I never thought that I would live here.
And not in that, "Oh, it's so beautiful there, it would be a dream to live there," kind of way, but in the, "That's where my family goes on vacation...it's just a place to camp in, not a place to live in" kind of way. If anything I would consider myself a big city person. So you can imagine the surprise of my family and coworkers last April when I announced I was moving to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. To live. I mentioned it in my first post, but I moved here for what seemed like a great job opportunity. A brand new coffee shop right downtown, owned by close friends of my family, and I would be the manager. It would double as a church, so it had to be a great thing, right? (If only I could go back in time!) And the owners didn't know much about coffee, so I would have total control over creating the menu, choosing flavors, picking out ingredients....I even helped build the furniture! They were offering to pay me fairly well for the area, I found an apartment that was just perfect on the first trip up to visit, and my parents were excited they'd have someone to visit on their yearly trip to Mackinac Island. It all seemed too good to be true.
Naturally, it was. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail (see this post if you're interested), but the coffee shop did not work out. I left in November, and returned to my previous company as a remote worker. And that's what I've been up to ever since. Living in a very small town, driving long distances to basic stores like Meijer, TJ Maxx, or even Walmart, feeling like I've been cut off from "normal". It's been 16 months. Nearly a year and a half has passed since I moved here. And while I know that in 10 years, that really won't seem like a long period of time, I assure you: it's been a long freaking period of time. I've learned that just because someone is a "family friend," it does not by any means imply that you can trust them. I've learned not to take brick-and-mortar stores for granted (though thank goodness for online shopping). And I've learned that its dangerous to get too close to people who are as much in a 'transition phase' as you are.
But honestly it hasn't all been bad. I've also met some pretty incredible people ever since I moved up here that have given me new insights and new understandings of what relationships can be. I've learned that true friends stick around, whether your raclette actually cooks the food you're trying to serve or not (whoops), and regardless of your trivia skills. The friends I've made here have also taught me to be patient, how to properly enjoy yourself at a wedding reception, and that everyone is fighting a battle even if they don't outwardly show it. There have been good times and bad, friends who have left and friends who've stayed, and conversations that changed my views and sense of humor (ahem...you know who you are). So much has happened this past year and a half. I know that I've changed, but I do think its been in the best ways possible.
SO. I move one week from tomorrow. And since I will be on my way out of this teeny, tiny town, I feel no hesitation in sharing it with you. St. Ignace, with a population of 2,377 (2,376 as of next Saturday - roughly the size of my high school's student body) is literally the first town over the Mackinac Bridge. Its full of old buildings, Ojibwe museums, ferry docks, a US Coast Guard station, an antique store, and a lot of bars. (And a coffee shop I personally wouldn't recommend...). There's a church there full of incredibly kind people, a few restaurants specializing in white fish, and a handful of pasty shops. It is in no way, shape, or form vegan/vegetarian friendly, and the grocery store is ridiculously over priced. But since I've spent so much time here, I thought I'd share some places of interest. There's nothing remarkably special about these places, but given that I didn't often leave my apartment because I worked from home, any chance to get out and go somewhere was appreciated.
Naturally, the gym comes in high on my list. It was one of the first places I went outside of my apartment, and the first place I started actually meeting other people (dare I say friends?). I could be frustrated, upset, lonely, homesick, whatever...and come to the gym to just sweat it out. Granted, its no Lifetime Fitness or Powerhouse, but it had free weights, a squat rack, a few ellipticals, and a whopping 4 treadmills. (It also had a few hunky guys, which - let's be honest - only made working out more enjoyable.) The gym had everything I needed, and I was quick to get a membership. I recognized coffee shop regulars, got to know a few people in the Coast Guard, made a friend who worked in the hospital's pharmacy, and even met a few corrections officers from the local jail. (One of whom turned out to be pretty darn great.) The gym has definitely been one of my favorite places in town.
Ok. I'm sure this one raises a few eyebrows, but yes - the Driftwood is on my list of notable places. (I'm referring to the bar/restaurant, not the motel.) Frankly it doesn't have the best reputation. Some of the 'seedier' people in town often go to the Driftwood late at night, and a friend of mine even dubbed it, "The Dirty D". But when I first moved here, it was where I went to meet new people (oh, Sam...). I would literally take a book to the bar, order a glass of wine, and let the conversations happen. I met little old couples from Virginia on road trips through the U.P.. I met construction workers on their way to a job. I met some of the town regulars who'd been going for years, and they pointed out who to stay away from. I even got to know the staff at the Driftwood, including a girl my age who was there on a visa exchange program. She and I got to be very close, and when she had to return home a few months later for medical reasons, I packed her a 'safe travels!' bag with travel-size everything. She returned with a Starbucks mug for me from her home country, and I thought she'd be a solid friend.
Not two weeks later, she promptly ended our friendship. Because of...a guy. I hadn't lived in St. Ignace four months and I'd already found drama (ugh). After that I stopped going to the Driftwood as frequently because, well... I had no interest in bumping into her. And because by that point I'd started to make actual friends. Sure, I went back a few times for lunch after church, or for a friend's birthday party, or if a few in my group were meeting up for beers. But that's it. Farewell, Driftwood.
Surprise - another bar! MI Patio was definitely a favorite place of mine to go more last summer than this summer, mostly because of the staff. I got to know a couple who worked there (let's call them Hallie and Adam), and we became friends almost instantly. Hallie had been in the Navy and Adam in the Marines, and the two had fallen in love and gotten married. They were in St. Ignace to save money while they worked on an RV they were planning to take around the country once it was ready. I appreciated their help and insight in my pursuit of the Navy, and they gave me ideas of what to expect and supported me completely. They were just so interesting! Hallie and I 'clicked', and spent many nights watching Game of Thrones on HBO while drinking Summer Shandy and cuddling with their two adorable dogs. We had a 4th of July bonfire in their driveway, and Hallie and I walked down the street to buy an enormous box of fireworks. She even came with me the day I got my tattoo! I loved going to MI Patio because I always knew Hallie or Adam would come over to chat, Hallie's curly blonde hair bopping up and down in her ponytail and Adam scratching his beard. They were amazing. And come September, it was hard to see them go.
