Thousands of revelers swarmed parade routes across the New Orleans area on Fat Tuesday, as the region wrapped up a Carnival season that hit several high notes but was nonetheless marred by a horrific car crash and at least one accidental shooting, both in New Orleans.
While there was no shortage of inebriation among the throngs of people who ushered in the start of Lent, there were also no reports of similar tragedy in the city that afternoon, as Rex and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club glided down their traditional Uptown parade routes.
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Neither did inclement weather put a damper on the day’s festivities, as was the case in 2016, when blustery winds had many shivering as they screamed for throws from intricate floats. Instead, the rain held up and the warm sun gleamed as locals and visitors flocked to the route with food and drink in tow.
Yolanda Brown, of Port Sulphur, couldn’t have been happier. The warm weather was a welcome change as she woke up early Tuesday morning to see Zulu, hoping to catch one of their coveted coconuts, she said.
"It's just awesome, compared to the last few years, which have been freezing," Brown said as she made her way down St. Charles Avenue. "This is just family time."
A few blocks away, Romie Wilson took in the action with her daughter and nephew, continuing the family's annual tradition of watching Zulu.
"The air is great, the weather is good — the people are better," Wilson said. "It's just the atmosphere."
Contributing to that atmosphere were the thunderous high school bands and glittering dancers that followed the floats on the routes; the dozens of tribes that "masked Indian" in the 7th Ward and Treme areas; or the families, mostly locals, that grilled burgers and hot dogs along the route and "under the bridge," the stretch under the Interstate 10 from St. Bernard and North Claiborne Avenue to Orleans Avenue.
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The scene was also heightened by the dozens of people dressed in risqué costumes along Bourbon Street. At midday, they could be seen throwing beads at one another as they waited for the party to kick into high-gear that night.
"Every year, I bring the toilet microphone down here, and I interview people about their Mardi Gras costumes," said Jen Keyte, an Uptown resident who was holding a toilet brush fashioned into a faux mic.
"You’d be surprised how much people tell you into a fake microphone," she said.
A few feet away from her, Karen Mayo, of Baton Rouge, slapped cooperative passers-by with a whip. "I’ve spanked about 100 people today," she said, adding that she was dressed up as Lydia, the almost-wife of Beetlejuice in the 1988 movie of the same name.
Not everyone's costume was pulled from a movie, however. Indeed, the elaborate stitching of the suit of Rex, king of Carnival, likely took months to craft.
Stephen Hales, who reigned as Rex this year, smiled as he thanked Mayor Mitch Landrieu at Gallier Hall for handing him the key to the city a day earlier in a symbolic acknowledgment of Rex’s daylong reign.
"A salute to you for your leadership to this city, for your commitment to our citizens, especially to our children," Hales, a pediatrician, told Landrieu.
Landrieu, dressed in a casual T-shirt, offered similar praise as he lifted a glass to toast Rex, in keeping with an annual tradition. Later in the evening, Rex was to toast the King of Comus in the two organizations' meeting of the courts, another tradition that officially brings Carnival to its close.
The Mistick Krewe of Comus, founded in 1856, is the oldest continuous Carnival organization in New Orleans. It does not parade.
Over in Jefferson Parish, similar goodwill abounded as the Krewe of Argus rode for the 44th time down its traditional Metairie route. It was met by dozens of families and parish residents. King Elie Khoury, a businessman, reigned over that procession.
Meanwhile in Covington, the Krewe of Lyra, a coed krewe created to positively assist the lives of people affected by mental illness, rolled that morning.
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Back in New Orleans, there were no major reports of the sort of intoxicated driving that left more than 23 people injured at an Endymion parade Saturday night, after 25-year-old Neilson Rizzuto plowed into crowds on the Mid-City route. Three victims were in the hospital as of Monday, and some remained there as of Tuesday afternoon, police said. No one died.
Rizzuto remained in jail Tuesday in lieu of a $125,000 bond, and received new charges Monday in connection with that incident. He was initially charged with four felonies, but received 22 additional counts of vehicular negligent injuring, with 10 of those in the first-degree.
There were also no reports of the kind of accidental gunfire that left a 36-year-old Metairie resident injured Saturday on the Uptown parade route. Police said the weapon in that incident was discharged from a nearby portable toilet.
However, a 24-year-old woman was shot in the head in the St. Roch neighborhood early Fat Tuesday morning, before any parades had begun rolling, police said. Her condition was unclear.