John and Rhonda Combel, of Marrero, have taken their Carnival decorations in a new direction: While homes across the metro area are being decorated as floats, the Combels’ yard is decorated as a whole parade.
Almost everything you would see on a parade route is right there in the yard. Parade-watching mannequins hang on the barricades, with LSU folding chairs, ice chest and a smoking barbecue pit nearby.
A doll sits in a child’s ladder with hands raised, ready to catch throws. Another mannequin holding a beer bottle waits in line at a Porta Potty.
Ronald McDonald leads the parade, riding on the mini king’s float, pulled by a tractor. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is there, too, in cutout form, riding in a cruiser. Life-size images of the Combels look as if they’re throwing beads right at you.
“The Mardi Gras Mambo” blares from speakers of a Jeep, whose flashing lights signal the end of the parade.
Showing what they know
Typically, the Combels ride in 10 to 12 parades every year with their nonprofit organization, Combel’s Custom Cruisers.
“We ride in all these parades, and this is what we see,” Rhonda Combel said. “The people in New Orleans are decorating their houses like floats, which is wonderful, but we do not see the floats because we are riding, and we are part of the parade. So, I put what I see.”
The scene is all about the details.
A clown sells cotton candy and stuffed animals from a grocery cart. Trash, bottles, bead and fast food wrappers lay on the ground.
(The two have been eating out every night to collect the food containers.)
“I don’t know what happens, but when I go to sleep at night, I wake up like, ‘we need this, we need that,’” Rhonda Combel said.
John Combel recently surprised her with the Porta Potty painted in Mardi Gras colors. Last weekend, she saw it in her neighbor’s Facebook pictures.
“I commented back, ‘I knew I should have put those barricades up,’ and ding, it hit me. Barricades. We need barricades.”
Fun for all
“Homes on St. Charles are beautiful, and a lot of people are paying to get decorated, but we are creating our own,” John Combel added. “Rhonda and I are like twins with this stuff. We both get excited. We enjoy the satisfaction of what we do. It is me and her. We are the team.”
When they started working in the yard, drivers would stop, roll down their windows and yell to them. Now, some take pictures. “It keeps the spirits alive to keep on going.” Rhonda Combel said.
These colorful decorations are bringing their neighbors together.
“We are meeting some of our neighbors for the first time,” Rhonda Combel said. “Neighbors walked over with their grandchildren and took pictures of the kids looking in the cart. I gave the kids some beads, and when the grandparents were ready, the kids didn’t want to leave.”
Pictures of the decorations have been a hit online. “When I started posting pictures, my Facebook started blowing up. Everyone is sharing the pictures. It makes us feel good, so we do more and more,” Rhonda Combel said.
“We just enjoy seeing the smiles on people’s faces. That’s why not being able to ride in a parade is killing us.”
A different tradition
Decorating is nothing new for the Combels.
“On King’s Day, the Christmas decorations came down and Mardi Gras decorations started coming up. When Mardi Gras is over, Easter decorations will come up. If we don’t decorate, I get a phone call from someone asking if we are OK,” Rhonda Combel said with a laugh.
Although the parade-route décor was created to fit the pandemic era, it will live on in their holiday mix.
“This will be the theme every year. I feel like we started something, so every year we will add more,” Rhonda said.
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