I’ve written about Carnival here several times before assuming my not-so-secret identity as the 13th Ward Rambler. In 2018, I wrote about Chads and Lost Causers, last year I tackled the Zulu Conundrum and wrote about being a Krewe du Vieux member. I’m writing this on Lundi Gras so I may miss some major mishaps or accidents. There have already been too many to count.
I don’t believe in curses, jinxes, hoodoo, voodoo, gris gris, or things that go bump in the night. That’s why I was loath to use the C-word in the column title. But this year, there’s something extra weird in the air.
There’s been a lot of talk on NOLA Twitter about the Hard Rock Hotel Collapse as the source of a Carnival curse. Covering corpses with tarps is not good for civic morale so there may be something to this theory. I have some belief in the concept of karma and planning parades around a disaster site can’t be good karmically speaking. Endymion was moved off its Mid-City route for a several years after Katrina and the Federal Flood for this very reason.
There have been four or five out of the ordinary events that have stirred up talk of a cursed Carnival. There were two fatal parade route accidents in just three days: one on the Endymion route and the other in my 13th Ward neighborhood.
I’ve been watching parades at the corner of Magazine and Valence for twenty years. It’s typically a mellow area from which to grub for beads and eat too much fried chicken and king cake. That changed this year during the Nyx parade.
There was a tragic accident approximately fifty feet from where my crew was watching. For some reason, a woman tried to cross the street and found herself trapped between a tandem (two-part) float. She died on Magazine Street.
I didn’t see the fatal accident, but I witnessed its aftermath. The vibe on the parade route was one of concern and compassion, not hysteria as described by some media outlets. My phone and social media feeds blew up with friends concerned that something had happened to Dr. A, me, or our group of friends. We were fine, just shaken. It did, however, cast a pall over the rest of my Carnival.
Since the Nyx accident there have been series of major mishaps: the aforementioned fatal accident on the Endymion route, two Thoth riders fell off their respective floats, and two people fell off a second-story balcony on St. Charles Avenue. Plus, the Krewe du Vieux ball had to be moved at the last minute out of safety concerns. It’s *almost* enough to make me revert to Greek superstitions and use some worry beads to ward off the evil eye.
There are real world explanations for these seemingly otherworldly events:
Chaddery: My old buddy, former Gambit editor Kevin Allman, was among the first to apply the term Krewe of Chad to the folks who confuse parade watching with tailgating or glamping. These are the people who put chairs, tents, and ladders out too early in spots where they have no business such as in the middle of the sidewalk. The city is attempting to crack down on Chaddery but with mixed results. They cannot be everywhere at once. I wrote about the Krewe of Chad phenomenon here in 2018.
Chaddery leads to drunker, more aggressive parade watchers. It also makes it harder to maneuver around these often-hostile encampments. Carnival is supposed to be a movable feast, not camping. I hate camping almost as much as I hate Chads.
I am convinced that Chaddy, entitled, and inattentive behavior is the cause of most of our Carnival woes. Mayor Cantrell has chosen to focus on over-large tandem floats as the root of all evil. She’s wrong: people are the problem, not floats. But it’s harder to change anti-social behavior than floats. More on the Mayor’s response later.
Parade Route Consolidation: There used to be multiple parade routes scattered throughout the city. That changed radically after Katrina and the Federal Flood. NOPD manpower shortages led to consolidation at that point. The West Bank once had many parades, they only have one in 2020. The rest moved to the Magazine/Napoleon/St. Charles/Canal route thereby putting extra pressure on those of us who live in the box.
Speaking of the parade box, it has expanded post-K. When I moved to the 13th Ward in 2000, I was only in the box on Thoth Sunday. In 2020, there are parades on Magazine almost every day. This number of parades puts an intolerable strain on citizens living within the box. Even those of us who love Carnival get tired of dealing with Chads and other annoyances.
The solution to many of these issues is to spread the parades out to the neighborhoods. Old school Carnival had its vices, but they were outnumbered by its virtues. I even have a fantasy of Endymion moving to Jefferson Parish, which is where the krewe’s roots are. It’s fundamentally a suburban parade with a suburban following. This is unlikely but I can dream, can’t I?
Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen. NOPD remains understaffed and they’re already stretched thin during Carnival. More consolidation is just as likely as dispersion, alas.
These are not the only factors worthy of discussion but I’m writing a column, not a treatise. Another important issue is float speed. They go too damn fast, which may have been a factor in this year’s accidents. But barricades are NOT the answer, they cause injuries when improperly deployed.
Let’s talk politics. Mayor Cantrell’s on-the-spot decision to ban tandem floats effective immediately has bought her some unnecessary enemies. Here’s how I summed it up on the Tweeter Tube:
Mayor Cantrell projects confidence but increasingly appears to be in over her head. Her handling of the Hard Rock Hotel collapse has exposed her weaknesses. All leaders dislike criticism, but she seems to find it unbearable.
Cantrell needs to meet with the Carnival community after the season to come up with solutions to the issues raised in 2020. We’ve had tandem floats for decades without any previous fatalities arising from their use. If the concerned parties agree to ban them, so be it even though it will adversely impact the artistic integrity of several parades. The reactions from two of the super krewes in agreeing to comply with the 2020 ban are revealing. Orpheus called it a “recommendation” and Bacchus a “request.” The word “order” is notably missing from their statements.
Cantrell looks vulnerable now, but she’s not up for re-election until the fall of 2021. She would prefer to be in the line of arrogant and autocratic recent mayors who were re-elected easily such as Marc Morial and Mitch Landrieu. She may fit more into the weak but still re-elected model exemplified by Sidney Barthelemy and Ray Nagin. Cantrell increasingly reminds me of Nagin; only he was funnier. The last incumbent Mayor to lose re-election was Bob Maestri in 1946.
Shorter 13th Ward Rambler: Cantrell remains the favorite, but she’s given a potential challenger a donor base in the Carnival community. Bacchus has serious political juice, y’all. Stay tuned.
Carnival has always been a public expression of civic joy. It makes the TFC-ness (This Fucking City) of living in New Orleans easier to bear. I still had a fairly good time this year, but it was shadowed by Chaddery and tragedy. Come Ash Wednesday, we will repent our Carnival sins and hope for a better season in 2021.
And that’s the way it is on the 137th day since the Hard Rock Hotel collapse.
Let’s close on a lighter note with my favorite Mardi Gras song by the original 13th Ward Rulers, the Neville Brothers: