Mardi Gras Part 2: Limping through the Big Easy

Under the most normal of circumstances, New Orleans is an unusual city, a spicy blend of cultures and races, all simmering together, sharing their history, food, and superstitions.  There are voodoo shops, above-ground graves, and a general air of gris-gris.  Then, the last few days before Ash Wednesday, add a kabillion drunk people, and you have Mardi Gras.

It’s sort of like a Disney World of sin, only with more marching bands.

Anyway, after we reached the New Orleans Amtrak station, our tour guide shepherded us to an appropriately short bus, which carried us to the Radisson on St Charles St.  I think it’s now called the Hotel Le Cirque.  Check-in was slow.  Excruciating.  Boring.  After 18 hours of drinking on the train, all I wanted was a shower, an icepack for my ankle, and a nice nap.  Some of my fellow travelers were anxious to head out into the celebration.  Others were like me, just needing proper decontamination and rest.

The travel agency people finally got us sorted out, and gave us our card keys.  Also, we were given a ration of free drink coupons.  Woo-hoo! Laissez les bon temps roullez!

I managed to limp to the elevator, which carried me to the ninth floor.  It would have been impossible for even the greatest cartographers, physicists, geographers, and baggage handlers to find me a room further from the elevators.  I limped down one interminably long hall, which led me to a corridor, which reached nearly to Houston.  Anyway, my room had a giganto king-sized bed, and a bathroom with a shower: in short, it had all I needed.  I turned the shower full-on hot, let the bathroom steam up a bit, then went in to wash away the railroad grime and vodka sweat.

This was where I learned two things.  First, if you have a sprained ankle, you reeeeeeally need to be careful climbing into things.  It hurts.  The other sad discovery is that my brain had been altered by the choo-choo.  Something about the vodka and the constantly sloshing train motion wreaked havoc on my balance.  Eyes open? No problem.  Close eyes to stick head under shower? Complete loss of equillibrium.  I had to wash my hair with one hand holding on to the wall.  (this phenomenon lasted for weeks)

I dried off and took a pleasant nap.  It was around 9 PM when I pulled on shorts and a polo shirt, laced up my Nikes, popped a Motrin, and limped out to experience Mardi Gras.

Thank God, I remembered to grab my huge stack of drink coupons, because I was distressingly sober and in pain.

The bar in the Radisson was called the La Salle (which means “the salle” in French), and it was a typical dark fern bar, with mirrors and wood paneling.  Not bad.  I found a seat at the bar, and ordered a Maker’s Mark, rocks.  Lesson #3: call brands are not valid with drink coupons.  Oh, well.  On my second or third drink, a quartet of my train people came into the bar.  This began a phenomenon that lasted our entire Mardi Gras tenure: people finding me in the La Salle, and checking-in.  I felt like a den mother–well, not a mother, of course–but it was actually sort of cool.  People who were once just fellow drunken strangers on a train came in and chatted with me, sharing their adventures and asking after my giant purple ankle.

The colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold.  I figured I’d be doing my part with my festive purple ankle, jaunty golden Bourbon and water, and the green of the money I spread around the city’s various bars.  That was kind of my plan: to enjoy the parades and revelry, as well as visiting some nice clubs to experience the legendary New Orleans music scene.

Fortified with by now several Bourbons, I was ready to go out into the teeming Bachannal.

This plan lasted about three steps. It was like this: step-OUCH! step-OUCH! step-OUCH!

It was clear that I wouldn’t be wearing out my Nikes too much on the first night.  I step-OUCHed my way out of the La Salle and asked the concierge where the nearest liquor store was.  “There’s a Walgreen’s a couple blocks that way (points) down St Charles.” Thank you, my good man.  I step-OUCHed across the lobby, through the revolving doors, and into the night.

The third object of Mardi Gras–behind the cation twins, intoxi- and forni–is the accumulation of beads.  There are two main ways of acquiring beads: to catch them when they’re flung from a parade float, or to flash ones various assets at a bead-holder.  On my first night of Mardi Gras, I had probably five strands of beads I’d gotten on the train, including one really nice, long, intricate one with grinning jester heads and lots of other whatsits.  During the course of Mardi Gras, I was offered lots of things in exchange for my prize strand of beads, from kisses to extended boobie shots to a complete gynecological exam (not enough gloves in the world for that girl), but they were mine.

I digress.

A gentle rain misted the crowds, but the mass alcohol fumes evaporated the raindrops before they could land.  It was 39 degrees, and I was in shorts and a station polo shirt.  Not a problem.  Pain keeps you warm.  I started up St Charles street, my step-OUCH pace meshing nicely with the sidewalk denizens’ drunken crawl.  People were moving, but when a float went by, everyone pressed toward the street, arms reached heavenward, trying to catch those wonderful beads.

