ARE YOU A BIG FAN OF MARDI GRAS?
"Yes! I am fascinated by the culture behind it. The origins of it. I am fascinated by the entire city of New Orleans actually."
WHAT IS THE CULTURE BEHIND IT, THE ORIGINS?
"Well the idea of the revelers, or the carnival, goes all the way back to ancient Rome and Greece. In ancient Rome they'd have these festivals, and people would give out little coins or tokens to the attendees. It was supposed to be a symbol of gifts from the three kings. That is I assume, where the idea behind giving something out (like beads) came from. But, the tradition of New Orleans' Mardi Gras and the way we see the events today goes way back. The French obviously settled in the area, that was way back in the 1600's. They brought the European customs of carnival with them. They would have private masked balls for the members of society. People (common people) would wear masks and wander the streets in disguise. It wasn't until the mid 1800's some time that a small group of people formed an organized association to kind of put it all together. It all has a lot to do with mythology and Comus who was the Roman God of mirth and revelry. That was who the first "krewe" was named after. He was the son of Bacchus, the God of wine. There were a bunch of secret societies at that time. There is so much that happened after the formation of that first crew to what it is today. You should look it up some time if you are interested. It really is an interesting mix of cultures and customs and people that got it from there to what it is now."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS THAT FASCINATES YOU SO MUCH?
"Everything really. It's the city proper, and all around it really. It is filled with so much history and mystery. It is incredibly diverse. It is so unique! You have all of these old historic plantation type homes, huge gorgeous homes. Then you have these shacks, literally shacks that people live in, all within such close proximity to one another. And they are all unified by this whole culture that exists there- of food, and music, and revelry, and history, and magic. There are 5 star restaurants, strip bars, and voodoo shops on the same block. There's just nowhere else like it."
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN THERE?
"I've been to 11 years of Mardi Gras. Twice for Jazz Fest. And then probably a dozen or so times for trips and visits when there was nothing "special" going on."
WOW. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED GOING DOWN?
"We went down there actually because my best friend was looking into going to Loyola (University). It was shortly before Mardi Gras, actually there were already some festivities going on, but it wasn't the big stuff- the last several days. We went down with his family. The plan was to fly down with his parents, look at the school, stay for a day or two to see some stuff, rent a car and drive back. We decided the day after that we were going to stay and check out some of the Mardi Gras stuff. His parents were NOT thrilled. They decided to get a flight out that night. He and I tried to get extra nights at the hotel we were at but it was booked up. We tried like 5 more places which were all booked too. We figured we'd have to go further out if we wanted to get anything because it was Mardi Gras time. We had no clue it would be hard to find a place. We were out at some little place getting something to eat, I don't even remember the name of it. It was in the French Quarter, not on Bourbon Street though, off on a side street. I've been there 11 times and I still can't remember how to find it, or where it is, and I look. I look every time we go. Sometimes I'm like, whoa, maybe it never really existed (laughter). Like maybe it was an apparition. New Orleans can be weird and creepy like that. But I know it existed because that is how we found a place to stay. We were going on and on about hotels and making lists and making calls, and some guy sitting in there heard us. He started talking to us and wound up offering us a place to crash during Mardi Gras. What's weird is that we didn't even hesitate on saying yes to staying with a total stranger! So, we stayed there, slept on his floor, for like 8 days."
AND YOU HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME YOU KEPT GOING BACK?
"Basically. I mean, he did not wind up going to Loyola. He would up going to Alabama. He's done now. But at that time it worked out because I would come down on the Wednesday or Thursday before Fat Tuesday and he'd drive in and we'd meet up. We got a lot better at planning. Like, we'd get a place to stay at least a few months out. And actually the last few times we stayed at the same place. It was a few years of staying in not so great places because neither of us really had any money. But after he was done school and so was I, it got a little better. That was around '08. Now we go with a group. It was a great place for college kids to let go though. It was like Spring Break and every other college free for all rolled into one."
"I don't know really. Just checking out all of the sights and stuff. I guess I just wanted to know more about it. I talked to a bunch of locals and I read some books and stuff. I read up about the formation of these Masonic societies and stuff that predated the organizations that are those affiliated with Mardi Gras today. I've always been interested in that kind of stuff. But, that didn't really come until we'd been going for a few years. Apart from that first time when his parents came down with us, I don't think we left the quarter or the first 3 Mardi Gras' we attended."
SO IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE PARTY THOSE FIRST FEW YEARS?
"Oh yeah! Two (at first) then three, four, five, college kids. No parents. No authority figures. Alcohol and drugs abound. No curfews. No exams. No RA's. No rules of any kind. I have never ingested so many unhealthy substances in my life as I did the first few years down there."
"I think the last few years we haven't really partied as much. I mean, we are not necessarily out ALL night. I haven't woken up in a place where I didn't remember how I got there in a long time, so that's a good thing."
YOU'VE DONE THAT, WOKEN UP AND NOT KNOWN WHERE YOU WERE?
"Yeah, I have. I've woken up in other people's rooms and stuff like that. I've forgotten whole evenings. One time, we started out at Pat O'Brien's, which is not unusual. I remember being at someplace on Canal. Then I've got nothing. My friend's girl said that we called her from some bar in bywater, and then told her we were trying to get a cab. We showed up back at our place at like 8 a.m. she said. I still have no clue how we got there or what we did in those hours in between."
YOU'RE NOT MARRIED, NO KIDS, HOW ABOUT YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU GO WITH?
"I'm not, no. He's not either. He has a girlfriend now and she came with us last year. She is in school though and won't be coming this time. I don't think she loved it. I mean, she had fun, but I don't think she is sold on the whole, 'we have to do this every year until we die' concept (laughter). One of the guys we go with is married with a 3 year old. His wife is very cool. She hasn't come with us yet, but she wants to as soon as it can all be worked out. Another guy we used to go with, he got married last year, actually 2 years now, and we lost him (laughter). Yeah, his wife was like, nope- not gonna happen. And that was that. So, we are down to anywhere between 4 and 6 on average. I can't really see that changing in the near future, but who knows, everyone seems to be getting married. They're dropping like flies."
SO DO YOU REALLY HAVE A PLAN TO GO DOWN EVERY YEAR 'UNTIL YOU DIE'?
"Basically, yeah. I mean, we made this plan to meet up here, the Thursday before Fat Tuesday, every year until pretty much forever. It was like one of those pacts you make. No matter where our lives take us, what we do, where we wind up, we'll find a way to make it to our meeting point each year. And if we lose touch somehow we even have a standing meeting plan. It sounds kind of weird now that I say it all out loud (laughter). But really it's just a way we plan to stay connected no matter where life takes us. I know things change, people change and all that, but for now anyway, that's the plan."