I spend a fair hunk of my time bashing the media elites for not taking the time to get the story correct in New Orleans. Even before Katrina, New Orleans and Mardi Gras were some sort of media enigma. To CNN and Anderson Cooper’s credit, they have been down here enough that he is getting the picture.
Unfortunately, I’ve missed most of his reporting (Dude, its Mardi Gras do you expect me to be watching TV?) but from his blog post, it is obvious he finally gets it.
‘Hey Anderson, throw me some beads’
New Orleans has always been a complex city, a gritty gumbo town, not quite here, not quite there. Now, that is especially true.
Reporting here, you spend your days in the lower Ninth Ward, or in Saint Bernard Parish, where there are still miles of mud and acres of ruin, only to come back at night to Bourbon Street, where we stay, and see thousands of revelers, drinking and tossing beads, occasionally baring their breasts.
Bourbon Street is probably what most people think of when they think of Mardi Gras. Crowds of college-age kids, and those still wishing they were, take part in a raunchy, round-the-clock carnival of chaos, reveling amid piles of trash. It’s mostly tourists, of course, though locals do occasionally drop by just to see what the visitors are up to.
Bourbon Street, however, is not what Mardi Gras is really about. At heart, Mardi Gras is a family affair.
Sunday night, I rode in a parade with Endymion, one of the major carnival organizations. I was a guest on Dan Aykroyd’s float, and I was honored to ride with a half-dozen first responders — police officers and firefighters — the real heroes of the storm.
It was an experience I will never forget. Some of you have seen pictures of these parades, but they don’t really capture the emotion of the moment. Tens of thousands of people line the parade route. Many haven’t seen each other since Hurricane Katrina. They are young and old, black and white, a sea of smiles.
I’ve come to Mardi Gras before, always for work, but for the first time I realize what it’s all about. It’s not Bourbon Street, and it’s not the beads — they are plastic and not worth much at all. It’s about making a connection, one person to another, the present to the past. Like catching the beads, Mardi Gras is an act of luck, a reach of faith, a fleeting moment, in which everyone, young and old, rich and poor, housed or homeless, can reach out and hope for a better day.
I do believe that man gets it.