Mardi Gras is coming up in New Orleans: February 16. And, y'all, I grew up here.
I know LaToya has proclaimed no parades. I know that is wise. I know that we'll have WAY fewer tourists. And just sure as I know those things, I know that there WILL BE PARTYING IN THE FRENCH QUARTER this year. Oh, not me, honey. I'll be in God's creation, doing my zen thing.
But for 2021, the OLD ME (drinking me) would have planned a more elaborate costume than ever before & been in the Marigny by 7:30am to grab my first drink & search for the St. Anne Walking Club. I'd be frolicking in character all day. I mean WHO really sees an official parade on Mardi Gras Day anyway? And I'll give you $5 if college kids don't put sofas & tents on the neutral ground of St. Charles Avenue and party there all day. Or all weekend. Oh, and there will still be grown-ass people grilling hamburgers on the street for strangers & trading beads for beer (or jello shots).
So, here's my message to adults: please understand that college kids, teens, and maybe even some tweens who live in the NOLA vicinity will be gathering in some way. There will be partying, and kids in New Orleans will enjoy the traditional blowing off of pre-Lenten steam. Now is not the time to condemn or judge.
If you're an adult reading this, please share it with a kid in your life. Talk about it. Let them be honest with you about their plans, and help them make a safety plan. Tell them they can call you in ANY situation and you promise to drop everything and come pick them up, no matter where they are or who they're with.
If it works and your kid calls you to rescue them, save the interrogation for another day. None of it matters, except that your kid trusts you enough to call you when in danger, and he or she is safe and healthy.
When our kids party, they're vulnerable. Sex trafficking is REAL, and the best place to find your next victim is on Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. My experience as a teenager has shown me that it's pretty easy to get a little too tipsy and lose your group of friends in the French Quarter. Stop to admire one person's costume or pick up a pair of "good" beads, and you're alone in a sea of strangers. You're not sure which street you're on, you can't find your cell phone, but you have some cash & let me just get one more drink. So you just dance to the music you can hear, and forget about your friends.
Enter the predator who needs new girls. He's really nice. Charming. Maybe even good-looking. You mention you're hungry & he gets you some food. You joke & dance, and when you mention that you need to find your friends, he changes the subject. If you leave with him, nobody misses you for hours. It's Mardi Gras Day and everyone knows you're in the Quarter! By the time somebody really decides to look for you, you could be on your way to becoming a sex worker across state lines.
Here's my message to college kids, teenagers, and 20-somethings in NOLA this Mardi Gras:
PLEASE STAY HOME.
If you MUST party, please, please think about your safety & that of your friends. Treat it like a life or death situation. Make a PLAN before you go.
- DO NOT TRUST STRANGERS. Mardi Gras is NOT the time for new friends, especially older ones.
- Have a buddy system; know where your buddy is at all times. Stay at their side.
- Have your phone snugly stored close to your body & fully charged.
- Designate one friend in your group to stay sober and be the "mom" or "dad." "Mom" must know where you are at all times, and have a code word ("Pineapple"?) that means "don't ask questions, just do what I say" or "let's get out of here NOW!" It'll be your designated mom's job to evaluate the circumstances you find yourselves in and tell you when to bail. Rotate "mom" responsibilities on different nights.
- DO NOT ACCEPT DRINKS FROM ANYONE OTHER THAN A BARTENDER. If you must drink, order & pay for them yourself. Nothing's free, y'all.
- Be honest with your parents (or someone responsible) who'll be at home while you're out. Tell them your real plans & give them a realistic time that you'll check in with them once you're safe at home. If they don't hear from you by then, give them permission to call 911 and start making a scene.
- I know you're going to ignore this one, but PLEASE STAY AS SOBER & ALERT AS POSSIBLE. The drunker you are, the more it seems like a good idea to take a nap under this bench or pull down your pants so you can pee. It's just too easy for Mr. Sexual Predator.
- Avoid crowded, chaotic areas such as the French Quarter. Even if you're just hanging out in your friend's neighborhood, if it's too crowded or chaotic, LEAVE.
Have fun & be smart, y’all.
Laissez les prudents temps rouler!