KP has expressed some puzzlement at the Mardi Gras phenomenon. This is not surprising. It's confusing even if you live here. And, of course, there's not just one Mardi Gras. It's many very different elements combined together (like a gumbo). There's the beads-and-boobs-on-Bourbon-Street which is, sadly, the only Mardi Gras many people know. This is a tourist thing, and you'll do just fine if you banish it from your mind forever. There's St. Charles Avenue with elaborate parades, college kids, and lots and lots of families, rich, poor, and everywhere in between. There's the downtown hipsters, hippies, and drag queens. There's Mardi Gras Indians wandering Central City and the Treme. There's barbecues on Orleans Avenue and under the Claiborne overpass.
It's a day where the daily civic life and normalcy comes to a complete halt (sort of like Katrina, only much more fun). People dress up and take on different personas, maybe get a little tipsy and silly. You can go to any neighborhood in the city. People will nod and say hello - and laugh if you've got a good costume going. It's a way to come together as a community and forget about all the things we worry about the rest of the year (and, eesh, there's no shortage of worries this year). At its best, it's really quite wonderful.