjoyed a date night and got to see Mardi Gras through less-jaded eyes. It was not a bad way to spend a Friday evening. Good times all around.
Oh, did I mention that, of the two families in whose orbits we intersected, one was white, and one was black? I don’t think I did and I guess it doesn’t really matter, but then again, considering the times in which we live, maybe it really does.
Because while I didn’t get many strands of beads that Mardi Gras night, but I did catch a little hope for the future.