The Long Journey to the Conch Republic

I’m not going to claim things are 100% perfect here, because it’s rainy today and I have mosquito bites all over my legs and my bike has coffee stains all over it because I don’t have a proper cupholder yet and our icemaker won’t turn off. But it’s as close to perfect as you could realistically expect, and I’m really damn happy about everything. Please review my photos for more gushing about how awesome it is here, and I’ll stop talking about that for now.

Mostly I would like to discuss our experience moving cross-country, so I can remember it, and hopefully never have to do that again. (Next time we move a long distance, it will hopefully involve movers putting our stuff into a container that gets loaded onto a ship.)

Friday, September 25

We had a ‘farewell’ lunch at work that extended the entire afternoon. It was more emotional than I expected. After work, we went to pick this sucker up at Reddy Rents.


It wasn’t too bad driving it on Hiawatha, but on city streets it was terrifying. We managed to get it onto a street fairly near our apartment so we could leave it for the night. I’m really glad we decided to rent a Penske truck (on multiple recommendations), because it was very new, with a comfortable drivers seat – not so much for passengers – and had most of the accessories you’d want, including an iPod jack.


The movers showed up. They loaded up our apartment, then we drove the truck to the storage unit (driving into the Public Storage building? Not my favorite thing ever), and they loaded that stuff up too. Everything fit in the truck, thankfully.

Matt’s parents had arrived that morning, so we hung out with them, parked the truck at a hotel on 494, and then went to our going-away party at Rich’s house. Both sets of parents showed up, in addition to many, many of our friends. It was fantastic.


We had a quick breakfast with the in-laws, said goodbye, and were on the road. Matt played the theme song to Top Gun to try to stop my crying. It didn’t work. (After a few minutes on the highway, I was too distracted by being a trucker to be emotional.) We let Wendy know we were on the way, and she headed out from her house in Matt’s car.

We met up in Rochester, then somewhere in Iowa with a giant chicken.


We took US 52 to I-80 and headed toward the Quad Cities, which I’d never been to before. It was exciting as you’d imagine, especially from the interstate. Along the way, Matt booked a room in Peoria. Nobody in history has ever been so excited to get to Peoria. (I’ve never been to Peoria, despite having grown up in Illinois. Everything not in Chicago is far away.)

We checked in and headed right back out to get dinner at Peoria Pizza Works, which was awesome. It was the night of the SUPER BLOOD MOON, so the entire internet was discussing it. It was totally overcast in Peoria, so we were VERY ANGRY at not being able to see it. Also VERY TIRED, so everything on earth was hilarious. We went back to the hotel, and I’m pretty sure I was asleep by 9:30.


We headed out, this time with Wendy as my navigator and Matt in the car. The rest of Illinois was as miserably boring as always, though we did stop and take a side trip to see Superman in Metropolis. (Side trips involved stopping at a gas station/rest area, parking the truck, and the three of us piling in the car with our suitcases, computer equipment, and plants.)


From Metropolis, we crossed the Ohio River and escaped into Kentucky. Why was I excited about Kentucky? Because of Waffle House.

I’ve only been to Waffle House once in my life, and only in Paducah, Kentucky. The one we ended up at was not the same Waffle House (it was years ago), but that was fine. Also, I got terribly sick on my first visit, and was hopeful to not have a recurrence of that event. Because it was really important that Matt and Wendy also visit Waffle House in Paducah, Kentucky.

The South Paducah Waffle House was kind enough to be across from a large empty lot where we could park the truck. Wendy and I went in and promptly met our initially-crabby server, Tracy. Matt joined us shortly thereafter. We ordered food, and Tracy started to warm up and tell us stories. ALL of the stories, most of them only semi-coherent, about people she seemed to assume we knew. A few of them were way too personal… including one about her bladder infection.

We were most definitely in The South.


The food was GREAT, though. I did not get sick, and we completely enjoyed our visit and hearing Tracy Stories. Holy crap.

Then we were back on the road to Tennessee. I had remembered The Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky being really picturesque, but it was actually boring. Wendy and I spent the time making big plans for the next day: since we already had a really awesome hotel booked in Islamorada on Wednesday night, one with a nice beach and swimming pool, we were going to drive as far as humanly possible on Tuesday. We’d already discussed with Matt and decided that we should shoot for Gainesville, which was about 650 miles and would mean we’d made it to Florida. But Wendy and I had really big and totally unrealistic ideas, and tried to figure out how we could trick Matt into going all the way to Orlando.

We knew we were starting to get close to Nashville, but could see no signs of it. Matt was ahead of us and giving us updates on traffic and the hotel location, and Wendy and I were in a combination of rage and despair over getting there (the kind of thing that happens after 400+ miles in a truck). Finally, we came over a ridge and saw the Batman building.

