Carnival is when we find our friends on the streets and we grope them and slobber on them like we haven’t seen them in a year. Imagine how lovesick and foolish we’ll act with friends we haven’t seen in a year!
“Stay home, stay home, stay home!” bemoans Krewe of House Floats founder Megan Boudreaux, who intended New Orleans’s house floats to be enjoyed by locals, while driving around in their safety-sealed cars. Hence the krewe’s slogan, “Parade at home.”
With the help of national media however, the house floats have been usurped as a marketing tool to invite the world to Mardi Gras during a pandemic. Mardi Gras hasn’t garnered this much press in decades, perhaps not even in 2006 after Katrina. This past week, local social media feeds have flooded with ads promising what sounds like an irrepressibly fun Mardi Gras celebration. While clearly, everyone in New Orleans’s tourist industry needs to eat, my stomach sinks when a tour group run by locals promises a big party where the “music will flow into the streets.”
“Our krewe members are calling me saying, ‘There are tour groups in my neighborhood now,’ and the hotels are saying, ‘Come down and see the house floats,’” says Boudreaux. “It’s mind boggling to me that people from out of town or out of state join our Krewe of House Floats, and start talking about how they are coming in from out of town. Don’t come! Or they ask me, ‘What’s the best tour group in town?’ and I won’t endorse that. Stay home.”
Boudreaux was especially disappointed in a way-too-inviting Good Morning America segment/tourism campaign focused on Krewe of House floats. “They’re not passing my real message on,” Boudreaux insists. “When I’ve got the media’s attention, I talk about the whole economy around Carnival, and all the businesses that depend it. I stress that there are many ways to support New Orleans without coming here. And they just don’t say that part, and they make everyone think they should come here.”
Boudreaux says that her new, citywide Krewe has remained focused on cutting down on crowds: “It’s been a concern from the beginning. When people register for the krewe, and even for our map, they have to agree to our covid guidelines. We’ve always had a covid crowd control plan—even if the city has not.”
She adds that, even as city government fumbles covid restrictions as Mardi Gras approaches, the Krewe of House Floats will stick with Phase 1 rules.
“I’m growing very concerned that we’ve created hundreds of small super-spreader events,” Boudreaux worries. “Even given how much the house floats have helped artists and businesses survive this year, I still don’t know what to think: Was the house float thing a happy accident that worked out well? Or will it, in the end, make the pandemic worse?”
Looking at Krewe du Vieux’s failed attempt at a safe party last weekend as Beta test, I propose one rule for Mardi Gras this year: Do not walk around. Stay in your car, or stay home. There is no way to celebrate Mardi Gras safely on foot. Try and you will fail. Hear me out:
First, if you are walking, then you are drinking, and if you are drinking, then you are not wearing a mask. That is what’s called a non-starter.
Second: Mardi Gras is about huggin and kissin. When I describe Fat Tuesday to friends elsewhere in America, I tell them the whole point is to walk around in costume with people you love, for the express purpose of finding other people you love, and lovin on em.
Carnival is when we embrace strangers as if they are longtime friends. And on Fat Tuesday, when we find our real friends on the streets, we grope them and slobber on them like we haven’t seen them in a year.
Imagine how we’ll act around friends we actually haven’t seen in a year! Imagine how lovesick and foolish!
It’s been exactly one year for many New Orleans locals. We haven’t seen the majority of our friends since exactly last Fat Tuesday, just before the first major coronavirus lockdown. God did we feel guilty afterwards, for what we’d just done. All that kissin and huggin and drooling and humping suddenly seemed dangerous as hell. Round about Ash Wednesday, we couldn’t believe we just Mardi Gras’d in the petri dish together.
The only way to absolve those sins was to seal ourselves in our homes like the doctors suggested. We took lockdown very seriously, and New Orleans was rewarded with relatively low corona numbers. We’ve done OK since, compared to the rest of our embarrassingly red state. But with Mardi Gras 2021, we are poised to create a much worse scenario.
Imagine how you will act! If you get out of your car and venture out onto the streets, you will pick up where you left off last year. You’ll tell yourself you just want to see some costumes. But imagine how you will dance when you come upon your first brass band! Don’t do it; Brass bands are dangerously spitty! Some horn sections literally leave puddles on the ground wherever they perform.
Or even worse, imagine walking around sipping your fifth cocktail and nibbling your mushroom chocolates (both of which require you to remove your mask) and you stumble upon your FAVORITE PEOPLE EVER! You will hug deeply, and you will cry tears into each other’s mouths, Oh my god it’s been so long!
Imagine that happening five dozen times over the course of a day. Or imagine seeing your friends and not hugging them. Why torture yourself? Resist temptation. Our only truly safe option also happens to be the most depressing option: Avoid our friends. Board up our homes as if for a hurricane, and don’t come out until Ash Wednesday.
Or stay inside until New Orleans has passed through the death spike that those who cannot resist Mardi Gras are about to create.