COURRÈGES: Advice for a Happy and Safe Mardi Gras

Here in Uptown New Orleans, we’re about to enter the phase of Carnival season with daily parades up until Mardi Gras.  After a brief respite today and tomorrow, it’s seven days of merriment.  Other cities throughout Louisiana are likewise preparing for their own celebrations.

Alas, it has been my experience that Mardi Gras has become increasingly coarse and territorial in recent years, and it’s hard to enjoy the festivities when loutish, entitled behavior is on display.  Some of it, frankly, is even just hazardous.  Consequently, we’re long over for a primer in Carnival etiquette.  Here, in no particular order, are five bits of advice for enjoying yourself this season without earning others’ ire:

1.  Always park legally.  This is a simple one.  Parking is at a premium during parades, and everybody knows that the city is overtaxed when it comes to parking enforcement.  Accordingly, many people will block driveways, park in front of hydrants, park too close to intersections, etc.  However, aside from the fact that parking illegally is rude and puts you at risk of getting ticketed or towed, it can also be dangerous.  Particularly, blocking crosswalks and sight-lines at intersections can lead to serious accidents, especially with the increased number of pedestrians and cyclists around.  Keep your fellow celebrants safe; park in a legal spot.

2. Don’t claim public property as your own.  Look, I understand that Mardi Gras season poses some logistical difficulties if you don’t live near a particular parade route and come with a large group.  It’s tempting to come early, rope off a large space, and proceed to persistently claim territory as your own to keep track of your people and property.  However, this is not the Gold Rush, and you can’t stake a claim.  Parade attendees are supposed to be able to move freely.  No spot is yours.  If you don’t want to mingle with strangers or find the concept of public space unnerving, perhaps Carnival isn’t for you.

3. Don’t block intersections with stuff.  People bring a lot of stuff to Mardi Gras. Many people who attend parades understandably don’t want to stand for hours, so they bring camp chairs. Ladders for children allow them to catch beads more easily. Likewise, grills and coolers provide a ready source of food and drink.  However, none of these things belong in intersections, and it’s illegal for them to be there.  Emergency vehicles sometimes need to get through, and they shouldn’t be delayed while dozens of ladders, chairs, etc., are removed.  Keep your things elsewhere.

4. Leave room for people to back up to the curb.  New Orleans law actually provides that ladders and other personal property must be kept six feet back from the curb during parades.  This is because marching bands often take up the entire street, and there needs to be sufficient room for people to back up.  A corollary to this is that you should never line up chairs and ladders to that people get blocked in; some people need to cross the route, and others simply need to move to and from the parade.  If you’re preventing people from moving freely, you’re causing problems.

5. Don’t be greedy with throws.  There are many sought-after throws at every Mardi Gras, from Muses shoes to Zulu coconuts.  Often, this leads to people becoming overzealous about catching throws.  Sometimes this means snatching a throw clearly directed to somebody else, while other times this means aggressively maneuvering in the crowds.  However, no throw is worth behaving rudely for.  Only catch what is thrown to you, and be mindful of those around you.  And if you catch a toy, consider giving it to a kid around you.  They’ll probably enjoy it more.

Obviously, there are other potential problems that exist at this year’s festivities.  The so-called Anti-Fascists (“Antifa”) have vowed to track anybody throwing the “Lee Circle Forever” beads and expose them on social media (which sounds a little bit more ‘fascist’ to me that throwing beads), and the city has amped up security to such levels that anybody attending a parade should assume they’re on camera.  It’s a shame for a light celebration to become party to such controversy.

This is all the more reason to work to lower the relative tension by behaving in a responsible and respectful manner.  Some conflicts we certainly can avoid.             

Owen Courrèges is an attorney living in New Orleans.  He has previously written for Uptown Messenger, the Reason Foundation, and the Lone Star Times.

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