I got to see MG from the inside out, instead of a hand grenade-drinkin-hotel-stayin-tourist. I also conversed with many people about their Katrina experiences, the friends, family and homes lost and the fresh beginnings. From folks on the trolly to the good friends I now have‚Äč, everyone seemed to have a powerful story.

I have wanted to go to Mardi Gras in NOLA for my entire life. The Mardi Gras I got to experience was totally unique. For 2 months I watched the atmosphere build up as the weather warmed up. I spent 40+ hours a week in the smack dab middle of the absolute mayhem of Bourbon St. (I worked weekend nights), and I helped set up and clean up after a Ball. The thing that really blew me away about MG was the creativity and work put into costumes and vastness of the niche traditions. I was watching the Zulu parade and something special happened to me, I caught a coconut! Didn't know it was special till it happened but apparently its a valuable catch at a parade and I'm quite happy with my coconut. I feel very lucky 

I got a job at a pretty awesome place as well, I lucked out in New Orleans. I was a cocktail server and bar backer at a venue on Bourbon St that played live Jazz all night long. Though I worked all though Mardi Gras I always found time between volunteering and working to catch some parades, beads and awesome parties. I also ended up every other night after work grabbing a drink with coworkers and the service industry dive bar of the French Quarter. I again made some more really close friends at my job. And was lucky enough to have my closest friend, Lawrence, show me around New Orleans from a locals perspective. 

Three months of fantastic fun, long hours of labor and lovely new people. When I drove into New Orleans I was wrapped up in gloves and a scarf and didn't know anyone or anything about this city. Before I drove out of New Orleans I pushed back my departure date again and again, till it was time. I hit the same highway I had come into, in a tank top and shorts, wondering if it was the same city I rolled into three months Prior. On the short drive out of Louisiana, I stopped at a couple cool places, but was suddenly alone for the first time in months. And well...  that's just how life is on the road. 

The 3 months I spent in New Orleans were incredible, beyond fitting into 3-ish paragraphs. But here goes. I drove in from Texas stopping in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, and settling in New Orleans. I drove the Great River scenic road and stopped at a plantation to brush up my dark American history. On arrival in New Orleans I left the bus at the airport and I made a quick trip home for Christmas. When I returned to New Orleans it was during the coldest weeks of the year. I would wake up to small icicles on the bus. With no legit place to park, and in need of some cash and not a single acquaintance in the whole city, I turned to the wonderful world of the internet! helpx.net

I got extremely lucky and ended up at the coolest work away in New Orleans. I was parked at this amazing little collection of houses with conjoined yards, hard to explain the closeness of this community, and most folks there were involved in some way, shape or form with a nonprofit in India. Other volunteers I was staying with became good friends, one girl had just finished the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail!), another couple had a sweet 18 month old girl, and so on... We had potlucks every Monday, and threw a giant annual Mardi Gras Ball called the Apocalypse Ball. My 20 hours of volunteering a week included painting houses and gardening, doing other labor in exchange for a place to park, shower and that feel at home. Below is a picture of the rainbow stage and spanking booth I repainted for the party... once settled, I roamed around Bourbon street for a few days till I got picked up to work at a bar

during MG.

Last couple weeks I got to relax, I left my job and volunteered fewer hours. I got some time to explore with a friend the abandoned Jazzland/6 Flags theme park. It was closed for Katrina, severely flooded and never reopened. Over a decade later it still remains there, a stain of the storm. But a wicked sweet place to climb roller coasters and feed alligators cat food, Very Chernobyl-esk. 

Alex Oetzell