New Orleans Mardi Gras

Today is Fat Tuesday so I thought I'd honor one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, LA. There are a number of cities and towns across America that celebrate Mardi Gras and some, like Galveston, Texas, have a right nice party, but none do it like New Orleans.

The French Quarter with beads hanging
on the rail.
Visitors from all over America and the world flock to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras each year. It is simply one huge celebration featuring numerous parades with marching musicians, beautiful floats, masked dancers throwing purple, green, and gold beads and trinkets to folks lining the streets and night time, well, night time is when the real partying happens.  Popular practices include drinking adult beverages, wearing decorative masks and costumes, drinking adult beverages, dancing, drinking adult beverages, and the more adventurous (or drunk) ladies flashing bare breasts to entice male admirers to give them rings of beads which they then wear proudly.

Bourbon Street in the daytime.
Of course, New Orleans is a fun and very interesting city at other times too. Being from Dallas, I was only about 500 miles from New Orleans (a nice little drive for Texans) so I've been there a number of times. For a short time while I was in the Navy stationed in Pensacola, Florida, I performed with a Naval Precision Rifle Drill Team and marched in four parades during Mardi Gras one year. Somehow, my team placed 1st for military units in 3 of the parades and 2nd in the fourth and shortly after returning to Pensacola, I received a certificate of appreciation, signed by the mayor, naming me an honory citizen of New Orleans. But that's a different story for a different time and besides, I don't remember a whole lot about that particular trip. Lets just say I brought back an intact, but well-used Pat O'Brians Hurricane glass and left behind a large load of dead Strawberry Boone's Farm bottles. Ah, to be young again!

Once, my best male friend from my Navy days came to visit me in Dallas for the New Year's holiday and we decided at the last minute to run down to New Orleans for a couple of days. Let the wives and kids stay home and shop, the guys are going on a road trip! We threw a few clothes in bags, grabbed our wallets, jackets (it was in the low 60's when we left) and off we went; not a care in the world and nothing but concrete, white lines, and headlights ahead of us.

OK, so maybe it wasn't a very well thought out plan, not baked at all actually. Somehow, even though we are both big college football fans, in all of the excitement, we forgot about the Sugar Bowl being played in New Orleans that weekend. And there's that little thing about thousands of other partiers going there to bring in the New Year the way it should be. We were reminded of all this when we arrived about 1:00AM and could find no available room. We started at the Marriotts, Hiltons and Holiday Inns, went down to the Best Westerns and Motel 6's, and then to the little no-names - Cajun Al's Rooms, etc. And while we drove around the city from hotel to motel, the wind picked up and it got cold - very cold. It became freeze your nose & ears off cold, not jacket cool like we were prepared for. We had just about resigned ourselves to sleeping in the car with the engine running and the windows open a crack when we spotted what looked like a motel sign down the road aways. As we went lower on the hotel/motel desirability list, we got into less and less desirable neighborhoods and as we got closer to this distant motel, the seedier things got. We pulled into the parking lot and noticed two things - this was watch your butt territory for a couple of pale, middle-class guys like us at 3:00AM and miracle of miracles, the sign in the grimy window said there was a vacancy.

Stern Wheeler Creole Queen. Mississippi River 
and New Orleans.
We made it safely inside to face a desk clerk who looked like he bathed last about a month ago, a lit cigarett hanging from his lips, sitting behind a worn counter with a glass ash tray one butt short of overflowing. After confirming they had a room available, I asked how much. He in turn asked me how long we wanted it. "Just tonight," I answered. "You want it all night?" And that's when my buddy and I looked at each other with the dawning realization of just what kind of establishment this was. And within 2 seconds, without saying a word, we agreed, "Yep, we'll take it for the whole night." We slept with our clothes on and a chair wedged under the door knob.

We had a great day the next day. Why wouldn't we - we were in New Orleans! We managed to buy coats, went to a museum, strolled Bourbon Street, and had several good meals. Then, without so much as a single beer between us, we left and drove several hours back toward Dallas and found a safe, nice Holiday Inn. And these two former wild, crazy, often drunk much-traveled sailors who used to carouse with the best of them in some of the world's most infamous cesspool ports-of-call slept soundly, gratefully, wrapped in clean sheets.

Amazing street performers in front of
Jackson Square.
Most good road trips present a suprise and this one was no different - it had taken us smack dab into acknowledging the arrival of middle-age. Adios youth. You'll be missed.

These guys later made it to the quarter-finals on
America's Got Talent.
One of the ever changing street