Jean-Paul Villere: Your 2014 Mardi Gras survival guide — new laws and my Top 20 parade-etiquette rules

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NOPD Sgt. Marc Amos watches the crowd during a pause in the Krewe of Proteus parade in 2012. A number of new laws govern parade-goers this year. ( file photo by Robert Morris)

NOPD Sgt. Marc Amos watches the crowd during a pause in the Krewe of Proteus parade in 2012. A number of new laws govern parade-goers this year. ( file photo by Robert Morris)

Jean-Paul Villere

Jean-Paul Villere

Bon to the jour, 2014 Carnival people!  You may or may not know that the powers that be — read, your New Orleans City Council — have seen it in their infinite wisdom to make this Mardi Gras season one of change.  “How so?” you may ask.  That is, if you missed all the fuss last month?  Before we roll through my standard top 20 we publish annually, in short here are the new rules and ordinances, with a few editorial embellishments:

  • Tossing throws back shall now carry a fine of $250.  Best of luck writing a ticket here.
  • Portable toilets shall be banned on public property and will be subject to a $250 fine.  Operative word being fine, as in OK, I’ll pay that.
  • No parking permitted on either side of St Charles or Napoleon two hours before the parades.  Can’t wait to see this enforced. 
  • Ladders, tents, grills and the like must be at least 6 feet back from the curb. No chaining ladders together.  I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Ropes, tarps, chairs or anything else cordoning off space is banned.  Yeah, right.
  • Snap-pops (the little doo-da Q tip looking deals sold by the carnie type folk) are banned.  Apparently they distract the police from discerning actual gunplay; who knew?

The elephant in the room?  Nakedness remains acceptable.  So be it.

And of course the burning question now becomes will NOPD actually enforce any of this mess?  My sincere hope is they do, but we all know the reality is after days and days of parades the “inch mile mob rule” will float (pun intended) right back into place.  I plan on attending a few parades this coming weekend, and as such perhaps I’ll tally a score card for next week’s column.

Revelers, especially Mardi Gras weekend proper, and especially out-of-towners that dwell within the region, will hitch a wagon to their hemi and haul in a port-a-potty and a sofa.  And while they may not park it on any of the avenues, just wait.  They may find a cozy spot in front of your digs on Milan or Seventh or Baronne, wherever you call home.  And when Bacchus has rolled, my guess is that couch they brought will now adorn your lawn.  My hope is they won’t, but I think I’ve seen it all before.  But on to our holiday tradition, the top 20 “Mardi Gras Do’s and Don’t’s“:

(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!  Encourage your peeps to too.  #BikeIt

(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 too 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.  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.

(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 deferred.  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 someone or something 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.  Plus remember: NOPD *might* cite you a $250 fine this year.

(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.

10 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: Your 2014 Mardi Gras survival guide — new laws and my Top 20 parade-etiquette rules

  1. To wit, two points:

    “Tossing throws back shall now carry a fine of $250. Best of luck writing a ticket here.”

    I’ve seen some pretty bad beat downs by band moms of people throwing beads at tubas, witnessed by the cops who did nothing to stop it. I think street justice still controls here.

    “Portable toilets shall be banned on public property and will be subject to a $250 fine.”

    It’s my understanding the fine is to the port-o-potty operator, not the renter. Therefore, the operators will be obliged to pay lots of fines if they drop them off on the neutral ground.

    The rule I tell out-of-towners is simple. “Don’t be an [drunk] asshole.”

  2. Great rules, all of them. I wish we could get an ordinance to treat bags of beads (or anything over, say, 1 lb) as a de facto coconut. If you’re riding and want to had a bag of beads to your friend on the route, go right ahead. If you don’t see your friend until too late, do NOT throw that same 5-10 lb bag of beads into a crowd as hard as you possibly can in hopes of getting it there. Really, it’s sad that we even need a rule to say this but I see people looking at the next float get clocked with full bags from the prior float year after year.

  3. And…have a great time, as long as it doesn’t ruin someone else’s fun. As the other commenter stated so well, “don’t be a drunk a*****e!”

  4. Latoya and others worked hard- held public meetings practically begging for input, ideas, and enforcement suggestions- and now you speak up and criticize…
    Oopps I forgot-, my click and this comment sells you real estate..
    + A good job @ Latoya and others efforts, and it’s up to us to help enforce.

  5. We had a great time at Hallowe’n and were polite but got hit by a bag of PJ’s coffee. Also caught several plastic cups Krewe of Boo but shared them with a similar minded guy. Didn’t feel threatened at all even though I don’t agree with guns. We’d love to be back with all y’all at Mardi Gras or Labour weekend but being some 5000 miles away in Scotland we will have to do with keeping up with the news here. Maybe just maybe we’ll get to see NOLA again real soon.

  6. Thank you for a substantive dos and don’ts. I’ve visited your fair city a dozen times, but this will be my first Mardi Gras and I am so excited!

  7. Hi I am visiting and staying with a friend during Carnival time. She lives near S. lopez street, would it be possible to bike down Napolean Ave and St. Charles Ave for a bit to view the parades in the garden district along St. Charles Ave the weekend before Fat Tuesday? What about biking back to S. lopez at night? Are the streets open? Safe? How are the neighborhoods you bike through?

    • Each parade queues the day of so there is no previewing per se, and while the parade is happening there is no biking permitted by onlookers within the route proper. That said, bicycling is the best mode of transit during the season as parking and driving are gridlock nightmares. Lastly, when biking stay on streets that are well lit with other revelers within sight; avoid dimly lit or emptier areas for safety.

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