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Wrestling, drag, and a coconut: Tales from my first-ever Mardi Gras

WWL-TV's Connor Van Ligten shares their firsthand experience of their first Mardi Gras.

NEW ORLEANS — I moved to New Orleans in June of 2022 to start a job at WWL-TV. I had never been to the city before nor experienced Mardi Gras. 

So, for my first one ever, my supervisor sent me out to three different areas on Fat Tuesday to document and chronicle what I saw. And I saw a lot, so it's best to separate this piece into three sections.

Part 1: Stepping into the ring in Marigny

Credit: Connor Van Ligten

The first location I was sent to on Tuesday morning was the Marigny area near Frenchman street, to get away from the more touristy Bourbon Street.

At the intersection between Royal Street and Kerlerec, the streets were packed with a massive crowd of people. Everyone was drinking, dancing, and taking photos. There was a large variety of costumes worn by partygoers, from those dressed up in banana suits to those in more risque outfits that perhaps shouldn't be described in a family setting.

While bands played music and the crowd danced, there were a few grilling chickens on the side of the street, presumably to serve to random partygoers later.

But the highlight of Marigny for me was undoubtedly the makeshift wrestling ring that I ran into, where two toddlers were grappling with each other. It wasn't anything violent or too intense for the little kids to handle, but it was certainly something I didn't expect to see, and it immediately grabbed my attention. 

While watching it, eventually a man dressed up as a referee put a stop to the fight and ruled it a tie. Everyone wins!

Part 2: Drag and Debauchery at the Bourbon Street Awards

Credit: Connor Van Ligten

This part of my day was a fun one, although I can't go into too specific of details due to the vulgarity of it. 

I went into the French Quarter to watch the Bourbon Street Awards, an annual tradition involving the New Orleans Drag Scene holding a costume/drag contest featuring some of the wild and wacky costumes worn by partygoers and drag queens.

While the costumes, including an Addams Family group cosplay, a series of Drag Nuns, and Marvin the Martian and his other half, were certainly dazzling, the highlight of the experience were the two hosts. Their commentary and interjections during the drag show were very humorous and added a lot of flavor to the event. 

Unfortunately, I can't quite elaborate on what they said due to the graphic nature of their comments, but rest assured it gave me a hearty laugh. My only regret from the awards was my poor decision to not wear a hat in the 80-degree heat.

Part 3: A coconut from Zulu and a whole lot of beads from Rex

Credit: Connor Van Ligten

My coworker and I were walking to watch the Rex parade on Canal Street. On our way over to Rex's parade route, we saw one of the few remaining Zulu floats going by. My coworker told one of the Zulu krewe members that it was my first Mardi Gras, and we walked past the fence where I was given my very own Zulu coconut!

When we went to Canal Street to watch Rex, I soon discovered that there is a deliberate strategy to how to capture as much stuff thrown from the superbly designed floats as possible.

It goes without saying, but you need to be as physically close to the gate as possible to have the highest chance at catching beads. The farther away you are, the less likely you are to catch them.

And if you want to pick up a Doubloon thrown onto the ground, you better step on it first. Stepping on a Doubloon means you essentially stake your claim to that coin, so be sure to dive in feet first!

Thankfully, I was able to capture numerous amounts of beads during my time watching the Rex parade.

Conclusion: Can't wait for next year

My time experiencing the variety of activities and entertainment offered by Fat Tuesday was a time well spent. I understand why Mardi Gras is so beloved and I feel very fortunate to be able to have gotten this experience. And most of all: I cannot wait until I get to do it again next year.

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