Sunday, February 21, 2010

Soulard's Revenge: Our Wonderful Mardi Gras Scandal

This year the Saturday, February 13 Soulard Mardi Gras Grand Parade Day was the best ever. Nothing but pleasant memories. Of course, it was not the lame parade, consisting of truck floats dragging cargoes of port-a-potties and wannabe celebrities. And it was not the apres parade boozing. The drink prices were through the roof, and only the socially challenged would stand in trash up to their ankles, drinking in the streets of Soulard when the temperature is 35. Get a life.
No, it was the wonderful scandal which erupted within days of the parade.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch February 16, 2010 headline was: "With phone call, police commissioner springs nephew from jail." The lead paragraph read: "A St. Louis Police Board member, Vincent J. Bommarito, said today that a nephew who was arrested under suspicion of drunken driving in Soulard on Saturday was released to him at his request."

So Mr. B, as one poster called him, saved his nephew from spending Grand Parade night in the drunk tank. As a bonus, the nephew’s name was stricken from the police blotter, and he was given a ride by an official to elsewhere. Can you say "abuse of power?"

After publication of this breathtaking news, there erupted a self-righteous, defensive verbal battle between Mr. B, the Honorable Mayor Slay, and the Chief of Police, all indignantly spouting and bombastically beating their chests, just like some alderman caught farting in the cloak room. And all this gassy verbiage and finger pointing was captured, transcribed into sentences and lovingly printed in following editions of the Post-Dispatch.

I mean, you couldn’t buy entertainment like this.

Besides being amusing, the series of newspaper articles nudged aside the much embroidered curtain concealing the illegitimacy of the Soulard Mardi Gras and the incompetence of local government, whose most successful activity is to create a nesting ground for favoritism, cronyism, back scratching and what have you. Thanks to our very own Soulard Mardi Gras, the motto of our local politicians emerges: if you can’t govern effectively, at least be entertaining. In this they have been successful, playing the fools.

The Soulard Mardi Gras Grand Parade Day Drunk, the high point of a faux festival which is struggling to brand itself as the St. Louis Mardi Gras, always brings out the worst from St. Louis (and from miles around), providing an arena for underage drinking, drunk driving, minors in possession of alcohol, false ID’s, procuring alcohol for a minor, and, of course, what we are most proud of: lewd conduct, public urination, assault, property destruction, etc.

This is in addition to the above referenced abuse of power. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, revealing incident spotlighting those who benefit from Mardi Gras and from their official positions in St. Louis.

Someday, maybe somebody with a grain of insight will point out to such people that the Soulard Mardi Gras taints whatever it touches, just as its cancerous growth has disfigured Soulard. Until the St. Louis version of Mardi Gras becomes legitimate, Antoine Soulard will continue to wreak revenge for what it is doing to his namesake historic district.


Geyer Guy said...

I hear what you're saying about the drink prices! Mardi Gras would be much improved if drinks were more affordable.

A Darling said...

Personally, the drink prices could not rise high enough to suit me and it's not possible to eradicate stupidity.

As a resident that has ties to the neighborhood that go back to 1973. Who has owned 2 business' in Soulard. Who has called Soulard home for 23 years. I think it's pretty much light's out, in regards to calling this area a neighborhood.

I'm allowed to feel like this since I have a bit of seniority. I did not sign-up for this as the man who puked at my front door told me. He told me he was confused and I was not going to challenge his statement. It was amazing to me that this dude, who was so obviously drunk, had such clarity. His problem was that it was my problem to tolerate this scene and I'd forgotten that I'd signed up for this duty. Me bad.

Believe me as a lifelong resident of this area it pains me to feel this way. I'm not a transient. I don't bring my disregard, deposit it here and sleep somewhere else. I've lived in this area all of my life.

Our area has evolved into a trash dump for area bars and restaurants and to some extent it applies, to some of the rental agencies, as well. This is a problem that is not limited to the dreaded pre-Lent festivities. It's evolved into a year long event.

It's no surprise that Mardi Gras Inc. has played a large role in the destruction of the area. They have been able to, with the cooperation of, local government, many business owners and out of town business owners of bringing legitimation to low brow events, drunkenness, lewd behavior and a general disrespect to the the to the people who call the area their home. And it doesn't just effect Soulard. There's also an impact on the surrounding neighborhoods as well.

What to do?

Get out of Dodge.

The full circle has begun. I know. I was at the end of the last one and now I find myself at the start of the one that has been brewing.

