From NJ to L.A. With 3 Kids and a Dog: A Cross-Country Journal

Jennifer Stern September 25, 2010 5 Comments

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Moving Truck - California bound

Packing up and hitting the road--California here we come!

Blacksburg, Virginia  

Tuesday, November 17
8:15 p.m.  

It’s the end of our first full day of travel–headquarters for the evening is Room 144 of the Quality Inn in Blacksburg, Virginia. Near Virginia Tech. The boys are on a Skype call with their best friends and former next-door neighbors, Alex (aka “Pickle”) and Luke. I am in the bathroom, trying to grab a moment’s peace–no dice. Ben is banging on the door, telling me he needs to go. OK–story of my life…  

Fast-forward five minutes. I’m now lying face-down on one of the beds and trying to write while our dog Ralph jumps up and walks all over me…sigh. Now here comes Will, my youngest…”What’cha doing?” “Writing,” I answer. If only that were actually the case!  

So, here were are, on the first leg of either the biggest adventure we’ve ever had, or the biggest risk we’ve ever taken, depending on how you look at it. We are leaving New Jersey, where all three of our sons were born and raised. Our house is sold, our truck is packed with all of our earthly possessions that didn’t fit into the moving van, which is a couple of days ahead of us. We are leaving everything comfortable and familiar behind–schools, neighborhoods, friends and family–and headed west. To Los Angeles, specifically, where my husband has accepted a staff writer’s position–which is only guaranteed for the next six months. Beyond that, we’re not sure where the money’s going to come from. But this is his dream, and we are determined to help him pursue it–to pursue all of our dreams, in fact, in the City of Angels.  

Car Packright Cargo Saddle Bag

Our car Packright Cargo Saddle Bag - the fanny pack as we like to call it!

We are extremely limited on both time and money, as this move is costing us a fortune, we made no profit on our house, and we need to get to our new (rented) address in Burbank before the moving truck arrives. So we’ve got exactly a week, which means no leisurely zig-zagging across the country with stops at all the popular tourist destinations. No, this journey will be made at a decidedly breakneck pace, with forced drives of at least 450 miles a day. We’ve got an SUV loaded with a teen, a tween, a 7-year-old who is about to lose his first tooth, and a Cocker spaniel with the personality of Ebenezer Scrooge. But we are hoping to sneak in a teeny bit of fun here and there if we can.  

We actually started out last night, after excruciatingly painful goodbyes with my parents, neighbors and friends. I was exceptionally calm and collected all day, but after taking a last walk through the empty, echoing house and seeing the boys clinging to their friends and everyone bawling like babies, I just lost it. People kept dropping by in a steady stream–it was just like a funeral. The Kents, the Lazzaros, the Kleppes, the Stroz’s, and the kids’ friends–it killed me.  

The boys and Ralph

The boys and Ralph on a very long and life-changing journey!

We left our best friends and neighbors Liz and Alex and their boys all huddled together in the dark on their front lawn when we were finally able to collect ourselves long enough to drive away. We stopped for a very mediocre dinner at TGI Fridays (no one felt much like eating anyway), then hit the road for Delaware. We made it to our hotel (a Ho-Jo’s in Newark, Delaware) by about 8 p.m. and settled in for the night.  

Today we drove through Maryland and West Virginia. The skies were gray and depressing, and there’s not a heck of a lot of scenery to speak of–some horse country and farms are visible from Routes 40 and 79. We skirted Baltimore and reminisced about the mini-vacation we had spent a few years earlier at the city’s Inner Harbor. (Will, then two years old, had had a rough time on that trip, getting carsick and later bloodying his lower lip during a fall at the Baltimore Aquarium. We laugh about it now, but then, not so much…)  

When the boys got restless we stopped for lunch at a Pizza Hut at a West Virginian town whose name escapes me. We opted to eat the dirt-cheap buffet (even though I am not normally a huge fan of such things)–pizza, breadsticks, pasta and salad. I noticed we were getting farther south because people were starting to dress in denim overalls, saying “Y’all,” and referring to their grandfathers as “Pappy.”  

Break at a Virginia Park

The boys taking a driving break at a park in Virginia

We took a quick detour to what turned out to be nothing more than a seedy tourist trap–Natural Bridge, VA, billed as (at least according to the billboards we saw along Route 81) a natural limestone arch, 215 feet tall. Took the next exit to try to find it, but ended up driving right past it–actually OVER it–who knew?–and ended up at a ranger’s station at a park a few miles down the road, where we let the boys and Ralph get out, run around, and pee.  

One of the park rangers (who I’m sure has been asked this same question a hundred million times) kindly and patiently informed us that we had indeed passed the bridge, showed us a rather old-looking picture of it hanging on the wall in the ranger station, and basically told us we weren’t missing anything. It wasn’t worth it, he said, for the $11.00 admission price!  

The address of the Natural Bridgefor anyone interested is 15 Appledore Lane, Natural Bridge, Virginia 24578.  A GPS may be the only way to find it, and if you plan to stay over night, there is a 150 room hotel called the “Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center”.  It’s right next door to the Natural Bridge landmark and other attractions.  There also seem to be seasonal tours of the Natural Bridge Caverns also located in the area.  

We were shooting for Roanoke Virginia today, but ended up about 25 miles past that. Walked over to the Cracker Barrel for dinner (with a very sweet blond waitress who referred to me as “Ma’am” and made me feel totally old), and had comfort foods (roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes for Michael–I had a chicken BLT). The boys had a grand time in the Cracker Barrel’s gift shop (isn’t it just so thoughtful and convenient of this restaurant chain to force you to pass through it on your way to dinner?), and of course begged and pleaded for toys and various other sundries they didn’t need.  

And now here we are, holed up for the night.  

We are looking forward to some nice scenery tomorrow–even though it’s supposed to rain. Blecchh. Well, hopefully we won’t have to deal with THAT much longer. Don’t they say it never rains in Southern California?  Read on about our continuing road trip through Tennessee and Arkansas.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Jennifer Stern is a mom of three teen boys, who provide her with constant inspiration to write. She is also a fitness professional/junkie who teaches everything from Spinning to Zumba. A New Jersey native, this is her second time living in Southern California. She loves the L.A. lifestyle, but does miss eating decent pizza and bagels--so she consoles herself with excellent Mexican food. She and her family live in Burbank.

Tags: Sharing Experiences, Travel Excursions
5 Comments to “From NJ to L.A. With 3 Kids and a Dog: A Cross-Country Journal”
  1. avatar Tom Dombroski says:

    I love this writer! I mean she provides excellent information with a humerous twist. Also, I feel for her and her family. I have not gone through what she and her family have experienced, but I’m sure it takes tons of courage. I wish her and her family the very best. Someday if I ever move to California, I’ll be sure not to stop at that bridge.

  2. avatar Pat Dombroski says:

    How entertaining is this girl! Can’t wait for the next installment from this talented writer.

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