As the last parades of the truncated Mardi Gras season dissipated and the bars on Bourbon Street shooed out inebriated revelers Tuesday night, clocks everywhere struck midnight and a new parade began, signaling the start of the Lenten holy season and the lifting of New Orleans' party haze. It would be a return to clarity for a city thrashed into perpetual abnormality by Hurricane Katrina.
The final parade is the annual sweep of the French Quarter by the New Orleans Police Department, local sheriffs and, this year, National Guard and other federal officials.
Police Captain Kevin Anderson told CBSNews.com that crowds weren't as rambunctious this year and that his district's officers, which patrol the heavily trafficked Quarter, "really shined" during the past week. He estimates that arrests were down one-third from previous years, despite that crowds in the eighth district Monday and Tuesday were almost as large by NOPD count as in 2005 and 2004.
"Sure, the krewes were a little smaller than in the past, but it wasn't just the size of the crowds — they were quieter this year, more subdued, respectful," Anderson said.
He and other officers took a breather Tuesday afternoon while waiting for the bead- and booze-fueled crowds of the day's earlier
"After tonight, it's back to business as usual," Anderson said. "We'll be back to patrolling this city."
For most revelers, it was simply time to get back home. For Hurricane Katrina survivor Edgar Sierra, home was just a 20-minute bike ride to a formerly flooded area of the city. But most faced long drives to homes untouched by the floodwaters.
Keisha Mitchell, a 20-year-old student at Prairie View A&M University in Dallas, drove into southern Louisiana Tuesday morning, and was set to duck out before Ash Wednesday dawned. Even though a friend's house in New Orleans sustained hurricane damage, Mitchell said she didn't want to see the worst-hit areas, such as the Lower Ninth Ward or Saint Bernard's Parish.
"I'm here for the culture. It's a special culture," Mitchell said. "It's not about what's been wrecked."
Former FEMA manager Chad Aucoin has been gutting buildings near the breached levees for months, but is heading home to Baton Rouge after spending his last weekend living it up along the Mardi Gras parade routes.
"Right now, celebrating is a pretty good thing for this city. They needed it," Aucoin said. "But even these crowds are small. What's next? Maybe this isn't a good sign."