Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Road Trip to Mardi Gras
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   03/10/2000)

We leave Tennessee on Friday March 3, while winter still has the land subdued, with only a hint of spring decorating stems and trees. We're seeking a taste of Mardi Gras.

More than 600 miles, down out of the mountains, through Chattanooga, then slashing across Alabama on I-59, we roll through the Delta and to the coast.

Through corridors of trees decorated with redbud and flowers we can't name, then through swamps and over lakes we drive on pylons and slabs to beautiful Pass Christian, Mississippi.

A Gulf Coast hamlet composed of cottages, bungalows and mansions, accented by spreading oak and Spanish moss, this is where cousin Mark McCalman and his lovely wife Donna live. They've invited 25 Tennesseans and assorted Mississippi friends to Mardi Gras.

Most Gulf towns hold parades. You seldom see them on TV, because they lack the three-story styrofoam and illuminated plastic floats of New Orleans. And they're less provocative. Parade watchers here normally don't resort to partial nudity to attract beads—worthless but to die for. A a sea of hands evoke storms of plastic cigars, footballs, medallions, oatmeal cakes, candy, souvenir cups, and always the beads.

They rain down Sunday afternoon, dazzling in the bright southern sun. Rainbow arcs of gaudy, twinkling googaws that leave spots and trails of light in the air, as floats pass by. I'm not sure how many floats, but it seems like 40 or more, one after another, decked out in signs, costumes and LOUD music—blues, Cajun, Southern rock, heavy-metal, gospel, soul, occasional rap and jazz.

Pulled by diesel-truck tractors, the floats roll, colored and shaped like street cars and pink Cadillacs and wagons and ships and foil-covered rockets, bearing krewes of all descriptions.

Here's the Krewe of the Outlaws, wearing eye-patches, leather, chains and bandannas. The Krewe of the Legends, proudly displaying Mississippi favorite sons, from Tennessee Williams to Elvis to Trent Lott to Native Americans and Civil Rights legends.

Here comes the Krewe of the Flintstones, with Fred and Barney and all the gang. The Krewe of the Romans, dressed in togas. The Krewe of the Cajuns. And on and on.

They all favor us with beads. Everywhere beads. Down the corridor separating floats from spectators, it looks like a medieval battle in progress, with beads flying from the ramparts in a bejeweled arcing haze of motion. There must be enough necklaces positioned on hooks and shelves behind the various Krewe-members to pave the entire route with beads. Kids and adults alike collect pounds of them.

Fuscia, purple, mauve, red, yellow and green. Everywhere beads, beads.... That evening, we're New Orleans bound, our car one more bead on a string of converging cars. At last we abandon Mark's directions and exit onto Canal Street. Surface navigation is easy compared to mobbed Interstates.

We park and make our way to the parade route an hour early, then stand among cans and plastic bags behind people standing behind people standing behind barricades, as VIP's and paying customers are escorted past us to temporary stands.

It's been a long day. The kids grow weary even as the parade begins. There's the lead float, three stories high, featuring Luke Perry as Bacchus, surrounded by bunches of grapes. Then come marching bands. Trojans on horses, dancers twirling metallic torches, at last another float, celebrating the Discovery of America. Thirty minutes drag past with marching bands we can barely see, then The Age of Steam chugs in, with masked seamen tossing beads.

Here such baubles are scarce, as the competition is fierce, the parade route long. I thrill a bystander by giving her a strand that rained down earlier in Pass Christian. Here comes the Age of Electricity, Telephone, and Television, and then we've seen enough.

Back in gracious Pass Christian some of us talk into the night. Mark and Donna are leaving their jobs later this year to explore America by van, then other parts of the world. The talk and humor are good. Mardi Gras is icing only on this pre-Fat Tuesday cake.

We drive home Monday, tired but glad to be here where springtime has begun its own subtle parade, composed of green mimosa wands and yellow forsythia and a single purple crocus peeping up by the creek. They'll gather to a flower-spangled greatness by April, more subtle and beautiful than all the beads of Mardi Gras.