Seven months ago I moved to Florida, almost eight. And the experience continues to screw with my expectations. In a good way, but still. Expectations. Screwed. Repeatedly.
I moved from Minnesota at the end of February, when the Twin Cities were still quite deep in the thrall of winter. It is quite probably the stupidest time in the year to pack all of your belongings in to a truck, but I did. Because I’m getting old, what with a 1 hour walk to the train every workday morning and another in the evening, -40°F in the winter was getting to be much too cold.
My brother was kind enough to fly up and brave the cold for a few days to help. In the first few hours there, he discovered my packing of the truck was rather bad and we wouldn’t be able to get everything else in. So he directed an emptying, sorting, then repack of the truck. We lost a little time, but everything fit with a Tetris-like precision.
That night I had a wonderful farewell party from many dear friends. Possibly a little too much celebration later, we got to bed late. That lead to a late start the next day, where we tried to finish cleaning the apartment and gave up after four hours, then just got going.
We got in the truck and started the drive fifteen hundred miles to Florida.
Before long we realized it would be dark in a few hours, so we called my Aunt. We had plans for lunch, but she understood what happened, so she happily turned our plans into dinner.
Let me stop here to say what a wonderful person my Aunt is. She was cheering me on the whole time while prepping and planning for months, while I freaked out about things not working or not being handled, and working through what to do. She is a saint, and while the Vatican may not recognize that fact, I forever will.
She fed us well, gave us a place to crash, and then fed us again before giving us gas cards and money and encouragement, and then seeing us on our way.
So we were a half-day behind, but if I could keep to the speed limit or a little above, it might not be an issue.
Illinois is quite possibly the largest state/section of a country in the union. Probably the world. At least, it feels that way when you’re driving through it, north to south. The drive around Chicago isn’t that bad, as it’s interesting enough, until you get to the wind mills. Great swooping arms of white metal that slowly, so achingly slowly, grow from the horizon and then crawl across the landscape until you pass, and watch them recede in the rearview just as slowly as they appeared. After the wind mills, it’s just flat nothing. Forever. Thank everything for radio, and music on phones.
We stopped a few times in that vast wilderness for gas, because one tank cannot possibly get you a million miles, and saw some of that rural America that everyone screams is full of charm and warm fuzzies. I can confirm a bit of the latter, as everyone was far friendlier and more helpful than anyone I’ve ever found in any downtown area of any city. But charm? Well, perhaps it was the road…
By the time you reach the bottom of the state of Illinois, you just want something to change. You’re chewing on the steering wheel, eager for new/different things on the horizon. You start to see some landscape! Some hills, some trees, something that isn’t the complete and utter flatness you’ve been driving through since Moses wore short pants, and you exalt in the feeling of newness!
Then, suddenly, you cross a river and you’re in another state, Kentucky. Then, after a hill/mountain and another river, you’re not in Kentucky anymore, but Tennessee.
After such a long monotony, getting so many changes all at once makes you a little giddy, or confuzzled, or both.
Just outside Nashville, TN, a tornado struck. Well, we wouldn’t know that until the next day, but at about 16:00 local time we stopped in one of the outer suburbs of Nashville to eat at a little sports bar. We stretched our legs for a moment, and when we got back on the freeway the sky quickly darkened to night, and traffic slowed to 5mph.
We watched Google Maps show accident after accident ahead of us. And the traffic slowed further. I think it took us three hours to reach the absolute edge of Nashville metropolitan area, and by that time we were just looking for the next pet-friendly hotel. I was white-knuckled, grasping the wheel in a rigor-mortis-like grip and unable to speak in full sentences for all the stop-and-go nonsense that driving had become. Add wind gusts violently rocking the truck and idiots trying to pass and merge from all directions, and I was so far past done I was burnt. Luckily, we found the hotel on Uncle Google, finally got to the turn-off, and parked.
We were stopped three hours before our usual stopping point but as it was a trial just getting there, we just needed to be done. So after getting our rooms and transferring the cats within, we tried to go eat and relax. There was a little Mexican restaurant across the parking lot, so we thought to get some food and a few adult beverages… It was, unsatisfactory, to say the least. The waiter didn’t listen to us, the food tasted like it had either been under a heat lamp all day or defrosted in the microwave just before getting to our table, and the beers were Budweiser, Budweiser, or Budweiser, and overpriced. Oh, and Budweiser. So, we quickly finished, hit the hay early, and waited for morning.
The next day we got up a little later than planned, a bit sorer than when we went to bed, but we were a couple of hundred miles behind schedule. After getting on the road and driving for a few hours, we found out about the tornado. Crossing into Alabama, we figured we might make back up the time if we could keep to 70 mph.
But distance and reality conspired against us, and we managed to get into Florida late in the day. We got to the turnpike and picked up more time, but it was dark by the time we rolled into town and pulled the truck up behind my new home.
We unpacked the minimum I would need to sleep and ensure cat survival, and then I crashed hard.
And the next day, we unpacked the truck and returned it. We were two days late, but they gave us one day for free because of the tornado.
And then, I was moved.
It was weird. Really weird. The feeling kinda poured over me slowly, in fits and starts, but it started at this point. And, looking back, this was when my expectations should’ve been officially declared endangered.
That day I stood outside the house for a very long minute, just taking this in. Back in Minnesota, people were bracing against snowstorms and frigid winds, and I was standing barefoot in the grass wearing shorts, thinking my black wardrobe was possibly a poor decision in these new environs.
I thought I was getting down here at the right time, just leading into Spring. Then COVID hit, and everything locked down.
THAT is a story for another time.
Thanks for working through this mass of words, reader. Have some fun!
I’m trying to imagine you driving a box truck in stop-n-go traffic during a freaking tornado. I am aging there were a few choice words there. Hope you are well!