Mardi Gras has always been a part of my life. Being born here, my family celebrated the holiday annually just as we did birthdays, Christmas, Easter, etc. Our family did not head out of town for the school holiday. Instead, we were on the route on the weekends (and weeknights) leading up to the big day. I rode in Little Rascals as a girl scout and then again as a lady-in-waiting and junior maid in Thoth. I recall the excitement of getting ready for the ball and the thrill of riding on parade day. In the back of my mind, I held onto the hope that I would be able to ride with a Krewe again. But then college and jobs and kids happened and I returned to being a spectator. Which honestly, is a thrill in itself. In the back of my mind, I held onto the hope that I would be able to ride with a Krewe again.
Fast-forward to my mid-thirties and my dream of riding again nagged at me with every parade my family attended. Luckily, an opportunity presented itself: after hearing my friends recount their ride in Cleopatra and upon learning spots were available, I immediately signed up and convinced (which didn’t take much convincing) my sister who lives out of state to join. We signed up at the end of carnival season so we had to wait almost a year for the festivities to begin.
A major part of the fun is the build-up to Parade day. Once we got closer to the Mardi Gras season, the anticipation started to build. Our Facebook group started buzzing and sharing tips and tricks for first-time riders. We started decorating our signature throw, the wine glass. We got our dresses for the ball and danced the night away. Next up: Parade day. We. Were. Ready.
The night before we rolled we tried to hydrate and get some extra sleep. Our morning starts pretty early with a gathering of our float for a pre-pre-party. Last year we did a drag brunch and it was amazing! Our float of 60 women took over a local restaurant and had a blast. Having gone to an all-girls high school, I already know what it is like to be surrounded by women at an event. If you haven’t experienced it, you ought to. The atmosphere is relaxed, encouraging, and full of dancing, laughter, and love. We mingled, danced, and laughed so hard our cheeks hurt. Then we boarded the bus to the Krewe pre-party. It was more of the same: dancing, catching up with friends, and palpable excitement as it neared our ride time.
After partying all day with the Krewe, we head to our Floats. As we inch near the route, down Tchoupitoulas, you can feel the energy. Locals come out of their houses to give us a wave, words of encouragement, and always a smile. Once the music starts and we turn on Magazine it is a feeling that is difficult to articulate. The crowds of locals and tourists alike are so happy to be there, it is both contagious and mutual. The ride itself can feel like a blur but there are moments that stand out. From that sweet child who is beside herself to get a light-up throw to the elderly woman decked out head-to-toe in costume who is equally besotted to receive a signature throw cup. There’s inevitably a delay but as riders, we don’t mind: that means chatting with parade goers and perhaps swapping a glittered wine glass for some jello shots or a beer. Riding in Cleopatra shines a light on all that is good in NOLA: the people, the music, the sparkle. It highlights why New Orleanians are proud of their city: there is no other place in the world like it. When you are on the float you will see people you know and even more that you don’t. The common theme is joy. We’ve all heard the gumbo analogy. After riding in a parade, I can attest that it accurately reflects our beautiful city. The diversity along the route is apparent but equally so, is the unity. At Mardi Gras, it doesn’t matter what you do, where you live, what you wear, or what you look like: we are able to celebrate our differences and come together and laissez les bon temps rouler.
At the end of the night, after you disband from your float there is exhaustion for sure. But there is also the excitement that you get to do it all again next year. If you haven’t ridden in a parade, I highly recommend you grab your best girlfriends and give it a shot. You will not regret it.