Happy Mardi Gras
I can smell the muck on the floor of Checkpoint Charlie’s. I can see the blue flames licking a sugared lemon atop a shot of grain alcohol. I can hear my late friend John dictating in a microcassette reporter (ala Hunter Thompson) as we stumble out of the bar and into the sunrise.
That morning we weren’t even sure exactly where we were. We knew we had stumbled off Bourbon Street and through some back alleys. Checkpoint Charlie’s wasn’t the type of place you find in the Mardi Gras Tourist magazine. We weren’t sure exactly where we were going to sleep or even if sleep was necessary. They were good times. There is a beautiful freedom in having no hotel room, a head full of booze, and only more debauchery ahead.
I have been to two New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. The first time I said you would have to tie me down every year to keep me from going. The second time I decided I might just watch from afar.
That second time, I stumbled out of my favorite bar (the Tropical Isle…the old one on Toulouse, not the fancy new drinkery) and into a street brawl. Rednecks hopped up on cheap trucker speed and mind erasers were hitting each other…hard. I took pictures. I still have a great shot of a Budweiser can in midflight…just as it careened off of a bald guy’s noggin. You can actually see the amber spilling out of the mouth of the can.
That didn’t scare me away. It takes a lot to scare a young man in the middle of a four-day binge.
Then I walked around the corner on to Bourbon Street. The masses were screaming at the drunks on the second floor baclonies. My eyes zeroed in on one guy just as he threw up his arms in beautiful “Woo!” fashion and fell off the balcony. I lost sight of him as he fell into the crowd. He sounded like a sack of potatoes hitting the road. I was sober in an instant.
I think the guy lived. He was bloody and dazed as they carried him off the street, but he didn’t look dead.
Still, it wasn’t long after that I decided I might prefer New Orleans at other times of the year (I confirmed this one year later when I went and had a fantastic time).
Regardless, Mardi Gras is one of the best celebrations on earth in one of the best cities on earth. I think everyone should be required to go once.
And in lieu of going to New Orleans, I encourage everyone to celebrate at home.
Mardi Gras is not a destination. It is a state of mind.