At the age of 46 - which came as a surprise to me last week, because I honestly thought I was only 45 - I have seen and participated in more parades than I have the holidays they are supposed to represent. As a young child I rode on floats tossing candy and waving, whether it was with my elementary school, the Boy Scouts or the Indian Guides. As a teenager, I walked alongside horses or other various organizations, waving at those seated on the hard curb that refused to wave back. As I became a parent I was either drafted as a chaperone or was organizing a float to participate. A few years ago, I even organized a float for the pizza business I was marketing for, passing out candy and coupons. I’ve seen quite a few parades.
However, when I was in the middle age of my middle age, my sister wanted me to drive ten hours to see yet another parade. I lived in Florida. The parade was in Mobile. “That’s ten hours there and ten hours back to watch a thirty minute parade. You’re crazy!”
“But this isn’t just a parade,” she pleaded. “This is Mardi Gras in the city that gave birth to the festivities.”
It wasn’t just the trip that made me pause. It was Mardi Gras and my sister. I had heard about these parades and the manner in which women earned beads. If a bunch of women were going to be flashing their boobs at us, I didn’t want to be with my sister when it happened. I also didn’t want to be there if that’s how she got her beads, either.
“You’re thinking New Orleans. This is Mobile,” she said. “We do things a little more conservative.”
Eventually, I surrendered and Char and I made the trip up deciding to spend the weekend. One of the things I noticed is that Mardi Gras was as big to the residents there as Christmas is to me. Just about everything was decorated including a dog we saw taking an afternoon stroll with beads where a collar should be. It’s very serious business.
As we checked into our hotel, the bouncy lady with the sparkly smile who registered us, made sure we knew about each parade that was happening that weekend giving us her opinions of which were the best. Before we left the lobby, she gave us our first trio of beads - one gold, one green, one purple. They were the longest necklaces I had seen and glittered a metallic shine.
“And I didn’t have to show my boobs,” Char said.
I offered to go to the room and let her practice, but she was ready for lunch. It had been worth a try.
Mardi Gras was everywhere. People had banners hanging from their front porches and balconies and storefronts used the colorful decorations in their displays. People wore shirts and hats with the Mardi Gras masks and beads hung from just about every rearview mirror of every car we saw. It wasn’t long before they were hanging from ours as well.
After lunch, we were going to see our first parade. It was in Pascagoula along Highway 90 and we found a spot on the curb and settled in to give Mardi Gras its first chance with us. The breeze was cool and comfortable and the sky the clear as stars twinkled at us. It was a fantastic night for a parade.
When I go to a parade, I prefer to go a little early. I pick out my spot, set up my camp chair, sip my coffee and watch the people around me. I want to be right up front and comfortable. I’ll allow a little child to sit in front of me, but Mom and Dad must wait behind me. If they wanted a better spot, they should have come earlier. Of course, that’s a Christmas or Veteran’s Day parade. This was Mardi Gras and I was soon to learn a whole different creature than what I was used to.
People began pouring out of nowhere and soon we were four and five deep and being pushed from all sides. It was not so bad until the parade itself started. At that point, I felt as if I had the football and the opposing team was trying to rip it out of my hands. It was total madness. Everyone jostled one another, children and women were knocked out of the way as grown men grabbed for a moon pie they could easily buy at the store directly behind us.
Highway 90 is a six-lane road and the parade was using all three of the west bound lanes. They should have had plenty of room. However, no one stayed where they were, instead creeping out to the floats trying to reach the trinkets being thrown. The floats were soon at a crawl in order to keep from running anyone over. It was the most pathetic display of childish behavior by adults I had seen. I felt sorry for the little ones around me who didn’t stand a chance against the adults twice their size and gave some of the little we had caught to those closest to us.
When it was finally over, I had to say I was glad. I was also very bruised and battered. I had called my sister and told her how appalled I had been at the people’s behavior. “I didn’t get as abused in the Mosh Pit I had been tossed in at that punk rock concert as I was at that parade. I didn’t need to drive for ten hours to be roughed up. I could have stayed at home with the boys for that.”
Laurie assured me they weren’t all that bad. “Mobile does Mardi Gras right.” I had to experience it there before I gave up on the whole experience. I remained skeptical, but agreed to give it one more shot.
The next day, we drove to Mobile, Mother of Mystics.
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Tune in tomorrow for part two of our Mardi Gras Messing!
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