We didn’t plan to stay in Malibu for Spring Break. It happened quite by accident after a series of unfortunate events. Pull up a chair.
We decided to take a road trip out to California for Spring Break. After an overnight in St. George, Utah, our last leg of the journey began when our car descended the San Bernardino mountains. This is where high desert gives way to the smooth, distinctly Californian hills that resemble huge mounds of half melted frozen yogurt coated in blankets of magic shell chocolate sauce. A shrub here and there. As a San Fernando Valley native (Woodland Hills, Chatsworth and Calabasas) my husband turned and asked if the sight was familiar. “Not this view, particularly.” I said. I didn’t get around Los Angeles much in my twenty years as a Southern California resident let alone to San Bernardino. It wasn’t until we were on a freeway sandwiched between hills of green foliage that I said “this. This is familiar. The freeways all look the same here.”
As we drove, the smog whitewashed the skyline, colors muted like a vintage photograph. Home.
I had originally planned a glam West Hollywood Hills type experience for our vacation because, for all our previous California trips, we’d never done that. I had selected a home to rent at the base of Laurel Canyon with a 360 view of the city, complete with a swing perched at the edge of the backyard that might as well have been the top of the world.
The location was stunning, even if it was a bit of a hassle to get to.
We had visited the local Whole Foods beforehand and picked up a bottle of wine, a rotisserie chicken, an assortment of deli salads, good cheese, and even a slice of pure honeycomb in anticipation of arriving, throwing open the glass sliding doors, sitting outside, and watching the sun set as the city slipped into dusk and twinkle lights. I was *so there* for this experience, I cannot even tell you how much. But it didn’t happen.
The realization we couldn’t actually stay at this house began to sink in slowly. The house was full to the brim with heirloom antiques, vintage books, tall steel telescopes next to windows, plants, and what appeared to be special knick knacks and childhood relics. While this may not be a problem for some of the world, Olivia, our special needs daughter, would surely make a bee line for these items and throw them as far as she could, if not right away, eventually. No matter. I began scouring the bedrooms for throw blankets and towels and covering whole shelves up. “Isn’t Olivia just going to pull the blankets off?” Jeremy asked nervously. I didn’t know, but what option did I have? More blankets. More draping.
We had toured two of the bedrooms on the main level before Jeremy asked “where are the stairs?”
The house had been advertised as a three bedroom. Only problem? The third bedroom was only accessible from outside in the backyard.
Our family can get by with two bedrooms if the living area is large enough for Olivia’s portable tent “safe” bed. This one wasn’t. Olivia has a sleeping disorder and needs her own room for dark and quiet with its own climate control for warmth, in order to sleep at night. We were reminded of this again just the night before at our hotel where Olivia’s space ended up being too light due to an outdoor fixture so she voiced her complaints loudly and had to be put back to bed six times before finally falling asleep at 1:45am, which is when we got some shut eye as well.
This new rental home arrangement meant we couldn’t use the inaccessible third room and the kids would be sleeping either with us on a hardwood floor or in the living room where the couch, for as pretty as it was, felt like it was filled with cement. I suppose Jeremy and I could have split up. One person could have slept in the main house with Olivia and the other with the older kids in the apartment, but seeing as how we were paying for a house to vacation in, that didn’t seem desirable.
caption: exhibit A, railings
Boring sleeping arrangement debate aside, there was another factor. The house was old and at the very top of a mountainside with steep drop offs on all sides. From the pictures on VRBO we couldn’t tell, or at least didn’t notice that all the railings on outside decks were not to code and the yard wasn’t fenced, which meant any of our kids could take a tumble of at least a story high whether they were inside or outside. And because the back of the house was all glass and received sunshine all day, it was about 100 degrees inside with all the doors shut. While we could tell our older kids to be careful, Olivia would need to be with us physically at all times. Walking with us, sitting with us, or holding our hands. Or, we could stay shut up in the small house with all those valuable vintage knick knacks and not go outside at all while we slowly baked to death and also diligently watched Olivia.
Again…not ideal vacation conditions.
Then Jeremy said the inevitable. “I mean, I don’t see how we could stay here. Do you?”
caption: exhibit B, drop off in backyard
We started to wonder what this meant for us. Could we get our money back? We wrestled with feeling unsure. We didn’t know whether WE were at fault for not understanding the conditions of the property or if there should have been more information provided by the owner. The internet was slow and wouldn’t pull up the VRBO listing so we couldn’t even check to verify. Could we even find another place to rent on such short notice? Who worked out payment issues? VRBO or us directly with he home owner? It was 8:45pm, with no place to put Olivia’s bed (bedrooms were too small with beds already in them). We needed a plan. Jeremy started to look up nearby hotels to explore our options, only google wasn’t working. And we didn’t have laptops either. Only small phone screens. Another frustration. Not once could we get google to tell us if there were any hotels nearby. Finally, Jeremy said “Krysta, where can we stay? You used to live here. Don’t you know places in this area?”
I did know places. The problem was I only knew famous and fancy places like The Beverly Hills Hotel and Chateau Marmont. Jeremy called Chateau Marmont directly.
And it was just then we received a text from the owner of the house who said he was stopping by to make sure everything was alright and to say hello.
There was much talk on my part about how I should act. Do we tell the owner we can’t stay right now? Do we tell the owner later once we’ve figured out what our options are? What if there’s no hotel rooms available and we have to stay here but we already tell him we can’t? What if the kids say something? No clue.
You’ve heard of This is Fourty?
Well, this is family vacation.
Chateau Marmont had a suite available last minute. Thank goodness because it was nearing 9:30pm at this point. We got Olivia’s bed set up in the living room, and snacks doled out for the kids by 10pm. Jeremy and I finally opened the wine and each had a small glass while we smeared waxy honey onto truffle cheese. At 10:45pm, we went to bed thinking our luck had finally turned around. Maybe we could just vacation here in this hotel the rest of the time? After all, the Chateau has nice dark shades to cover all the windows in the living room where Olivia was sleeping.
Ah, but we had forgotten that she didn’t have a door for separate heating. And so, we laid awake while Olivia complained and we covered her with blankets again and again until she (and we) finally fell asleep sometime after midnight.
The next morning I was on my phone looking up and inquiring about last minute house rentals. One home, not too far from where we were looked promising. The management team for the home got back to me promptly and told me it was available. Before booking, Jeremy asked me to ask them what the homes room situation was. He wanted to make sure us and the kids could all be on the same level. I asked. They answered. All looked good. But by now, mid morning, our first house rental guy felt bad that we had to leave and was offering another of his houses down the street, except it wouldn’t be available until the next day. Which meant us having to spend another night in a hotel and not getting settled until day four of vacation. Not knowing the best decision, we decided to hit up Universal Studios since we had time to kill. We literally couldn’t check into a new rental house OR a new hotel room until after 4pm anyway, and it was close by.
In my mind, Universal Studios is kind of cool and low key. I’d been there a few times growing up and it’s not too crowded and way less hectic than Disneyland, and also, you didn’t have to spend a whole day there. A few hours would be just fine.
Meanwhile Jeremy is on the phone with VRBO who has called him to follow up on why the initial rental didn’t work for us. He tried to make it plain that it was mostly our fault. The property was spectacular, but we just hadn’t done enough research. For some reason, this resulted in him having to be transferred to different people and recounting the story again and answering more questions. He’d be on the phone for the better part of an hour while we walked through City Walk (we had parked on the opposite end of the entrance), went through metal detectors and waited in line for tickets to the theme park.
When it was finally our turn, I told the cashier that we’d need five tickets. He said that was just great and also could he interest us in upgrading to “a pass” which let us get on rides and attractions faster. Because we wouldn’t be there long, I said sure. He started writing our children’s names on buttons and handing them out to each of us, then he reached for my credit card. “That’ll be nine forty five” he said.
“I’m sorry, did you say nine HUNDRED and forty five dollars?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am. $945”
“For five people?”
I look at Jeremy who is still on the phone with not a clue as to what just happened. “Jeremy, he says it’s going to be $945 for all of us.” Jeremy looked startled. He couldn’t have looked more startled if bombs had started dropping all around us.
“I’m sorry” I say to the cashier “but we’re not going to go. I grew up here and I just remember this being way less expensive. We don’t even have all day to spend here. Honestly, we were just going kill a few hours and go home so never mind. Thanks anyway.”
He piped up,“well, without the special passes it would be $640.”
“No thanks” I said. “I think we’re good.”
Then I turned to the kids “kids, give him back your buttons” I said. It was like a sad moment in a Hallmark movie.
My kids are troopers. Ellie let out an “awww!” but then forgot about what we were even doing. Jeremiah looked a shade disappointed before he said “well, anyway, I think Universal Orlando is supposed to be cooler.”
That’s all we saw of Universal Studios. The metal detectors.
We sat down to eat at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Jeremy was still on the phone, so I decided to confirm the rental house I had inquired about that morning. I decided it was the best option. It seemed too big a hassle to spend another night in a hotel and have to set up Olivia’s bed yet again only to be taken down (again) the next day. I wrote the management company that we’d take it.
We all felt good about it. After chips and salsa had been devoured, Jeremy even wrapped up his phone call.
Five minutes later, I got a message back from the management company “Mrs. MacGray, unfortunately that house was booked in the last hour, however we do have other properties we manage that are open tonight and for the duration of your stay. Please let me know your budget and I can get back to you with options.”
I messaged him back that the same price point as the house I’d originally inquired about was just fine and thanked him for his search.
The service at the restaurant was slow and so we all sat there deflated and feeling much too full of mediocre nachos, aimless, with no place to go. When we piled back into our car which was still packed to the gills with luggage and bags we decided to drive by houses that we had found on VRBO that looked to be available last minute in case my contact fell through. We had to find something quick or find a hotel again. The day was rapidly getting away from us and our options with it. Two of the houses were in Malibu. “Do you want to drive all the way to Malibu to check them out? It’ll take us an hour” Jeremy asked.
“What else are we going to do?”
It was then I got a message back from the management company. “I’m sorry Mrs. MacGray, but we don’t have any houses available in that price point.”
Off to Malibu we went. One of the houses there would have to work. We drove by the first at 3:30pm. Then the second, which was located right on the ocean with an entirely enclosed deck quickly became our favorite. Right there in front of the house I tried to rent it but THE INTERNET WASN’T WORKING. Again.
What is with the no internet in the middle of Los Angeles? WHAT IS WITH IT?!?!?!
So we drove up the coast and parked so the site would load. This property boasted an “instant book” icon. YES! I pressed “book now” but a message popped up that said “in order to book your dates, you’ll need to contact the manager of the property directly” because we were so last minute.
We spent a good twenty minutes trying to find the contact info for the management company, which wasn’t readily available, who didn’t answer. It was 4:00pm. I sent emails to the company explaining our plight.
The kids started crying. Jeremiah was like “what are we doing?! AHHHHHHHHHH” and Jeremy and I were like “what are we doing?! AHHHHHHHH” and so we got everyone out of the car to walk around a bit.
stretching their legs and getting some air
Then we started checking on nearby hotels. We called one… a public hotel…a business, mind you…and no one picked up the phone. Then Jeremy found another hotel. He tried to call. No answer.
We were baffled.
At this point everything felt frenzied and chaotic. We started to lose our minds at the sheer ridiculousness of our situation.
Then I got an email saying my email had been received and to please book the house on the beach now. I was confused but I went to the website and tried. Got the same message that we’d have to contact the manager of the property and realized it was a generic message they send to anyone inquiring. Jeremy tried calling the hotel an hour away again. Nothing. We had nothing. And felt like it.
Then I got another email from the management company that said something that led us to believe an actual person was receiving our messages. With this email we got more information about the rental company and were able to find a better phone number for them. Jeremy called and got a hold of someone. We were sent a rental agreement. However, the internet decided to not work again and we had to drive to another location to get it to load.
I filled it out. It was 5:00pm and the woman helping us was getting ready to leave for the day. “What happens next?” we asked her. “Well, once your credit card information is verified, someone will call you and meet you in order to let you into the house.” We explained that we were just waiting outside the house and was there any way we could just go in now? She said no, we’d need to wait for a person to meet us and so our only option was just to hope someone called us quickly. She was nicer than nice, this lady from SeaBreeze Rentals, and did give us her personal cell number should anything go wrong, so we at least had that as assurance.
Side saga: We had reservations at a restaurant with my Aunt Kellie in Venice about 30 minutes away, which meant we’d need to leave in twenty minutes from the time it was in order to get there in time. And we had been driving all day, not unpacked or even sure we had a house to stay in that night since we hadn’t been let in, in clothes we’d worn the day before and kids and adults in a fraught and depleted state of mind. Normally I’d cancel. Except that it was my Aunt’s birthday. And she hadn’t made plans with anyone else, and had arranged to leave work early that day, in order to meet us. At this point, she’d already be en route to the restaurant. Also I didn’t know if I’d get another chance to see her.
So we were leaving in 20 minutes no matter what our housing situation was.
Just then, I got an email telling me the code to get in the house, which was weird since the lady told me someone would need to physically come meet us. But we were parked right outside so we tried it…and it let us in.
The kids ran inside. We ran inside. There were open bottles of wine and used glasses on the counter. Some open cigarettes on the deck.
“It looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the last time they rented it” Jeremy said. “Well, they had no heads up so you can’t really blame them.” I said. Blankets were strewn about and the sheets on the bed twisted. And then we saw a jacket…and socks. “Um, I think someone might be here, actually” Jeremy said. “we need to go” I said and started to call for the kids, worrying that at any minute someone was going to walk through the door to find us all there and we would have an epic WTF moment.
But my kids were POOPING in two of the bathrooms.
Yes. This is family vacation.