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  • "Quit," he urged. "Quit your job and come to New Orleans."

    A couple of years after my college graduation, I ran into a friend who had just finished law school in the Big Easy. I hadn't seen him in years. Three years. The length of law schoool. We sat together at a wedding and talked all night. After the wedding. The bars. Breakfast. He reminded that there was more to life than a job that I hated.

    So I did. I quit my job and my life in Colorado with little more than the money in my pocket and no plan at all. After three months of driving around the country, from west to east to west again and so far north I was almost in Canada, after temping for weeks when I needed money and getting back in the car again, I drove south.

    For two days, I drove, stopping only when my eyes started to cross and sleeping a little. I drove over bridges that seemed to stretch into tomorrow and stopped at gas stations with single cans of beer in the cooler by the cash register. Without a cell phone, with a couple of maps, I made my way to New Orleans.

    He didn't answer when I knocked on the door. I knocked again, trying the door made of bars and finding it locked. Bass thumped from the cars that passed. People on porches shouted at the world outside, and I curled up on the porch swing to sleep.

    The next several hours passed in a blur. Eventually, he let me in. He'd been sleeping in the back under a window unit and hadn't heard me. With 26 hours of driving behind me, 26 hours of the past 32, I was a mess. Alcohol didn't help, but it was New Orleans. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

    The next morning, which was really afternoon, I would run from the corner store to dry heave in the parking lot and come back to buy a gallon of water, a carton of eggs and carpet cleaner. I would spend the next two hours scrubbing the floor and walls, trying to rid each of a red hurricane and failing miserably. I washed the sheets, wanting to die, and began my love affair with a city.

    I stayed for a month the first time and left only for Mexico. We drove my car to the border and hopped a bus with Gerard Depardieu and Whoopie Goldberg dubbed into Spanish and a man who disappeared with federales (never to return). We found our way to a port town and there we stayed, swimming, sunning, trying to find a cock fight.

    If not for a hurricane and my friend's near-death experience - don't eat free meat in a bar – we might have stayed longer. As it was, after a week, we boarded a bus headed back to Texas and picked up my car, glad it was still there. We drove back to New Orleans and a few days later, I headed north to see my family. Eventually, I settled into a life in Washington, DC.

    At the time, I didn't realize that I'd swallowed the hook, that the line would tie me to New Orleans no matter where in the world I went.

    Over the next decade and a half, the last decade and a half, I have visited so often that a woman who works at Trashy Diva thinks I live there, so do bartenders at the Erin Rose (and half of the regulars). I have been back for weddings, for Jazz Fest, for no reason at all but a chance to spend time with people I love in the city that's captured our hearts.

    Memories press together and threaten to overwhelm, escaping my meager words. An apartment in the Quarter, a doberman, horses, a very large offshoreman. The Bingo! Show. Pie lady, pie lady. Baking our own in a Katrina house outside Breaux Bridge. Picking blackberries. Dancing in the rain. Leaving a parade, jumping off a horse drawn carriage, to run to the rehearsal dinner for which I was late, so late, because I couldn't stop throwing beads. A lapidary.

    Coming back after Katrina and seeing the spraypainted X. Coming back six and a half years later and seeing them still. The Ninth Ward. Kids playing in abandoned houses. A pitbull on a rope. Walking to Jazz Fest. Days in the sun with music and friends. Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. Preservation Hall. Rebirth. Rebuild. Renew Orleans. Lucky Dog.

    Driving to Angola for the prison rodeo. Cabbages thrown in a Saint Patty's parade. Visits to Hollygrove for a CSA box. Jason's home brew. A punchbowl at Iris. An old love at Stella. White chocolate cookies under Cleo's pleading gaze. The way she doesn't bark when I open the door. Martin Luther King in graffiti. What the hell happened to the dream?

    Archery at a house party. A boxer. A lawyer. The men who tried to convince to join the police force. The retired policeman who brought deep fried turkey to share while watching a game on a Sunday in October. Tears. Laughter. Love. Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

    The memories flood and I have to stop myself before I burst into tears, longing for home, because - more than anywhere else in the world - New Orleans feels like home.

    When my friend urged me to visit, when I quit my job and drove there, when we came back from Mexico and I left the very first time, I didn't realize that I would spend the rest of my life trying to find a way back.
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