We had to navigate fairly heavy traffic to get to our hotel on the south (i.e. outbound on the interstate, because we’re smart) side of town. We once again had a surprisingly nice business hotel with very comfortable rooms and free breakfast, the most important thing for long road trips. We had a celebratory halfway-there beer in the room, and then got in the car to head downtown for dinner.

Matt had made reservations quite a while back at Husk. As we pulled up to the giant mansion, we realized we were maybe a little underdressed. However, the very hipstery servers were all in jeans (expensive jeans, but whatever), so we didn’t care that much. Plus we’d spent two days in a moving truck.

We had cocktails at the bar, then were seated at our table. We ordered the pimento cheese with corn cakes, and Matt and Wendy had fried bologna sliders. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wendy so excited about a sandwich in my life.


There’s one vegetarian entree there, called the Plate of Southern Vegetables. It’s nothing like you’d expect, and it might be the best meal I’ve ever had.


There were okra fritters with smoked Duke’s (also Wendy’s new favorite thing), a cucumber/green apple soup, grits with a poached egg and preserved tomato, a grain salad with greens, and a roasted vegetable I don’t remember. Even the things I don’t usually like (cucumber and okra) were incredible. Apparently the dish changes constantly, too.

I could’ve easily gone back to the hotel at that point – it was only 9pm – but I really wanted them to at least see a little bit of the ridiculous part of downtown Nashville, because it’s one of my favorite cities. So we drove over there, parked, and walked down to Music Row. We weren’t up for a packed bar, so we found a gigantic quiet beer hall with windows that opened onto the street so we could hear all the bands. The only downside was a group of Packers fans at the bar watching the game. What can you do? They’re everywhere, no matter how often you spray for them.


We had a beer there and headed back for the night. We had to secretly drive all the way to Orlando the next day, after all.


It was Matt’s turn to navigate again, and Wendy was in the car heading for Georgia. We were very glad to be leaving from the south side of Nashville, because northbound traffic was godawful. Chattanooga was semi-interesting, but traffic was crappy and I was not at all excited about it. Plus the weather was rainy on and off, but still hot, and the air conditioning in the truck cut out every time we went uphill.

One really nice thing about the truck was that we could make it nearly an entire day’s drive on a single tank of gas. We ended up stopping to use the bathroom and get beverages way more often than we needed gas. Plus the truck took diesel, so it was cheaper to fill (about $80/day). If you want to feel like a true trucker, pulling into the semi pumps and filling diesel while your companion climbs up on a ladder to wash the windshield is the true experience. We stopped short of picking up lot lizards or showering in a truck stop, however.

Georgia is kind of a blur to me, because I’d reached the point of just driving forever with the end goal in mind. There were MANY anti-abortion and anti-gay billboards, and the rest seemed to be about peanuts. We hit terrible traffic in Atlanta in the rain, and made the poor choice of taking the direct route through the city instead of the bypass. I have only one photo that Matt took in Georgia: Bally in MidMajor territory near Macon. (Home of the KKK, by the way.)


Finally, impossibly, we were in Florida. Those palm trees they plant at the border that die every year and have to be replanted because it’s too cold were there waiting for us. So was the sign reminding us that Rick Scott is governor. Our new home.


(I’d prefer to consider myself a Key West resident, or a Keys resident, or even a citizen of the Conch Republic. It’s not the same down here, I swear. Key West Man is very different from Florida Man.)

At that point I didn’t care that it was still 90 miles to Gainesville, because we’d made it to our seventh and last state. We made a brief stop at the agriculture inspection station, where a crabby man asked me what I had in the truck. I said, “Everything! We’re moving.” He asked if we had any plants or produce. (Thankfully, he didn’t ask about the #77Donkeys we were smuggling.) I *did* lie about the banana I had from the hotel in Nashville. Wendy had our houseplants and didn’t have to go through inspection, so I guess we were mostly above-board.

When I’d started off many states and miles beforehand, I’d hung in the right lane going between 55-60 most of the way. By the time we’d reached Florida, I was a true trucker. Top speed in the truck was around 72mph, and we stuck to that most of the way to Gainesville. As we arrived, Matt queued up one of my very favorite songs, Gainesville by Dillinger 4.

We were staying at The Lodge, a weird sprawling northwoods-cabin-looking complex a couple miles from the University. It was badly in need of updating, but its strange charm made up for that (as well as the fact that WE DIDN’T CARE, WE WERE IN FLORIDA).

