“Just give it one more shot,” Laurie had said. “I promise you’ll enjoy the Mardi Gras parade in Mobile.” Char and I had already survived the one in Pascagoula and I had come away battered and bruised. I had not been impressed. Still, my sister was adamant, so I decided to give Mardi Gras one more chance.
The parade in Mobile took place on a Sunday afternoon beginning at the Civic Center and looping around a few blocks in a figure eight. It was put on by the Order of Pharaohs and upon our arrival I could already tell it was going to be a different experience. The day was overcast with a slight chill, but that didn’t deter me from still getting there an hour early. If I was going to experience it, I wanted to feel every minute of it.
As we picked out our spot, I was already impressed with the way Mobile did things. Lining the curbs were metal rails prohibiting people from getting into the street. A wise move, I thought, ensuring the safety of spectator and participant. Furthermore, police officers also made frequent rounds of the parade route and were positioned every couple of blocks in the more populated areas to enforce the rules. Whether it was because of the police presence or not, the spectators in Mobile were a much better crowd to be with in order to enjoy the parade. When the parade had actually passed by a lady tried to bring the New Orleans aspect to the fun and the police were quick to bring her shirt back down.
Being out-of-towners and new to the whole Mardi Gras experience, we had several questions. Fortunately, the people around us were more than eager to indulge our curiosity with answers. At one point, I noticed several people with bags of some kind and even a couple of people tying a sheet to the rail to enlarge their loot catching possibilities. Some had butterfly nets and sticks in order to scoot treasure that didn’t make it past the barrier to within reach. A friendly couple beside us handed us a couple of bags. “Trust us. You’ll need it before the parade is over.” I thanked them, but still held my skepticism. Why would I want more beads and moon pies?
The three of us positioned ourselves under a huge oak in front of a Holiday Inn, not because we needed the shade, but to help keep us somewhat dry when the rain hit. And it did hit. It poured. There was neither lightning nor thunder, but there were buckets of rain that just dumped on the people watching the parade. Still, no one moved. Come rain or shine, this parade was going to happen.
About twenty minutes before the parade, a tow truck went up and down the street towing some poor Toyota. I was confused because he didn’t do it once, but four or five times.
“Do they have him blocked in?”
The elderly man beside me just shook his head. “No. The driver parked where he shouldn’t have and they’re just letting him know they have his car.”
I just laughed as I wondered if the driver was still going to be able to enjoy the parade knowing what his beads just cost him.
One of the things that impressed me that most about how Mobile did things was that they gave a special place along the parade route to those with disabilities. I kept thinking that in Pascagoula those special people would never have stood a chance.
The most touching scene I witnessed involved a teenager bound in a wheelchair. His mother had positioned him right in front of the metal barrier and then tied a sheet to the rail and his wheelchair. With his self-made net, he was ready for those riding the floats to throw him all they could.
Every time I glanced over at him, the rain pouring down his face, his hair plastered to his head, he was clapping and screaming at the top of his lungs. “Throw me something, Mister!” He was having the time of his life and so was I just watching him.
When the parade finally began, the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle making it bearable and even enjoyable to watch. The floats were elaborate, each with a Pharaoh theme. There were temples, pyramids, and sphinxes, motor cycles and loud costumes. Those watching stood with arms outstretched as they screamed, “Throw me something!”
At first I just stood there watching, taking it all in. However, it was impossible for me not to get caught up in the excitement. Without even realizing when I joined in the fun, I was stepping on the rail, leaning over as far as I could, reaching out as far as possible. I was screaming, “Mister, throw me something!” and raking in the loot. I had about forty sets of beads draped around my neck, and a bag full of moon pies, plastic cups, doubloons, and other paraphernalia including green panties. Char and Laurie had even more. I was having so much fun that when the last float passed us by, I didn’t want it to end.
My sister said it didn’t have to be over. The parade would circle back and pass in front of the Holiday Inn in about twenty minutes or so. I could stand in the drizzling rain and catch more useless trinkets. Maybe another pair of panties that Char refused to even consider modeling in. I didn’t need to think about it. I was hooked.
|Two years later we took the boys|
As we made it around to the opposite side of the Holiday Inn, the skies opened up again. There were no trees this time to offer protection, but we didn’t care. Neither did anyone else that was waiting for another chance for Mardi Gras treasure. These were hardcore participants and they wanted more. This time around Char caught a huge bag of beads that had been tossed. It was heavy enough to spin her 180 degrees and a bag of the trinkets inside that bag flew off into a young man’s arms. We laughed. We screamed. We had a blast.
Before we were ready, the Order of Pharaohs had passed us back by on its way back to the Civic Center. We waited and did it all one more time.
When it was all over we were exhausted, soaked and sore, but unlike the parade in Pascagoula this soreness was well earned. We had over 100 Mardi Gras beads, enough moon pies to last till next year and enough doubloons to buy a Spanish fort. There were, however, no more panties.
At the end of the day, I was sold on Mardi Gras and have been enjoying it ever since. Ten hours was not a sacrifice to be able to enjoy the city that had given birth to the celebration. Mobile does Mardi Gras right.
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