During Mardi Gras, Neighborhoods Step Out in Style

Listen: Sounds of the Neighborhood Parade

Majorettes on the march during a Mardi Gras parade.

hide captionTake a turn down a neighborhood street during Mardi Gras and you may find yourself face to face with majorettes on the march.

Noah Adams, NPR
Children catch their share of bead necklaces at a neighborhood elementary school parade.

hide captionChildren catch their share of bead necklaces at a neighborhood elementary school parade. One parade participant estimated that riders spend about $700 on beads they throw out to the crowd.

Noah Adams, NPR
A group of kids unite under the banner "French Kiss, Fifth Grade."

hide captionA group of kids unite under the banner "French Kiss, Fifth Grade."

Noah Adams, NPR

A wrong turn in New Orleans brought us right into the middle of a wonderful kid's Mardi Gras parade. We were on our way to an interview at St. Philip's church when suddenly the street ahead was filled with bright colors — the red and blue and white and gold costumes of color guards and dance teams. One banner read: The Helen S. Edwards Elementary School Marching Pandas. A Girl Scout troop went by, and Dairy Troop 173. Another proud banner: St. Raymond Catholic School — Since 1937.

I was with producer Andrea Hsu. "Yeah, I'm set to record," she said, and we left the car to follow the parade down the street. I was taking pictures and making notes but mostly I was laughing, just watching the children. How could you have a Mardi Gras celebration any happier than this? And it came on a day when the news reported a shooting death the night before, downtown during one of the big parades. A young woman was killed, accidentally. It was thought a verbal confrontation between rival gangs got out of control. Two teenagers were found with guns.

Our little parade went down one side of the avenue and crossed over to come back up the other side. Parents and friends were taking pictures, yelling encouragement. I found a man I took to be a child's grandfather; he'd brought a lawn chair for comfort.

"What is this parade?" I asked.

"It's for the elementary schools, mostly," he replied. "Just for the kids. They do it every year."

"Are there other ones in town? Little parades?"

"Sure," he said, "all over. They're just for the neighborhoods."

I walked along the grassy median strip picking up strands of beads. Silver, green, purple, plastic beads. At the big parades, the float riders, called "krewe" members, throw swirls of beads down to the crowds. The familiar kid's cry is "Throw me something, mister." You put them around your neck and yell for more. The parade riders spend their own money for the beads — The Wall Street Journal quotes a Krewe of Zulu member: "This is what it's all about. There are a million people looking up at you, you don't want to look down with nothing good to give them." And he estimated riders in this year's Mardi Gras would each throw $700 worth of beads.

Soon I had collected 20 or so strands, and was walking along looking for more when a young boy stepped out of his position in the parade, and with a serious look, handed me some red beads. My parade consultant, the grandfather, had told me about these youngsters, "They like throwing beads, the kids. They're so used to other people throwing beads at them."

Years from now, if I want to bring back Mardi Gras from New Orleans 2004, it is Andrea's recording of this parade that I'll listen to. And I'll save my pictures, too.

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