How luky can one guy be?

Alexander Darling

Anonymous said...

This nephew of Bomarito must have been really, really, really drunk-because the police reported only 5 D.W.I's during Mardi Gras out of the thousands upon thousands of drunks that weekend. Five ? 5 ? Cinco ? No one can argue that our Mayberry cops took also took a holiday that weekend. One only wonders if D.W.I.'s or alchohol related accidents increased around the rest of the metropolitan area ? In other words, sorry neighboring folks if you were a victim of Mardi Gras partiers, our Soulard bars needed the money. Once again, as the old, pre-Inbev, A-B used to say, "Making Friends is Our Business". Mardi Gras's slogan should probably be the opposite of that.

Matt M. said...

I'm a bit surprised at the complete negativity towards Mardi Gras in St. Louis.

As someone who lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans for two years, but is originally from St. Louis, I can say that Mardi Gras should be a community-transforming event.

The ownership of Mardi Gras should reside in St. Louis, but especially Soulard, residents. The outsourcing and corporatization of Mardi Gras is its biggest downfall. It is now a billboard for corporate sponsors rather than a community-led and organized event.

I realize New Orleans is a different ballgame, but there have to be some comparisons between the two cities in how the raucous holiday is managed. In New Orleans, there IS NO CENTRAL MARDI GRAS AUTHORITY. No one group controls it. Different krewes apply for the proper permits to close off streets and such. But ALL OF NEW ORLEANS takes control of the holiday, plotting for months in advance what to wear, where to stand, what float to join, etc.

Sure there are French Quarter residents who lament the drunkenness and the property damage. But it is usually one day that it occurs. I just don't understand the overwhelming negativity towards the holiday in Soulard.

Take control of the holiday! Encourage a calmer celebration in the southern part of the neighborhood. I know Carondelet was discussing having a de-corporatized event that would be basically unregulated and fun. Why not beat them to the punch? Close off a couple blocks, design elaborate costumes, use this block to promote it...make it unique, creative, and something residents take pride in.

Just because an area is historic doesn't mean it must by definition be sleepy. I would like to see more retail in Soulard and see many, many more people walking around on a daily and nightly basis. Why you would want to chase out bars, entertainment, and activity from the neighborhood is beyond me. City living is all about noise and vibrancy.

I realize it sucks to deal with drunks, but I have to wonder why St. Louis can't develop the thicker skin that New Orleans has so that tourists can wander (perhaps stumble) around the neighborhood and imbibe its historic ambiance.

I guess, in other words, I am asking the above commenters: what is your vision for Soulard and for Mardi Gras?

A Darling said...

New Orleans is a great city. If I wanted the type of action that The Crescent City is known for I’d move there. I don’t.
Soulard has been, for 30 years or so, a historic district. A historic neighborhood.

You are right to say that Mardi Gras should be a community-transforming event and it has been. It has turned the area into a trash dump. An area where responsible public behavior is no longer the norm, not just during Mardi Gras, but the entire year.

The business owners in Soulard take very little interest in helping to keep the area clean and litter free at any time of year. Take a stroll through the neighborhood and you’ll see it littered with broken bottles, discarded cans. It was not this way prior to the corporatizing of Mardi Gras and the many other events that have followed.

The transformation in the last decade that started when Mardi Gras Inc. took control of the pre-Lenten festivities has been nothing, if not negative. This transformation has effectually turned a once thriving neighborhood into an entertainment district. That’s part of the current problem. The neighborhood and the people who live and invested in what was once considered a slum have taken a back seat to the needs of the corporate thugs, who are carrying a big stick for the local bar owners. It’s evolved because corporate interests are making money, in the neighborhood. All the while showing no concern for the folks that made the area attractive as a place to live, raise a family and at the same time preserve historic buildings.

I don’t want to take control of this event and I surely do not wish this plague on the Carondelet neighborhood. In the unlikely event that I was allowed control I’d promptly dismantle this charade, for a good time and resume living in a vibrant, urban, but less entertaining, neighborhood.

southsidepride said...

Matt M. hit the nail on the head and came up with some real solutions to make Mardi Gras more community oriented rather than corporate sponsored. I have attended carnival celelbrations in New Orleans many times and I can tell you in 99% of the city it is NOT the "Girls Gone Wild" and drunken frat boy atmosphere that so many seem to think it is. It's more like neighborhood block parties to watch amazing parades and awesome music. So those who dismiss Matt's comment to make Mardi Gras in St. Louis more like it is in New Orleans should know the whole story.

