I was 18-years-old and dumber than a box of hair when I drove 1000 miles to Mardi Gras with three fraternity boys.
“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”
They only invited me because of my car, which actually belonged to my Grandpa. It was a big, loud ’77 GMC Jimmy—more rust than paint—but it would have to do.
The plans were hatched over a late night game of quarters. We’d skip a couple days of classes and be back before mid-terms. This was 1989. Before cell phones. Or Google. Or GPS. We used a paper road atlas to wind our way from Pittsburgh to New Orleans and back.
My boyfriend couldn’t go with us, but he assured me his three fraternity brothers would take good care of me. And they did; perfect gentlemen and excellent bodyguards, every last one of them.
Of course it took us a lot longer to get there than we had anticipated, what with our front axel snapping in two somewhere outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Not sure how we lived through that one, actually. We were on cruise control and scream-singing along to “Love Shack” when it happened.
Playing cards all day with those guys at that little backwoods service station is one of my best memories from that road trip. Lord almighty, the conversations we had that day over cold Cokes and boiled peanuts about school, girls, and life in general.
Derek was from New Orleans and his mother still lived there, right smack in the middle of the French Quarter in a restored bordello with original eight-feet-tall stained glass windows and a central courtyard that I couldn’t walk through without shouting “STELL-AAAAAH!” Every. Damn. Time.
I could have stayed there forever.
Derek’s mom and a gaggle of gay male friends she called her “sisters” welcomed the four of us road-weary travelers with hugs, Muffaletta sandwiches, and King Cake. Afterwards, she pinned her business card inside each of our jackets with the note, “IF LOST, PLEASE RETURN ME TO:” scrawled across the top.
Then she released us into the wild like a pack of nervous young wolves to explore The Big Easy and discover things like 32 oz. Hurricanes and the unique foreign currency of flashing body parts to strangers for plastic Mardi Gras necklaces. Hey, don’t judge. If I knew then what I know now, I would have just walked those streets topless with a credit card machine in hand.
Nearly three decades later, I still think back fondly to the days when my biggest responsibility was finding my way back to that beautiful bordello. “Fat Tuesday” took on a whole new meaning this year when my three kids started asking if my muffintop would be a boy or a girl. Shoot, the last time I showed my boobs to a stranger, it was to have them sandwiched between two plates of glass, and not in a fun way.
I’m 100% certain the middle-aged me would never willingly go on last minute, somewhat illicit adventure like that again; but I sure am glad the 18-year-old me did. (Bless her firm, carefree heart.)
Let’s just hope my daughter never asks permission to do the same thing.
Featured photo © depositphotos.com/ccstockmedia.