NEW ORLEANS — Revelers endured bitter winter temperatures and a chilling rain along parade routes Tuesday as New Orleans' 2014 Carnival season neared a close.
Die-hards, some in Mardi Gras costumes, braved the weather along the traditional St. Charles Avenue parade route and in the French Quarter.
"We'll drink, drink, drink until it gets drier," said Dean Cook of New Orleans as he walked Bourbon Street dressed as a pirate with vampire fangs.
"Mermaids love the water," he said of his wife, Terrina Cook, who was dressed in a shiny blue mermaid costume, complete with a fin.
Ronnie Davis, a professor of economics at the University of New Orleans, decided to break his button-down image for at least one day. Clad in tutus, he and his wife, Arthurine, stood along the avenue watching the Krewe of Zulu's floats roll by.
"All year I have to dress professionally. This is the one time I get to act like a fool," Davis said.
As a cold rain fell, crowds along the stately, oak-lined avenue thinned and French Quarter bars filled with patrons looking for a dry spot to escape while letting the good times roll.
"It's awful cold," said Rick Emerson, a Tampa native who was watching costumed revelers pass by from an open doorway of a Bourbon Street daiquiri shop.
Instead of alcohol, Emerson was sipping hot coffee to help stay warm.
Instead of costumes, Emerson and his wife, Cheri, were dressed in layers of clothes, hats and scarves. "We're bundled up. We're not used to this sort of thing."
Rick Emerson said it was 80 degrees in Tampa when he left last week, but he was determined to make the most of Mardi Gras.
"We're freezing, but we wanted to see some costumes, so we took a chance and came down," he said.
The Emersons were among those making the most of the big celebration before the Lenten season begins for the faithful.
New Orleans native Leila Haydel said she was determined to make it a happy Mardi Gras no matter what.
"I have about seven layers of clothes under my tutu," she said, twirling on Bourbon Street in a purple, green and gold tutu and hoisting an umbrella. "It's once a year. You have to come and enjoy. You have to."
The first street marching groups, including clarinetist Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Walking Club, hit the streets just after 7 a.m., marching along St. Charles Avenue and into the business district. The Zulu parade followed Fountain's trek, led by a New Orleans police vanguard on horseback that included Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
A 35-year-old man was hit as he followed one of Zulu's floats for throws in the Treme neighborhood, said Remi Braden, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Police Department. His "leg was injured and he was taken to a nearby hospital," Braden said. "(It) turned out not to be a serious injury," she said.
As of early evening, Braden said no major arrests had been made.
Later, the floats of Rex – the king of Carnival – and hundreds of truck trailers decorated by family and social groups wound down the traditional route past families who had set up a tent, or some who claimed multiple tents, along the avenue. The smell of barbecue – ribs, chicken, pork chops, steaks – wafted through the air as both young and old screamed for beads and trinkets.
Rain fell, and umbrellas and raincoats sprouted. Sleet was falling on some merrymakers in areas north and west of the city.
As the final Zulu float passed on the avenue and before Rex's parade began, people abandoned their staked-out spots, seeking refuge from the rain. Only die-hard fans of Mardi Gras stayed to take in Rex's majesty.
It was the opposite on Bourbon Street.
Earlier in the day, few umbrellas roamed the infamous street, but as the day continued crowds grew and the typical wall-to-wall, sea of people began to form for a glimpse of the bawdy side of Mardi Gras that's always on full display. Bars were full and expected to stay that way far into the night.
By early evening, though, the traffic wasn't as thick as in years past, likely due to the wet weather which kept a lot of locals home and made others cut their revelry short.
Livia Stier, who lives in Amsterdam, and her friend, Sabrina Nick, of Berlin, caught Mardi Gras as part of their three-week, cross-country journey that would end in Los Angeles.
Stier had visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras about 10 years ago, "when I was in my 20s, but I didn't see any of the parades. None of this. This is much better. This is the spirit of Mardi Gras," she said as she took pictures of the bands and floats participating in the early parades.
"The weather is a pity, especially for all the people who've come out to see it," Nick said.
Along the Uptown route, Carol LeBlanc and husband Hov LeBlanc of New Orleans were strolling along St. Charles Avenue with friends Vicki and Duane O'Flynn from Arabi, La. The troupe was dressed as scarecrows, stuffed with grass and wearing plaid pants and tattered coveralls.
The cold weather wasn't worrying LeBlanc. "I've got my long johns on," she said.
Nearby, April Womack and her family had tents set up. Grills were fired up, and pots of crawfish were boiling. They camped overnight, a family tradition for almost two decades. "It's all about location," she said.
Her cousin, Yolanda Moton, said Mardi Gras is the opportunity for an annual family reunion, with relatives coming from as far away as Georgia. "This is the one time of the year that everyone in the family fits this in their schedule."
Sue and Kevin Preece from Edmonton, Canada, were at their first Mardi Gras.
"We wanted to come for Mardi Gras for about 10 years. It was on my bucket list, and he (Kevin) made it happen," said Sue Preece, a social worker.
Celebrations were scheduled throughout south Louisiana and in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, sharing the traditions brought by French colonists in the 18th century.
In Louisiana's bayou parishes, riders on horseback would go from town to town, making merry in what is called the Courir du Mardi Gras.
The merriment must come to a halt at midnight, when the solemn season of Lent begins. New Orleans police were expected to sweep down Bourbon Street at midnight in the annual ritual of letting revelers know the party is over for another year.