^With AP Photos
^By MARY FOSTER= ^Associated Press Writer=
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Costumed as Zorro, the mayor of New Orleans rode horseback through surging Mardi Gras crowds today, tossing trinkets as he made his way to the reviewing stands to toast Rex, the king of Carnival.
With temperatures in the 70s and bright sunshine, Mayor Marc Morial was one of the first down St. Charles Avenue, leading the way for the big parades which followed.
Morial, throwing aluminum doubloons engraved with his name, was accompanied by Police Chief Richard Pennington and other mounted police officers. In case anybody didn't know, a blaring sound truck went ahead, announcing who they were.
Morial said he walked the route last year and decided riding was better. His job on this final fling before Lent is to turn the city over to the mock royalty of misrule.
Police posted along the parade said the crowd was 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 Distrist 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 black-face 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. His queen was socialite Sidonie Swoop Villere.
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 and put on the chicken.
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. with three trucks, one with food, one with play pens, and one with a toilet.
Marshall Davis, 46, and his brother Lonnie, 48, were cooking ribs, pork chops, steaks, and hot dogs and drinking bloody marys.
``I haven't seen a parade in years,'' said Marshall. ``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 exposrue 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.
The party had been buildng up in the French Quarter over the weekend.
On Monday, brazen nudity reached the commercial level, as a street artist painted women's breasts. As a crowd watched, he put swirls on one bare chest, while nearby another woman showed off her finished product for all who passed by.
A couple of blocks further along Bourbon, long, shiny beads were offered as prizes by people on balconies to lure young women and men to bare their body parts.
Outside Suckers Daiquiris, two young women lifted their shirts to charm beads from the men hanging over the banisters. Four policemen stood a few steps away.
Asked if they were going to stop the nudity, one officer said, ``No comment.''
On another balcony, a man video recorder in one hand and silver beads in the other enticed several young women into flashing the crowd. Down the street, a woman on a balcony, gold beads in hands, yelled, ``I don't want to see any women! I want to see some men!''
A man complied.
``This is the greatest free show on earth,'' Jesse Nader said late Monday. ``...I mean there ain't nothing like it.''
In contrast, the Monday concerts and street entertainment not far away were more family-oriented. Throngs of people milled around for what they call the Lundi Gras celebration. Children munched on hot dogs and fried shrimp po' boys. Mardi Gras music blared from loud speakers, joined by the distinctive sound of a nearby riverboat's calliope.
``This is for the family,'' said Lisha Vigne of New Orleans.
``These kind of activities are great for the kids. We decided to bring them early before all the foolishness sets in,'' said Ms. Vigne who sat on concrete steps with her 13-year-old daughter Bryisha. ``There's no way I'd bring my child onto Bourbon Street.''
Jimmy ``Big Shot'' Felder, a member of the Krewe of Zulu, said the Lundi Gras festivities draws larger and larger crowds each year evident by the bumper-to-bumper traffic in the French Quarter.
``This is the tuneup for Mardi Gras,'' he said. ``We're getting ready.''
Orpheus, Monday night's big parade founded by crooner Harry Connick Jr., tracked the main route through New Orleans' Garden District into the central business district. By Monday afternoon, families had staked out prime space for a good view.
Vinny Hammel, Dave Glaviano and Tim Christiansen played bourre, a Cajun card game, as they sat in lawn chairs and kept an eye on the 25 ladders they brought for a bird's eye view.
``My wife told us to come out here and get us a spot. It's beautiful beachfront property,'' Hammel said, laughing.
The three guys have camped out along St. Charles Avenue for Mardi Gras parades for six years.
``I love this,'' said Glaviano, as a streetcar rumbled by. ``You can bet we will be here next year. You can set your clock by it.''
A group of college students had similar ideas. Instead of lawn chairs, though, they sprawled out on sofas and couches.
``I wish every eekend would be like this. Everyone's in such a good mood and it's so interesting to meet all these different people,'' said Will Meade of Bronxville, N.Y., a first-timer. ``This is great. This will be our annual fling.''
With beer in hand, Meade and his friends, Nathan Kush of Pittsburgh and Brad Sullivan of Merritt Island, Fla., said they had been in the same spot for three days. During a nasty storm early Sunday morning, members of their crew slept under plastic tarps.
``This is fun, it's great,'' said Kush.
Their buddy, David Van Clief of Miami, snoozed through blaring music from a nearby sport utility vehicle and rumbling street cars.
``He's tired,'' Kush said. ``He's been up all night.''
^With AP Photos