From NJ to L.A. With Three Kids and a Dog: (New) Home at Last!

Jennifer Stern September 30, 2010 No Comments


Burbank California HomeBurbank, California
Monday, November 23, 2009

(This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles about my family’s cross-country move from the suburbs of New Jersey to Southern California)

The Sterns have landed! Home sweet home is now a charming yellow house with an actual white picket fence, nestled in the foothills of Burbank. We managed to beat the moving van; as a matter of fact, we arrived in L.A. about five hours after leaving Needles, and we were actually a day early. Alas, since the house and carpets were being cleaned, we couldn’t move in, so we knew we’d need to spend one more night at a hotel. But I need to back up a bit…

The last leg of a trip somehow always seems the longest. After breakfast yesterday, we departed the dusty, dry, one-horse town of Needles and set out once again on Route 40. By this time we wanted nothing more than to simply GET THERE–we didn’t want to stop, we didn’t want to see any tourist attractions, we simply wanted to go home. Our new home, that is.

Welcome to California

I have to say that throughout this very long week, all three of my boys (not to mention the furry four-legged one) had proven to be absolute troupers. There was very little whining, complaining, or protesting throughout nearly three thousand miles of travel. And that’s why I’d like to say a great big THANK YOU to the video game and film industries for making such miraculous products as the Nintendo DS and DVD movies. I don’t know how our parents survived long road trips with us when we were kids, but I know I would have been tearing my hair out during this trip without all the portable video entertainment available today!

Our GMC Acadia, with its flip-down video screen, was perfect for entertaining the troops in the back seat (and the “way-back,” which is how we refer to the third row of seating,  can also flip down for cargo storage). We were equipped with plenty of DVDs including the Star Wars trilogies, Indiana Jones movies and other boy-type entertainment.

In spite of all the technology, we did manage to engage the kids in some old-school, low-tech activities. A big favorite in our family is to play Mad Libs while driving, so I always make sure to stock up on plenty of new books and pencils. Everyone (except for the driver, of course) takes turns filling in the blanks with the silly nouns, verbs, and adjectives we come up with and then reading the story back to the rest of us, and we always end up in fits of laughter!

Another old tried-and-true favorite is the License Plate Game, where we see who can spot the most license plates from different states throughout the course of the day. (A variation on the theme during this trip was the Cracker Barrel Game, since we saw more Cracker Barrel restaurants across America than we could possibly have imagined… if I remember correctly the grand total was more than fifty! People do love their Cracker Barrels…)

After about five hours of driving mainly through remote high desert towns including Barstow, Victorville, and Apple Valley, we began to encounter some L.A. sprawl and traffic around San Bernardino. Strangely enough, this didn’t bother us in the least–now we knew for sure that we were getting close to our final destination!

It was frustrating, being this close and yet not being able to get into our new home yet. We got off the 5 Freeway in the town of Glendale (just next door to Burbank), and decided to spend the night at the Days Inn there. And that turned out to be one of the worst decisions we made on the entire trip. (As my kids would call it, an “epic fail”…)

Dear readers, if ever you happen to find yourselves in Glendale, CA, in need of lodging or food, please, heed my advice and stay as far away from the Days Inn as you possibly can. Apparently we neglected to note the sign on the side of the building advertising “Extended Stays”– this place is about half a step up from a very low-rent apartment complex. That, essentially, is what it is.

I was already suspicious of the cheesy decor (plastic flowers, ugly floral wallpaper, a lobby that smelled like stale cigarette smoke) and the frankly seedy-looking clientele (overweight men wandering around in wifebeater T’s; women with rollers in their hair and well-worn slippers). People just really looked like they LIVED there–because, of course, they did. Then when we got to our room on the first floor, my mood sunk even further. The room was dated, shabby and smelled of cigarettes; ashtrays were on every flat surface; there were cigarette burns on the tables–I could go on, but I think you’ve got the picture.

I immediately balked and insisted that we leave and try to find more suitable accommodations, but my husband wouldn’t hear of it. Besides, he reminded me, it was the only place in the area we’d found that would accept dogs (yep, the dog thing again). Frankly, I think even Ralph thought it was a dump.

Don’t ask me how, but my husband actually convinced me that we should eat dinner there, at the hotel’s restaurant. Convinced that we would all wind up at the local emergency room with a nasty case of food poisoning, I resisted. I protested. I whined and moaned. But all to no avail. My sick-of-driving husband had HAD it. So, on to dinner we went…

When we walked into the predictably depressing-looking dining room (more ugly wallpaper and plastic flowers), the waiter practically attacked us, greeting us with the enthusiasm one would normally reserve for long-lost family members. Slow night, I figured, as I surveyed the scene and only saw a couple of solo diners, both of whom looked quite down on their luck.

As you can probably guess, the food did nothing to redeem the place–overcooked, sticky spaghetti, burned bread, and steak that had the taste, consistency and appearance of shoe leather. The kids were pushing their food around their plates and looking at us miserably. I turned and gave my husband that “I told you so” look and he gave me the “I’m sorry” shoulder shrug with upturned palms.

It’s amazing how well you can communicate after 15 years of marriage without saying a word.

Somehow we got through the night (I had done my best to air out the room and sprayed down everything with Lysol), and the following morning we couldn’t get out of there fast enough! It was just a quick ten-minute trip to our new house.

Our weary young travelers were so excited to investigate the new digs, and especially their new bedrooms and bathroom. The moving van pulled up in front of the house shortly after we did, and once our familiar belongings started coming off the truck, there was great relief all around.

One small problem–the newly-cleaned pale beige carpets hadn’t dried in time for our arrival; and even though the moving crew tried to be really careful, they still ended up tracking dirt all over, which turned into muddy stains. Oh well, I suppose with three boys and a dog, it was only a matter of time anyway.

Many hours, boxes, and pieces of furniture later, it was official. We were moved in–well, in a manner of speaking. We were so exhausted we couldn’t bear to unpack just then. But we weren’t too tired to eat. A tiny Mexican restaurant literally around the corner from our new house (La Bamba, 2222 Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank) turned out to be a delightful source of takeout food, and has since become our go-to place for lunch or dinner when we don’t feel like cooking.

It’s now been nearly a year since that day, when everything was so strange and new and uncertain. The boys have adjusted very well to their new schools, made new friends, and continue to make us proud with their resiliency. My husband and I have embraced the Southern California lifestyle and love our adopted city of Burbank.

We delight in showing our kids all that this part of the country has to offer! There are so many places to go, things to see and do that we now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

And I look forward to telling  you all about these places, and the further adventures of the Stern family, in upcoming articles!

Below are the first three articles in our New Jersey to LA cross country trek:

1 . From NJ to L.A. With 3 Kids and a Dog: A Cross-Country Journal
2. NJ to L.A. With Three Kids and a Dog–The Journey Continues
3. NJ to L.A. With Three Kids and a Dog: Westward Ho!

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: Travel Excursions

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