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Let the good times roll … very quietly

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Mardi Gras has officially begun and so far there’s not a riot in sight. Last Friday, King Jay, The Kommunicator, offered his Twelfth Night Proclamation with Queen Gerry, The Enabler, at his side.

About a dozen revelers huddled under the public clock at the County Courthouse, replete in their Mardi Gras finery, to hear King Jay (née Jay Mueller) declare, “All members of every family throughout San Luis Obispo County have permission to cavort, carry on, laugh, dance, party, act silly, and dress in fine costumes.�

Furthermore, King Jay has decreed, “These enjoyments shall be observed with the following guidelines: Due respect for the laws of the land shall prevail; All cares, quarrels, and prejudices are hereby cancelled; and law-abiding citizens shall direct every effort toward fun and merry-making.�

After the proclamation, the Mardi Gras Krewe members marched to Tortilla Flats among bewildered passersby, a few of whom asked quizzically, “What’s that all about?� What indeed!

Mardi Gras was so well squelched last year that the Mardi Gras Krewes aren’t even bothering to hold their annual Family Day in Mission Plaza.

“There again won’t be a parade this year, and the day thing in the Mission is also cancelled,� explains King Jay. “There was a lot of pressure on [Family Day] last year to push it back as far as possible from the actual Mardi Gras time, which made it a little irrelevant to people, so it was less successful and cost so much time and effort to put on. We decided we’re not going to do it this year.�

Let’s see — no parade, no gumbo cook-off, no family day … just what is Mardi Gras this year? Well, aside from the public Twelfth Night Proclamation, a bunch of private King Cake parties you can’t go to, and Big Sky Restaurant’s annual Mardi Gras Dinner on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28, what is there? Just the Masked Ball, this year to be held at the Odd Fellows Hall in San Luis Obispo on Saturday, Feb. 25 under the theme “The Fire Within.� Ticket information should become available in early February, according to King Jay.

Why has SLO’s Mardi Gras, once billed as “The Biggest Mardi Gras Celebration West of the Mississippi,� fallen on such hard times? The problems began as the parade started to attract more and more spectators, swelling to approximately 30,000 people lining SLO’s narrow streets. A few disturbances after the parade as well as numerous parties in areas heavily populated by students culminated in what the city called a “riot� of students and their out-of-town guests in 2001.

The next year the City of SLO told Mardi Gras organizers they’d need to pay $100,000 to help defray the costs of policing the parade if they wanted to hold it again. An ACLU-led suit was brought against the city, which Mardi Gras organizers won under a free speech ruling. Even so, Mardi Gras organizers agreed to forego the parade in 2002 because of a lack of time to put it together. The following year city officials and Mardi Gras organizers agreed on a parade on a Sunday afternoon. Student parties again got out of hand in 2004, though these disturbances had nothing to do with the parade. So last year the parade was cancelled by agreement of the organizers and the city, and the city made a concerted effort to dissuade out-of-towners from coming for the many private parties that sprang up anyway. There were few problems last year, probably because of all the extra law enforcement in full riot gear and on horseback, but Mardi Gras organizers have once again agreed to proceed sans parade this year.

“We’ve talked to the city already — not recently — but when we made our original commitment to the city, it was to hold off parading until things have quieted down,� explains King Jay. “I think the city is sensitive to the fact that the parade isn’t necessarily the source of the problem, but for us to hold the parade we would have to have a lot more support from the city: We’re not an adversarial organization.�

Police agencies will be out in full force again this year with 300 officers from around the state, 100 less than last year. Video surveillance gear, DUI checkpoints and portable booking stations will all be in place by the time Feb. 24 and 25 roll around. ∆

 

Glen Starkey’s good times are always rolling. Tell him to put on the brakes at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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