Jean-Paul Villere: Revelers Without a Cause — the Top 20 Mardi Gras Do’s and Don’t’s

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Someone staking a false claim to the neutral ground in the 2300 block of Napoleon on Mardi Gras Day 2011. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

Jean-Paul Villere

Greetings 2013 Carnival enthusiasts!  The season is upon us, and in the past I’ve written some dos and don’ts in the form of top tens, a course of 101 and 201, to ensure a safe, happy, and mutually beneficial Mardi Gras experience.  Black outs be damned!  We have Flambeaux!  Come to think of it, in 2018, having Flambeaux on standby to illuminate the game wouldn’t be the worst idea.  Anyhow, enjoy the recap to follow, and for goodness sake’s take it to heart.

(1) Don’t park your car on the neutral ground.  It may not be signed and everyone else may be doing it, but you – and they – will all get tickets.  I see it every year.  And no matter how designated your driver is, not a one of you should be behind the wheel.  Ride your bike, people!

(2) Whatever NOPD asks you to do, the answer is always “Yes, officer.”  Bear in mind meter maids and cops and two very different entities.  Meter maids will just ticket you; there is little if any warning.  They’ve even been known to ticket NOPD; I’ve seen it happen.  NOPD on the other hand are working exceptionally hard at maintaining the peace and progress of parties unparalleled.  Some may say they actually excel at crowd control.  So stay out of their way.  My guess is they will only ask you once, because frankly they don’t care.  They have a job to do, and if your ladder may be to close to the street (for example), move it.  And write a column about it later.

(3) Day parades v. night parades.  Weekend night parades are easily more crowded and (ahem) more adult than the daytime ones.  Lundi Gras night however tends to be more relaxed as the weekend crowd has long disbanded (lightweights) and scuttled back home to their lives in wherever.  So for the family minded, choose daytime parades.  Your kids *might enjoy the night parades, but historically they can run late, be chilly, plus there’s always the added possibility of drunken mayhem.  I have seen blood drawn at parades.  It’s not pretty.  Put your kids’ priorities first.

(4) A ladder is not real estate.  None of the neutral ground is.  The median namesake has no owner, hence “neutral.”  You want a spot to hang with your friends?  Great.  Maintain it.  With your own actual physical presence.  None of this roping off or placing endless empty chairs “saving” a spot.  Abandon it and expect to lose it.  This is the code.

(5) Be generous.  It’s a lot of fun to catch throws.  It’s more fun to give most of your take to the 6 year old next to you.

(6) Pace yourself.  I can’t stress this one enough.  Take it easy.  This is a party, not your last day on earth.  I’ve seen ambulances interrupt parades for suspected overdoses and other likely toxic ingestions.  Don’t go crazy and watch out for your people.

(7) Have an emergency plan.  It pains me to write this one, but really, do have a plan in place.  Shootings have been known to take place at parades, and when that happens it can turn into absolute mayhem.  I’ve had the good fortune of never having witnessed or be near such an event.  And I’ll be just fine if I never do.  Again, don’t go crazy, and watch out for your people.  Have a pre-determined meeting place in the event of an emergency.

(8) Mardi Gras ain’t green – yet.  Last year I caught a flat on my bike ride home down St Charles Ave on Mardi Gras eve, the victim of goodness knows what I was rolling rubber over – glass shards, bits of metal, and on.  The aftermath boasts waste of epic proportions, but you can make a difference.  Take your garbage home with you!  Practice what you preach, people!  Somehow the masses that might recycle at home leave it all on the tracks during Carnival.

(9) Language.  This ties a little into 3) but watch your mouth.  Parades are not designed for you to exercise prolific profanity.  Time and place, people, time and place.

(10) Safety first.  Stand back and enjoy the show.  Don’t rush the floats.  These are massive pieces that will crush you.  Most throws have little if any value.  Is it really worth risking life and limb?  No.  Be practical and have fun; it’s not a competition.

(11) When parking your car, do not park too close to a corner and do not block sidewalks, driveways, or hydrants.  If you question the spot you’re thinking of parking in, chances are your gut is right.  Move along.  And the no-blocking-sidewalks thing is not a joke.  Last year, not one, but two(!) of my neighbors that routinely park across the sidewalk of their own driveway were ticketed.  Their car, their house.  You can argue selective enforcement all you want, but if any car blocks any sidewalk expect the possibility of being ticketed.

