February 14–21, 2002


Boobs and Consequences

Mardi Gras-goers are better behaved, and not happy about it.

by Jenn Carbin
and Frank Lewis


Doh! Flashers didn’t even have a chance to get cold before police moved in.

photo: Michael T. Regan

This is what it’s come to: Jim from Broomall and Sam from Media are selling beaded necklaces on South Street on Fat Tuesday. They’d prefer that women “earn” the beads by flashing their breasts, in keeping with New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, but, with so many cops around, most women are remaining covered. So Jim and Sam resort to the next best thing, making a few bucks selling them.

Last year, South Street’s Mardi Gras celebration was capped off by widespread fighting, looting and vandalism — and, of course, much flashing. This year’s event proves much calmer, and whether that is a relief or a letdown depends entirely on which side of the ropes and police barriers you are on. Throughout the night, revelers voice their disappointment — to cops, to reporters, to no one in particular — in indignant tones.

Still, “titties” — perhaps the most frequently overheard word of the evening — are never far from anyone’s mind. The most coveted of the necklaces Jim and Sam sell are those with figures of well-endowed, red-haired women. One version has flashing red lights on the breasts, which attracts attention. Near the southeast corner of Second and South, which is quieter than corners further west (you can stop walking for a few minutes here), young women stop and admire the lit-breast necklaces. “I could use that at home,” one says inexplicably.

No one offers to bare breasts for one, although the fact that these women are admiring something so trashy and asking, “Will you give me one?” in flirty tones seems to mean overt, semi-playful sexuality is in the air. At one point, Jim asks a reporter if she wants to see a flash, after she jokes that she’s cramping his style. Clutching his necklaces, he heads six feet to the corner. Less than 30 seconds later, two women are lifting their shirts for Jim, who is so focused on videotaping that he almost forgets to give them the necklaces.

Earlier in the evening, Jim had lamented that this Fat Tuesday is nothing like last year. “It was more fun last year. You’d walk up to a girl and ask, ‘Did you earn those beads?’ And if they did …” He makes a shirt-lifting gesture. “And once one does it, others follow. You’re not going to see that now with all these cops.”

Indeed. Although considering that cops are falling out of doorways, on horseback, on roofs and grouped on motorcycles and bicycles by the dozen, it’s amazing those two women lifted their tops. And they aren’t the first. Two women on the 300 block of South lifted their tops and caused a scary bottleneck for about 15 minutes. Jim caught the arrest of one of them on tape. Still, it’s nothing like last year.

At the temporary command post at Passyunk and South, Capt. Carl Holmes
is conferring with colleagues and sipping coffee. He says he doesn’t know exactly how many police are out on South Street and the blocks just north and south of it, but that it’s “about as much as you’d have at a sporting event. It seems like more because people aren’t used to it and [the officers] are spread out.”

Like Jim, he’s noticed that far fewer women are exposing themselves this year. Unlike Jim, he is not disappointed. The flashing contributed to the lawless atmosphere, he explains. “When someone does that, a million hands reach out to touch her, and one guy will try to defend her. Fights break out. By eliminating [the flashing], you cut down on a lot of the trouble.”

Another measure to cut down on trouble was the no-fly zone. Per orders of the Federal Aviation Administration, no aircraft, including television news helicopters, were permitted to fly over the South Street corridor at lower than 3,000 feet. News choppers typically operate at about 1,000 to 1,500 feet.

The FAA issued the order on Tuesday at the request of the Philadelphia police — who acted at the request of Councilman Frank DiCicco’s and state Sen. Vincent Fumo’s offices — but the rule actually was based on a provision of the blanket restrictions on flying enacted nationwide shortly after Sept. 11, says an FAA source. No aircraft, except those belonging to law enforcement, may fly less than 3,000 feet over any “major open-air assembly” of people.

By midnight, only stragglers remain; nearly all are male, and they seem unable to accept that they’d seen so few “titties.” Those who aren’t too tired or drunk to care anymore are clearly annoyed. One young man says to a police officer as he walks by, “Y’all can’t stop this. Just wait till the Greek [Picnic].”