Mardi Gras is an annual festival in New Orleans which attracts hundred of thousands of people for a week or more of parades, parties and merry-making. Although the basis for the celebration heralds the coming of Lent in anticipation of Easter, the festival has no resemblance of a spiritual event. In fact, just the opposite.
The four years Cathy and I lived in New Orleans while I was taking my surgical training at Charity Hospital, we were not believers in Jesus Christ, and our commitment to even regular church attendance was marginal. Our first year of life in the city we did attend some of the parades and even went down to Canal Street on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) to observe what a huge crowd looks like. We were generally turned off by the drunkenness of the revelers, and the overall rowdy behavior which was overlooked and tolerated by the New Orleans police officers.
The second year we decided to go to the French Quarters one night with our neighbors with whom we shared a duplex apartment on the West Bank in Gretna. Jerri and Bob Herold were a couple originally from St. Louis and about our same age. They did have 3 small children with whom we quickly bonded. We were newly weds and had no children. This particular night we wanted to go to Pat O’Briens, a very famous and popular piano bar. This entertainment venue featured group singing, Dixieland jazz music and, of course lots of liquid refreshment which was not too objectionable to Cathy and me in those days. We seldom ever went to such a place, but this was a special occasion with our neighbors.
The crowds on the back streets of the Quarters that night were not oppressive, but as we neared Pat O’Briens we noticed a large crowd had gathered outside the door and what appeared to be a gigantic crowd inside. A horse-mounted New Orleans’ policeman approached us; looked directly at me and said, “You folks look like nice people and my advice is for you to turn around and go home!” At the same time we watched as 2 mounted policemen rode their horses up into Pat O’Briens in an effort to break up the crowd inside which had become rowdy and dangerous. As frightened people began spilling outside, the four of us made a hasty retreat and headed for home! That was our last visit ever to Pat O’Briens.
Cathy and I had still not learned our lesson concerning the French Quarters because the following year in 1967 when Cathy was pregnant with our first child John Aaron we made another sojourn on Mardi Gras to experience the crowds. In looking back the only explanation for our getting on Bourbon Street was my immaturity and stupidity!
As we began attempting to move forward I quickly realized we were trapped in this massive crowd which had to move in unison or couldn’t move at all. There were people in the mob ahead of us who wanted to move toward us, and this stopped any movement whatsoever. It was at this moment I knew if one of us happened to stumble and fall we would be trampled to death, because it would have been impossible to stand back up. I had never experienced such anxiety bordering on terror as at that moment.
Standing directly in front of us were 3 men whose faces we could not see, but we knew they were members of the notorious motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels. Their black leather jackets had the logo of the organization on the back. The one immediately in front of me was huge, weighing at least 275 pounds and had a shaved head long before that style became popular. He was an intimidating man even from the rear. Fortunately I could raise my hand enough to tap him on the shoulder, and when he turned around he gave me the worst scowling face I had ever seen and blurted out, “What do you want?!” In as polite a tone as I could muster I said, “Sir, will you please help us? My wife is 5 months pregnant with our first child, and we are very scared she might fall and be killed. Can you please get us out of this crowd?” It seemed like an eternity while he looked at the two of us, looked down at Cathy’s enlarged tummy and finally said, “Stay right behind me.” He put both his fists on his chest and extended his elbows outward so as to appear like a giant bettering ram while shouting the words, “Get out of my way!” He repeated the words several more times. He was wide enough for Cathy and me to move directly behind him.
I don’t know how it was possible, but that enormous crowd parted just wide enough for the 3 of us to move forward for about 50 feet until we reached a side street, probably St. Peter’s Street which intersects Bourbon. There were lots of people on that street also but enough space so we could quickly exit to safety. We made our way back to Canal Street and safe walking having never been able to thank our new Hell’s Angel friend.
The Bible speaks of angels being large, fierce creations with supernatural strength, and whose only purpose is doing the will of God which includes protecting His children. Cathy and I are firmly convinced we encountered one of “Heaven’s Angels” that afternoon in the French Quarters, and he saved our lives. I never again looked on the organization as an enemy of mine. Also Cathy and I learned our lesson well, and resolved to never go again to the French Quarters during Mardi Gras. In fact since becoming believers 10 years later, we have no desire at all to see the French Quarters at any time.
PS: Cathy and I believe God spared our lives by His mercy that day even when we did not know Him nor acknowledge Him as Savior. (Romans 5:8)