I'll have plenty more experiences this year, but chances are good that few will be as cool or as fun as standing on a Mardi Gras float throwing out beads to thousands of people yelling and screaming for more. That's exactly what I was doing Saturday night in Galveston, Texas, home of the second largest Mardi Gras celebration
in the country (after the one in New Orleans, of course). It's estimated that 250,000 people were out along the parade route — rich, poor, black, white, young, old, etc. — and there were times when it was truly overwhelming seeing so many people cheering and clamoring for these cheap beads. It was totally fun targeting people in the crowds and tossing beads to them. Or watching adults push past kids to grab the things. Or holding off until someone "deserved" the beads. Man o man, was that a good time. The parade stretched for about two hours, and it went by in a flash. It was a bit more family-friendly than the celebration in the Big Easy (and most of us on the floats were wearing tuxes or evening dresses), so there wasn't much nudity or debauchery — but there was some, and yes, I threw beads in those directions.
When we disembarked from the floats, the "real" party began. One of Galveston's biggest boosters is George Mitchell
, who owns three of Galveston's nicest hotels, and has contributed much to build up the area. I tried to find out why Mardi Gras was such a big deal in Galveston, of all places, and I was basically told it was all because of Mr. Mitchell. And wow. The man is almost 90 years old but he sure does know how to throw a party. Great food, dancing, music (by the Mambo Kings), etc. etc. When we rode past his Tremont House
hotel, confetti was pumped out and the scene was so exciting and unreal. I'd never experienced anything quite like it. I kept thinking to myself that it must have been similar to what the Red Sox experienced during their victory parade
The theme of Mr. Mitchell's post-parade party was Havana Nights, so the food, the decor, some of the attire (i.e.: those who weren't in black tie) all followed accordingly. In attendance were all kinds of Houston society folks (in some ways, Galveston is to Houston what the Hamptons is to New York), so it was a real classy affair. I went up to Mr. Mitchell at one point — he was easy to spot because he was dressed in a white suit with fake sideburns — and I told him, "Hell of a party, George. Hell of a party." I'm telling you, I can't remember the last time I had this much fun.
I was in Galveston (on a press trip) to stay at one of Mr. Mitchell's hotels (the Hotel Galvez
), to learn about his other properties, and to experience just a little bit of what Galveston has to offer. (Cool story: I'd actually stayed at the Hotel Galvez before, nearly 18 years ago when I was on one of those cross-country bus tours
16-year-olds go on. Needless to say, it's changed a lot since then and it is now a very attractive property, situated right on the Gulf.) Over the course of the weekend I got to see taffy get made from scratch
at La King's
, ate some great food (including sea bass, which I had never tried before), saw plenty of historic homes and buildings, learned about the Great Storm of 1900
, and more. One highlight deserving special mention is that I got to meet and speak with Gregg Stafford, who was performing at the Tremont House Friday and Saturday nights, and whose rendition of "Silver Bells" was on A Very Marty Xmas 2007
. Nice guy, and not only did he appreciate that I knew who he was, but Gregg told me where I can find an entire album of Christmas music featuring him and the Heritage Hall Jazz Band, so I'm going to check that out. And it should be noted that the Tremont House was one of the cooler hotels I've seen, with all the rooms decorated in black and white.
Of course, I took plenty of pictures
throughout the weekend. Not that I have many of the Mardi Gras proceedings because I was a bit preoccupied at the time. But the memories of that experience, of passing by Fish Tales
and the Strand
with the hordes of people on balconies and in the streets while a marching band played "The Sweet Escape
" and other songs behind us, will stay with me for a long time (as will the beads, which weighed down my suitcase so much it was labeled "heavy" when I picked it up at baggage claim). I hope I'll get to be in the parade again. Stay tuned for more about the trip in the pages of Continental
magazine some time in the future. Or click here
to see my photos. And happy Mardi Gras everybody!
Labels: photos, travel