"Why do you spend all that time and money throwing trinkets off floats?”
I have been asked this question by many of my friends from cooler climes, and all I can say is, "It’s addictive!”
My personal Mardi Gras experience started in Biloxi, MS back in the late 1980’s. My father didn’t let the fact that he was a transplanted Minnesota Yankee stop him from jumping into the tradition of Mardi Gras with two feet and joined the Krewe of Neptune, a Biloxi Krewe that fashioned themselves as a reproduction of the Mobile and New Orleans Krewes of old. They had the 12' long velvet and faux fur capes, the glittering tiaras and crowns, the mayoral toasts as the King and Queen passed City Hall, and the throngs of locals lining the streets on Fat Tuesday! People filled the municipal parking lots with their campers and RVs days ahead of time and stayed overnight to lay claim to the best spots and avoid the parade day traffic. Back then they had no barricades on much of the parade route, so the children would dash through the streets after the parade passed and jump ahead several blocks to watch it go by a second time!
After a few years, my father and my husband joined a Pensacola Krewe and we celebrated Friday-Sunday in Pensacola and went to Biloxi for Mardi Gras day. I eventually tired of catching beads, and mostly just acted as the safe-keeper for the treasures my children would deposit into my lap at each parade. As the children grew older and wanted to wander with their friends, I was left sitting in my folding chair. I started thinking "if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em!” So in 1999, I got together with some of the like-minded ladies in the Pensacola Krewe of Jesters to discuss the possibility of ‘floating.’
We found a friend with a long-bed pickup truck who was willing to have several of us sitting in the back for the Krewe of Wrecks parade on Pensacola Beach. There were six of us in the back, one riding shotgun, and our very gracious driver. Back then, Via de Luna was a two-lane road and the "floats” lined up on the neighborhood streets behind the firehouse. People would decorate their floats the morning of the parade, and the local folks were quite gracious about the huge street party in their front yards! That first year, I remember being so anxious to get going that it took nearly FOREVER to actually start rolling, and when we did, we started throwing beads to folks who were sitting in their front yards along the road even before we got to the designated parade route.
The first string of beads to fly out of my hands was all it took. Watching the person jump up and catch them and signal me with a "Thank You!” smile was so much fun, I ran out of throws long before the reviewing stands in the Casino Beach parking lot, but I was HOOKED!
Things have changed quite a bit since that fateful day. The beach parade route is much shorter and barricaded the whole way for safety; the floats are really floats now, and big ones at that (my own Krewe has moved up to a float that holds 30+ people), and the crowds are 15-20 people deep in some areas. But the thrill that you get when someone catches your eye, and then catches your throw, and signals their thanks never goes away.
Give it a try. You’ll be addicted too!
By: Terry Preston (co-owner of Pensacola Parade People, llc)