We dumped our stuff in our rooms and headed to dinner at a place Matt had found via Google while on the road: the Reggae Shack Cafe. It smelled like Jamaica the second we walked in (pimento wood, mostly). The food was authentic. We were happy. On the way back, we encountered some local meth-heads stumbling around in the street. It wouldn’t be Gainesville without them.


We made it to Orlando a little after 10am, and headed to a Dunkin Donuts off the turnpike to meet up with my sister-in-law and nieces (and Alison’s parents, who stopped in to say hi as well). It was a way-too-short visit, but we were really happy to get to see them along the way. Then we tore through the rest of the state, not noticing much of it. (It all looks the same from the turnpike anyway – suburban houses and canals I assume are full of alligators.)

We stopped at one of the plazas in the middle of the highway to refuel, and Matt picked up a SunPass for his car, our first act as Florida residents. (We don’t have income tax, so I guess we have to pay a lot to drive on roads.) Though we were driving through the way-outer-Miami suburbs in the mid-afternoon, traffic was still as terrible as expected. Wendy and I chose an exit for a gas station poorly, and drove around aimlessly for way too long and both almost peed our pants by the time we reached the next plaza on the interstate.

It started raining as we started to escape the Miami area and headed toward Homestead. We took the last exit to Highway 1, and knew we’d be able to see the ocean soon. There’s Florida City, then the 15-mile stretch that’s just alligator crossing signs, barbed wire, and marshland, and finally we were over the bridge and officially in Key Largo on the Overseas Highway. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved in my life.

Wendy had to put up with me telling her about Every Single Thing we passed along the way, because I was so excited to see it again. (It had been at least three weeks since my previous visit, after all.) The rain let up, and it was gorgeous. We had to stop at a drawbridge to let a ship pass, and then we arrived at our hotel at MM84, the Postcard Inn.

It was worth the rush to get there.


Since it’s still the offseason, the place was nearly deserted. They’ve done a ton of renovations recently, and are still finishing them up. The place is gorgeous.


There were giant 2-person baskets on the beach. We got beers from the bar and hung out looking at the ocean. It was a pretty excellent reward for driving almost 2,000 miles in 4 days.


After a while, we headed a few miles north for dinner at MEAT. Despite the name, they had a really excellent veggie burger, not to mention a great tap selection. (Good beer is a relatively new thing in the Keys, and it’s still kind of surprising to find it everywhere.)

After dinner, we went back to the hotel, put on our bathing suits, and went to the bar to pick up another round of beers. We told the bartender Jeffrey we were going to the pool, so he sold us a 6-pack and fashioned a little cooler for us out of plastic bags and a pile of ice. We loved him for it.

We had the pool to ourselves for a very long time. (I’m kind of surprised Wendy every agreed to leave that hotel, actually.) A father and his daughter showed up after a while, and then the world’s largest cockroach palmetto bug landed right in the middle of the pool, and we all ran for our towels.


I went to sit on the beach with my coffee while Matt showered, and Wendy showed up soon after. I talked to the guy out cleaning up the beach, and he acted like we were insane for wanting to move to Key West. He said we’d be back in the middle Keys sooner or later. (People farther up the Keys like to call it Key Weird with the same tone people from outstate Minnesota talk about The City, home of the $9 beers.) However, moving to a town of 25,000 people is kind of culture shock to us, not to mention the fact you have to drive everywhere if you’re anywhere else in the Keys.

Driving the truck down Highway 1 was downright pleasant after all the interstates. There’s only one lane unless you’re in Marathon or Big Pine. The speed limit is 45 or 55 the whole way. There aren’t many cross streets. And there’s something interesting to look at every single minute along the way.

We stopped in Marathon for our last gas fillup, got giant Dunkin Donuts coffees, and were on our way to Key West.

When we got there around 10:30, I didn’t even have the chance to get emotional about it. I was too nervous about how I was going to get the truck to our house. Luckily, traffic wasn’t bad, and the two turns I had to make were pretty easy. I did drive over a metal plate on the sidewalk and leave a huge dent in it while backing the truck up to the carport, but that’s fine. It’s a little reminder of our move that I can see from my table-desk right now.

Imagine unloading a completely packed-full 24-foot truck that contains everything you own, in 90-degree weather and million-percent humidity. Think of how fun that would be, and then multiply it by ten. That’s what it was like unpacking our truck. And if you multiply it by hundred, that’s probably how fun it was for Wendy, because she doesn’t even get to live in Key West afterwards.

Our dining room table was broken in half because they’d piled too much on top of it, and we lost a set of shelves, but everything else arrived mostly intact. We managed to get the place set up to the point where humans could shower and sleep in real beds. Then we headed off into town to celebrate.

I didn’t really get emotional about the whole thing until we were standing in Mallory Square watching sunset. Because holy crap, we live here now.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: