in the spotlight
Volume 21/Issue 4/2003

Mardi Gras Tips & Tricks

If youíve never been to Mardi Gras, you have a lot to learn! What follows is some advice gathered from locals that will help you get the most out of your carnival experience.

The Weather

Weather in New Orleans is unpredictable. Bring clothes for every possibility.

Walking The Streets Of New Orleans

During Mardi Gras, cars are not allowed on the streets of the French Quarter. So, plan on doing a lot of walking. Comfortable shoes are a must for the serious Mardi Gras reveler.

The main streets like Bourbon are usually shoulder to shoulder. For quick escapes and in order to move about the French Quarter during Carnival use side streets. However, always walk where it is well lit and there are a lot of people.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods. Like all large cities, the Big Easy does have some trouble spots. Always walk with others, never alone if possible. Donít wander about the city. In New Orleans the neighborhoods change, literally, when you cross a street. Always carry a map. The French Quarter can be confusing. Safe streets are Decatur, Royal, Bourbon up to the 800 block on any day. Use good judgement. Generally, stay on streets that are well travelled. If a street looks deserted, its probably not safe to walk. Stay with the crowd. If youíre drinking, donít go stumbling about the French Quarter. Locals know that the people who encounter trouble are usually the ones who have been drinking.

Unfortunately, Mardi Gras does attract some people who are out for more than a good time. When you walk the streets, donít bring your wallet. Take the cash you need and some sort of identification and put them in a pocket that no-one can slip their hand into. Donít wear expensive jewelry. Basically, donít take anything with you that you would have a hard time replacing if it gets lost.

Parking

Parking is difficult and expensive during Mardi Gras. If you can manage without a car, youíll be better off. If you bring your car to Mardi Gras, carefully follow this advice:

1) Parade Route Parking

Parking along a parade route is prohibited 2 hours before and 2 hours after a parade.

EXAMPLE: If a parade is scheduled to roll at 6pm, parking anywhere along the route is prohibited at 4pm.

2) Neutral ground Parking

The "neutral ground" is what New Orleanians call a median. You know, that strip of grass in the middle of a road. It is always illegal to park on the neutral ground. During Mardi Gras, youíll see a lot of people doing it. It seems legal. Itís not. Believe me, theyíll tow as many of those cars as they can as quickly as they can. The tow companies make a lot of money during Carnival.

3) Temporary Signs

Never believe the street signs during Carnival. Be on the lookout for cardboard signs posted inconspicuously throughout the city. Hunt for and read all the signs in any area you park. If in doubt, donít risk it.

4) The French Quarter

On-Street parking within the French Quarter and vehicle access is restricted in the areas bounded by Iberville, Decatur, Dumaine, and Rampart. Towing is strictly enforced. If you are staying in a hotel in the French Quarter, ask the hotel for a "PASS." Usually, you can get a pass that will allow you back and forth to the hotel garage.

If your car is impounded it will cost you about $ 200 bucks plus whatever else the city decides to tack on. Your car can be retrieved from the City Auto Pound, located in a dangerous area of the city, 400 N. Claiborne Avenue. This will spoil a good time.

Cabs

Cabs will be difficult to get during Carnival. In addition, many Cab companies enforce a "special event rate". This means that youíll be paying a premium for a taxi and, sadly, many cabbies take advantage of people during Carnival. If you are going to take a cab, we recommend UNITED CABS: 522.9771; 524.9606. Write these numbers down and put them in your wallet. This cab company can be trusted. If you donít care what it costs to get around, any cab will do. But, United Cabs has a sound reputation with the Gay community.

Liquor Laws

People are allowed to drink on the streets in New Orleans. However, you must use a "geaux cup." (A "go cup" is a plastic cup.) Glass and cans are not allowed on the streets for safety reasons.

Mardi Gras is a long holiday and bars in New Orleans are open twenty four hours a day. Pace yourself. If you are going to drink during Mardi Gras, take it easy and slow. Most important, itís easy to get caught up in all the excitement and forget to eat. If you want to make it through Mardi Gras, solid food is a necessity. Of course, New Orleans is world famous for its food and is part of a complete New Orleans experience.

Toilets

Clean bathrooms are a difficult thing to find during Mardi Gras. Every business closes their facilities to everyone but paying customers. If your hotel is far from the action, take care of the more important business before you hit the streets. If you need to, plan on buying lunch or dinner and using the restaurantís bathroom before you pay the check! There are "port a lets" scattered throughout the city. However, they have long lines and can be quite an experience.

No matter how "bad" you have to go, do not urinate in the streets. This is a fine way to end up in central lock up and people who are arrested during carnival sit in jail until the courts re-open after Fat Tuesday. Besides, itís not polite. Listen to your body. Get in line before you really have to go. By the time your crossing your legs, you might be at the front of the line.

Catching The Parades

Parades roll all over the state of Louisiana. On Mardi Gras day parades roll from early in the morning until late in the evening. There is so much going on during Carnival that it can be a difficult deciding what to do and see. What most people do is spend the Sunday before Mardi Gras at the parades. Several parades roll in New Orleans on Sunday and most people camp out and make a day of it.

Throw Me Something Mister...!

Unlike parades in other cities, Mardi Gras parades require people to become participants. In fact, the crowd during Mardi Gras is as much a part of the action as the floats and bands. Maskers on floats toss people in the crowd "throws." Throws are bead necklaces, doubloons, plastic cups, panties and lots of other stuff that are thrown to the crowd. People do all kinds of things to catch things. Some people create elaborate nets with targets on a pole, other people show body parts. Itís all very entertaining.

Anything goes when it comes to catching stuff. One very important word of caution, NEVER pick up a throw off the street with your hands ! If you do, your hand is going to get stomped on. If a throw ends up on the street, quickly put your foot over it and when the crowd settles down, pick it up. Barricades (temporary fences) are there for your protection. It can be tempting to run out to catch throws from a passing float. Floats weigh a whole lot and people have been seriously hurt because they just had to have that plastic charm. Stay behind the barricades.

Often, two or more people will catch the same throw. This is a give and take situation and requires a little carnival etiquette. Basically, the first person to "catch" a throw should be allowed to keep it. However, youíll find some rude people out there and its best to let something go than make an issue out of it. Besides, thereís plenty for everyone.

What You Can Get Away With

During Mardi Gras youíre bound to get an eye full. Public nudity and public sex is not allowed and the obscenity laws are still on the books. You need to use your better judgement on this stuff. It is possible to get into trouble by showing too much when you "bargain" for beads, and again, people who are arrested, sit in jail until the courts re-open after Mardi Gras, which will cost you much more than $200.

"I Can Tell Youse Where You Got Dem Shoes !!!"

Beggers, panhandlers and con artists of all persuasion will be looking to scam the unwary and especially drunk visitor. If some con walks up to you and says "I can tell you where you got dem shoes," you reply "YEAH ! On my feet on Bourbon Street!" before he can con you out of a fiver or more. "If you play ya gotta pay."

If you want to have your boots polished, do it yourself. Never Take out your money (Remember- you left your wallet and other valuables in the room.) to pay for anything on the street. Of course, the PHOENIX bar has a really hot guy that will really put a shine on those boots. And, there might be a few people there that will do it for free.

Play Safe

Mardi Gras is a big party. People drink and are having a good time. Itís easy to forget that there is a real world during Carnival. All the bars offer free condoms and there is no excuse. Donít allow the party to overwhelm your better judgement. We want you to come again.

 


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