I greeted the first neighbor I saw this morning with a reasonably cheerful hello, considering.
“Worst day of the year,” he growled at me.
A friend of mine summed it up best for me the other day: Ash Wednesday is the Mother of all Monday mornings, he said.
And I get the point. I mean – it's hard to miss. The fatigue. The dirt. The emotional hangover – among other kinds.
But, for many years, I've secretly favored the day. It's a chance to stop planning, coordinating, moving, rushing.
A chance to exhale.
And to pause and consider just what it is New Orleans has on its hands when Mardi Gras unfolds so expansively and organically each year.
From the regal floats and masquerade balls to dog parades and trippy-dippy walking clubs to the Indians and bone gangs to setting up living room couches and barbecue pits on the streetcar line, what has grown here is as large and unmanageable a civic process as exists anywhere in the world.
It is licensed anarchy. A million people. Doing what they want to do.
If anyone, anywhere – here in New Orleans included, certainly – were to suggest the invention of such a thing, it would never fly.
Imagine if Mardi Gras didn't exist and a mayor were to go before the city council and suggest it as a financial and marketing engine for the city; what do you imagine they would say.
What would you say?
Start with the idea of throwing coconuts into crowds and finish with coeds on Bourbon Street balconies. And factor in everything in between – like hiding tiny trinkets in the sweets we feed to children.
Admit it: It's a crazier idea – much, much more insane - than anything Ray Nagin ever ran up the flagpole after Katrina.
That's saying a lot.
But that's the great thing. Organically, Mardi Gras has evolved into an unmanageable beast.
Just the way it should be: Unmanaged. Free. Unlicensed.
The greatest financial and marketing engine for the city.
Build it and they will come? Not likely anyone would allow that.
But leave it alone and let it grow? Then you have yourself one special season on your hands. Over, for now.
But it's never to early to start planning for next year.