In a sense, all stories are about escape. From time to time, we find ourselves in places we’d rather not be. We rage against the padlocked gates of our fantasies. Occasionally, to our surprise, those gates swing free. Still, freedom is no panacea and for each person in search of the new, the exotic, the unbelievable, another traveler is aching for return. Sometimes our vital connections–those ties that bind us to family, home, and identity–grace us with a second chance.
I wrote the following essay for the University of New Orleans’ amazing Storyville Project and performed it on WWNO. If you want to begin to understand life down here in the Big Weird, then you should listen to all the Storyville radio essays.
“Just get in your car and drive, George.”
That’s what I think whenever I watch It’s A Wonderful Life, my favorite film about a man who either is visited by an angel or has a psychotic break. I love quaint Bedford Falls, and the Bailey family is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Remember when his adorable daughter, Zuzu, gives him the flower petals? But what tugs at me hardest is George Bailey’s dream of escape. His brother leaves to become a war hero. A friend makes millions selling plastics in the biggest of big towns, New York City. But George stays in his drafty, old house with Zuzu’s petals, those symbols of what matters most to him.
George and I have a lot in common. In the 90s, I told my high school sweetheart and eventual wife that I wanted to leave New Orleans at the first chance. The city was shrinking, and I wanted to live somewhere — anywhere — lively, metropolitan, hopefully someplace where they knew how to make pizza. Then Katrina gave me my getaway car.