COVID may have cancelled our Mardi Gras parades but New Orleans City Park has created a drive-thru parade – Floats in the Oaks – a safe way to see the floats, keep our spirits up, and relive some memories. City Park has gone to some length to recreate the parade experience – starting with circling spotlights, and a bead thrown through your open window as you show your ticket. There were unattended flambeaux poles burning and ladders strewn with beads lining the road. One area’s trees were covered in toilet paper, reminding us all of the Krewe of Tucks parade. I spotted a sign for “sidewalk side” and I’m sure there was another for “neutral ground side.”
After the 90+ minute wait in a Field of Dreams-length line of cars, it was fun spotting all the reminders of Carnival season like the light show of everything from St. Louis Cathedral and a steamboat to Who Dat football symbology and crawfish. We even drove through a cloud of bubbles. A sign directed us to tune our radios to 103.7 for Carnival music as we passed a couple of parked Bug Patrol dune buggies.
Then came the floats – starting with Rex and Zulu, the 2 parades that normally finish Carnival on Mardi Gras day. It was nice to see floats from some of the Metairie parades – floats I’d never seen before. And it was great to be able to focus on the beauty of the floats without the distraction of riders throwing beads at your head. But it was haunting to see thrones with no monarchs, floats with no riders, and hooks with no beads hanging from them. The ladders had no children on them, the dune buggies were driverless, the music came from our radios, not school marching bands.
It was nice when we passed the ladies of The Dance Connection, strutting in the neutral ground. I danced at Floats in the Oaks opening night and last Sunday with the Pussyfooters, a dancing krewe of over 100 women over-30 in pink wigs and corsets and white combat boots. At Thursday’s opener, we realized we were the only humans in the parade experience. Only about a dozen of us were able to make it that night and I later realized we might have been the only people parading in the whole city. It’s a bit overwhelming to think how much joy and community we’re missing out on – but it was a privilege to be someone for people to smile at, and even cheer or clap for, as they rolled past.
Another way the city has kept the Carnival spirit alive is while social distancing is “Yardi Gras.” New Orleanians have decorated thousands of homes and businesses throughout the city, the country, and even the world as “House Floats.” Krewe of House Floats, a grassroots effort to give neighbors a safe, socially distanced parade experience, encouraged people to use local businesses and artists to help decorate their places as house floats, or join in as a DIY. The organization then created a map showing locations throughout the city and as far away as Abu Dhabi and Australia. In my next post, I’ll be sharing house floats from our post-drive-thru-parade wanderings. Here’s photos of house floats on Magazine Street and in the Irish Channel.