WHEN DID YOU START GOING TO MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS?
"In '93 I had gotten in a car accident and was laid up from work so I went to Florida. We were sitting in a hotel in Daytona, the Sunday paper came and there was a section on Mardi Gras. So I said, "Wanna go to New Orleans? It's only 10 hours from here." So we got in the car and drove to New Orleans. I got there for the last two nights, I guess Monday and Fat Tuesday. That was the first time. Now the shortest time I've been there was 3 days, but on the average I usually go for 5-7 (days). So I do the last 5 days of it. The last 5 days are the biggest."
WHAT IS THE "LINE UP" AS FAR AS THE EVENTS GO?
"Now they've added the Thursday before, that's real big. There's a new parade called "Muses" which is an all women's parade. It's very campy. It's all locals. They spend all year decorating shoes. Everyone wants a shoe. I actually have one in my house. They literally design their shoes and hand them out. Thats what their throw is. They give out shoes, so you try to get those.
Friday night is d'Etat and something else, which are the political satire ones. And then when you get into the weekend, Saturday there's parades during the day and then you have super krewes, which are the big ones. So that's Endymion, which is Saturday night. That's a huge one. These are the big ones that are 50 floats, 75 marching bands. Then Sunday all day, there's a bunch during the day: Isis, Okeanos, Thoth, Mid City...that's during the day. Then at night there's Bacchus. That's another super krewe. Then Monday there's nothing during the day and at night is Orpheus, which is the one I've rode in the last 5 years. That's the last super krewe one. That runs Monday night. Then Tuesday there are parades, which is Fat Tuesday, which is Rex and Zulu. The first couple years we always did them, but maybe I got jaded cause I'm in a super krewe, I don't find them nearly as entertaining as I once did. I switched more now, on Fat Tuesday, to staying in the French Quarter cause in the gay district they do the costume contest. They spend all year building these huge costumes. And nobody can costume better than them. Some of them, it takes four of them to carry a costume. And there's a full costume contest run by two "queens" right on Bourbon St. called the Bourbon St. awards.
Then there's also walking krewes which I've gotten involved in a couple of those. One is the krewe of St. Anne, which we do every year, which parades from Frenchman St. through the quarter up to Canal st., back down and then out to the water. Originally when it first started, it was to dump somebody's ashes in the water, so if somebody died that year, you'd bring some ashes and dump them in the water. Basically, the last 10 years is where I spent, in just the quarter. That's where I've incorporated the Mummers costumes because these people all costume. Fat Tuesday is when you do a costume. The first years I just wore masks, but the last 10 or 12 I've gotten costumes.
There's a bunch of sub, little krewes of people that from their own parades and just walk through the quarter. All the streets are closed off, everyone's in costume all through the quarter and you can just jump in the parades. Some of them hire bands. Some of them are bands. Then at midnight there's the trash and police parade where they clear the streets. All the trash trucks, all police, all fire trucks shoot down Bourbon St. and chase everybody off the street. Of course people come back out. But the idea is to let everyone know that Mardi Gras is over."
WHAT MAKES YOU GO BACK EVERY YEAR?
"I was amazed at how big it really was. It was everywhere you went, every bar, every street corner, every house, this is through the entire quarter. The first year I stayed outside, in Metairie, in a hotel. I didn't know the extent of what it was. The next year, I came back and stayed in the French Quarter and was just blown away by it. It's relatively problem free. Everybody's having a good time. I've always liked parades and it reminded me a lot of the Mummers parade. It's really the Mummers parade done right. Between the music end of it; you've got the marching bands. Down south, marching bands are a religion. Like up north if you're in a (marching) band, you're a geek and down there if you're in a (marching) band, you're a rock star. You'll be on a parade route and they'll be like "There's Kenner High School from..." and they know exactly who they are and those people are rock stars. A full-on southern marching band in a parade going full-on is incredible. On both sides of the street, people are dancing. You have the guys doing the flipping of the tubas and all the girls dressed up in their outfits doing sachets and all of that.
On the parade route, it's a lot of the same people, same spot. For Bacchus, I've stood on the same corner in front of the same hotel for about 20 of the 22 years. Only year I missed Bacchus was the year the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. But I've stood in the same spot and seen the same people every year. They know that's where they watch that parade every year."
HAVE YOU MADE FRIENDS WITH SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE?
"Oh yeah. I've met different people over the years. Some have come and gone. But you recognize a lot of the same people. I met people over the years from different parades. I met different people on forums. That's how I got into one of the krewes by meeting people down there."
