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 picked up,
"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 Twelfth
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 River.
I was in bed by 4 a.m.


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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

Ash Wednesday

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 groups.
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 drives.
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.


· · ·

Final Day

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 the road.
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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