Posted 2/14/15 | © Photo by The Flash List
Welcome to the Jungle
The clock strikes midnight, and the after-party is just getting started. The annual costume ball (this year themed
Hijinks on the Seven Seas) has been underway for hours, but key members of the Krewe of Who? have now migrated upstairs to a private suite at the Hilton Galveston Island Resort. Taking the elevator to the newer tower's top floor, we arrive in style to meet them for the very first time. Richard Kalmick, the currently reigning krewe king, welcomes us with the customary gift of beads and drapes them over our necks like leis. They're surprisingly embellished and expensive-looking, and the strand with the intricately-carved pirate medallion is particularly snazzy. We're graciously offered a drink from the open bar; but since Kia has entrusted us with their luxurious new K900 with range-topping VIP+ package for this trip, we politely opt for a couple of glasses of water instead.
One after another, we're introduced to the team of uniquely interesting Carnival-loving folks collectively dedicated to celebrating the local spirit of Mardi Gras on Galveston Island. Richard himself owns USA Cabinet Company and also manages Bridgewater Homes, while the krewe's president Emmett Sacrey is a Houston architect. Although some members have been part of New Orleans-based krewes in the past, their relatively-new current identity is a tongue-in-cheek rebuff to the structured rituals, elaborate protocols, and often difficult-to-pronounce krewe titles associated with the traditionally festive pre-holiday season. Established in 1991, the laid-back non-profit group is comprised of a statewide medley of mostly married couples, although that's certainly not a prerequisite for joining.
Tony's been with the krewe for almost a decade and a half, and is perhaps the historian of the group. He's friendly and good-natured; and spends time telling us stories about the various creative ways the king and queen are chosen every year, an activity which inventively corresponds with each particular accompanying theme. He wears hand-painted purple tennis shoes sporting the krewe's logo, and he holds the secret to securing Galveston's coveted Jockusch building for their yearly loft party.
Dressing up in ornamented attire, as it turns out, is an especially integral part of this particular social circle. Beverly makes her own Mardi Gras costumes including a replica of a Korean hanbok, Tammy has four closets in her house dedicated to costumes, and Shannon nonchalantly shows up to the party in full-length sequined mermaid attire including a long green wig. It occurs to no one to think of these things as the slightest bit unusual; it's simply the matter-of-fact way they 'let the good times roll.'
Mardi Gras! Galveston
Mardi Gras Galveston is much like a huge outdoor street fest or an oversized tailgate party with a number of parades, parties, bands, vendors ... and beads.
Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed
Several hours later after too few winks of sleep back at our hotel room, an unwelcome slither of illumination falls across my face. I groggily wonder in my half-awake stupor who in the world left the bathroom light on before realizing that morning has already broken and the sun is up once again. By now, the krewe is downtown onsite setting up for the potluck tailgate party, so we stumble into the shower (vaguely reminiscent of a retro Coast soap commercial) and make our way out the door. Although some members have been diligently preparing home-cooked dishes (like Deborah Sacrey's delicious slow-roasted pulled pork), we quickly stop by Kroger to grab a couple of packs of Double Stuf Oreos and hit the road.
Streets on the parade route have been blocked off, and traffic is picking up; so we pull into Frost Bank's nearby parking garage and conscientiously select an ideal spot. Activating the K900's fantastically convenient parking guidance system, we back neatly into the space utilizing electronic sensors and four externally-mounted cameras which provide integrated video of an almost 360-degree view of our immediate surroundings. Although the real-time surround-view monitor allows for an astounding degree of confidence when making low-speed maneuvers, I'm asked to hop out of the car and double check the accuracy of the parking job. Yep, the vehicle is positioned in real life exactly as it appears on the sleek center stack's 9.2-inch navigation display.
After making a pass through the front-gate security checkpoint, grabbing a quick bite, and snapping a few photos of the random Cowardly Lion, I catch up with Shannon en route to the staging area as we prepare for the walking processional. Transformed from last night's mermaid to today's loot-toting bandit, she's now in black leather shorts, fishnet stockings, and pirate-styled boots. She's an easygoing kind of cool, has travelled around, and still likes to rave even though self-admittedly those days are probably behind her ... well, for the most part anyway. She pulls a brightly-decorated wagon stacked high with tiny Super Mario stuffed gorillas for the kids and heavy bags of beads which she'll launch skyward toward the balconies that line the Strand District. No doubt, the girl's got an arm for tossing.
Benevolently charitable threads run throughout the entire team, and nowhere is it more evident than with current krewe queen Carla Kalmick. Unbeknownst to her, I follow along behind on the parade route watching as she slowly and meticulously distributes one stuffed toy then another to baby after baby after baby. But make absolutely no mistake, I would find this same woman on a balcony hours later sweetly shaking her booty side to side in an encouraging attempt to make the eager revelers below bust out their best boogies before receiving the novelty souvenir beads she would then gracefully drop. Dance puppets dance.
What to Do at Mardi Gras Galveston
Mardi Gras Galveston is a collection of great parties, fantastic parades, and entertaining events which are easily navigated with just a little forethought.
