Doug Campbell, 63, usually goes all out for his neighborhood’s annual Mardi Gras celebration in Fresno’s Tower District.
Most years he dons a tuxedo with a tailcoat to wear under his cascade of plastic multicolored beads. Campbell’s necklaces are fancier than average, lined with musical instrument charms and decorative accents.
But Campbell didn’t have any outfits to match this year’s jungle-safari theme for the Tower District’s 18th annual Mardi Gras parade. So the beads hung over a red T-shirt he wore with a tuxedo vest and top hat.
He fit right in.
Mardi Gras is the final festivity before the Roman Catholic season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
Felix Muzquiz led organization of the event. She said there were 474 people participating this year in 28 floats. The parade costs about $6,000 to put on, she said. Muzquiz, who dressed up as a leopard, said the parade is all about bringing people into one of Fresno’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
“It’s a great way to focus on the Tower community,” she said from atop the bed of a truck decorated to look like a jungle, “and the beauty of the Tower District.”
As the parade made its way down Olive Avenue, Campbell judged the floats. First in line was a team of bicyclists. A few groups down, a girl in leopard print breathed fire.
“Now we’re cooking,” he said.
Next were members of the NOtown Roller Derby team.
“She’s a bruiser,” Campbell said of one woman. “I wouldn’t want her to run into me.”
People lined up along the sidewalk as the parade, which started at Fruit Avenue, ambled down the street. Bystanders clapped in time with the music flowing from various floats and raised their arms to catch free beads. Some had set up chairs before 10 a.m. near the Tower Theater, a prime, shady viewing spot on a winter day that felt more like spring.
Heaven Garcia, 11, came out with her family from Porterville. It was her first time celebrating Mardi Gras, and she caught 11 beads tossed from floats, jumping as high as she could to catch them in-hand.
“It’s good to be tall,” she said with a smile.
Colorful beads hung around the necks of men, women, children and even dogs. People in a Neighborhood Thrift truck tossed stuffed animals to those below. A brass band in another truck played, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Campbell has been to the parade every year since it started, now one of the biggest celebrations in Tower. He treasures the parade ever since police cracked down on Fat Tuesday celebrations after riots broke out in 2001.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” he said. “It’s a Tower District tradition. Yeah, it gets out of hand, but I think that’s the idea.”