“Why do you spend all that time and money throwing trinkets off floats?”
I have been asked this question by many of my friends from cooler climes, and all I can say is, “It’s addictive!”
My personal Mardi Gras experience started in Biloxi, MS back in the late 1980’s. My father didn’t let the fact that he was a transplanted Minnesota Yankee stop him from jumping into the tradition of Mardi Gras with two feet and joined the Krewe of Neptune, a Biloxi Krewe that fashioned themselves as a reproduction of the Mobile and New Orleans Krewes of old. They had the 12′ long velvet and faux fur capes, the glittering tiaras and crowns, the mayoral toasts as the King and Queen passed City Hall, and the throngs of locals lining the streets on Fat Tuesday! People filled the municipal parking lots with their campers and RVs days ahead of time and stayed overnight to lay claim to the best spots and avoid the parade day traffic. Back then they had no barricades on much of the parade route, so the children would dash through the streets after the parade passed and jump ahead several blocks to watch it go by a second time!
After a few years, my father and my husband joined a Pensacola Krewe and we celebrated Friday-Sunday in Pensacola and went to Biloxi for Mardi Gras day. I eventually tired of catching beads, and mostly just acted as the safe-keeper for the treasures my children would deposit into my lap at each parade. As the children grew older and wanted to wander with their friends, I was left sitting in my folding chair. I started thinking “if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em!” So in 1999, I got together with some of the like-minded ladies in the Pensacola Krewe of Jesters to discuss the possibility of ‘floating.’
We found a friend with a long-bed pickup truck who was willing to have several of us sitting in the back for the Krewe of Wrecks parade on Pensacola Beach. There were six of us in the back, one riding shotgun, and our very gracious driver. Back then, Via de Luna was a two-lane road and the “floats” lined up on the neighborhood streets behind the firehouse. People would decorate their floats the morning of the parade, and the local folks were quite gracious about the huge street party in their front yards! That first year, I remember being so anxious to get going that it took nearly FOREVER to actually start rolling, and when we did, we started throwing beads to folks who were sitting in their front yards along the road even before we got to the designated parade route.
The first string of beads to fly out of my hands was all it took. Watching the person jump up and catch them and signal me with a “Thank You!” smile was so much fun, I ran out of throws long before the reviewing stands in the Casino Beach parking lot, but I was HOOKED!
Things have changed quite a bit since that fateful day. The beach parade route is much shorter and barricaded the whole way for safety; the floats are really floats now, and big ones at that (my own Krewe has moved up to a float that holds 30+ people), and the crowds are 15-20 people deep in some areas. But the thrill that you get when someone catches your eye, and then catches your throw, and signals their thanks never goes away.
Give it a try. You’ll be addicted too!
By: Terry Preston (co-owner of Pensacola Parade People, llc)
One’s first parade celebrating Mardi Gras has all the necessary elements of a Jazz Age novel: the raucous crowd, sex-infused music, rivers of alcohol, and scantily clad women. Or, at least, that was my experience. That first parade, the Friday night Krewe of Lafitte parade in Pensacola, found me dressed for a ball among a crowd of friends trying to stay warm on Palafox Street. We were helped occasionally in our quest for warmth by a flask or two tucked discreetly in a coat jacket. Having never seen a Mardi Gras parade I was unprepared for the sound, color, and sheer spectacle that this procession brought to the people excitedly hugging the barriers. More than the slow warmth brought on by my favorite bourbon, this fervor kept me toasty throughout the event.
We waited anxiously for the parade to roll, finally hearing the cannon that signaled it had begun. Police on motorcycles were first, followed by the kings, queens, and grand marshals. Then the real floats began: pirate ships, tribal canoes, an octopus, and more; each one seemed more intricate than the last.
As each float rolled by, strung with lights and blasting music, I became infected by the bead fever that was sweeping through the crowd. Before long I was catching trinkets left, right, and behind me as Krewe after Krewe flung their treasure to an adoring public. The people screamed, the Krewe members smiled, shrugged, twirled, and laughed as they encouraged the noisy crowd.