(12) Lampposts are for lamps only.  And the errant set of beads.  Don’t climb up on or otherwise nest in lampposts or street signs.  Think of it as a viewing opportunity defered.  Bring a ladder like the rest of us; it’s safe and legal.

(13) Layer.  If you don’t like the weather in Louisiana, wait a minute.  You don’t know what the forecast might bring, so layer for comfort.  But also should you choose to “participate” in the time honored exchange of throws for exposure, layering may behoove.

(14) Remember the internet.  And should “participation” be your bag, imagine there must be some one or some thing near you recording either by photo, video, or live stream your very behavior.  They may even a profit from it.  Too you might want to run for office one day.  Or your kids might find it Googling your name.  Whatever the case may be, unlike Vegas, what happens during Mardi Gras in New Orleans tends to velcro the web.  And with ‘cloud’ technology now, I would imagine viral images might spread even faster.  Do you really want to be a YouTube sensation before the parade finishes rolling?  Likely not.

(15) Keep your pets at home.  Really this just goes to dogs, but if you walk your cat or your pot-bellied pig, do the masses a solid and leave Fido, Muffy, or Babe behind.  They possess zero interest in carnival shenanigans, and it’s safer for them and for you.  If you think it better to bring them if only because otherwise you might have to go home and walk or feed them, spring for boarding.

(16) Throws are for catching.  Not throwing.  Oh yes, it’s all hoots and hollers when you’re ten, unsupervised and that shiny, uncovered tuba stomps by.  Control yourself.  Whether it’s a brass band or any other target, resist the urge to show the world how unlike Drew Brees you are.

(17) Bob and weave.  Expect the unexpected.  The art of snagging prized plastic is as much about reach and technique as it is about avoiding injury.  Until you have been beaned by a set of beads, consider yourself a novice.  And it isn’t so much a rite as it is plain unavoidable given the level of airborn krewe doo.  Plastic cups not so much.  Bags of beads = bag of ice.

(18) Urination happens.  If you don’t have a pee plan, get one.  A parade outing without one is doomed to discomfort.  So grab some singles and either be ready to pay $1 here and there or buy a drink from wherever to use the plumbing.  Failing that, know people who know people who have a toilet.  The greenery along parade route gets enough abuse as it is.

(19) Be cool.  Whether bumping into your ex, that guy you fired last week (or the guy that fired you), or even Dave Matthews (true story), don’t freak out.  They weren’t expecting to see you either.  Be cordial, and be polite.  New Orleans remains the smallest big city, and everybody knows everybody else.  And keep in mind the professional and recognizable musician and film folks (read: stars) are people too.  Often with kids.  That just want to watch the parades like you.  Leave them alone.  They won’t be asking you intimate details about your job or asking to tweet a pic of you and them, so exercise the same courtesy.

(20) Surprise yourself.  Expect anything might happen during a parade; see (17).  Stash a band aid or three in your wallet or purse just because.  Bring earplugs for you and yours; between sirens and all the bands you may actually want them.  Wear sunscreen; see (13).  Drink less; see (18).  Say please and thank you more.  In other words, in surprising yourself, let carnival reveal the best of yourself whether marching, masking, or spectating.

In closing dear readers, don’t be “that guy.”  You make Mardi Gras the party it becomes; effectively your behavior – good or bad – reflects directly over us all as a city.  So keep it nice, and laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all!

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

7 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: Revelers Without a Cause — the Top 20 Mardi Gras Do’s and Don’t’s

  1. Good call jean-Paul. I’d actually contacted Uptown Messenger over a
    week ago regarding the city and NOPD not bothering to enforce the
    various laws regarding Mardi Gras. (no response back)

    In addition to your list, the following are actually illegal under city code:

    Tents / canopies / pavilions / etc. — all temporary structures,
    whether built, unfolded staked down, or hung from a tree are absolutely
    illegal! Don’t bring them and if you see one, have the nearest police
    officer have it removed.

    These tents and such are by far the
    worst example of adults acting like vulgar uncouth children. Sure, you
    get a nice spot to relax, but in doing so you not only illegally cordon
    off an area, but you prevent everyone for yards and yards behind you
    from ever being able to see the parade.

