The men and women in blue, our own New Orleans Police Department, aka NOPD, are the coolest cats on the parade route. Virtually nothing nonplusses them. They have seen it all on St. Charles Avenue during Carnival literally. They almost always have time to answer a question from a tourist or local. Most often they have smiles on their faces, except when something goes awry on the parade route and they must intercede.
Police in New Orleans are in what’s called Mardi Gras mode. No days off until the day after Fat Tuesday, and all shifts are 12 hours. That is a stressful combination. Other police forces in the metro area are coming to help out. State police, Probation and Parole, Kenner, St John the Baptist, St Bernard and Jefferson parish police on the way. That’s a lot of police.
I like to wish the police a good day or night on the parade route, as I have a high regard as a general rule for NOPD during Carnival. They are working while we are playing, and on really beautiful days like today, that’s not so easy. One thing about New Orleanians during Mardi Gras, they like to drink a beer or a cocktail while socializing out on the parade route.
Other situations can develop quickly during Carnival- float breakdowns are a possibility. People joining the parade ad hoc for the sheer fun of it (that’s not allowed). People getting run over by a float or kicked by a horse (these are fairly rare occurrences).
There is a Mardi Gras fugitive roundup going on, just this weekend 34 people were arrested for 54 offenses.
Those little black squares on their chests in both pictures are the cameras that record everything that goes down. That’s a good thing. Of course, the cameras can be turned off, and don’t always work.
The 2016 edition of Krewe du Vieux (KdV) rolled in the French Quarter, Marigny and Central Business District last Saturday night at 6 pm before a large and adoring crowd. Many of the parade viewers wore a costume piece or two, showing their Mardi Gras enthusiasm on a cold, somewhat blustery night. New Orleans’ own Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, ruled as Krewe du Vieux Queen. Freedia is a hip-hop artist, reality TV star, and transgender rights advocate.
This year’s parade was dedicated to two fallen titans of New Orleans culture, chef Paul Prudhomme and singer Frankie Ford. The seventeen sub-krewes each presented their own versions of the XXX theme. The subkrewes- the Krewe of C.R.U.D.E, Krewe of Space Age Love, Krewe of Underwear, Seeds of Decline, Krewe of Mama Roux, Krewe of L.E.W.D., Krewe of Drips and Discharges, Krewe of K.A.O.S., Knights of Mondu, T.O.K.I.N., Krewe rue Bourbon, Krewe du C.R.A.P.S., Mystic Krewe of Spermes, Mystik Krewe of Comotose, Mystic Krewe of Inane, Krewe du Mishigas, and Krewe of SPANK.
Marching along with the Krewe of Underwear through the historic French Quarter and Marigny, with Egg Yolk Jubilee playing Mardi Gras tunes and other party classics like the Commodore’s Brick House, life couldn’t be finer. As I’ve written before, participating in a Mardi Gras parade as a rider/walker is a New Orleans experience not to be missed. Krewe du Vieux is unusual with all their mules and brass bands, no other krewe utilizes the roughly 20 mules and brass bands KdV does. Some floats (K.A.O.S) utilize a tricycle to move their float forward. What those krewes have against mules I don’t know. Maybe they love mules so much they don’t want to put them through the KdV experience. That’s a question for another entry.
No studio is hired to produce the 20 odd KdV floats; volunteers from each sub-krewe are responsible for building their own. Each sub-krewe is allowed to interpret the main theme as they see fit. Over time, amateur float builders gain serious float building experience, so the floats get better and better over time.
For most Mardi Gras krewes, the pre-parade party, the parade, and the ball are glorified drinking opportunities. Many but not all krewe members drink throughout the entire 8-10 hour process. It’s a daunting process but one of the most fun days of the year for most.
As an escort for Underwear, I’m not supposed to drink during the pre-parade party or the parade, and I don’t. I find as I’ve gotten older, I do better with 3 hours of drinking than 10. Even though a double gin and tonic at the Civic during the ball was $14 plus tip, I ended up having a couple and supplementing that with some vodka I purchased at a little store outside the Civic before going in.
George Porter Jr and his Runnin’ Pardners with special guests Walter Wolfman Washington and Billy Gibbons, guitarist and lead vocalist of ZZ Top, were somewhat generic in their song selection but still over the top fantastic.
The Civic had no food and a no outside food rule. That means one needed to find food somewhere off premises which wasn’t that easy in my estimation. While I’m on the topic of food, the food at the Underwear pre-parade party, except for the homemade dessert I made, was entirely store bought fried chicken fingers, finger sandwiches, some powdered doughnuts and some Zapp’s potato chips.
I personally took the time to make a beloved homemade dessert because I think the world of my krewe and want them to eat well and I was a bit disappointed at all the store bought food.
KdV 2016 Float 1
This is only the second or third story that will go on both of my blogs. Crime and Mardi Gras do occasionally mix.
There are signs all over the French Quarter which state Caution: Walk in Large Groups. We (heart) N.O.P.D. We Just Need More. This isn’t a good sign for a city about to enter one of the biggest holidays of the year, Mardi Gras. Approximately 1 million visitors descend on New Orleans each Carnival season and most will hit the Quarter soon after arriving. They will be greeted by a French Quarter bathed in unsettling signs.
