When it comes to the Endymion experience, it would be difficult to question the commitment of Michael Shields.
On Thursday evening, while most other Carnival revelers were taking in the Uptown parades, Shields camped out on the neutral ground of North Carrollton Avenue, staking out prime real estate for the superkrewe that will roll Saturday evening through Mid-City.
He spent the night under a modest blanket, awakened frequently by streetcars rumbling by.
"You always meet good people out here," Shields said early Friday, gesturing to his neighbor and fellow camper, Theresa Mcinerney, who took the day off to lay claim to an adjacent plot along the parade route.
"You've got to physically be here or you'll lose it," Mcinerney said. "Everybody comes down here to spray-paint (a perimeter), but that's not gonna get it."
The annual colonization of parade-watching spots was in full swing Friday, as scores of Endymion fans set up camps of canvas chairs, coolers and canopies across neutral grounds. Some rolled out construction tape to mark their territory, a full day or two before perhaps the most anticipated event of the Carnival season.
Expect larger crowds this weekend than on Fat Tuesday.
Like the frenzy that accompanies after-Thanksgiving sales, the preparation for viewing the city's largest parade — it boasts more than 3,000 riders — seems to start a little earlier every year.
"It seems like this year is a little bit ridiculous, probably because of the weather," said Jason Christin, who was lounging in a comfortable chair on Canal Street. "Probably because I'm getting a sunburn right now."
The New Orleans Police Department didn't have an estimate of the number of early Endymion campers, but a spokesman said the department had increased patrols in the area. Their presence was noticed by Shields and others, who said they didn't think twice about spending back-to-back nights outdoors in Mid-City.
"This morning got a little chilly with the dew, but it wasn't too bad," said Troy Parks.
Peter Heausler, who was holding down the fort with fellow members of his Kappa Sigma fraternity, managed to turn his stakeout into a money-making venture. He said his group had made about $100 keeping an eye on adjacent spots. They also rented a portable toilet and planned to sell $5 bracelets for fellow paradegoers to use it.
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Heausler said his favorite aspect of Endymion is its unique route. Indeed, it's the city's only major parade that doesn't follow the now-standard Uptown route, beginning instead at the border of Lakeview and Mid-City and ending in a post-parade extravaganza at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"By 8 p.m. tonight, everybody who's going to be out here with us will be here — all the way through the night," Heausler said Friday. "It's a good time."
For seasoned paradegoers like Mcinerney, the excitement of seeing Endymion up close is well worth the extra effort. She said her group planned to erect three-tier scaffolding that will allow her to be "eyeball to eyeball with the riders." They enjoy their spot on Carrollton in part because it's near the procession's turn off Orleans Avenue, a maneuver that slows the parade down.
"It's the nicest throws, the nicest floats," she said. "You know you're going to get some good stuff."
As Fat Tuesday gets closer, the parades get bigger, the parties wilder and the crowds grow t…