February 16, 2021
New Orleans It’s one thing to cancel and postpone Jazz Fest and other events during the pandemic, but Mardi Gras, now that’s the signature of the New Orleans DNA, whether you love it or hate it, but that’s exactly what has happened in the second year of the coronavirus. Mayor LaToya Cantrell unsurprisingly pulled the plug this year, having learned something from 2020 when the celebration became a national super-spreader event credited with 50,000 cases. Bars are closed. Whole streets in the Vieux Carre have been blocked off to prevent the usual cheek-to-jowl partying crowds, if they dare to try and come down this year. Businesses that live all year for Mardi Gras are crippled.
The last time Mardi Gras was cancelled was 1979 under Mayor Dutch Morial due to a police strike by the Teamsters that temporarily represented cops and had demanded recognition from the city. We had just moved ACORN’s headquarters to the city in 1978 from Little Rock, as the organization expanded nationally. The Teamsters were a big stick in the city at the time. Several years before, a couple of strikes had won them recognition for sanitation drivers. They represented many city departments without a members-only type contract as well. Morial was the city’s first African-American mayor. Threatening Mardi Gras probably had seemed like a good tactic to leverage the city into recognition, but it was mishandled on almost every level, and Morial didn’t move more than an inch.
Living here, the best way to see Mardi Gras is as a day off of work and from a distance, if you can manage it. There were years when my son and I would use the holiday as a time to explore possible ACORN expansion sites in El Salvador or Venezuela. Travel is not as much of an option now, so making the best of a day off works well in my book.
This year with all parades in the city cancelled, people in some neighborhoods with spirt and resources have made their homes into faux floats. Around the corner from us in what I thought was an Airbnb mainly or at least someone’s vacation home, since Lucha and I rarely see a car there as we walk by in the pre-dawn on a day-to-day basis, they have made their house into a steamboat. I’ve seen houses that are circus big tops. Newspapers and television have pictured others with one get up after another. Someone counting house-floats claims there are more than 3000 in the city.
On Mardi Gras, a letter to the editor in the local paper ranted about STRs, which is not a sexual disease, but short-term rentals, noting the city’s lack of enforcement, and the small gaggles of hardcore partiers marauding around the Quarter area, despite mask mandates and closings. The Wall Street Journal in their mandatory Mardi Gras story referred to New Orleans as both the “disaster-resilient city” and a “bacchanalian port.” Most interviewed, though disappointed, supported the Mayor in closing the city down.
A day off is a good thing in a resilient, bacchanalian city. I can live with that, one way or another, pandemic or not.