Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Heading to Lake Charles, Louisiana
Flash floods saturated nearby fields as my plane slammed onto the runway. Disappointment flooded my soul. Maybe my friends knew something I didn’t? See – my friends’ faces lit up at the mention of Mardi Gras but dimmed when I announced I was celebrating in Lake Charles, Louisiana, instead of New Orleans.
Arriving shaken but safe, squeaky sounds of wet feet on the airport floor heckling me at baggage claim. They shouted louder as an airline official informed me my bag holding my tuxedo was lost in the bowels of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport. Without formal attire, I would not be granted entry to the Krewe of Illusions Mardi Gras Ball in mere hours.
Defeated, I had not eaten in 10 hours, I had a driver fetch me. En route to 121 Artisan Bistro, she called a local tuxedo store who announced their closing in less than one hour. So, between amazing bites of fresh grilled tilapia, parmesan-crusted fried shrimp, and chicken & sausage gumbo, I sputtered my inseam and sleeve measurements. Chewing each bite, I prayed for adjustable straps on the waistbands of the rented trousers.
Mardi Gras, Lake Charles Style
Arriving at the L’Auberge Casino and Hotel I found a tuxedo, of perfect fit, hanging in my closet. My spirits lifted, I dressed and bolted to the Bon Temps Express which served as my carriage to the ball. Little did I know a five day mobile feast of simple, delicious food alongside amazing locals had just begun.
Like most, I imagined crowded streets engulfed with half-clothed, drunken bodies wiggling body parts better left covered competing for the widely coveted cheap plastic beads. But, my preconceived notions were swept out the door. What I found in Lake Charles was a community that pushed aside judgments, fears, and worries to celebrate community and each other.
“It’s not the celebration; it’s the cause of the celebration. People develop relationships that are a part of the fabric of life, and it’s come one, come all …doesn’t matter your race, age, creed or socioeconomic status,” said Mayor Randy Roach.
Mardi Gras Chicken Run
On Fat Tuesday, the sun breached the clouds, so I journeyed to rural Iowa, LA, (pronounced eye-oh-way) for the 33rd annual Iowa Chicken Run. “Mardi Gras is messy,” said Joy Huval, owner of the Bon Temp Express. as she smeared gold glitter paint on my face.
It was in Iowa that the Mardi Gras mess came full circle for me. Who knew a port-a-potty, charcoal grill, DJ, ice chest and straw bales on a flatbed trailer could be life altering? Part of a town-wide processional, our float stopped each time a whistle blew. A chicken would be released, and children scurried to catch it. Live Zydeco music emerged from the chaos and the adults danced for the residents of each home.
The Mardi Gras Message
Each home our float performed for had celery, rice, and other ingredients needed for gumbo. The best dancer at each stop was awarded one of the food staples as a prize. After hours of dancing and chasing chickens, the floats returned to the town hall where neighbors yarned stories, grilled meats and stewed gumbo.
“Mardi Gras is something everyone should experience once,” said Miss Berline, “It can change the way your family and you interact with each other and the world.”
If Mardi Gras is messy, then life is downright nasty. We are confined by standards of dress, morality, and professionalism impressed upon us by society. The people of Southwest Louisiana taught me to reach beyond stereotypes and standards to celebrate the spirit of life and the human race.
Leaving Lake Charles, Louisiana
Flying home, Miss Berline’s words haunted me as memories of new friends I’d made steeped in my mind. The people of Lake Charles had woven themselves into the fabric of my own life.
Traveling to this region left me patient and forgiving. I learned celebration should be a daily part of life; I now sleep a full eight hours without waking up worried about unimportant nonsense. My only stress is whether or not I’ll catch a chicken next year for my own pot of gumbo, but then again, I’d have to be “sipped”.
Written By Cory Cart
Cory Cart is a freelance travel writer who prefers to “travel like a local” across the US. He celebrates the experiences and people he meets in Lake Charles, Louisiana and elsewhere, by writing on his blog, www.seemybackyard.com, and for many magazines including AAA Home & Away.