Mardi Gras – The Beads, Brooke Shields, Me & Our Float


 by Priscilla Pilon

Mardi Gras – It’s All About the Beads

Priscilla Pilon

What’s more fun? Throwing or receiving the beads?

While in college I sailed in the Mardi Gras Regatta at Tulane University and experienced my first wild spring break in New Orleans. Bourbon Street was electric and jazzed beyond all my expectations. I still have a large strand of beads from my time there (caught the old fashion way – shirt on) and look back on it as one of the best times of my youth.

Receiving “special” beads when thrown directly to you is exhilarating, but throwing beads to a specific person and seeing their faces light up and having them yell a “Thank You” as you roll on by is the BEST!

 

Where do the beads come from and why are they so different?

Riders buy their own beads to throw. Each parade has beads that correspond with the theme and those are the ones people typically beg for. In addition, we can purchase “specials” which are the more exotic or larger beads. These are the ones that fans go berserk over in the streets! The plain beads are less expensive and therefore more plentiful. Bead throwers can spend anywhere from $300 – $1500 on beads to throw depending upon the quantity and quality of the beads they order.

Keep your hands raised – you never know if those bead will come your way!

Do you choose who to throw to or is it random?

For sure there are times when you are unpacking beads and just heaving them as fast as you can, but I sincerely try to make a connection to the people in the crowd. Last year our group decided that we would try to seek out “nerdy” types who usually aren’t aggressive enough to jump up and down but who would love our special beads, which we had chosen in memory of the son of our hostess. It was a great challenge that we all enjoyed! This year, my personal mission is older folks and young children. Yes, if you are in the crowd,  the more vocal and persistent you are, the more beads you will get. However, I like to take an extra second to seek out my special folks when we aren’t rolling too fast. Of course the adorable college kids always get lots of beads because they are very clever at soliciting them –last year there was a group of young college-types in tuxedos, shirtless, jumping up and down. Who could resist?!

Do you get a break while riding?

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Once you are on the float, you are there until the end of the parade

Nope, not even a potty break. Most floats don’t have potties on board by the way. Once we had a painter’s bucket to squat over, but last year we had a proper porto-potty which we all thought was worth every extra penny. When the float stops briefly to catch others up, we try to sit down for a second and wolf down a sandwich or small snack. The rest of the time we are getting beads out of packaging or throwing them.

 

Are there rules?

Oh boy, there are a ton of rules! Many will get your Krewe kicked off the float or have the entire Krewe banned from another Mardi Gras. The worst offense? You may never lift up your mask to reveal your identity! You must keep your gloves on and you must have your safety harness on at all times while rolling.

 

Is it dangerous?

Yes and no.

The floats themselves are not exactly sound structures, but you are going super slow and pulled by tractors that will not roll if anything is too wobbly. The biggest risk truly is the fact that we hang hooks everywhere to place the beads on and when the float rolls you can easily bang into them. Another danger is intoxicated people (no shortage I assure you) who try to climb up onto the float. We are warned to wear zero jewelry because they have stolen watches right off riders’ wrists before.

 

How do you get to ride on a float?

Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields, me and my buddies on our float at Mardi Gras 2012

 

Unless you are Brooke Shields or Will Farrell making a movie, you need to have a connection on an existing Krewe who invites you to join. Brooke rolled with us last year and liked it so much that she is joining us again this year. She was fun and gracious and we are looking forward to having her back!

 

 

Who organizes your Krewe?

We have Line Lieutenants on our float and Captains for our Krewe that liaison with the parade folks. There is a great deal of organization and details that go into the event. Everything from choosing our parade’s theme, the names of each float that coordinates with the theme, the design of each float, the beads that are chosen to represent our Krewe and keeping track of its members and where their positions are on the float. They also make sure we are all ready to roll and are not breaking any rules. The Iris Krewe is an amazing group of women and it is a true privilege to ride with these fun ladies.

 

What happens when it’s over?

We get dumped off our floats after Bourbon Street and have to find our rides home. Bead-less (except for the ones we trade amongst ourselves) and exhausted, most of us go home, take a shower and head to bed early so the following day we can be ready to jump up and down to catch some beads of our own!

My New Orleans Krewe!  Exhausted, happy and ready to keep on partying at Mardi Gras!  What a great experience!

 

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