They did come back to visit once, when they parked their RV in the campsite next to my apartment complex (yes, you read that correctly: an RV park next to my apartment complex), and it was neat to see the space they'd been living in for the past several months. They told me about their travels all around the United States, and it was hard to believe it had once only been a dream they'd shared with me at MI Patio. The menu was small and there were usually only 3 or 4 beers on tap, but it was still a favorite.
Speaking of Hallie and Adam, they took me to this magical place called "The Dunes", which is a short drive down US-2 past St. Ignace. Basically its a big, open beach on Lake Michigan where people love to relax, enjoy the sun and sand, and maybe share a few cold ones. I went a few times with my friends from MI Patio, and they'd even bring their two dogs along. Absolutely beautiful, and a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
I couldn't possibly leave out Dollar General! This place was so critical in putting together nearly all of my tutoring lessons. I shied away from their packaged food and makeup, but their craft aisle was amazing. Tag board, construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, crayons, markers, pom-pom balls, paints...this place had it all. I loved going just to browse and see what I could make. My French tutoring students painted flags, made books, created "monstres", and even played games, all with materials I found at Dollar General. Aside from tutoring, I would occasionally buy Barefoot wine there (since Meijer was 45 minutes away and it was twice as expensive at the grocery store...) but that's about it!
So let's talk about the grocery store for a minute. It's called "Family Fare" (even though everyone in town calls it "Glen's", its former name) and its possibly the least 'family-friendly' grocery store I have ever been to. First and foremost, this is the entirety of its organic fruits/vegetables/anything section:
Second, they charge an arm and a leg for groceries. Since campers and tourists have to buy food somewhere, the prices are ridiculously high (because there are no other grocery stores in town). Canteloupe melon: $3.99 each. The smallest box of Cheerios: $3.19. Any kind of organic anything: twice the price of a Meijer or Trader Joe's. A bag of tortilla chips normally $2.99 is $4.99 here. One container of trailmix ($5.49 in most stores) is $8.99. At one point I even saw a carton of strawberries for over $7. And I rarely - if ever - bought wine there. So while some might think it was ridiculous that I drove the 45 minutes to Meijer once a week to load up on normal, normally-priced groceries (filling up the cooler on my backseat), it was completely worth it.
The Wawatam Lighthouse also makes the list because it was one of the first places I visited on a trip up to go apartment hunting in St. Ignace. The lighthouse is situated directly across the street from the coffee shop, so I knew I'd be spending a lot of time looking at it out the front windows. Now that I haven't been working at the coffee shop, it's become more of a "walk destination" when I decide to do some cardio in fresh air. It's roughly 2.1 miles from my apartment, so whether I walk or run it's a decent distance to go. Sometimes I do a bit of both. And then on my way back, I turn around and see this:
Friends, this is the coffee shop. I took this picture last summer before we opened, back when I had a completely different idea of where I'd be now. I never thought I'd be moving back to my parents' 'neck of the woods' or returning to my company, but I am so thankful that I'm able to. My managers, my coworkers, and the company in general have been so supportive and understanding through this entire past year, and I really can't put in words how grateful I am. (I don't know if any of you will read this, but if you do...thank you.)
St. Ignace has been interesting, to say the very least. After labor day last year, the town fell silent after a very busy tourist season. The winter was long and quiet and cold, though not as bad as I was expecting, and I was thankful for good friends to get through it with. One of my favorite restaurants in town - the Village Inn (or 'VI' as the cool kids call it) - even held a trivia night every Tuesday and my group of friends went regularly. Those friends made living in this town so much more enjoyable. We had a "Friendsgiving" (or two) and went black Friday shopping up in Sault Ste Marie. We had a few game nights and a "college draaank night" (don't ask). We went to the casino on a few occasions, more for the drinks than for the machines. We had movie nights and bonfires and sometimes even worked out together. It was so nice to have a group of people that felt more like family than friends: some were married, some were single, one couple had an adorable baby, and we were all just kind of "figuring it out" together. And of course being with someone who happened to be a local made things just a little better, too. (Especially when they have a big surprise party for you involving all of your closest friends when you think you're just going out to dinner with your parents...)
(Ok...technically this picture was in Sault Ste Marie, but the gang's all here)
If I could rewind and do things differently, I would. Absolutely, 100%. I'm not going to lie and say, "I wouldn't change anything, because I learned so much and wouldn't be the person I am today, blehhh." But in the past year and a half in St. Ignace, it's true that I have grown and changed a lot. I know that when I move, I'm going to appreciate the little things more, like being able to 'run to the store' after work or be in an office surrounded by my coworkers. I can do yoga at an actual studio and work out right in my apartment complex. I'll be able to go to the occasional family function without planning an entire weekend around the trip, and of course I'll be able to see my old friends more often. The friends I've made in St. Ignace are closer than friends I made in college or high school, and I have no doubt we'll keep in touch. That's what real friends do.
This coming week is going to be busy. I don't have a ton to pack (thank you, minimalism), but I do have to paint my blue, purple, and yellow walls back to white, organize the U-haul, and take a few more things to the donation center. I also have to do all of those annoying last-minute things like cleaning the shower, cancelling internet/electric, and wiping out my fridge. But I am so excited. I have been ready for this for months and its hard to believe its finally here.
Farewell, St. Ignace.