Mardi Gras in Lake Charles has just exploded over the past few years. This area can now boast the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state.

Now, for the uninitiated, I've come up with 7 things you should know before you attempt to celebrate Mardi Gras Lake Charles Style.

1. Attire - Mardi Gras falls at an awkward time of year. I remember days where it was all t-shirts and jeans. I also remember Mardi Gras parades where everyone was bundled up against the cold. On a side note: The weather doesn't matter. People here go to the parades no matter what. If it is extremely cold, which it has been in the past, see #4 below.

2. Take an Umbrella - I know you're thinking that I already covered the weather. In this case, the umbrella is used for catching beads. You can catch more beads and, if it should rain, you're covered for that as well. Two birds with one stone.

3. Camping and Cooking on Ryan Street- People start claiming their spaces in the very early morning hours on Mardi Gras. I'm talking predawn here, so don't think you can show up right before a parade starts and get a good spot. You will also find a lot of people grilling and cooking all sorts of food. Be very nice to those people. They just may invite you to join them.

4. Flask- I'm not condoning public drinking here. Let's just say that it's a fact of Mardi Gras and leave it at that. Most of the choice spots in front of places that sell food and drinks will be claimed quite early in the day. Word to the wise is: BYOB - But put it in a flask. Come one -- have a little class. By the way, do drink responsibly. The folks driving the floats have enough on their minds without you running out in the street after 3 cents worth of beads. Get a designated bead catcher.

5. Flashing for Beads - It's a good way to get beads. It's also a good way to get arrested. While Mardi Gras Lake Charles is a lot of fun, it's not quite like New Orleans where anything goes. I don't have anything personally against it, I'm just passing on information here.

6. Leaving Candy on the Street - It's a very odd thing about candy in a Mardi Gras parade; nobody wants it. Oh sure, you can throw all the candy you want in a Christmas parade, but folks at Mardi Gras want plastic! You can throw beads, cups and T-Shirts, but candy is left behind for the Street Sweeper Parade which immediately follows every parade. Throwing candy back at a float is also a good way to get arrested.

7. Where NOT to Watch the Parades- This rule only applies of you want to catch beads. Here's a tip: If you line up at the beginning of the parade, people on the floats are thinking, 'Ive got to make these beads last until the end of the parade,' so they don't throw as much and they sure don't throw the prized beads. On the other hand, if you line up at the end of the parade many of the floats have already thrown the prized beads and you get the dregs if you get anything at all. So, avoid lining up at the civic center or K-Mart parking lot.

There you have it. If this is your first Mardi Gras Lake Charles, have fun, but keep a close eye on the kids and stay safe. It's not New Orleans, but the crowds are huge.