Mardis Gras, 2014
New Orleans

I have this new bible. It's a book called 101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die, written by the awesomely entertaining travel journalists over at Matador Network. The name speaks for itself. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven't already dropped what your doing, packed your bags, and run off in an attempt to outdo the debauchery outlined in detailed, travel-guide format.

Enough said.

New Orleans: that name has always had a spark of magic since before I ever knew anything about the place. There's always been some force there, drawing in my curiosity and I have long dreamt of visiting. Little snippets and tidbits I picked up over the years, the French influence, the jazz culture, the creole language, voodoo, the food, (don't even get me started on the food), and what's not to love about a place that knows how to party. That was before I'd even been there in person. After spending not even 24 hours there, I was pretty sure I'd found my new favorite US city. Where else in the US can you find that much culture, and people that knowledgeable and proud of their culture? Certainly not anywhere I've been.

Fletch picked me up at the airport Saturday afternoon about an hour before his friends Maddie and Sarah arrived, neither of whom I had met before, but both of whom I loved almost instantly. Getting into the city proved to be a challenge because nearly every road was blocked off for the endless parades that were moving through the city, all day, for days and days in a row. I remember asking Fletch at one point when the parade was, and he gave me a quizzical look and asked which one. I hadn't realized that Mardi Gras is not just a parade, but several days worth of parades.

We dropped off our luggage at our hotel room and high tailed it for a restaurant to eat dinner. They served us cups of gumbo for starters, and even I couldn't resist the spicy andouille sausage. One of my favorite breakfast restaurants in Colorado is this French creole restaurant called Lucille's. I've loved the food there ever since I can remember, but until New Orleans, that was the only experience I'd ever had with French creole cooking. The real thing turned out to be so good I could've died happy right then and there.

We spent that first night walking up and down Bourbon Street. If you've never been, then you really have no idea what you're getting yourself into. Whatever you are imagining, multiply that by one hundred. For every person you imagine out partying in the streets, add 99 more. Masses and masses of people crowd the streets so that you can't even move. The gutters are lined with heaps of fallen beads and flooded with spilled drinks. They warn you to wear shoes that you can throw in the dumpster afterwards, and that is not advise you want to ignore. All the buildings that line the streets have balconies with drunken partiers about to fall over the railings, tossing out beads to outstretched hands. More titties are being flashed than at a nude beach. Occasionally you duck into a bar to escape the hoards of stumbling drunkards for a while. Every bar has their signature drink, that comes in a signature glass that you can carry around openly in the streets. We stopped for daiquiris, and then for the infamous hand grenades. Our night continued to the rhythm of buying a round, letting the crowds sweep us up and down the streets as we became happily intoxicated, stop under the balconies to collect beads, find a bar to escape the crowds, and repeat.

After a while, seeking some degree of personal space, we found our way down a much less traveled street, and Fletch led us to an absinthe bar. we couldn't bring our current drinks in with us and so walked to the end of the street where we found a cemetery. In the shadows of the graveyard we finished whatever sugary concoctions we were currently guzzling. A group of tourists was standing a little ways away, so we nudged our way closer to listen to their ghost tour as we stared through the bars of the wrought iron fence. New Orleans' cemeteries have a marvelous creepiness to them at night. Drinks finished, we made our way back to the absinthe bar and consumed even more sugar and alcohol.

At some point we found ourselves being pushed and shoved along what felt for all the world like Diagon Alley, some little rickety brick alleyway that had a certain underground quaintness to it. We purchased the signature drink, something called a hurricane, and then stumbled our way through an immensely crowded room until we found some seats around a little wooden table. Once seated I realized that we were at a dueling piano bar, and I assure you that you could not possibly imagine my excitement. I positively love live, happy, drunken, piano music. There's a little speak easy I go to in Boulder called Bramble and Hare, but there's just one lone man who sits at an upright piano and plays his heart out late into the night. As far as dueling piano bars go, I'd only ever heard of them, and seen that scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Daffy and Donald Duck give an embarrassingly awesome performance of Listz's Hungarian Rhapsody. But suddenly there I was, sitting before a stage housing two beautiful grand pianos and a musician sitting at each one, playing back and forth all the songs you could ever wish to sing your heart out to whilst drunk. There is nothing better than live pianos and booze.

Sunday morning we set out for Café Du Monde, and got as far as the hotel lobby before we were stopped by the concierge who had set up a little makeshift bar right inside the entrance to mix up Bloody Mary's for passers by. How could you pass up a Bloody Mary right at your hotel entrance? Bloody Mary's in hand, we continued on our way to Café Du Monde, only to find ourselves walking through a street performance act. They had already drawn quite a crowd, and so intrigued, we popped a squat on the surrounding steps to watch four street performers break dance to the shouts and cheers of their fans. As the grand finale, one dancer did a complete flip over an entire row of volunteers. At the end of the street we found the beginning of the line for Café Du Monde. It was the sort of line you see  at a major blockbuster on opening night. Luckily, it went fast enough, as this wasn't the sort of place you lingered, but rather just dined and dashed. We were ushered over to a little table coated and caked in powdered sugar from all the beignets that had been slaughtered by the previous diners. A server came over and attempted to clear up the mess, but only half-heartedly as he knew it would look exactly the same as soon as we had gotten our coffees and beignets.