I’m six-four, and I’m very good at catching things, so I figured snagging a bunch of beads would be a cinch.  Sadly, it’s easier to catch when you can balance, which is hard to do standing on one foot.

Also, if clowns freak you out, Mardi Gras is the place of nightmares.  The float people aren’t circus clowns, but everyone wears grinning masks, and makeup, sort of like a Halloween rave at the Korova Milk Bar.  I managed to grab one lovely strand of black beads with some plastic voodoo-looking talisman–I was leaning against a lamppost, and the beads were deflected my way.

I figured this ten-minute pursuit counted as the day’s success, and I step-OUCHed onward to Walgreen’s.  As the parades passed, I found that my way was clearer if I stuck close to the buildings.  It was cold and damp, but I was buoyed by pain, adrenaline, and Bourbon.  Hooray, tom.  As I limped past one stoop, three black ladies began talking to me, lamenting that I looked cold, and offering that they would happily keep me warm.  We chatted briefly, and they asked me to stop by anytime.  I grinned.  They were cool.

Eventually, I saw Walgreen’s, my salvation.  (If you’re not familiar, Walgreen’s is an American drugstore chain, and they often have attached liquor stores)  I looked, though, and there was no familiar LIQUORS sign on this Walgreen’s.  WTF? Expecting the worst, I went inside.  In my town, the Walgreen’s Liquor Store has a separate entrance, and is an entity unto itself, other than being attached.  In New Orleans, it’s just a regular Walgreen’s, only with liquor.  I searched the helpful signs: FOOT CARE, nope; COLD REMEDIES, nope; FEMININE HYGEINE, nope; BOURBON, yay.  I knew my ankle was pretty badly injured, so I reasoned I’d best stock-up.  I selected a half-gallon of Evan Williams Bourbon and a plastic flask-shaped bottle of Cuervo Gold.  It seemed like the thing to do.  I added plenty of cigarettes, and–inexplicably–a box of Junior Mints, checked out, and headed back into the crowd.

By this point, most of the crowd seemed to be creeping slowly back down St Charles, in the general direction of the Radisson.  This boded well for me.  About halfway back, three drunken fratboy types were walking against the tide, shoving their way through, annoying people.  The first two passed me.  The third collided with a woman, then glanced-off toward me.  He happened to get me on a step instead of an OUCH, and I accidentally swung my left elbow toward his chest.  You know.  Just to balance.  He fall down go boom.  I said “Excuse me,” and walked on.  stepOUCH (gloat) stepOUCH (grin)

I made it back to the Radisson, and through the revolving doors.  My ankle was killing me at this point, so I limped over to the elevator, and ascended to the ninth floor.  Along the labyrinthine corridors to my room, I passed the ice machine.  I took the jug of Bourbon, the Junior Mints, and the plastic tequila flask out of the Walgreen’s bag, and loaded a bunch of ice in their place.  A rare good thought.  I got back to my room finally, and ordered a pizza.  An hour later, I had to limp back downstairs to meet the driver at the concierge desk, then stepOUCH my way back.  When I got there, I finally relaxed.  On my first night in the city with America’s most-diverse native cuisine, I ate Domino’s, and it was just fine with me.

That night, HBO was showing a Chris Farley double-feature.  “Black Sheep” was first, and it was funny in parts.  I ate my pizza, drank my whiskey, and laughed.  Then we got to “Tommy Boy.”

The most vivid snapshot I have of my first night’s Mardi Gras experience was of me howling hysterically as Farley and David Spade weepingly sang “Superstar.” As the hood flew open on their car, I was leaning forward on the bed, taking a handful of cubes from my icepack, and just shaking my head at how fucking funny life can be.

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7 Responses to “Mardi Gras Part 2: Limping through the Big Easy”

  1. Your poor purple ankle! You should have step-OUCHed your way down the "purple swollen painful-as-hell ankle injury remedies" aisle.
    Also, "he fall down go boom"!?! Hilarious!

  2. oh how i hope that there will be a mardi gras part 3:bourbon cures ankle. (finger's crossed)

  3. that's quite the mardi gras experience.

  4. jr mints make everything better (=

  5. So, did you ever give up your beads? That's me on big business trips too, get really really plastered and then hang out in my hotel room watching crappy movies and enjoying myself.

  6. Oh, Tom. One of these days, we should swap bourbon-and-injuries stories. The last time I drank Evan Williams was during my recent "sausage ankle" stage, and it definitely helped! I didn't have any junior mints, though… but I wish I had!
    From one ankle-sprainer to another, I don't know HOW you managed to WALK to Walgreen's, fighting a crowd the entire way. You, my friend, are definitely more of a man than I am. hahaha

  7. oh my god. so funny. also, i hate frat boys. thanks for taking one down. you did everyone a favor. hehe.i went to new orleans in the fall. it was still like mardi gras. and crowded. but not as bad as mardi gras. i don't think i could deal with it during mardi gras!

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