One thing I do miss about Carnival season is walking home from work along the parade route–and I could tell I was out of practice walking this last weekend in New York, trust me.
For years, I worked on Frenchmen Street, one block downtown from the Quarter. I live inside the Carnival parade route (we call it “inside the box” here–the box boundaries being Tchoupitoulas, Napoleon, St. Charles and Canal–which means those streets generally close to traffic (only the downtown-running side of St. Charles closes; the uptown side does not, but you can imagine how horrific the traffic is on that side when there’s a parade on the other side of the neutral ground) about an hour or so before the first parade rolls, which means if I didn’t have my car “inside the box” before the streets closed, I’d have to wait until after the parades all ended–usually sometime after eleven, and the last thing I’d want to do is walk blocks to where I’d left the car to bring it home through all the after-parade traffic and mess–yeah, no thanks. We also used to do a lot of condom outreach during Carnival nights, setting up a table at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. So, on days when I had to actually go into the office I took the streetcar (which doesn’t run on Lundi Gras, so I had to walk the entire way) and walked through the Quarter–then would go do outreach and walk home from there. It was always tricky crossing the parade route itself; if I timed it right and got to Canal between parades, I could cut across to the inside easily; if not, I’d have to walk up Baronne to Harmony (formerly Lee) Circle, and I could always cut across at St. Charles (in the CBD and along Canal Street, barriers are erected to keep people out of the street). I may have been tired, but I always was in a good mood by the time I got home because I’d have a lot of beads already from walking along the parade route.
It’s funny, because I used to always bitch about having to walk to the office or condom outreach, and then having to walk home after. So, of course now I miss it.
I also sometimes take selfies when I am out on the parade route, to give everyone an idea how the throw-catching is going.
And yes, the correct terminology is “throws,” because the krewes throw more than just beads. They throw candy, bubblegum, plush toys, moon pies, bags of potato chips, boas, and go cups, for starters. And of course some of the krewes have signature throws, such as the Zulu coconut, the Muses shoe, Tucks’ toilet themed throws (sunglasses that look like toilets, rolls of toilet paper) and the King Arthur grails. The signature throws are coveted, by the way; you’d be surprised at the way people will fight and claw and shove to get them.
New Orleans is an extremely walkable city in my part of town. Twenty minutes maximum to Canal Street, another twenty minutes the other way to Touro or the Fresh Market, and of course the Marigny is another fifteen minutes past Canal. I don’t walk as much as I should; maybe after work every day from now on when I get home I can take a walk until I’m certain my arm is better and I can go back to the gym again. I love walking to the gym, I love walking through the Garden District–but sometimes it’s way too hot to walk, and of course, there’s always a chance of getting caught in a sudden thunderstorm/downpour (it’s why we own so many umbrellas; you end up getting caught out in a storm without one so of course you buy another). That was something I wanted to stress in A Streetcar Named Murder–that someone who lives where Valerie does, for example, can pretty much just walk anywhere to do her errands; I lived in New Orleans without a car for two years. (Good thing my parents insisted on me taking their old Oldsmobile–the Flying Couch of yore–that summer of 2004, or we would have been trapped here for Katrina.)
And one of the best memories I have of all Carnivals was the 2006 one, when New Orleans briefly flared to life again in the midst of the reconstruction, when for a few brief shining days it felt like New Orleans again, and gave us all hope that someday we would have our beautiful, wondrous, wacky city again. That Fat Tuesday was so beautiful; it was in the 70’s, clear sky, cool breeze, and no humidity. As I said that day, marveling at how gorgeous it was, “To be fair, Mother Nature kind of owes us.”
And I definitely need to spend more time walking around my beautiful city finding hidden treasures.