Laissez les bon temps rouler!
After one of the longest Januarys on record — yes, I know every January has 31 days, but this one felt more 45ish — we can finally say hello to February and bonjour to our Carnival season.
This Friday night, the first Port City parade rolls with the Conde Cavaliers, and I could not be more excited to stand out in the streets behind the barricades with my fellow Mobilians.
From when the first siren squeals marking the beginning of the parade until the flashing lights of the fire trucks and cleaning crews signal its end, we can forget about all of our worries, if only for a short while.
Ahhh, Mardi Gras! How I love thee!
But newbies or out-of-towners may need some tips on the best ways to navigate the glorious madness that is Mobile’s Mardi Gras, so I put together a little primer.
- Pick your spot
This is a very important, if not THE most important part of the process. There are many things to consider when you are studying the map and figuring out exactly where you should stand on Route A.
Do you want to be near a place where you can get a cocktail? Do you want to be in an area where your kids can run around (kind of) freely? Do you want to be away from kids entirely and in one of the more adult-friendly zones (The Garage/Moe’s/Bike Shop trifecta)? What bathrooms (or even porta-potties) are nearby and accessible? Can you exit quickly once the parade is over or get to your post-parade destination with ease?
Ideally, you want to have a spot that can address the most important basic Mardi Gras needs, the three “p”s: parking, pottying and partaking (of adult beverages). If you can find a place where you don’t have to worry about those three things, you are in pretty good shape.
Finding a place to park and potty are the hardest parts. You can usually find pretty ample street parking in the Oakleigh Garden District, and then you can venture to Broad and Canal to watch the parade. Pre-game with cocktails at Callaghan’s, or bring a rolling cooler or wagon, and you are all set. If you spend money at Callaghan’s you can use their rest facilities, or if you opt for the rolling cooler/wagon/bottom of baby stroller route, there are usually a couple — or at least one, lone porta-potty — on one of the side streets near Government (I think it’s Palmetto — The Palmetto Potty?). Just pack tissues and DON’T LOOK DOWN.
Plus, you can get out pretty easily once it’s over.
If you want to hit the other end of downtown, you can usually find a spot around St. Michael or St. Joseph and watch the parade on Royal. You can use one of the Battle House watering holes as your pre-parade place to partake and it’s easy to get back out, as you can get on Water Street and then hop on the interstate or the 165 connector for a fast escape.
Most night parades roll at 6:30 p.m. For some reason, people often believe you must make it downtown at a ridiculously early time before they “close off the streets.” They have to let all of the many people who work normal business hours downtown get out, so rest assured you will be able to get in.
You can usually get down the main corridors right up until the parades start rolling, but if you park in one of the aforementioned places, you don’t have to even worry about getting down into the “belly of the Mardi Gras beast” in time, because you don’t have to cross, or you can just go around.
And really, you don’t want to get to your spot too early or else you and/or your spouse (and definitely your kids!) will be tired of standing around and you might have to actually use a porta-potty and/or you might accidentally get too “over-served” to catch the “good beads.”
So download FOX10’s handy dandy Float Tracker app and you can keep live tabs on whether the parade starts on time and where it is on the route. Depending on what spot you choose, you may not need to leave your house until well after 6:30 p.m. If you are going to multiple parades (and you should), getting the “get in/get out” strategy down is key.
I have gotten to the point in my Mardi Gras-watching career (and advanced age) where I really only want to catch a few beads to put around my neck so I feel festive while I am parade-watching. Anything else, I let go or give away.
Don’t worry, there is ALWAYS a scavenger around who is trying to pick everything up or will happily take the MoonPie flavors you hate.
Children should be after everything they can get their hands on, but I have never really understood the adults who will not hesitate to snatch something from a kid or even throw elbows to get a piece of 10-cent Chinese plastic. But these people do exist. Sadly. They often look like they have some highly specific plan for their loot, I am just not sure what it is.
For me, it’s much more about hearing the bands and standing around and chatting with good friends and/or perfect strangers while you wait. (Although I do need to restock the plastic “to-go” cup shelf in my house, so I may elbow a few folks myself for those this year. Watch out!)
If you have kids, they always, always, always want ALL the beads and especially the filthy stuffed animals the mystical masked ones throw. These crusty creatures are usually acquired at local thrift shops and have already been well loved and snotted on. They are probably even throwing something you donated that your kids didn’t want anymore, but now desperately do. It’s the Mardi Gras circle of life. Perhaps this could be the plot of “Toy Story 5!”
The best way to ensure they catch these is one of the following methods: A) Find a sparsely populated place on the barricade and pile about three or four kids in front of it; B) Put a small child on a parent’s shoulders — bonus points and beads for more than one parent/child combo; or C) Stand behind someone who has a piece of poster board on them. They obviously know someone who is riding and are going to get showered with everything their mystic friend can throw at them. You can get their scraps because they won’t be able to catch it all.
Follow these simple steps and you, your bladder and your liver are guaranteed to have a great time.
Happy Mardi Gras and let the good times roll!
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