Mardi Gras 1996
The first time I ever came to New Orleans, back in 1973, I rode in on the
old "City of New Orleans," the train that ran south from Chicago.
I was coming out of St. Louis and I changed trains in Effingham , Illinois
rather than the Memphis, Tennessee of the song.
I arrived in Union Station at about 7:30 in the morning. My train home,
"The Southern Crescent," didn't leave for Atlanta for 24 hours.
I had some time to kill.
Before my 24 hours were up, I ended up on the stage of the touring broadway
show of Equus in the opera house.
The city that care forgot took my heart. Although I live in Georgia, this
place keeps dragging me back.
Friday, I drove in through a snowstorm in Statesboro, Ga. en route from
Savannah. My poor old $75. Peugeot saw the lights of The Crescent City at
about 2:30 a.m. after leaving the home of Juliette Gordon Lowe at around
two in the afternoon. It was a hard 13 hours. The French lady developed
a fairly blown head gasket, but a bottle of "poor man's overhaul"
seems to have stopped the leak.
Saturday, I got up late, had coffee and a couple of Krispy Kreme donuts,
I picked up in Mobile and Maggie and I went over to Thrift City for a little
shopping before the Endymion parade about 5 p.m. She and I were separated
and I ended up talking to an ex-Marine named Mike while we waiting for the
krewe to roll. He enjoyed his time spent in Kuwait during Desert Storm and
"some useful tricks such as how to mix napalm," which he can use
in his job in New Orleans dispatching refrigeration repairmen.
Endymion is a relative newcomer to the scene, celebrating it's 30th anniversary
this year. The parade featured 40 bands and 28 floats. The royalty led out
the show. We were dazzled by their costumes as they turned from Carrollton
Avenue onto Canal Street. A Marine Corps band passed, playing their anthem
and then the big, double-decker floats came on. They threw strings of beads,
cups and several colors of doubloons. Kool and the Gang performed and Donna
Summers was allegedly there, but I didn't see her. I got cold feet and took
off before the last throw was tossed. This parade is purported to be one
of the largest parades in the world.
Flambeau carriers lit the scene as thousands of arms stretched out and voices
screamed,"throw me something, Mister. There's something about that
swish as you snag a string of beads in midair from the arms of the screaming
kid in front of you.
I love it here.
more tomorrow edit this as you will xx rick
More Mardi Gras 1996-Second Feed
The sweet, gooey, pastry-like King Cakes are a relatively new New Orleans
tradition, dating popularly from after World War II. One of the local bakeries
claims to bake 40,000 a week during the Carnival season which runs from
Night in January to Carnival Day. My friend Maggie bought one from the Tastee
Donut on the corner. We ate on it all day . Each cake is baked with a tiny
plastic doll hidden inside. The hidden baby creates sort of a perpetual
party. The lucky finder gets to throw the next party.
Sunday evening, I saw Dick Clark on the evening news, looking as young as
Ponce de Leon. He as chosen to reign as Bacchus for 1996. The Bacchus Krewe
rolled at about 6 p.m. and I rode my bike down to Canal Street to catch
the parade in all its glory wit the teeming hordes. King Dick rolled by
about 9 p.m. , a picture of Dorian Gray, tossing purple doubloons to the
screaming masses. He was followed by almost 30 floats in this year's theme,
"Games People Play." The floats and bands continued for about
an hour and a half, loading the spectators up with beads, doubloons and
supposedly, the hot new throw, Bacchus dolls (but I didn't get one).
Loaded up with beads, I rode my bike past the end of the parade to the Howlin'
Wolf nightclub on South Peters Street to catch The Bluerunners of Lafayette,
Louisiana opening for New Orleans own, the subdudes. The mix of Cajun, blues
and funk kept us all dancing until an encore of "Mardi Gras Mambo"
about 3 a.m.
Tired, I boarded my cycle and pedaled over to the king of coffeehouses,
Café du Monde for a cup of café au lait and an order of beignets
(French donuts). They're both a buck (I remember when they were thirty-five
cents) and the hot coffee and chicory and the powdered sugar covered treats
top of and evening of revelry in sight of Jackson Square and the Mississippi
I was in bed by 4 a.m.
more to follow
More Mardi Gras 1996-Third Feed
Lundi Gras is the Monday, the day before Mardi Gras. This year, it was pouring
down rain, off and on all morning and afternoon. My friends Paul and Ellie
stopped by and we found our umbrellas and decided to take a ride down to
the French Quarter.
We rode down Esplanade and parked a couple of blocks up from Rampart. Umbrellas
opened, we made our way to Buffa's Lounge, a bar/restaurant, on Esplanade
across from the quarter. In a private room, on Lundi Gras, we dined on red
beans and rice and shrimp po-boys for five bucks a person. We had the use
of a good juke box and a pool table as well.
After lunch, umbrellas again in hand we strolled down Royal Street into
the French Quarter. Most of the Monday revelers determined that home was
a drier place. We walked over to Bourbon and showed Ellie the house where
she used to live. Then we headed home for coffee and a nap for Ellie.
By about 6 p.m. the skies had cleared and I rode my bike down to Canal Street
where I caught the tail end of The Bards of Bohemia celebration.
What would you do if you were a rock star with a lot of money? If you're
Harry Connick, Jr. and are from New Orleans, you'd buy yourself a Mardi
Gras Krewe. That's what he a some others did back in 1994. This third year,
the Orpheus show is a rich and overwhelming as ever. Thirty floats all tossing
out the signature red beads with the lyre pendant. There were more beads
and doubloons than most people could carry. The balmy wind blowing in off
the Mississippi only warmed the celebrations. The premier toss was the Oscar
Meyer Wiener Whistle thrown out of the Wienermobile by the Wiener Woman.
I caught one. They blow three tones. Cool.
After a stop at Café Brasil for a cappuccino and a bit of Steve Coolbone's
Troupe, I pedaled up Esplanade home to a good nights sleep.
Mardi Gras Day - An Uptown Celebration
I drove uptown to my friends Paul, Carey and Ellie. Ellie's five years old
and is my second most favorite little girl (and a redhead!). They weren't
home, so I walked two blocks over to Napoleon where the lead floats of Rex,
King of Carnival were getting underway. As the first of the 27 floats and
20 bands rolled past, I saw my friends. Rex has been parading since about
1872 and it's not to be missed. Since the Comus-Momus debacle of two years
ago, Rex is the final procession of the Carnival season.
We joined Ellie and her friend Monica screaming, "Throw me something,
Mister!" And they did. Ellie and Monica came home with a red wagon
full of everything from beads to moon pies.
After the red lights, we walked back home for cake, coffee and naps. We
rested in shifts and Paul and the girls walked beck over to the route for
a truck parade. When they returned in about 45 minutes, they were pulling
yet another wagon full of treasure. Later in the afternoon, we walked over
to the K&B Drug for milk for coffee and the street was a mass of color
and the trees were all festooned with sparkling beads. We tried to get some
down, but our stick was too short.
We sat on the porch for the rest of the afternoon and visited with the neighbors
and passers by. About 10, I came home and road my bike down to the French
Quarter. The Quarter was pretty quiet. Most of the revelers seemed to be
heading home through the foggy mist. The entire place had an erie quality
about it. Jackson square was in a pretty somber mood as well with only a
few lonely tarot readers sitting at their tables with their customers.
I rode on over to Frenchman Street in Marigny across Esplanade from the
Vieux Carré. At Café Brasil, the traditional Brazilian samba
band was well into its first set as the dance spilled out into the street.
A matador in a dress fought the few cares that dared try to pass as the
drummers on stage and in the street pounded their beat.
That was the scene at midnight . As the cops used to say on Bourbon Street
as they came galloping through on their horse clearing the street in front
of them,"Mardi Gras is over. Goooo Hooome!!"-33- rick
I was drinking my coffee by 10 a.m. on Ash Wednesday,sitting at the glass-topped
table in the back garden, chatting with my neighbor, David. We sipped our
respective brews, mine strong, Bustello espresso with milk and his weaker
and hazel nut flavored. His collie, Jovi, and black labrador frolicked in
the gravel yard. The sun was warm and I didn't even need a sweater, even
at that early hour.
We talked about the best throws we had caught. Mine was the wiener whistle
and his was the glass beads he caught three years ago.
I finished the coffee and Paul Rogers called me and invited me over. I drove
uptown and over another cup of joe, chicory this time, he told me we had
work to do.
