Mardi Gras Gets Off To A Rousing Start

Spurred on by bright sunshine and 70-degree temperatures, huge crowds got an early start on Mardi Gras Tuesday, jamming the parade routes and the French Quarter.
They were already in place hours before the first big parades rolled, and police said the numbers were bigger than any in recent memory.

Clarinetist Pete Fountain, always one of the first onto the parade route, lurched out of his lair in the Garden District shortly after dawn and headed toward the French Quarter with actor John Goodman in tow.

Fountain and Goodman were costumed as princes, accompanied by the raucous members of his Half-Fast Walking Club dressed as frogs.

Behind him was a long day of parades, including Zulu, the predominantly black parody of the high society blue bloods, which was delayed by a broken-down float. In their grass skirts and blackface makeup, members of Zulu clear the way for Rex, king of carnival.

Selected as Rex, one of the highest social awards of the city, was Robert Boh, chairman of the board of Boh Brothers Construction Co.

Along the parade route, families were already camped out, some there overnight. It was barely daylight when some of the cooks cranked up their grills.

A block off historic St. Charles Avenue where the parades roll, the Davis family from Buras set up their picnic area at 5 a.m.

Marshall Davis, 46, was cooking ribs, pork chops, steaks, and hot dogs, and drinking Bloody Marys.

"I haven't seen a parade in years," he said. "I stay right here, talk to the people, eat and drink. Parades are for the kids."

That was in sharp contrast to the nude, lewd French Quarter where the party went on all night. With the good weather, there was more flashing and a few more arrests in the naked city, but it appeared reports of a police crackdown were greatly exaggerated.

Lt. Marlon Defillo said arrests for indecent exposure were up, increased like the crowd estimates. Police had arrested 234 men and women on Bourbon Street through Monday for excessive displays of flesh and urinating in public, a 30 percent to 40 percent increase over Carnival 1997.

Written by Mary Foster ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed