My first parade of the trip was in Baton Rouge in Spanish Town. Pink flamingos and costumes were everywhere you looked. I felt silly at first having to wear a bright pink shirt but after getting there I realized that the people too self-conscious to wear pink actually stood out much more. I was lucky to have been invited to somebody's house on the parade route so I was catching beads from a raised porch and could easily see the dozens of floats that drove by. Aside from the obligatory pink, it seemed that Duck Dynasty was a major theme as I noticed fake beards being worn by people on many of the floats. I had never spent 3 hours watching a parade before so I couldn't imagine Mardi Gras in New Orleans being any bigger than this one but I was wrong.
We drove the 1.5 hours to New Orleans early in the morning to avoid traffic and so that we could drop our bags at our hotel. Already at 9 in the morning people had Hurricanes or Hand Grenades (two popular Mardi Gras drinks) out in the open as drinking on the streets is legal in Louisiana. By 10 am we had secured our spot on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street and even then we were in the 2nd row of people behind the barrier. I learned that placement is critical in the amount of beads that you can secure. By being just one row back you have to stand behind people with their arms high in the air trying to catch beads before you can. We ended up staying in that exact spot for the 4 parades of the day including Thoth, Mid City, and Bacchus. It's as much about watching spectators in their purple, green, and gold (the colors of the New Orleans Mardi Gras) as it is about the parades. It's hard not to be impressed with the spectacle of music, marching bands, decorated floats with sometimes dozens of float riders throwing beads all at one time, dancers, and general organized chaos. It's incredible to see an entire city get behind one event; and to imagine that it happens every year is incredible. After we finished watching the parades around midnight we saw bulldozers picking up the incredible amounts of trash and leftover beads. By the time we finished a 30 minute meal at Arby's, Canal Street was spotless and had been scrubbed with soap. All to get ready for the next day's parades and for the process to start all over again. We made a short trek along Bourbon Street but the incredibly drunk crowds were just too much to deal with after such a long day standing. For a mile or so, people stood shoulder to shoulder trying to make it to various bars, restaurants, and other nightlife spots. During a normal weekend, Bourbon Street would probably be a lot of fun.
I would love to visit New Orleans on a non-Mardi Gras week to take in some jazz music and the other local culture but overall I was really happy with my first experience in Louisiana. The Southern charm of the city and residents is reason enough for another visit.