We dropped Ellie off at the home of a new friend, Sophia. Then we drove
over to the bus garage of Calliope Coaches. Paul drives for the tour bus
operation which is run by a couple of Israeli's, Yakir and Eric. Eric is
also from France, so a lot of their business is touring French-speaking
Our task was to apply 25 foot-long vinyl letters to the side of one of the
coaches. Since I was the only one who had any experience at all. I had applied
"Not for Hire" to the side of my Iveco truck in 4 inch high characters,
once upon a time.
We drew a line on the bus, drew and trimmed the carrier paper and washed
the bus. The toll free number on the rear was small and a pretty simple
task. The first side posed a greater challenge. We wet the vinyl and squeegeed
it down with credit cards. We got it on, nearly perfectly. We took a break
and picked up Ellie.
Driving down Magazine Street, I suggested we stop in at The St. Vincent
de Paul Thrift Store, one of my favorites in the entire country.
We went in and shopped a bit and then Paul Spotted an entire shelf in a
display covered with the old glass Czechoslovakian beads they used to throw
for Carnival. I don't think that they've been tossed in any quantity since
the early 1960's. I caught a string of glass last year down on Canal Street
during the Bacchus parade, I think. They were tossed in a plastic bag and
felt them hit my leg.
The beads were priced at $1.95 a string, steep, but possibly fair.
As they were shown to us, the woman said,"Baby, they're not $1.95 any
more, it's after Mardi Gras, they are 95 cents a set. We said, "Great,
we'll buy a bunch. We picked out 26 strings and Paul agreed to buy half
of them. We joked that these beads were going to be the end of our 14 year
friendship. We selected all different colors and sizes. Some were strung
in patterns such as black and yellow and others were crazy random mixes
of color. The shapes ranged from cubes and ovals to cylinders to tubes and,
of course, spherical beads.
Once back at his house, we spread them all out on the table and each chose
three strings at a time. In the end, no one was too unhappy.
The phone was ringing and we were called back to the bus shop to finish
the lettering on the other side. It was getting dark and much colder as
we drew the red line, 4 inches below the windows. We wet, we peeled, we
stuck and then squeegeed a lot. Perfect. We're professionals, now!
Back home, we ate some supper and set Carey up so she can send and receive
E-mail on her Macintosh.
Paul's beeper went off at eleven and he was requested to go meet the driver
of the brand new minibus he was to drive on a 9 day tour on Thursday. We
drove the new Goshen Coach which is a somewhat decked-out cross between
a UPS truck and a Winnebago. He wasn't too excited about taking the Diesel
Chevy powered beast off to Houston with a leaky seal on the engine compartment
door which made the cabin rather noisy. This little vehicle is certainly
a step down from the German Neoplan, double rear axle monsters that he normally
After an hour of playing the radio and learning how to operate all the lights,
we separated for our own houses. Paul had to leave for Hammond, Louisiana
to meet the group by nine on Thursday morning.
· · ·
Thursday, the lead story in The Times- Picayune was headlined, "Marking
a New Season" and featured photos of parishioners receiving their ashen
cross-mark on their foreheads as a symbol of their penitence. A sidebar
tells the sad tale of "Truck kills woman in N.O....Church-goer hit
leaving mass. It seems that a reveler who didn't stop his Mardi Gras according
to the calender, was still drunk at 10 Wednesday morning when he mowed down
an 82 year-old woman crossing Canal Street at Baronne. She was pronounced
dead at Charity Hospital.
By noon, I was driving out Airline Highway, past the motels where Jimmy
Swaggert used to rendez-vous, on my way to a couple of thrift stores. The
pickings were pretty slim, though I did find a movie camera or two. I cut
over to Jefferson Highway and headed back into town that way, stopping in
at a Salvation Army and A suburban St. Vincent de Paul Shop. I spotted two
more cameras and then headed back into the city. I dropped by the Magazine
Street store were we bought the beads to see if they'd priced a movie camera
I saw the day before. They had and I drooled over the remaining beads some
more. The woman told me, "Honey, you bought so many yesterday that
they're sixty-five cents for you, today." I bought sixteen more sets.
I hope my friend Paul doesn't hear about it.
I bought a 2 foot long shrimp Po-Boy at The Broad St. Market for 3.95, enough
for tonight's supper and tomorrow's lunch. It's better than Taco Bell on
About 8, I visited Carey and Ellie for the last time and their quite pregnant
cat began to deliver. The three of us sat with the young mother as she dropped
three beautiful, tiny, mewing kittens. I left them at 10 and it looked like
the mama would have one or two more, but the infants were happily suckling
at their mothers breast.
