Mardi Gras is one day. But New Orleans celebrates it a thousand different ways.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu began Tuesday morning (Feb. 28) on horseback, trotting down St. Charles Avenue in front of the Zulu parade with NOPD superintendent Michael Harrison at his side.
A few blocks back, Adonis Expose, his face painted black and white, a gold crown on his head and a scepter in one hand and a champagne flute in the other, was the king of Zulu for the day.
"I just saw being the king was the ultimate of the organization," said Expose in an interview before his ride. "I didn't want to settle for average."
Expose, 48, only joined the African-American social aid and pleasure club 14 years before, a short tenure for a Zulu king. His family had traveled from as far as Hawaii to watch him ride.
Several floats behind Expose, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins got a crash course in Carnival culture. Davis, who's played with the Pelicans basketball team five years, had always been on the road during Mardi Gras. Cousins, a Mobile native who had only done Mardi Gras in his home town, only moved to New Orleans a week before when the Sacramento Kings traded him.
Invited by Zulu to ride as honorary grand marshals, the towering duo, perched on the second floor deck of a float, caught on to Carnival quickly. They swapped a microphone back and forth and tossed stuffed animals to the crowds. Cousins took swigs straight from a liquor bottle and ended up with a pair of panties on his head.
Further Uptown, Dr. Stephen W. Hales, this year's Rex, was waiting. As Zulu fell behind schedule, the Krewe of Rex had to pause before rolling down St. Charles Avenue.
Hales, the careful chronicler and historian of the krewe, could probably name the many years when Rex had to wait for Zulu. Later, when Dr. Hales delivered his proclamation to Landrieu in front of Gallier Hall, he apologized for his tardiness.
Hours earlier, before the sun rose, a group of anonymous maskers donned skeleton costumes in the 6th Ward and continued a nearly 200-year-old African-American Creole tradition. The North Side Skull and Bone Gang knocks on neighbors' doors to wake them for the day.
"We are the North Side Skull and Bone Gang," they chanted, "we come to remind you, before you die. You better get your, life together. Next time you see us, it's too late to cry."
Over at the Purple Rain Lounge on Washington Avenue, Derrick Hulin was metamorphosing from a quiet, calm man to a proud and loud Big Chief.
"I feel good today," said Hulin as he did some final sewing on his suit. "This is last minute hustle and bustle, just trying to get it all together. Last minute preparations are crazy."
The chief and fellow Golden Blades Uptown Mardi Gras Indians gathered to sing "My Indian Red." Then they headed into the streets of Central City, searching for other tribes so they could prove their Big Chief was the prettiest.
On Frenchmen Street, the crowd showed off the costumes they'd been working on for weeks, perfecting their skills with a glue gun. In the Bywater, the Society de Saint Anne donned elaborate and artful outfits. And on Bourbon Street, the competitive vied for prizes in categories that included best group costume, best leather costume and best drag costume.
On Wednesday morning, the party will be over. Some of us will be hungover. Most of us will be exhausted. And as we piece together memories our own individual Mardi Gras, and scroll through photos on Facebook and Twitter of how other spent the day, it all blends together in our minds. A thousand different days across the city and the suburbs meld into a single celebration of Carnival in New Orleans.
Jeff Duncan, Chris Granger, David Grunfeld, William Guillory, Ted Jackson, Jennifer Larino, John Pope, John Reid and Emma Scott contributed to this story.