Security is a growing concern to many New Orleanians and Americans. When New Orleans is perceived as a dangerous place, less people make plans to visit. The streets of New Orleans during Carnival are full of state troopers, federal agents, virtually half the police force at one time, plus scads of private security personnel. Downtown there are a lot of weirdos that make it down to Mardi Gras also.
In the last 11 years, at least 27 people were injured and one killed on parade routes and Bourbon Street. That is one horrific statistic. Carnival has historically had a violent side. I personally have been very close on St Charles Avenue to a major shooting incident a decade ago. I’ve had very large groups with me at times and much smaller at other, but no one in my group has ever been accosted on the parade route or downtown or in Metairie or other parades around the metro area.
Another growing trend, private security cameras, have caught many of these assaults and shown the brazenness of the perpetrators. The variety of weapons employed is staggering. This footage shows up on YouTube and adds to our collective anxiety.
Since Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has lost about 500 officers, and I’ve written about this problem recently on my other blog about jail and justice in New Orleans here. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, a police union, says I have been to some roll calls where there is one cop, two cops. Mayor Mitch Landrieu would like around 1,600 officers. I’ve authorized as much overtime as is necessary, says our Mayor.
The Mayor has personally felt the sting of crime very recently. One of his personal vehicles was stolen in front of his home over the weekend. The 2006 Jeep was recovered within blocks of his house by an off duty Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy. The Jeep was equipped with LoJack technology. The deputy was heading home across the Mississippi River bridge after finishing a 12 hour shift. His LoJack receiver in his patrol car picked up the signal. He called in the information and found out the car belonged to the mayor of New Orleans. He followed the signal and found himself near the 2nd District Police station. He stopped and checked in, then began pursuing the stolen vehicle again. He ran into the Jeep at General Taylor and Constance streets.
Turns out the New Orleans police never received the LoJack signal as Jefferson Parish did. Hmmm.
According Glasser, This shows crime is not limited to a handful of people in the traditionally ‘bad areas.’ Anybody can be a victim, and ironically, the victim in this case is the person screaming the loudest that crime is down. And while he admits there’s a staffing shortage, I think he underrates the importance of that.
This was a Mardi Gras to remember. The police strike (NOPD) cancelled the parades in Orleans Parish, but Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes held all their parades. Much of organized Carnival was canceled in New Orleans, but all of the less organized groups came out as usual.
On Fat Tuesday morning we went to the west bank for Grela and the trucks, then headed back over the Mississippi River bridge to find the Wild Tchoupitoulas Indians. We found them, with Chief Jolly, Charles Neville on sax, and Aaron Neville smoking a joint with our little group! We really enjoyed our time with 2nd Chief Norman Bell, Chief Jolly (George Landry), Aaron and Charles Neville, and other Indians and musicians.
We were living on Robert Street off of Danneel St, so we were very close to where the Nevilles all lived back then, on Valence Street. This was right before the Nevilles became major label fodder and began to travel the world in earnest as the pride of New Orleans, the Neville Brothers.
We hung out and followed the Wild Tchoupitoulas for a couple of hours before heading the the French Quarter and a party on Royal Street. These uptown Mardi Gras Indians were followed by a crowd of about 20 people. It was really an enjoyable aspect of Fat Tuesday that year.
Since that time, we’ve gotten into a bit of a fun rut on Fat Tuesday. We set up on St. Charles for Rex and the Trucks, and catch some of Zulu on Jackson Avenue before. There is so much to do and see at the New Orleans Carnival you can hardly go wrong, as long as you travel in a small group for safety reasons. We always bring a number of really excellent foods and drinks for Fat Tuesday. We BBQ, bring hot gumbos, sushi, traditional desserts like king cakes, mandel brot, decadent chocolate cakes, chocolate babka, etc. Not all of that each year, but I always make a half dozen Po-boys in advance for guests and friends who show up during the number of hours we’re on St. Charles enjoying the parades and trucks.
We always bring a king cake, that’s positively necessary.
The krewe says they have the support of the other krewes and have arranged for the necessary floats. The Captain says the New Orleans Police Department never responded officially to the krewe’s application.
An adviser to our fine mayor, Mitch Landrieu,said the application ”fell through the cracks.” Apparently the police thought the application was for 2014, even though their enclosed check was for 2013.
The original Krewe of Freret started in 1953. I remember watching them on Freret St in the 1970s and 80s. In 1995, the krewe was in financial difficulties and stopped parading.
The new krewe says they will hold their ball and coronation. I’m pleased they are staying active with the plan to return to a parading krewe in 2014. The krewe’s web site says- WELCOME TO THE KREWE OF FRERET – WE CANNOT BE STOPPED!
In late 2011, seven young Loyola graduates lamented the notion of squandering hard earned money to join a formal Krewe where they knew virtually no one and would have limited input. So rather than joining an existing Krewe, they sought to enhance Mardi Gras by creating a world class parade.
Those simple three words that utter so softly off of your lips, “Krewe of Freret”, drive Tulane and Loyola alumni to come together for the greater good of Carnival. Whereas the word ‘Freret’ was previously a division line between two campuses, the Krewe of Freret aims to unify these enthusiastic young professionals and infuse new vigor into Mardi Gras while simultaneously fanning the revitalization of the Freret corridor and her traditions.
The Krewe has received incredible support from the community, with many Freret Street business owners counted as Krewe of Freret members.