Jefferson Parish revelers line routes despite gray skies

Jefferson Parish — Gray skies and drizzling rain may have dampened crowds, but they didn’t dampen spirits on Jefferson Parish’s east bank and West Bank as die-hard Mardi Gras revelers lined several major thoroughfares looking for fellowship and good throws.

Despite nasty weather forecasts, the Krewe of Grela made its highly anticipated return to Gretna, and the Krewes of Argus, Elks Trucks and Jefferson Trucks rolled as usual in Metairie. Those parades rolled after a few Jefferson Parish parades canceled their Lundi Gras events because of a rain.

In Metairie, parade-goers lined Veterans and Bonnabel boulevards with ladders, chairs, tents and umbrellas. Metairie parades are often touted for their family friendly atmosphere, and Tuesday was no different with little kids tossing footballs and riding scooters as they waited for floats to pass early Tuesday morning.

Tori Cervini and Tarah Nix had come with their kids from Chalmette for the parade and had set up their impressive canopy, tent and tarp Monday afternoon. The women said they come to Metairie every year because it’s a family tradition that really means something to their kids.

They’d heard about the bad weather, but a little rain wasn’t going to stop them from having fun. Cervini joked that they came out two years ago when there was a tornado warning and didn’t stop having fun even when high winds carried off her canopy.

“It’s Mardi Gras, we come out like the mailman,” Cervini proclaimed.

Jerry Schaefer, of Mandeville, said he always comes back to his old stomping grounds in Metairie for Mardi Gras because the event serves as the perfect opportunity for reunions with old friends. Schaefer and his friends had a recreational vehicle, tents, canopies and chairs set up in a lot at the corner of Metairie Heights and Veterans Boulevard.

With grill smoke rising behind him, and a beer in his hand, Schaefer said Mardi Gras is just a great to time to get together. The weather definitely reduced the crowds and fun, but Schaefer said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“It’s a hangout for me and my friends I grew up with,” he said. “Instead of going to a picnic at the park, this is the picnic at the park.”

While some revelers said that if the weather got much worse they would leave, many said that no matter what happened they would be along the parade route. Norman Ortiz said his family has been coming from New Orleans to Metairie most of his life, and skipping the parade because of rain wasn’t likely.

“Not at all, we love Mardi Gras too much,” Ortiz said.

That same love was on display in Gretna, where the return of Grela has been anticipated for months. Last year, Grela failed to hold a parade on Mardi Gras day for the first time in decades because of funding issues and changes to how the city of Gretna handles parades. Since then, however, the krewe has reorganized, and a partnership with city officials and local business leaders has revitalized the parade.

On Tuesday, folks lined up along Franklin Street, Stumpf Boulevard, the West Bank Expressway and Huey P. Long Avenue in preparation for the parade. Floats and bands followed a new route Tuesday that was designed to encourage more tailgating and family fun. Gretna even changed its ordinances to allow barbecue grills and tents along the route.

Dodie Rackley, a Grela board member, said that when she drove the route on Tuesday to get a sense of the crowd she was initially concerned the bad weather would keep people at home. But, as the day wore on, more families came out to the parade to celebrate the holiday.

Rackley said Grela members know they have to win back the public’s trust after the krewe struggled to put on a high-quality event for years, but she thinks it’s going to happen. Next year Grela is even looking to expand to include trucks.

“Now you see families coming back, and that’s what we really wanted,” Rackley said. “We knew the first year was going to be a test. … If we pass this year it’s going to be great.”

Dotti Hodge said she was happy to see the parade return to Franklin Street, which was part of the new route this year, but was really a return to the route of decades ago. Hodge’s family has hosted Mardi Gras parties for years, either on Franklin Street or on Huey P. Long Avenue. Joined by her 85-year-old aunt, Pat Uhle, Hodge said a little inclement weather wasn’t going to stop their party.

“We’re just die-hard Mardi Gras fans,” Hodge said. “If you’re from New Orleans this is what you do.”

Over on Huey P. Long Avenue, several revelers said they had been disappointed to see the parade disappear last year and were pleased to see it return. Just like in Metairie, West Bank residents said their Mardi Gras is a safer and more wholesome affair.

With a baby bouncing on his lap, Kevin Uzee said Grela is a West Bank tradition, and one that needs to be continued. It’s good for Gretna, and it’s good for the West Bank as a whole.

“I don’t see why wouldn’t have a parade every year on the West Bank,” Uzee said.

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