Wednesday, February 22, 2012



I was down in New Orleans again for Mardi Gras and to see Betsy, and I went to a ton of parades -- more than when I went to see in college, even.

In case you don't know the score, Mardi Gras kind of works like this: A club of people (called a 'krewe') get dressed up in masks and fancy costumes, and then get a big parade together (and by 'big', I mean 20-40 floats + zillions of marching bands), and then roll through the streets of New Orleans.

The scene on the street is somewhere between a block party and a bacchanalia, depending on what part of the city you're in. People drink, chat, grill things, and then generally get quite drunk. Then the parades show up, and they start throwing things. Primarily plastic beads, but also schwag -- cups, neon lights, bags, tomahawks, and even (for one famous parade) coconuts. People got nuts for the stuff -- jumping up in the air, shouting, even baring their breasts -- all for cheap beads that you could buy anywhere else for pennies.

Behavioral economists must have a field day with Mardi Gras.

I got a lot of photos at the parades that caught my fancy, but I think my strongest image came afterwards. The aftermath of a day of five of these giant parades is staggering -- the amount of trash generated is epic. Equally epic is the cleaning crew that goes along the main thoroughfares of the city, pushing up big mounds of trash with bulldozers.

I was struck by how terrifying the waste is in Mardi Gras. It's something I didn't think of when I lived in the city back in college, but... well,  I'm sure one day some 51st century archaeologist will be sifting through the ruins of Old Earth, and wondering why the hell we have 37 kilotons of plastic beads in a giant pit somewhere.