Tomorrow morning, I'll fill the Peugeot up with water and find out how far
I can go between fill ups of cooling water. It should be an interesting
trip. It looks like I'll be giving up the Crescent City for Lent.
Late Thursday Night
I fell asleep, early, about 2 a.m., listening to the blues of WWOZ, my favorite
radio station in New Orleans. Around 3, the phone rang and Maggie talked
excitedly to someone on the other end. All the lights came on in the apartment
and she began rushing around
I asked,"What's going on?"
"I've got to go in to the hospital and set up for an emergency C-section."
"You mean right now?"
"Yeah, right now," as she looked for her pocketbook."The
baby will probably be born in 30 minutes."
"Do you want me to drive you down there?" I offered. "It
seems like someone's life may be in danger! "
"That would be great!"
I threw on some clothes and was starting the Peugeot as she locked the door
of the apartment.
We took off into the switched-off darkened French city. There were only
occasional cars on the streets, usually going the other way. When we reached
the first red light, Maggie said,"Run it." I did.
And then about 10 more. We were careful, slowing almost to a stop and checking
for traffic like the ambulances do.
On the way, Maggie suggested that I might like to watch the operation. I
was incredulous that that might even be a possibility.
After a few more traffic lights, we reached the darkened hospital and parked
in the almost empty parking lot.
She stopped in the security office and picked up keys for the OR. Once upstairs.
she tossed me a set of scrubs to put on. With my hair net, shoe covers and
surgical mask, I looked and felt the part. I helped her gather up all the
bits and pieces of sutures, sponges and surgical tools that would be needed.
We were turning on the lights in the OR as the anesthesiologist and the
surgeon. They quickly agreed that I could watch as long as I stayed out
of the way.
The patient was wheeled in shortly. She is 31 years old and has 6 other
children. One previous birth was a Caesarian section. This baby is in a
transverse presentation, meaning it is cross-ways in the womb and not head-first
as it ought to be. She has had no prenatal care. After transferring her
to the operating table, we commenced.
She received a spinal anesthesia. As she rested, Maggie, the circulating
nurse prepared the belly for the incision. The scrub nurse stood by passing
the surgeon tools as needed. The cuts were quick and shortly one of the
baby's legs was hanging out.
At first it was pink and then it turned gray as the doctor struggled to
get another out. After what seemed like a long time, but actually only 6
minutes, a baby boy was handed to the just arrived pediatrician and placed
under warming lights. He wasn't breathing.
The baby doctor began suctioning fluid out of his mouth, nose and lungs.
She slapped him a little and he gave a cough. She kept suctioning and shaking
him. "Come on baby...breathe baby....come on baby."
No one in the room said a word. The surgeon began to clean up the mother's
incision before suturing it back closed. No one talked.
The little boy didn't move. She shook him some more and suctioned. "Come
on baby...breathe baby....come on baby."
One of the nurses spoke,"Come on baby...come on."
He coughed and gave a cry. The doctor suctioned some more and he cried like
a newborn. With a sigh of relief, we all laughed and set to the task of
putting the mother back together.
After attaching identification bracelets, the pediatrician and nurse swaddled
the baby in a blanked and left for the nursery.
Holding the woman's uterus, the doctor showed me how he had been forced
to make a rather traditional T-shaped incision. He also showed me where
cut from the previous operation had healed.He began the careful task of
stitching his cuts closed. Several times, the scrub nurse sent me out to
look for a certain size suture or a needle tray. Shortly, the uterus was
whole, cleaned and back in the patient's belly. In 10 minutes more, the
inner layers of skin were reattached and the surgeon held the outer skin
as the scrub nurse stapled the flaps together. A bandage was applied and
the anesthesia was stopped.
On a count of three, we transferred the mother to a
and took her back to her room. When she woke for a moment, Maggie told her,"You
have a boy." The now mother of seven rolled over and went to sleep.
So went a typical night in the city that care forgot. The mother and baby
are doing fine. One more kitten was born making 4 and died shortly.
My Peugeot and I left that French town in the bend in the river about 5
p.m. and arrived in Athens, 20 water stops later about 3 a.m.
I'd say my Mardi Gras was rather interesting.
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