"The Times-Picayune, which is a newspaper that they have online now and Nola.com has a forum. (Every year I'd go down and try to find more information.) I saw that online and there was a forum. So I joined the forum for Nola.com and it was all people from around the country that go every year to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Over time, from being online, you get to know people. And the people make these schedules. Like we meet on Friday "here" cause it's the greasing of the poles in front of the Sonesta. All the poles they cover in grease and fat so people can't climb up the balconies. So every year, the forum people, they turn what was something the hotel would do so people didn't climb, into a reason for a party. So now there's a theme for the greasing of the poles. The hotel did it to protect the hotel. Mardi Gras people turned it into a party. Then there's different meet ups.
From that I met a guy who was a lawyer in Baton Rouge and he was a lieutenant for Orpheus. That was the first parade I went to when I got there on Monday night. A lot of them turn over members especially the super krewes cause it's not cheap. I mean there's some people that can spend 10 grand. People spend 3-$4000 just on what they throw out to people. Then there's the cost for your dues, the ball, it can get expensive. So they're always looking for people to fill it. He said "I've got a couple spots open." I was like "Really? What do I have to do?" I had been going probably 10 or 12 years and I wanted to be in it. It's one thing to watch a parade and it's a whole other thing to be in a parade. He told me how much it cost and I said I'd figure it out. It's like $1500 in dues and that gets you your ride and your ticket to the ball and your costume and stuff like that. You're responsible for what you throw to the crowd."
WHAT DO YOU THROW OUT? WHAT OTHER EXPENSES DO YOU USUALLY INCUR?
"I spend on average, about $1000-1500 for throw outs. There's people on my float that double that. I know people on Bacchus that spend $3000, $4000 on that. I only had to do it once. You're on a float and you turn the corner and the crowd (we're one of the first floats in that parade) goes nuts. I'll pull out a light up sword and stick it out and you watch the little kids eyes light up, screaming for it. The one year, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, I bought a bunch of Saints jerseys, like 20 jerseys. There were people practically rioting. I pulled out a Drew Brees jersey and people were knocking over barricades. There were poeple holding their kids into my float as it's going by at 10 miles an hour. The cops are reaching for it. They were going nuts, screaming. They all want something new. There's stuff that hangs in the windows. They're picking out what they want. They know what the new stuff is. They have their favorites. Like we had Harley Davidson beads, if they're a motor cycle guy, they want that. They want the roses. The kids want the light up stuff. There's 1,400 people in our krewe, so there are 1,400 masters of ceremonies. You can't get into a better party than that.
People from the forum make signs so that they can get what they want. I'll be on St. Charles street and they'll be a sign with my name on it. Or it'll be just a generic Nola.com logo on a sign. Someone will tell someone else that they have a friend on the float in like, the third spot or something. If someone comes up and knows who I am, I might throw a bag of beads at them. You've got certain people that you take care of that you see at other parades. I have a friend that is a lieutenant on another float. When him and his family are there and I know exactly where they are, we all throw a bunch of stuff at them. One time, he posted, "There's nothing like seeing that train come around the corner and seeing Jerry hanging out of the train like some drunken hobo throwing light up swords and bags." I've literally knocked people over with 40 pound bags of beads.
After the parade ends you pull into the convention center and that's where the ball is. You get in there and there's 3000 people in ball gowns and tuxedos all screaming to throw them beads. We're the beginning of the party. Being the first is kind of special. The celebrities go in before us though. The floats change every year except the signature floats, mine's a signature float, the Smokey Mary train. It's a recreation of the train that ran from New Orleans to Nashville. I can't ever see myself not doing it. It's an all day event. You ride out on the back streets leaving at like 2:00 and as soon as it gets dark (usually at 5:30-6:00), the parade starts. You don't pull into the convention center till like 10:00. This is a thing of pacing yourself. There's people drinking first thing.
I've brought whole bars down there to give people what they like to drink. I'd give them their own bottles. The first year, the guys loved it. Their wives hated me because by the time they got into that ball, people were literally falling off the floats. I overdo stuff. That's what I do. It's a vacation for me. If I'm spending thousands to throw plastic at fucking strangers, I can spend another couple hundred dollars to get people what they drink. Even the women I'll grab champagne for, though they don't partake as much.
After we get back to the ball, the bands play. They have bands that play till like 2:30 in the morning."
WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO DOWN THERE?
"I've gotten to be a bit of a foodie over the years and you're not gonna find a better place (for food). Everything down there is incredible. I spend a lot of time making reservations for my breakfasts, lunches and dinners a month out. I have my favorites, but you have to time it too. There's certain times it doesn't make sense to go to a restaurant after I've been drinking for 12 hours. I've done it where I've eaten a bunch of ecstasy and gone to Emeril's and have no desire to eat anything. So you have to schedule it. I've had them box it up and put it in a bag and take it to the parade route. It's not uncommon that I'm eating a $300 dinner, cold at 3:30 in the morning back at my hotel room. You can always find some place to eat."
