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The Ten Commandments were painted on the cafeteria wall, and prayers — sometimes called “a moment of silence,” like that fooled anybody — were said before football games and over the intercom during morning announcements.

As a weirdo only child with ­Jewish-Wiccan parents, I was a fish out of water.

I’d been tethered to a desk for more than a decade; I wanted to see the world and live out my dream of becoming a full-fledged travel writer.

We knocked out 17 countries in our first year abroad and spent an additional eight months living in Bangkok. When it was time to come home, our initial idea was to pull our belongings out of storage on the East Coast and head to Los Angeles. We joked to friends that we were “speed dating America.” Everywhere we went, we asked ourselves: Could we see living here … Andrew and I had met in journalism school in February 2002; I was the features editor at the student newspaper, and he was my pop music critic. Like our taste in music, our upbringings were fairly opposite.

Type “snow struggles in New York City” into You Tube to see what I mean.) Among the many things that astonished us about Minneapolis and St. Enormous old trees, winsome rose gardens, lushly manicured parks, sparkling blue lakes, bike lanes everywhere — it’s absolutely gorgeous seven months out of the year. And hey, if the travel writing thing doesn’t work out, we can always look for cubicle jobs at one of the 17 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Twin Cities — or better yet, start our own business.

MEETING THE ONE didn’t happen the way it does in the movies.The day after my college graduation, I peeled off to Philadelphia, and later New York, and never looked back. magazine), I started a “USA Rankings” doc that organized each place we visited into one of three categories: the YES List (our top ten), Stranger Things Could Happen (numbers 11 to 30, including surprise entrants like Chattanooga, Tennessee; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Livingston, Montana), and a definitive NOPE pile (everywhere else, with insufferably richie-rich Aspen coming in dead last). Like single dudes forever swiping left, we were fueled by the thrill of the hunt and the fantasy of what might be lurking just around the corner.Besides, when we found the one, we’d know it deep in our bones. Our speed dates lasted as little as one hour (#sorrynotsorry, Dublin, Ohio) and as long as six weeks (Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis).But the terrifying finality of such a long-distance move, coupled with an intimidating local rental market, inspired a different plan: to road trip around the U. until we found a place that checked all the right boxes (culturally rich, ethnically diverse, politically progressive, full of friendly locals, and affordable). Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Andrew had lived most of his life in one house.In two separate legs totaling 16 months, we’d crisscross America multiple times by car, visiting some 40 states and 229 cities and towns, ticking off a lifetime’s worth of bucket-list diversions along the way (Badlands National Park! Before we met, he had flown on a plane exactly once.

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