MY RIDE IN REX
Posted: February 14, 2016
Hardy in Rex 2016
With the exception of Mardi Gras 1994, when I traveled to Philadelphia to be on QVC's live Mardi Gras show, every Fat Tuesday since 1986 I have appeared on local TV covering the day's events. Truth is, I have never ridden in a parade. When the opportunity to ride in Rex this year came my way, I couldn't resist.
More than a few people expressed shock that I, of all people, had never ridden in a Mardi Gras parade. While I have marched in many, starting in 1958 as a student musician and then for many years as a marching band director, I had never set foot on a float-at least not a moving one.
The day started at 7:30 AM with a TV interview on the Fox 8 Live Morning News show in front of my float, the Jester (#3), followed by coffee and breakfast with the King of Carnival inside the den. After dressing in costume, we gathered to salute the raising of the American flag and the Rex flag, as the Marine Corps Band played the National Anthem. After a short walk in the brisk morning air, my float mates and I mounted our float.
I was one of three newbies. My position was the third man, passenger's side. I soon realized I had worn too many layers under my jester outfit. I also learned that there is not much space on a float for bodies, throws, and carry-ons. I simply brought too much stuff.
The float moved more quickly than I had anticipated as we rolled down South Claiborne to the starting point at Napoleon, where we commenced throwing promptly at 10 AM.
There were some heavy hitters on this float, guys who could have had me star struck if they'd wanted, but they were too busy showing us rookies the ropes. Refreshments, liquid and otherwise, were provided courtesy of a member or two. On route, fried chicken was delivered to the float. We were also offered food by several parade watchers, though most of them, clearly Carnival vets, were savvy enough to ask for something in return.
My greatest challenge throughout the day was keeping my jester hat in place. The wind never let up, and the loose rubber band-like string that was supposed to keep the hat tight got stretched to the point that I had to hold the hat on with my left hand while trying to throw with my right.
Although I drank nothing but water on the float, much of the next four hours are a blur to me. Crowds were spirited and larger than I anticipated. We all battled the wind as some throws blew back onto the float. I learned quickly that when the float is in motion the riders can't understand what people on the ground are yelling-pretty good argument for carrying a sign. Establishing eye contact is difficult because of the mask. I had brought on board special packages for family and friends whom I never saw along the route, even though I knew where they were supposed to be standing.
Opening the boxes and unwrapping the throws took time away from throwing them. After a few blocks I got quicker, but not quick enough. I was warned that I would run out of throws, but we actually had more throws on our float than we could toss.
With the permission of the Rex captain, I was allowed to throw a special item, a commemorative doubloon that the Mardi Gras Guide minted in 1984. The gold anodized doubloon was an exact copy of a coin that Rex struck for the first World's Fair in New Orleans in 1884. I tossed about 400 of these. It was fun to see people trying to figure out exactly what they had caught.
While I made myself leave my camera home and kept my notepad in my pocket on this day, I couldn't help taking some mental notes. Parade watchers have become educated about what throws are available and have become very picky, screaming for specific items, while leaving long beads and cups in the street. Parade ladders are not being placed six feet back as mandated, and entire sections of the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground are occupied by miniature tent cities. Additional cover undoubtedly comes in handy on a chilly parade route, but technically tents remain against the law.
While the King was toasted by the Mayor at Gallier Hall, our float was stopped for five minutes at Lee Circle. We wondered who, after 131 years, would replace the general as he looked down on the final Mardi Gras parade to pass in front of his likeness.
The overwhelming take away from my first ride was the obvious joy of the crowds. So many people yelled "thank you" to us. Whether catching throws or just enjoying the four-mile picnic, people were together and they were happy. And for the most part, people were polite. For years I have preached that Mardi Gras is for families, a claim my first ride confirmed in every way. I lost count of the number of people I saw sharing throws when it was obvious they caught a goodie intended for another. If only we could maintain this charitable spirit throughout the year!
My ride ended about 1:30 PM. I was sorry this wonderful experience was over. It was first class in every way. Most float riders took chartered busses back to the den, but I walked back to the hotel to meet up with my family. My right (throwing) arm was sore, and my legs were tired. After a two-hour nap and some sandwiches, I climbed into white tie and tails and my wife and I embarked on a short walk to the Rex Ball at the Sheraton Hotel. I was too tired to stay for the meeting of the courts and ended up watching it back at the hotel on WYES.
Special doubloons thrown Fat Tuesday
Happy Lundi Gras!
Posted: February 08, 2016
Today I will appear live on Hoda Kotb's SiriusXM Radio show at 1:40 PM.
During the FOX 8 newscasts at 4 PM and 5 PM I will report from the Riverwalk where Zulu and Rex will arrive.
Tonight during the 9 PM newscast on Fox 8, I take a look at the history of Gallier Hall and its connection to Carnival.
Happy Mardi Gras!
Mardi Gras News
Posted: February 07, 2016
My apologies for insisting that the starting point of Saturday’s Iris parade was on South Claiborne and Napoleon. This was confirmed to me personally by the captain on Thursday. But the parade actually started at Carondolet and Napoleon. If Rex can start on South Claiborne, why can't Iris as they wanted to and had announced and confirmed?
I enjoyed the Endymion parade and Extravaganza inside the dome last night as part of the Fox 8 News telecast. I plan to catch Bacchus tonight inside the Convention Center and perhaps meet fellow Warren Easton alum Anthony Mackey, who reigns as Bacchus.
The final three days of the parade season will be blessed with incredible weather.
I plan to enjoy every minute of it as Ash Wednesday approaches!
MARDI GRAS NEWS
Posted: February 06, 2016
Today's Iris parade starts at South Claiborne and Napoleon, not at Carondelet and Napoleon as some sources have reported. (We had it right.)
This may be the driest 12-day parade season in recent memory. We will have a cold Fat Tuesday, but no rain is in sight.
Watch Fox 8 TV starting at 7PM tonight where we will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Endymion parade and Extravaganza.
For the past week parade viewers have been able to stand on the tiny space on the neutral ground side between the curb and the construction site fencing on Napoleon Avenue between Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. Not anymore. For safety reasons, the entire area is off limits, pushing those crowds to the "sidewalk side." This also means that float riders will not be able to throw to the neutral ground side on Napoleon Avenue.
Because of the fire that destroyed a building the 1000 block of Canal Street two weeks ago, Endymion will crossover to the downtown side of Canal at Basin then continue against traffic to Royal/St. Charles and make the wide right turn and continue to Lee Circle.
Zulu will cross over Canal at St. Charles/Royal and travel with traffic to Basin Street and make a right turn and continue on their traditional route.
The Truck parades will also cross over Canal at St. Charles/Royal and continue straight down Canal Street with traffic to their normal disband at Claiborne.