Mardi Gras: can locals even enjoy it any more?


Photo by Milena Martinovic

Mardi Gras trash on Magazine Street after a parade.

Milena Martinovic, Reporter

All things must come to an end. Beneath the shimmering veils, the invite-only balls, vibrant floats, sugary king cakes and parties sprawl all the waste,  trash, crime, street blocks, frustrations, and for many, anxiety. If New Orleans is already the city of contradictions, then Mardi Gras is the time when it embodies its absolute extremes. Every year, more and more locals choose to leave town usually heading to the beach if the budget allows. Mardi Gras in itself is a privilege: one must have time, money and freedom to move around, costume, eat out and simply take time off work in order to truly enjoy it.

No one understands this more than service industry workers. They not only put up with drunk, inconsiderate, entitled tourists (or semi locals), but they must endure extended hours, choosing their beds over hours of parade standing, walking or biking. “To work through Mardi Gras is to survive Mardi Gras,” says Brandi Dobney, a bartender of 3090, a live music venue and bar on Frenchmen Street. She would often have the “clopen” shift during Gras, which means she had to close the bar at about 4 a.m. and re-open it at noon the next day.

Getting around the city holds many challenges. The roads get blocked; as a result, there is traffic everywhere. The number of people in town is a lot higher therefore, more cars on the road. This is the time when biking is more than convenient, depending  on the weather. This year’s Mardi Gras forecast was quite wet so biking proved to be not so convenient.

The New Orleans public transportation system is somewhat functional. The buses stop servicing before and during the parades, and there are endless delays and detours. Basically whoever is able to get around the RTA system during Mardi Gras is skilled enough to mastermind a military maneuver. It takes a more than healthy amount of planning, time flexibility and checking the RTA app constantly. Owning a bike or renting the big blue bikes can help, as you can put it on the bus and save some travel time.

Crime is always prevalent, and this year is no exception. A 32-year-old driver was “blind drunk” and injured seven and killing two bicyclists. The driver is the son of an NOPD officer, another classic New Orleans irony. On February 24, an innocent woman was killed and a guard injured on Bourbon street. It was the Saturday before Mardi Gras weekend, and while the direct link cannot be pointed to Mardi Gras per se, it was nevertheless a night of major parades. In light of all this crime, it is easy to understand why many people choose to skip the parades and the going out.

Then there is all that trash. The beads clog the storm drains, and they are made of petroleum-based plastic, which lasts for centuries! Bead recycling programs do exist for example, the nonprofit, Arc of Greater New Orleans, which employs adults with disabilities to repair the strands and sell them back to krewes the following year. However, these programs are not nearly enough, and many think that the way to go is to use biodegradable beads instead.

While the  communal experience of Mardi Gras is still magical, unique and diverse in all its glory providing an undeniable freedom to connect with others in indescribable ways and celebrate the city and each other for no specific reason other than that it’s a carnival, as locals, it is important to be aware of the multifaceted limitations and struggles it can impose on an individual, group and environmental level. It doesn’t mean you have to leave town just yet.