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Mardi Gras Moments: Capitalizing on the bathroom situation

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Over the past few years, New Orleans has boasted itself as a city of entrepreneurs -- whether it be in the tech field, the culinary field, Hollywood South, or the craft arts. This is all fair and well, and I don't disagree that these types of start-up businesses continue to grow in the Crescent City. But what's not included in the entrepreneurial dialogue is the DIY money-making strategies that have been going on for decades -- especially during Carnival.

My first Mardi Gras was in 2007; it was also my first visit to New Orleans. I was staying Uptown on Fontainebleau Drive at a friend's house. Her family was out of town, and just she and her 15-year-old brother were holding down the fort. A day after we arrived, the power went out due to fallen branches and wonky wires, and it stayed that way through Fat Tuesday. Living by flashlight and candles at night, we woke in the mornings to pack food and drink to last the day (it was an unfortunate moment when, after swallowing the last bite of my homemade Nutella sandwich, my friend alerted me to the fact that the hazelnut spread had "survived Katrina"), in efforts to stay away from a home sans electricity for as long as possible.

The group that I came down with set out each early afternoon and walked up to St. Charles to catch the parades. As is a common problem for those who start drinking beer at noon, the need to "use it" came quickly and often, and there were few places to go aside from the unfortunate port-o-lets ... or so I thought.

Peeling off the main drag in search for a discreet place to do the deed, two friends and I turned onto a side street to find an abandoned lot. With a doorman. The lot was surrounded by a stone wall, and a line of people were waiting to enter through the narrow opening. "What's going on?" I asked one of the folks in line. "Waiting to pee,” he responded, pointing to the man standing in the doorway accepting dollar bills from each person who walked past him.

We got in line and minutes later (it was an expedient operation) the doorman, who, now up close and personal, was clearly a homeless man hopped up on something, gave us the low down: "A dollar a piss!" I handed him a buck, walked into the private lot, did my thing, and walked out, only to see a longer line and a wad of cash in this business man's fist.

I walked back towards St. Charles thinking, "Now that's an entrepreneur."

-- Managing editor Laine Kaplan-Levenson

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