Carnival time

Spectators scream for “throws,” trinkets tossed from the floats to the Mardi Gras crowds.

Some of the Big Easy’s flash took a hard hit when Hurricane Katrina struck in August. Even though New Orleans is still rebuilding, the resilient locals are preparing a 2006 Carnival season they hope will be as good as ever. This year’s season ofCarnival, Latin for “kiss your flesh goodbye,” culminates Feb. 28 on Fat Tuesday, better known by its French name, Mardi Gras.

The colorful floats that make the season’s many parades so spectacular are often flatbeds pulled by Class 8 tractors, but they certainly are not the typical flatbed loads. Each needs an experienced driver with a steady hand and foot to keep the float moving slowly through crowded streets. In many cases, the job falls to owner-operators, who can make several hundred dollars for a day’s work.

“You don’t want just anybody,” says Amy Sampey of Paradis, La., whose husband, Troy, is an independent owner-operator. “There’s people back there, not a load of beer or wood.” And low speed is a must, not only for safety but because many float decorations are nothing more than elaborate papier-m