If you have never had a beignet, it is a fluffy fried square doughnut with enough powdered sugar dumped on top to mistake for a ski slope. Nothing cures a potential hangover like heaps and heaps of sugar and fried dough. I felt great all day. Once the beignets were gone and we were left with the remaining heaps of powdered sugar, we started dumping the sugar into our coffee. Nothing like a good sugar high.

Our next stop was the aquarium, because when you are a landlocked scuba diver, you can't resist the draw of the ocean, even if it is only coming from a giant fish tank. We played with the penguins, and marveled at the sharks and laughed at the otters before going to an IMAX show about great white sharks.

That evening for dinner, one of Fletch's friends who lives in New Orleans came and joined us for the evening. All I remember of that dinner is the baked oysters with bree we ordered as appetizers. It was enough to make you forget the world was turning. Let me backtrack a little. I have never been the biggest oyster fan. they are cold and slimy and half the time are still laced with specs of sand. The previous night Maddie had ordered oysters, and when they came out the shells were the size of teacups. I tried a smaller one and it just melted in my mouth. So, having newly discovered the wonder of oysters, I had skipped straight to this restaurant's oyster menu and we had all agreed on an oyster dish to share as an appetizer. Like I said, I completely forgot the world was turning.

After dinner the five of us went to Walgreens to buy a couple bottles of liquor. Yes, you can buy alcohol at Walgreens or CVS in New Orleans. Maddie and I bought a large bottle of fireball and split it amongst two water bottles and that was our drink for the night.

Next stop, the parade. I hadn't realized that Mardi Gras is actually parade after parade for days and days in a row. I thought it was just one big parade, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but no. The parade everyone had chosen to go see was the Bacchus Parade, in celebration of the god of wine. Hugh Laurie was the god of wine himself, dressed in white robes with a crown on his head. Each float that came down the procession was grander than the last, and of course everyone in the parade was pelting beads at the crowd as if they were trying to knock us down. Unfortunately we ended up behind a very obnoxiously tall man whose height allowed him to catch every strand of beads that was sent soaring our way. Never mind letting some of them go to give somebody else a chance to catch some. Sarah and I, both being far too short to see half of what was going on, finally got up our courage to make our way to the front of the crowd where all the little kids were. All the little kids and a large family of short obnoxious people with a nasty sense of entitlement. They had so many beads they were discarding them into plastic bags at their feet. After a good hour watching their nonsense, annoyed and frustrated with them, I finally made a joke to Sarah, at which the mom, a fierce little lady shorter than me and sporting a purple wig, overheard and spun on her heel to face me.
          "What did you just say?"
          "I didn't say anything." I felt a little awkward over the fact that I was towering over her.
          "That's right! You better not have said anything because you would just sound stupid!"
I was over the parade after that.

One of the things Sarah wanted to do during our trip to New Orleans was to visit a smokey jazz bar, and so Fletch's friend led us to the French quarter where we found a bar with live jazz music. By this point my water bottle of fireball was nearly empty, and so my memory of the rest of the night is fuzzy to say the least. My only knowledge of what happened is based off of the pictures that survived the night. I do know that on our way home in the early hours of the morning we ended up back at Café Du Monde, which is open 24 hours a day.

The next morning we all woke up feeling like a parade had trampled us, well all of us except for Fletch who you would think is immune to hangovers. We had signed up to go on a swamp tour, which was sounding far from pleasant but none of use were about to stop the party. We made our way out the front door of the hotel, this time passing on the Bloody Mary's being served by the concierge, and somehow found our tour bus. Relieved that it was one of those fancy busses with a bathroom in the back, we all made a bee-line for the back of the bus and took turns running for the toilet.

The bus dropped us off at the swamp boat, a large flat wooden platform with benches around the perimeter, and off we went through the bone-chilling cold, huddled together to try and stay warm. The hour out through the swamps, my head didn't budge from behind my knees. I didn't know which was worse, the core penetrating cold or the hangover. By the time the boat had turned around to head back, the sun finally started to peek out, warming us up ever so slightly, and at that point too our tour guide pulled out the baby alligator to pass around. I realized that playing with a baby alligator is entreating enough to serve as a distraction and so after the poor critter had made it's way around once, I hogged him for the rest of our tour.

With several hours to go before I had to be at the airport, I decided that my last meal in New Orleans needed to be shrimp and grits, mostly because I knew I would feel better with food in my belly and grits was the only thing that sounded even mildly appetizing. Sure enough the food was a miracle cure. The last thing I did with everyone was walk through the French Market and go to a traditional voodoo shop.

So there you have it, 48 hours of nonstop Mardi Gras craziness in New Orleans, and given the chance, I wouldn't do a single thing differently.

Except maybe extend my stay...