"Yeah because for them that's when they make their money. There's a million people wandering the streets. Depending on the scheduling, where it falls, this year my parade is on Presidents' Day which is a holiday, which means people have a three day weekend. That kicks it up. Saturday is Valentine's Day. Officially, Fat Tuesday is a holiday in New Orleans so the businesses are shut down. The bars and all are still open. You can always see somebody walking through the corridor with a sign that says "everywhere else it's just Tuesday".
HOW FAR AHEAD DO YOU START PLANNING? WHERE DO YOU START?
"The krewes spend all year setting it up. Myself? I start looking a couple months out. It was different when I was booking hotels. But I stopped doing hotels cause I'm spoiled and I like to have houses. It depends how many people I have. I have 4 or 5 that come pretty regularly. I've done as many as 8-10 people. If it's just 2 people you can get a hotel. The first 10-12 years I pretty much stayed at every hotel that's possible in the city. I have a couple favorites. Now I like to stay in the houses. It's just nicer. You have a house to come back to. I like to get a balcony. This year I'm right across from city hall. I have a third floor balcony overlooking the parade. I like to stay in the quarter. I don't want to think about it (traveling to the quarter), especially this year. Last year was a horrible year. The beginning of this one has not gotten any better. I cannot wait to get the fuck out of the city. I can't wait to get down there and forget about stuff for a while."
WHAT'S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU'VE DONE OR SEEN DOWN THERE?
"There's different levels of that. Running through the French quarter high on acid in Mummers costumes on a regular basis is kind of crazy.
I got filmed having sex with somebody on the dock on the waterfront at like 3:30 in the morning. I never saw the videotape. I never realized the guy was filming from behind. I always wonder if that tape is gonna show up. So, I hope I look good.
There's so many levels of craziness. Just jumping in your own parade is kinda cool. The Bourbon St. Awards is just crazy. Standing there squeezed in. Every year has something interesting to add.
Two years ago we were running around with fake mustaches. Driving down, I stopped at a truck stop and bought a pack of all these fake mustaches. We went to a five star restaurant. We were whacked with fake mustaches on. They gave us a plate to put our fake mustaches on. One of the guys in our group (who is Jewish) had a Hitler mustache on and the server was Israeli. They have a good sense of humor. When we were done, the server came back with the plate so we could put our mustaches back on.
There's a place called The Dungeon, that doesn't open till 2:30 in the morning. You go through a side, side, side, around back and it's like a mausoleum and I "came to" there at like 4:00 in the morning in one of these "stalls" with somebody. You do things to such excess but even I have a tipping point. But still, my favorite thing is riding on the parade float. The Mummers costumes always blow people away."
AFTER HEARING SOME OF THE STUFF THAT GOES ON THERE, SOME PEOPLE MAY BE TURNED OFF. WHAT REASONS WOULD YOU GIVE THEM TO GO?
"I'd ask if you like parades. Do you like friendly people? Down south everyone says hello, thank you, please. If you have a problem, they're helpful to you. Even in the worst parts of the city, people are friendly. I've had just as many quiet, candlelight dinners, dressed up in a three piece suit. Went to a parade, sat at Café August, had a bottle of wine. I tend to go all night but I know people that go and are in bed by midnight so they can get up at 7:00 in the morning so they can have their Bloody Mary. No one's forcing you to do anything. If you can't have a good time there, then you don't know how to have a good time. Cause whether it's a museum you want to go to, if you wanna go on the voodoo runs, look at the architecture of the garden district, a swamp tour, there's so many different things rolled into one. You can go with a group of 12 people all wanting something different, and all 12 people will say "that was amazing!", and not one single person was together. And that could be anyone from a priest that spent the entire time at the cathedral or a degenerate gambler that never left the casino to a sex freak that never left the pole while he was dancing at Cats Meow.
If you're a person that likes to watch things, New Orleans, you'll never find a better place. You can sit and watch a parade or just sit on a street corner and watch people go by. People will come up to you and perform for you, right there. They call it the worlds largest free party and you don't have to spend a dime. Just show up. There's music everywhere you go, people everywhere you go. All the ingredients. If you told me some of the things that you like, that you'd consider a good time, I can give you five places in New Orleans you could do that. I don't care what you tell me it is. I think that's why it draws such a diverse crowd of people. They're all coming to let loose, have a good time. The nature of it is being the last party before Ash Wednesday, let loose before your abstinence. Some people just take it a little farther than others. But no matter what you like, if you wanna have fun, you're gonna find a place to do it."