Across downtown Baton Rouge on Sunday morning, the consequences of the city’s largest Mardi Gras parade were clearly visible: plastic bags and crushed paper, pink feathers and trails of purple beads, and an uneaten bowl of jambalaya.
But beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday, 14 city-parish trash sweepers joined by about as many Department of Correction’s work release inmates descended on the area in hopes of getting rid of the evidence of the revelry from the day before, except for the beads left hanging from the trees.
The Department of Public Works trash sweepers, working overtime, and the inmates began the task of removing between 10 and 12 tons of trash from the parade route, said Bryan Harmon, Department of Public Works interim director.
“It’s a big mess,” Harmon said. “I think our culture here, they like the parades. They expect the parades, (but) there’s a cost to the city for having these.”
Crews start at the churches downtown to beat the Sunday morning service crowds — and then trace back over the roughly two-mile route of the parade in an effort that lasts until the afternoon.
Harmon said the strategy is to sweep as much trash as possible away from yards and sidewalks into the street, and thus into the path of a thunderingly loud street sweeping machine — the Schwarze A9000. But even that machine can become clogged by beads that get caught in the rotating brushes, so crews have to rake them out or risk the machine going out of service.
The rest of the trash is picked up by hand.
“By the time they’re done, it’s hard to tell that something happened,” Harmon said.
An exception is the beads in trees — crews don’t try to concern themselves with grabbing them, Harmon said. People walking to work might grab a few, and the rest will fall out eventually. “There aren’t enough hours in the day for us to get those,” he said.
By late Sunday morning, a handful of residents along Spanish Town Road were raking leaves and trash away from their homes in anticipation of the Schwarze A9000 trundling by.
“This is what goes with having a parade,” said Mary Jane Marcantel, who coordinates the neighborhood’s cleanup efforts as vice chairman of the Historical Spanish Town Civic Association. “If this is all we deal with, so be it.”
Most residents were just thankful the debris was not even worse.
“This is one of the easiest cleanups we’ve had in years,” resident Donna Hicks said as she swept debris into the middle of the street.
Her neighbor Paul Neff was also unconcerned. “It’s no big deal,” he said with a blowing machine on his back, before letting the machine roar as clouds of wet leaf fragments spewed into the air and away from his property.
Darryl Gissel, a Spanish Town resident since 1981, recalled some of the strange items that used to turn up in parades over the years. He remembered one man who left behind a cheap plastic barbecue grill in the same spot right outside his home, parade after parade.
“People pulled up, parked and did whatever, thinking it was a no-man’s land,” Gissel said. “It used to be the stuff you would find was unbelievable.”
Spanish Town resident Bruce Foreman, who surveyed the cleanup efforts while walking his Chinese pug named Cinderella Estella, was also pleased with the cleanup.
“It’s the only time of year when they do rake the leaves,” he said.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.