I've lived in Soulard two years and think even with the challenges it's a great area. In a city of great neighborhoods ours is one that stands out for it's soul, it's spirit, it's self reliance (the island). What I get from reading forums like this is that my opinion is not as valid as that of someone who has been in the 'hood for decades, even if they now regularly call it a "dump" and have no real solutions to the challenges the area faces (and no, closing all the bars is not a realistic solution).

Don't get me wrong, I think we are at a saturation point on bars and restaurants in the neighborhood and would like to see more varied retail options. Also the existing bars need to have their feet held to the fire on issues like trash outside their establishments.

But I'll be honest. The bars and entertainment are a big part of what drew me to reside in Soulard. Now that I am here I volunteer and take part in the community, and I doubt I'm the only one with that story.

I don't like to say this, but maybe it is time for some folks to move on. There are historic neighborhoods in the area that have no bars or restaurants within walking distance. You won't have to deal with seeing people happily stumble home after a few drinks at the local watering hole. You also won't have your neighbors stopping by in their golf cart on a sunny Saturday afternoon asking if you want to join them for a trip to the farmer's market or lunch.

You see the above things are what I love about Soulard, but if you clearly think the area has become a "dump" maybe it's time you moved on. There are those of us who care about and love the area and will do what we can to face it's challenges without being completely negative about it's very existence.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, southsidepride, suggesting that those who dislike the Soulard Mardi Gras should try to work with those who support it (the greedy bars, the crooked politicians and those who live to party - a nice term for alcoholics) in order to make it a better festival.

First, there is no moderator for such an activity except Mardi Gras Inc. Guess where their interests lie? If Soulard had a functioning alderman, that person could be a moderator. But Phyllis Young can hardly be called functioning: easily intimidated and manipulated describes PY. She does what she is told to do by her handlers in the political pecking order. To hell with the residents.

Meanwhile, show me any intent by Mardi Gras to change it's stripes: the grand parade ends at 2, and six hours later outside sales of booze end at 8 in the evening. 10 p.m., 8 hours after the last sorry float passes into history, is the last call. Does that send you any sort of message? The event is designed, promoted and permitted to happen for one reason: to sell booze, and the not so subtle message is: screw Soulard and anybody who stands in the way. The bars want their money, and the politicians want their payoffs, so booze sales trump any focus on anything else.

Meanwhile, the Post Mardi Gras Neighborhood Forum will be held March 11. I stopped going to that fiasco years ago, because any suggestions for change were greeted with catcalls, noise, attempted intimidation, etc.

Check the historical record. The only complaint Mardi Gras Inc. has jumped on has become their obsession: keep outside booze from coming into the neighborhood on grand parade day.

Matt M. said...

A Darling and Anonymous--

You bring up some good points, but, to me, are throwing the baby out with the bath water.

If the problem is Mardi Gras, Inc., its alcohol monopoly, and other outsiders (politicians, etc.) calling the shots, then THAT is what needs fixing.

As I said, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to move to Soulard and work with disaffected residents to establish a NON-CORPORATE, authentic, local event that speaks to the character of the neighborhood. Either that...or quite honestly work to dismantle Mardi Gras, Inc.

I know that this would be incredibly difficult, but isn't it a better solution than becoming a bitter victim who's bound to now move away?

Let's take Mardi Gras back. It should be about well-designed floats, over-the-top costumes, politically-themed and sharply critical parades that attack the local/national government as well as general ignorance in society.

Also, work to get retail in the neighborhood. This would create more stakeholders who will probably not appreciate an out-of-control boozefest. It will also bring more daily pedestrians and contribute to the neighborhood's historic charm.

Furthermore, if you have problems with Young (I DO!), for the love of God run against her or find someone who will. Point out that she helped build a strip mall on 7th Street next to a historic district of national significance. Or that her ward is not in preservation review, so that downtown businesses can more easily demolish all of the history and uniqueness out of downtown. Or simply that she's a pushover. Whatever your grievance, let's organize and act on it!

Soulard is great, but can be improved. Taking control of Mardi Gras would be a good first step. Trust me...form a group and you'd make the news and get an immediate response. Just make sure to make the chief complaint that the celebration is done in spite of rather than with the neighborhood and that the "Corporate Village" is not only a disgustingly tacky name but is a ridiculous opposite to the unique gem that is Soulard.