Let us go back to February, 1988 and I was a freshman at Samford University. I had just completed my first semester with a 1.5, which to this day I still don’t know how I got. You mean something higher, Joe? No, I am shocked I was able to put a digit in front of the period.
Anyway, I had vowed that in the second semester, I would bring it up and be able to stay eligible to play football but more importantly, that my mom wouldn’t kill me.
All was going well until I heard this-“My uncle has a bar on Bourbon street.” Excuse me? I had to ask my friend again. “What did you just say?” He smiled and said, “My uncle has a bar on bourbon street. We are going down for Mardi Gras. Do you wanna go with us?”
“Do you wanna go with us?” I heard that question bounce and bounce and bounce in my head. That angel said, “Joe, let’s go study and remember that promise you made to yourself?” The other guy said, “Bourbon street. Mardi Gras. Joe, it’s just a small trip down and back, no biggie.”
Also, it is only five hours from Birmingham, I am with good friends, my mom will never know, it is just perfect.
Guess who won?
Five of us took off for New Orleans and for Mardi Gras. We stayed in Slidell, where one of the other guys had an uncle who lived. We made our way the next day to Bourbon Street and my first reaction, OH MY GOD.
We were not even on Bourbon street ten minutes before I saw Quincy Jones, yes, the real Quincy Jones, walking down the street with a huge entourage. He had a fur coat on that looked as if he just killed Grizzly Adams’ bear.
Then, we found the bar that our friend’s uncle owned. We were all 19 years old so he would not let us drink, smart on his part, but that sure as heck did not stop other bars down there.
“I would like a giant Hurricane drink, please.” “How old are you?” “I am 40.” “Here ya go, enjoy.” By the way, this hurricane drink was as tall as Shaq.
And with that, we were off. I will make a long story short but everything you have ever heard about Mardi Gras is absolutely true. I think writers have tried to describe it through the years but until you have experienced it, words don’t do it justice.
Not kidding. I actually made the CBS Evening News when I was there, because the reporter said, “I was the only one he saw that could stand up without holding on to anything.” This would come back later to haunt me, as you will read.
I had no idea what having beads meant. Or throwing them. None of that. I also had never seen that many people, drunk, or whatever, not cause any ruckus, or fights, or anything that usually results in someone getting drunk.
I soon realized that New Orleans is an amazing city that will not conform to anything or anyone. Say what you want about New Orleans but I am pretty sure it couldn’t care less what you think. I also realized that I had just witnessed the greatest party of all time.
For some odd reason, I decided to check messages when I was there back in my dorm room. On there, a message from my mom. “Hope you are having fun in New Orleans. I was told you gave a great interview. I also hope you studied some this weekend. Love you.”
Moms. They know everything, or at least find out about everything.
We didn’t get arrested or into any kind of trouble and made it back to Samford in one piece. I went to another Mardi Gras and have been to New Orleans many times since then. I am told that visiting New Orleans and going to Mardi Gras can take years off your life.