by Troy M. Olson
Now that I’ve finally wrestled the pen and paper away from professional instigator Harry J. Potter (tuxedo cat version), I’m digging into my journal (and likely horcrux for Harry) to tell our version of the journey from Saint Paul, MN to New York, NY.
We spent our last few days making the rounds to our favorite restaurants and favorite friends and people. Admittedly, I may have indulged in this a bit more while Jacki spent 90-plus degree days packing our stuff, the stuff we couldn’t get rid of and did not throw away. I feel okay admitting this bout of laziness now because I ended up driving the Penske “big rig” the entire way. Although the move was certain, perhaps I wanted to soak in every last drop of Minnesota unsweetened tea. We were excited, nervous, and pre-nostalgic. Very millennial.
After packing up the truck all day, with the help of parents, we were finally on the road at about 8 P.M. Harry was excited, or terrified. Or excited. Or terrified. We’ll get to that later. Later that night we crossed the Minnesota-Iowa border. While I’ve spent significant time in the Middle East, England, the state of North Dakota, and the state of Missouri in my life, this was the first time I could ever truly say I was leaving Minnesota, perhaps for good. It was bittersweet.
“Is This Heaven? No It’s Iowa”
We rolled into Clear Lake, Iowa at about 11 PM. We parked the “big rig”, had a beer, collected Harry, and called it a night at a hotel just off the interstate. For those who don’t know, Clear Lake was the town where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper were scheduled to play the “Day the Music Died” during the Winter Dance Tour of 1959.
The next morning, Harry had very cleverly hid in the box spring at the hotel room, refusing to come out, even for food. We did not know it at the time and asked hotel staff if this were possible. They said no cat can get under there, and that it is not possible. I said, “you don’t know our cat.” This set the tone for the rest of the day. Another hot summer day in the Upper Midwest, 2015.
We had planned to head south, then east toward Springfield, Illinois, so we could visit Lincoln’s Tomb. As the hot day dragged on and on, and the miles and refueling added up, I sensed and then witnessed frustration growing. Enter – the debut “Angry Face”
One of my all time favorite movies is “Field of Dreams”, which heavily featured the state of Iowa and included this exchange between the ghost of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and protagonist Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner).
“Shoeless” Joe: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: No. It’s Iowa.
Harry Potter would disagree. He was also displeased that Starbucks butchered his name for the 2nd time that day. While I have always have fond memories of Iowa, at Harry’s urging and constant complaining, it was time to move on.
The Country Lawyer who Saved the Union
As soon as we knew for certain we would be moving to New York City, we began charting out our rough itinerary. Although it was against our financial self interest, it was in our spiritual self interest to go out of our way a bit and head south through Springfield, Illinois to visit the Tomb of our Greatest U.S. President. An argument can be made for Washington, or FDR, but for me, it’s our nations’ 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was a country lawyer who had a mostly unremarkable political career to that point. That year he lost a U.S. Senate race to Stephen Douglass. Two years later his election to the Presidency moved South Carolina to secede from the Union. By the time he was inaugurated in March of 1861, seven slave-holding states had formed the Confederate States of America.
While certainly not perfect, and in many ways a product of his time like all people are, Abraham Lincoln holds a special place in my heart for where he started from, where he ended up, and the unlikely journey he took to get there. His life is an inspiration for those who embark on their own road less traveled journey, and his Presidency is particularly of interest today, a time where the country is more divided that at any point since the Civil War.
While freeing the slaves for Lincoln was always of secondary importance to the preservation of the Union, his leadership, character, and resolve during the bloodiest and most divisive four years of American history almost seem as if they leap out from a great novel. But this novel actually happened. So of course, we had to visit Lincoln’s tomb. No, I did not weep, but that was probably because it was daylight and we still needed to figure out where we were going to sleep that night.
“Hoosiers”, the importance of teamwork, and my wife is a trooper
We stayed at a Best Western near the interstate (and a Starbucks) that night and were on the road again the nest day heading eastward toward Indiana. What can I say about Indiana? The exact middle point of our journey. As with most middle points, things started to drag, boredom crept in, and I was blown away by how amazing my wife is.
After the 18th cornfield in a row, I began what is perhaps the longest monologue about the 1986 sports film “Hoosiers” that has ever been attempted. It was a soliloquy worthy of a great Senate filibuster. For those that do not know or have not seen “Hoosiers”, it tells the story of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that wins the state championship, loosely based on the 1954 Milan High School state championship team. We had passed a sign that referenced that team and it spurred me into talking about that movie. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I am a huge fan of great stories. And great stories can be found everywhere, whether it’s the story of a country lawyer who grew up in a one room log cabin and rose to become President of the United States, or whether that story is of the smallest school ever in Indiana history to win an at-lage state high school basketball championship. The head coach in the ’86 film also shares the same name as my maternal grandfather.
My wife shockingly had little to say about this sports classic or the true-to-life story and wisely only likely listened to perhaps 25% of it. But it kept me awake and I was excited to talk about it and connect the dots along the way.
It was also around Illinois or Indiana somewhere that Jacki and I began playing the license plate game, in an attempt to collect all 51 license (50 states + D.C.) plates. We almost got there by the time we reached our new home, missing only Alaska and Hawaii, which perhaps we should have exempted from the start and limited it to continental United States, but unfortunately we are both super competitive people. It would not have mattered since we also did not see Vermont (one of the first license plates we did see on our block though!), Utah, and Wyoming.
Next week the conclusion of our three-part journey. Hopefully. I thought I could write this in three, but just like our move, I have underestimated everything.
A Millennial Couple’s Journey From Saint Paul to New York City: Part Three – Morgantown, Mountains, and Entrance to the East Coast
Click here to read the first part.