Already weighted down with a mass of beads I became entranced by one particular bead being coyly offered via a Lafitte brigand. The pirate flirted shamelessly with the crowd for what seemed like hours before winking at me, me! , and tossing it into my waiting arms. I gleefully added the strand to my booty. After an exhilarating hour of this coquetting, catching and throwing, the parade was finally coming to an end; not a moment to soon for my overburdened neck.
I had collected what seemed like thirty pounds of beads and like any newbie, decided that I simply must wear every single strand. I struggled to keep up with my party as we headed back to rendezvous with the shuttle that would return us to the Civic Center for the Lafitte Ball. After waiting for what seemed like ages, we learned from a passerby that the shuttles were out of commission and we would need to make our own way back.
Not waiting to see if this were true, we, banking on the combination of Mardi Gras camaraderie and that special attention young women can command, flagged down an antique fire truck that had been in the parade moments before. Quickly realizing our need for transportation, our knights in a red Ford gallantly offered to drive our entire party to the ball. We piled in, our spirits high at this fortunate turn of events and settled in for the five minute ride to my first Krewe ball.
I’m sure I didn’t imagine the envious looks we received when our ride pulled up to the curb, disgorging the lot of us in a flurry of taffeta, netting, and heels. We kindly thanked our heroes, straightened our skirts and headed through the magic doors.
Before we even made it to the bar, I realized my poor neck and shoulders could take no more of the bead weight bearing them down. Not realizing what a tangle a case of beads can become I attempted to pull them off strand by strand until a friend, our Mardi Gras guru, came to my rescue. She showed me how to lift off the whole pile and then paw through looking for any special beads you might want to wear.
Looking through my treasure I discovered not one, but two amazing things. I had caught two “good” beads; what I now know are specialty beads. One an Asian themed strand featured a little boy and little girl in traditional dress with a medallion dead center bearing the year. My second prize was a traditional Mardi Gras themed strand with the masks, jester’s hat, and doubloons. Even my veteran friend was jealous as we realized what I had managed to cajole out of the floaters that evening.
In the years that have followed I’ve yet to replicate that level of success at a single parade. Every season I’ve managed to catch at least one good bead, although as I float more and watch less, I’m sure that will come to an end. Despite dozens of Mardi Gras memories, none have managed to replace the awesome feeling that came from catching that first specialty bead and realizing that for a brief moment of the parade I had been singled out to receive such awesome treasure.
By Candis Calvert
Read more of Candis at: Seersucker & Boat Shoes
“THROW ME SOMETHING GOOD!”
This recurring cry, heard at parades everywhere, leaves most Krewe members working hard to find the perfect throws for the Mardi Gras season. Whether you have a fondness for plush, squishy balls, or beads, every season is a chance to have a frenzy-inducing goody for the screaming hordes.
A few things to keep in mind when choosing your throws:
- Is it EASY to throw? As anyone who’s ever tried to throw cups in a windstorm can tell you, some things are just easier to throw. If you lack hand-eye coordination or the rocket arm of a SEC quarterback, carefully consider the throwability of each purchase. And if you’re walking, you may want lighter weight items like plush that can easily be carried along.
- Will EVERYONE be throwing this? Maybe you like being a little different, maybe you want the crowd to get a good mix; either way you need to consider how popular a particular item is that year. Some years are all about BIG beads, while some are about stuffed snakes, so consider the crowd pleasing potential before you buy. If the best part of floating for you is hearing the crowd scream for you, make sure to get a couple of “teasers”.
- Is there enough SPACE on the float? On many floats space is at a premium, so the size of your throws does matter. Typically beads (the staple throw) are the most space efficient, while large plush tends to be the least. Don’t be afraid to get creative by purchasing a good mix of items to use all of the available space. Tall, stiff sided bags or boxes for plush instead of plastic bags can also solve the space problem.
- How FAST do I throw? If you fling something into the crowd every two seconds you’re going to need a much larger quantity of throws than the Krewe member throwing a single strand of beads every two minutes. Decide in advance what pace you’re going to throw at so you can make an accurate order. Just make sure you aren’t being super stingy, while it doesn’t happen often, unhappy parade goers have been known to send them back.
- What’s my BUDGET? When it comes to throws, you can be as economical or as ‘high roller’ as you prefer. If you’re floating multiple parades throughout the season, consider your budget for each parade and look for throws that give you maximum bang for your buck while still being crowd-pleasers.