“Don’t get murdered.”
This was the sound advice I got from my cousin, Claudia when she heard we were going to New Orleans.
* * *
We had traveled from Arizona to New Orleans through Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas before rolling into NOLA.
We did have a few adventures in New Mexico at the Air Force base (way cooler than it sounds), Roswell (where he had a few close encounters), the magical White Sands National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns (highly recommend—more out of this worldly that an alien crash for sure).
Then Kevin got a call for a job in—wait for it—Oregon. We had traveled 16,000 miles since we left home only to have his first travel job be 45 minutes from where we started our adventure. We knew this would happen from time to time so we were well prepared for it. We made our way to Houston Texas where Kevin got me settled in an Airbnb and then caught a fight to PDX.
It just so happens that Kevin’s cousin, Renee lives in Houston, so she took me to dinner and showed me around the city one day. Other than that, I was perfectly content to walk the ten minutes to a huge farmer’s market down the street from my Airbnb, do some writing, a bit of reading, and the biggest treat was binge watching TV. I know it seems lame in light of all the adventures we have been having, but having been on the road for nine months it was such a guilty indulgence.
When Kevin returned, we made our way to Mobile, Alabama, where we planned to meet up with Melissa, Don and Mary at Don’s parent’s house to experience the “roots” of Mardi Gras celebrations. We couldn’t resist a stop off in New Orleans on the way.
This was when my cousin’s warnings to, “Not get murdered,” began. I assured her my intention was to visit New Orleans, take a walk down Bourbon street, explore the French Quarter, eat a beignet (or three) and maybe take in a Mardi Gras parade, and that I had no room in my busy agenda for getting murdered. She was unconvinced.
We did all of that, sans the getting murdered part.
One afternoon strolling the streets of the French Quarter was enough for me. We managed to skip out before the drunken crowds spilled out of every bar and filled the streets creating a river of alcohol, costumes, and pickpockets. We made our way (and by that, I mean we snaked our way in our extra-wide Tomas, through the narrow streets of New Orleans) to St. Charles Avenue to be audience to our very first Mardi Gras parade. The mood was a welcome change from Bourbon Street—quieter and much less drunken banter among the parade watchers. Instead, the streets were lined with toddlers on men’s shoulders and older women in lawn chairs. Much more my style. The parade itself was spectacular. I had never seen such elaborate floats and amazing costumes. I was enthralled and caught up in the joy of catching beads and toys being tossed my way.
After that, I had no idea what to expect in Mobile, even though I had been told by my son-in-law’s parents, with a tone of pride in their voice, that Mobile Alabama was, in fact, where Mardi Gras had its humble beginnings in 1703 and didn’t make its way to New Orleans until the 1730s. But when we think of Mardi Gras today EVERYONE thinks first of New Orleans, so with limited expectations, Tomas brought us safely out of NOLA and into Mobile without nary a scratch and certainly without being murdered. I hoped my cousin wouldn’t be disappointed.
* * *
The first night, Kevin joined our SIL and his father, Marty while I chose to stay behind and relax with our daughter, Melissa and granddaughter, Mary.
The next day I was introduced to our SIL’s aunt and uncle, Chris and his wife, Marty (not to be confused with SIL’s dad, Marty). Chris and Marty live in the heart of old Mobile in a beautiful home built in 1914. The house just happens to be on a street one block off of the parade route. The end of which is blocked off every year for parade staging. The Mystics of Time (MOT) was the organization, or Krewe, that hosted this particular parade route and Chris and Marty’s porch gave a front row seat to watch the characters for the floats make their way to the staging area.
Over many years of watching from their front porch, Marty and Chris deemed themselves the Mystic Order of Porch Sitters (MOOPS). This distinction had evolved into a sort of local legend and eventually became tradition. Marty had become the queen of the MOOPS, with Chris taking on the role of Queen’s Herald and Court Jester. Eventually the MOTs began sending out their own queen to raise a glass with the queen of the MOOPS before the parade began.
Kevin and I had the great privilege to be witness to all of this revelry, but we had no idea it was coming.
The day began as a family reunion of sorts, with food, drinks, friends coming and going, and children playing in the street. I knew no one in the beginning save for my daughter, granddaughter, SIL and his folks and felt a little out of place. Marty, however, extended the epitome of southern hospitality and soon I felt as if I had known them my entire life.
Around 3 in the afternoon, Marty, who had been clad in jeans and a T-shirt exited the house dressed in a flowing gold gown with a crown on her head. Chris followed behind with a jester’s hat on his head and a parchment scroll in his hands. A few people brought out a bistro table decorated with tule and ribbon of purple, gold and green, and placed it in the street. Stacks of plastic shot glasses and a few bottles of limoncello were added.
I sat in the grass of the front lawn and watched the scene with joyful anticipation–of what, I didn’t yet know. My SIL, Don was declared Queen’s page and set about filling the glasses with the sweet, lemony liquid. Chris unfurled the scroll and began his announcements, introducing the Queen of the Mystic Order of Porch Sitters and welcoming the Mystics of Time. It was about that time I saw them coming. First a few trickled in dressed in their float attire. Colorfully costumed men came around the corner, masks disguising their faces. Then bigger groups showed up and eventually a steady stream of MOTs filed by like our own private parade. Each one was greeted individually by the queen herself and offered a lemony toast. I had never seen anything like it. I soaked it all in and gave quiet thanks for the honor of being part—albeit a bystander—of such a unique spectacle.
As the sun began its slow descent on the horizon and the stream of parade participants slowed to a trickle of stragglers, Jester Chris began to chant and was quickly joined by others. Cries of “Send out the queen!” grew to a crescendo when suddenly a woman dressed in a white gown stepped out of the staging area tent. Shrieks of joy and rounds of applause began as she made her way to queen Marty. They met in the street, greeted one another, and shared a toast. The whole block erupted in cheers, then she disappeared again into the tent.
And just like that, Marty went inside only to reappear, once again in casual attire. The table was removed from the street and the low murmur of many conversations amongst a crowd resumed. It was as if it had never happened which, to me, was almost as magical as the fact that it HAD happened.
* * *
After everyone had had their fill of the potluck dishes that lined the countertops in the kitchen and the children had tired of their games, we gathered bags for Mardi Gras loot and walked the block to the parade route. The very same men who I had watched laughing and toasting less than an hour before, now rode regally by me aboard magnificent floats, tossing beads, toys and moon pies to a waiting audience.
I will definitely attend Mardi Gras again one day, but one thing is certain—I will never forget my first time.