The annual loft party is one of the brightest highlights of the krewe's entire schedule, mainly due to its uniquely accessible nature and upscale atmosphere. While many larger krewes host parties in which members are only allowed to experience the balcony festivities in limited rotating half-hour increments (that is, if they can get tickets to attend at all), the more intimately-sized Krewe of Who? has allowed unlimited bead-throwing access for the entire evening by continuing to rent the largest balcony on the Strand.
Like Kia, the Krewe of Who? is confidently determined to
When you come as a guest, you're treated the same as a krewe member. Nobody knows who's krewe and who's guest. They don't care. You know?
The party, complete with live music by the Zydeco Dots, seems rather like a pleasant family reunion ... with the possible addition of a semi-eccentric Aunt Myrtle and crazy Uncle Carl. And somewhere along this surrealistic journey of beads, bands, and bubbles, we've become instant friends with Gary and Pam who, like us, are also residents of North Texas. Pam and I take one last sunset stroll of the bustling Strand, happening by an unexpected confetti shower, a little parade that I'm pretty sure I've seen three times now, and a Storm Trooper driving a Jeep. Meanwhile, the guys stay back to shoot the breeze and throw the last few stuffed animals to the families that are now beginning to head home.
Fit for a King
Not long after our early-evening return to the loft, the female flashers begin to appear one by one like stars in the night sky. Naturally, no one seems to mind much; although the heavy-set guy who drops 'trou' in an attempt to moon-for-beads gets a stern 'talking to' from local police. As the crowd grows tighter, Jeff and Jennifer appear out on the balcony with a 20-foot single strand of beads. Somewhat-mischievously enticing those below by gingerly dangling the much-desired prize just out of reach, Jeff eventually selects a kind-looking woman to be the lucky recipient before he walks downstairs to make a direct personal delivery. She warmly shows her appreciative excitement by giving Jeff a big hug and requesting a photo memento.
Suddenly we get an inside scoop that dinner is about to be served and we're ushered to a spot near the front of the line. Accompanying the hot main entrees are Cajun favorites like gumbo, etouffee, and red beans and rice, as well as charcuterie trays, petit fours, and oversized chocolate-dipped strawberries. We take time to relax and eat while chatting with our convivial tablemates, but then get right back out to the balcony for the evening's last hurrah ... the grand night parade.
The first sounds of approaching marching bands incite the crowd to a louder and louder excitement level, and the Quaker City String Band is especially fun to watch. A wide assortment of extravagantly-lighted two-story floats roll down the avenue as formally-dressed riders douse viewers with a multi-level shower of gold-colored doubloons, lighted trinkets, and the near-last of the three million beads that will have been thrown by the time Mardi Gras Galveston is over. The parade goes on and on ... for well over an hour ... maybe two ... we've lost track of time.
What Is Mardi Gras?
Tossing beads, catching beads, masquerading, parading ... Mardi Gras has become a festival event celebrated by people of a variety of creeds and ethnicities.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
It's getting late, so we progressively say our goodbyes and make our way outside and toward the festival exit through what has become an increasingly rowdier crowd of partying twenty-somethings. Soon enough though, the elegant K900 serves as a quiet respite 'far from the madding crowd,' and the interior provides its own
exciting and inspiring experience [that goes] beyond expectations.
Based on concepts executed in aeronautic design, the K900 is the most advanced vehicle Kia has ever built; and its luxury innovation in this case includes a 16-way power-adjustable driver seat, heated and ventilated front seats, full-grain Nappa leather upholstery, beautiful genuine-wood trim, and a three-zone automatic climate control system that uses ionized air filtration to clean cabin air by up to 10 percent. Even rear passengers are lavished with power-reclining back seats and a retractable armrest that offers full control of zone temperature, seat heating and ventilation, rear electric sunshade, and integrated multimedia control.
With a gentle press of a button, we open the power-retractable sunshade exposing the full-length panoramic tilt/sliding sunroof, then set the 17-speaker high-fidelity Lexicon Discrete Logic surround sound system (the most advanced audio system ever featured in a Kia), and we're off ...
... uuuntil our trip suddenly comes to an abrupt halt.
A car wreck involving a diesel spill just north of the Causeway has resulted in the shutting down of all lanes leaving Galveston Island. So, we patiently decide to wait out the delay with a late-night snack at the Brick House Tavern + Tap where a large fireplace warms the room while emitting a chalet-like ambience.
Let's Be Careful Out There
It's no secret that safety can be a concern at any celebratory festival involving such a large number of merry-making attendees. And even with the highway patrol out in droves protectively monitoring Interstate 45, the eventually-clearing traffic still proves to be a bit dicey. Engaging Kia's first use of its vehicle safety management system, we merge onto the highway setting the Advanced Smart cruise control to help maintain a pre-determined distance from vehicles ahead.
And bidding a fond farewell, we leave the twinkling lights of Galveston Island behind us ...
... exactly 24 hours after we'd arrived.
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