March 9 is the latest possible date on which Mardi Gras can fall, and Fat Tuesday 2019 is March 5 — an awfully long time for Carnival-crazed New Orleanians to wait for parades. (Perhaps the late arrival of Carnival helped fuel all the Boycott Bowl parties around town two weeks ago.)
This year, for the first time, we're adding a third week to our Mardi Gras cover stories, as walking crews seem to have evolved from being an "appetizer" before the big parades roll to filling a weekend all by themselves. From Krewe du Vieux (now parading in its fourth decade) to the brand-new Krewe Boheme, we're giving these mobile parties their due in this week's cover story (p. 13).
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It's also time to review Carnival practices — both violations of etiquette and violations of the law.
Locals know that, despite what tourists may believe, flashing for beads is illegal everywhere, and doing it anywhere outside the French Quarter probably will land you in jail. (Don't even think about dropping your pants.) New Orleans cops are famously tolerant of minor infractions during Carnival, including public intoxication, but if you're a danger to yourself or others, they'll gladly haul you off to jail. This is especially important in the weekend leading up to Fat Tuesday; if you get arrested then, you may not get out of jail until Ash Wednesday.
You may smell pot along a parade route, but state law still comes down hard on marijuana use. New Orleans cops have the discretion to issue a simple summons for a small amount of the green stuff, but it's best not to take chances.
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There's a local song called "Ain't No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day" that's all too true — so find the nearest bathroom before you need to use it. There are public toilets on most parade routes, but most businesses will require a purchase if you want to use their bathrooms. Don't even think about public urination; that's another quick way to land in jail.
It's illegal and obnoxious to block off public space on neutral grounds, whether you spray-paint your "territory" (just don't), attempt to fence it off, or set up tents for personal use. (If you hear parade-goers referring to "Chads," they're talking about rude people who think Mardi Gras is just for them, not for the whole community.) Ladders for kids must be set back at least 6 feet from the curb. Erecting "ladder walls" has become common in recent years, but it's not just rude - it jeopardizes free movement and public safety.
Finally, there's street wisdom: Bring only the bare essentials: your ID, cash, one credit or debit card and a phone. Costumes are a yes; dress shoes, a no. Cellphone service can be spotty as everyone tries to upload photos of all the floats, so designate a meeting place with your group in case someone gets separated. Step on any beads you plan to pick up before reaching down or risk getting your hand stomped. Give a kid your best throw.
Above all, have fun. We'll see you out on the route.