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Volume 34
Issue 09
 
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Mardi Gras is smaller but spirited in Gay New Orleans
Mardi Gras is smaller but spirited in Gay New Orleans
by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

NEW ORLEANS - It was a much smaller Mardi Gras in the Gay area of the French Quarter this year but spirits were clearly high and some people said they preferred not being crushed by the crowds.

"I'd say it's about a third as many people, but we only have 25 percent of our hotel rooms," said New Orleanian Volney Hill. "Also, most people usually crash with their friends and 80 percent of the houses are gone, so their friends aren't here either.

"So, I think this is actually very promising," Hill said. "People are going to get here one way or another. I have more people staying with me this year than ever. I pretty much serve as a hotel right now."

Rafael Maldonado, who came in from Mobile, Ala., for his 15th Mardi Gras, agreed that "it's a lighter crowd. It's usually packed full of people throwing beads here [in front of the Gay bar Cafe Lafitte In Exile]," he said.

Local resident Reuben said he didn't mind the smaller crowd.

"It's more tolerable. You can get around, you don't have to worry about all the crampedness," he said. "It's better to me with a small crowd."

Local drag queen D.L. Broadway agreed.

"Sizewise, I'm loving it," she said. "I like to spread out. I like my little space. I'm loving it because the city's making its money back."

It was Broadway's 26th Mardi Gras.

"It's bringing New Orleans back," she said. "It's a great party, I love to party and I love to have a great time and I see people are smiling and getting into the celebration, so it's a blessing to me."

Broadway spent three months exiled in Pascagoula, Miss.

"Now I'm back at my job at Head Start," she said. "I have a FEMA trailer; it's just my brother and I, and it's fabulous."

Paul Landry of Houston was at Mardi Gras for the ninth time.

"We wouldn't have missed this year for the world," he said. "This is the second-best Mardi Gras I've been to. The spirit, the attitudes, the blue-tarp theme, the Katrina theme, the FEMA theme, the costumes are more elaborate.

"The last good one was when Jerry Falwell did the Tinky Winky thing," Landry said. "The street was covered in purple Tinky Winkys. So there's a theme this year, something to poke fun at. People felt a need to come down and help and just be here. Being here helps."

Drag queen Amanda Straddle from New Orleans said the smaller crowd was "just as festive, just as enthusiastic."

"As far as the locals go, we're ready for a party and ready to get on with our lives," she said. "There aren't as many tourists, but I'm struck by how many locals there are out here."

Stephanie Becket from Fallbrook, Calif., came "to support my sister who lives here. My younger brother is Gay and he's here with us, and my parents came and we love it," she said.

Her brother, John Becket, who lives in San Francisco, said that although there were fewer people, "they're very all together, wanting to be here, wanting to enjoy it, wanting to prove that it's like it always was, a no-one-can-keep-you-down kind of thing - real positive, real sincere."

About 189,000 of New Orleans' 462,269 residents have returned to the city six months after a total evacuation was ordered, Katrina hit, the levees broke and 80 percent of the city was submerged in up to 20 feet of water.

The massive flooding from the levee breaks destroyed or severely damaged tens of thousands homes. At present, only a third of the city's residences have reconnected to the electricity grid.

Sections of neighborhoods such as Lakeview, the Lower 9th Ward and Gentilly, where the storm surge smashed through adjacent levees with tsunami-like force, remain nearly completely depopulated.

Other people can't come home yet because of their children. Only 20 of the city's 124 public schools are open.

D.L. Broadway is not alone in living in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer. There are around 48,000 of the trailers in the state, and another 40,000 have been requested by homeless residents.

Rents are a problem, too. One-bedroom apartments that used to go for around $600 a month now go for up to $1,500.

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