It's six-thirty, Tuesday morning and I am on the road to New Orleans, the haven of his Royal Hershey Highness, and home to the oldest celebration of Fat Tuesday in the country.
My compatriot for this excursion is Big Easy reporter extraordinaire, Scott Satchfield. We've been three times in the last seven days. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one of the biggest parties a person can be a part of, and definately overwhelming if you've never experienced it. I have, once before, and now I've got to cover it. After a little over an hour on the road we reach a point where the highway curves and arches away from us, leading to downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. Suddenly I feel a sensation in the pit of my stomach that I haven't felt in nearly four years. It's that feeling of fear mixed with anxiety and sprinkled with a dash of panic. To this day I have no idea why I felt it. Maybe it was the light traffic coming into the city and our relatively hassle free trip, but it was there and didn't go away until we had parked and gotten to work.
Believe me, it was work. After pulling into one of the paid parking lots, (cash only today, hope I can find an ATM) we gather up only the essentials to haul to our workspace. We're heading for the Royal Sonesta, a landmark in the 2oo block of the infamous Bourbon St., and the local HQ for CNN, who will beam our stories back to Baton Rouge. We drop off the portable editor and hit 'The Street'. We're tasked with finding people for and against having the celebration while some people are still homeless after Katrina. On top of that, we also have to get video of the Zulu and Rex parades. Unfortunately Zulu won't reach us until noon. Oh, did I forget to mention that we have to feed look-lives for the Noon and Four shows at 11:35? We then have to put our package together for Five, but the evening crew is coming, they have a package for Six, we're sharing the editor, and both have to be ready to feed by 4:30.
Of course we got it all done, but not without a few hitches in the plan. Our end was fine, but the night crew didn't get to the city until 3:30. Then the photog couldn't find a parking spot, so I had to pick up the slack and shoot and edit the package for Six in an hour to make the feed window. After all of that, it was time to leave. A phone call to the missus found an ATM right around the corner, on the way to the Jeep. That's great, since the prices for parking get bumped up for the party, and we've been parked there for 10 hours or so. With my wallet having gone on a binge and purge of $30 I begin leaving New Orleans. I say begin, because it takes me an hour to get to the interstate, and the freedom of the open road. That's right, just getting to the on-ramp took as much time as the whole journey from Baton Rouge.
While it may sound like I didn't have a good time, it really wasn't that bad. Our room opened out onto the third floor balcony, and there is no better place to be on Fat Tuesday than a balcony on Bourbon. While Scott was writing, I was hanging out, observing the mass of humanity that had grown throughout the day. The street had been transformed into an undulating sea of color with the pavement no longer visible under the potpourri of partygoers. Someone thrust a handfull of beads into my hands, and suddenly I went from casual observer to participant.
Hmmmm. I worked miracles for the pod-people back at the station, captured the spirit of the people in my story, and got flashed because I had a camera.
Not a bad day's work, especially with four-and-a-half hours of overtime for the day.