9:20 p.m. Feb. 5
Biloxi, Miss.-----Human connection is a fuel that inspires and upholds.
This was clear on Fat Tuesday when I rode on a Mardi Gras float sponsored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. I tossed beads out to many in what the CVB estimated were 100,000 people who lined the streets of downtown Biloxi and its outskirts.
I have been on the receiving end of these colorful trinkets in New Orleans and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Biloxi was different. Many families and elderly lined the sidewalks and streets. I threw a long gold bead to a rotund nun to turned it over to a little boy. Near the Beau Rivage Casino on Highway 90 warriors in wheelchairs stood strong against a brisk wind coming off the Gulf of Mexico.
Not one woman showed me her tits......
.....I shall never forget the eyes of the people on the parade route looking up at our double decker float (no. 87) on a semi-trailer. These eyes were medallions of hope and hurt. People shouted 'thank you' after catching a bead. They all smiled.
Someone was trying to make a connection to something lost.
Old Biloxi was wiped out after Katrina. The 26-mile stretch of beach from Biloxi northwest to Bay St. Louis is the longest man made beach in the world. There was no beach before 1950. There are only a few homes left today along I-90 which borders the beach.
The Gulf Coast took the brunt of Katrina. Biloxi is on a 12-mile long penisiula. The 2000 population of Biloxi was 50,644, today it is 44,322. Neighborhing Gulfport dropped from 71,127 in 2000 to 44,315 in 2006. More than 75,000 homes were lost in Harrison County (189,161 population in 2000 of Gulfport, Biloxi, etc.).
The theme for this year's Gulf Coast Carnival Association (GCAA) parade was "Toasting 100 Years." Biloxi hosted parades in the late 1800s, but the GCAA formally launched the regular parade in 1908 with 17 floats and 150 flambeau carriers. This year's parade had 112 floats and bands and it took about 90 minutes to snake through 3 1/2 miles of Biloxi.
Our float was situated behind "Motley Krewe" and ahead of "Krewe of Bowlegs" pirate ship from Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. We were across the way from the colorful characters on "Party Tyme." When the women on "Party Tyme" weren't making out with each other, they stepped out onto Esters Street to do the electric slide to Marcia Griffith's "Electric Boogie" and Clarence Carter's "Strokin'."
The Krewe of Neptune and the perky Queen Ixolib (Biloxi backwards, get it?) led the parade. I talked to the 22-year-old Queen about Bob Marley and Talking Heads before the parade launched. It was difficult to hear the Queen over Toots and the Maytals "Here I Am" rolling off her float, which explains why she bristled when I double checked her name as Amy Anderson. She is Annie Anderson of Gulfport.
Its important for all bead tossers to pay attention. One guy was stationed atop our float to make sure people like me ducked when we rolled under low hanging power lines and signal lights.
We had 177 boxes of beads on our float. Before tossing, I jammed my can of Bud Light into a purple Mardi Gras coozie that promoted future Mardi Gras. Here you go: 2009: Feb. 24, 2010, Feb, 16; 2011, Mar. 8; 2012: Feb. 21 and 2013, Feb. 12. Thank you.
I will return to Biloxi, Gulfport and Ocean Springs before the next Mardi Gras. People here still need help in rebuilding their homes, locals can use some good tools and the schools are looking for volunteers to read to children and challenged residents. My Mardi Gras memory is not that of revelers who touched my airborne beads, but the celebrants who touched the depths of my heart.