    2. Blocking sidewalks
    — plenty of space to stand and relax that aren’t sidewalks. Keep them
    clear and everybody will be able to move.

    3. Having pets within
    200 yards of the parade route — leash or not; dog, cat, snake, or
    whatever, it’s illegal. For your legal safety and your pet’s health,
    leave them at home.

    4. Mardi Gras Ladders in the Neutral Ground
    — Mardi Gras ladders are prohibited from curb to curb of the roadway.
    That means they can be in neither the neutral ground nor in the
    vehicular travel lanes of the road. Beyond that, they are required to
    be at least as far from the curb in feet as they are tall; and further,
    it is illegal to connect two or more ladders together.

    is another be an adult, be cool, and have some respect moment. What
    good is giving your own child a close up view if you are simultaneously
    denying a thousand other children from seeing the parade. Again, if
    your view is blocked by a ladder, find a police officer and insist he do
    his job.

    5. ‘Claiming a spot’ — as Jean-Paul points
    out above, roping off a spot or making it off with a blanket or tarp is
    illegal. If you want to claim a spot to barbecue, do it across the
    street and party in the back then walk up to join everyone else for the
    parade itself.

    6. Ice Chests on the parade route
    — while ice chests are allowed along the side walks and such, they are
    illegal within the area between the curbs of the roadway. This of
    course includes the neutral ground. This law seems to be meant to
    specifically keep people from making ‘ice chest walls’ or taking up an
    unfair amount of space and thus denying others a good view.

    Glass Bottles — just as in the quarter, glass bottles for beer and
    such are illegal on the parade route. Plastic and cans are fine, just
    remember to keep the ice chest in the car or across the sidewalk.

    Smoking — smoking cigarettes and cigars is prohibited on all public
    transit facilities including stations and platforms and specifically
    according to the ordinances within 50 feet in any direction of any
    transit loading and unloading area. Being as the neutral ground is also
    the street car’s tracks and each ‘car stop’ is a loading/unloading
    zone, this makes the St. Charles Ave portion of the Uptown parade route
    as well as the Canal St portion a legal smoke-free zone.

    if this weren’t illegal, it should be common sense and basic courtesy
    that no one else wants to breathe your smoke or be burned by your
    cigarette. And newsflash Future Douches of America (and alumni) —
    smoking cigars makes you ANYTHING but cool.

    Be a human
    being and an adult, have some respect for yourself and others and either
    forego your nicotine fix for the duration of the parade or walk across
    the street and smoke then come back to join the revelry.

    And again, if someone’s being a jerk, get a police officer.


    these laws are followed and actually enforced, Mardi Gras could be
    great for everyone and a good time that’s also pleasant and lacking a
    large number of the usual fist fights.

    Don’t be whimps
    either. If you see someone breaking the law say something. If they
    won’t comply, get a police officer. If the police officer gives you an
    excuse or refuses to do anything, demand he do his job.

    you get some ‘not our problem dude (n.o.p.d.)’ response, go to the next
    police officer and keep going. Don’t let jerks or jerks in uniform
    walk all over you. The minute a law enforcement officer refuses to
    enforce a law, he has himself become a criminal. Treat him as such and
    hold your public servants accountable.

    Good Luck and Happy Mardi Gras to all!

    Drew Ward

  2. “Whatever NOPD asks you to do, the answer is always ‘Yes, officer.'”

    I’d amend this to say “when the NOPD gives you a lawful order, you should comply immediately.” I understand that the police have a difficult job to do during this time, but I think we should all still bear in mind that we’re a free society and the police can’t order people around willy-nilly. I recall back in 2011 during the crackdown on Eris an observer was ordered to stop filming by an officer, who slapped their camera to the ground when they refused. That’s the type of thing we don’t want to see.

    • And be mindful that they are working an insane amount of hours from several weeks ago straight through to Ash Wednesday. I’d be on edge too if I worked that long for three weeks straight.

      • James,

        True, and everybody should be mindful of that and not expect a huge amount of consideration for bad behavior. When a cop gives you a break, it’s just that. However, we’ve all been on edge and overworked at some point, and nobody’s job gives them the right to act unlawfully. Police, more than anybody else, should be able to control their composure.

  3. And don’t cross anywhere near a band………………they will grab you, is this legal, even when the band has passed you?????And when I say grab, I mean by my throat?????

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