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The Best Worst Wedding Ever

Wind, Rain, and Hail Couldn’t Dampen the Joyful Spirit of the Day


Thursday, February 23, 2012

It was in the darkness of the third power outage, a river of mud forming fast at the west end of the tent, that I realized I was living the wedding of my dreams. The downpour, wind-driven and pounding at this point, was an accidental backbeat as people broke into song from the depths of the dark, “Going to the Chapel” rising up joyously and unexpectedly from the belly of the tent’s ocean side. People were seren­dipitously singing by candlelight in the deluge on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

There had long since been a boardwalk bridge fashioned out of shipping pallets to allow people “mud free” travel to and from the bar, and my wife — my just-wed partner in crime forever — was about 30 feet away, sparkling and laughing amid a soiled sort of madness that most brides would have no problem calling a nightmare. The wonderful power of it all grabbed me from behind in a warm, full-body embrace; I felt my throat tighten and my eyes tear with a type of joy I had never before known in my life. (Yeah, that’s right: I’m admitting in print that I cried at my wedding.)

Wedding Posse

It never seems easy for a bride and groom to pick a wedding party. Tradition tells us to keep the numbers down, but reality tells us otherwise. Invariably, someone gets left out, a special cousin gets dissed, or a high school friend calls you in the middle of the night and starts blabbering on about needing info on the wedding party when in fact he/she hasn’t made the cut. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t fun, and, well, let’s just say it can lead to rather focused “discussions” between the bride and groom about who actually makes the list.

Over the years, I have seen couples respond to this by deciding to ditch the bridesmaid/best man thing all together, or decide on “family members only.” This can certainly work, but for my money, it flies in the face of fun. After considering the previous two options, we decided to create a Wedding Posse, a no-holds-barred collection of our besties, be they blood or not, deputized (literally, we gave them all sheriffs’ badges) to surround us with their love, help us throw our party, and perhaps most importantly, share a little bit of the spotlight with us. After all, without these people, life as we know it wouldn’t be possible.

We ended up with 20 Posse Members, 10 for me and 10 for my bride. They included siblings, childhood buddies, college cohorts, and lifelong amigos. With such a large number of peeps, we decided to do away with any sort of specific required clothing (i.e., suits or dresses). Instead, we only asked that everybody dress within the color palette of our wedding. I can honestly say, as I stood at the altar and watched this wild mosaic of misfits (yet, oddly matching misfits) march in, I knew instantly that everything was going to work out just fine.

They say rain on your wedding day is good luck, and, well, if that is the case, then my sweet Anna Marie Jensen and I have the L-word coming to us by the truckload. We got married last November, 11/11/11 to be exact, in the rain and mud and hail at El Capitán State Park. It was a storm that, at least so far, is the biggest and baddest we have had here on the South Coast in months. We tied the knot outdoors, on the point of a point that is special to all who have spent time there.

The skies threatened, delivering the bad news the weatherman had been speculating about all week, but the first fateful drops didn’t start to fall until the nearly 300 guests had assembled for the ceremony on the grassy seaside meadow, their smiling faces fully exposed to the early afternoon elements. The drops became real rain just as my wife-to-be marched into view, her entrance sound-tracked by two electric guitars and the roar of a white-capped sea. Wearing a dress that I had gone to lengths in the preceding months to not peek at and flanked by her mother and father, “Palindrome” (my nickname for her) approached. Unbeknownst to me, her head at the time was swirling with the idea of putting the whole ceremony on hold and reconvening up in the Ortega Group Area, where we had a large tent set up for the evening’s reception. Luckily, no pause button exists for magic. Even more luckily, the truly nasty stuff didn’t start until we were done with the ceremonial formalities and had moved on to climbing in a giant old sycamore tree for photos.

There is no shortage of what you might consider “horrific” anecdotes from our wedding. It started with the State Parks, due to a scheduling conflict with planned park renovations, threatening to pull the plug on the whole plan just a few short weeks before the wedding day. Then there was the rain, more than two inches of it by the time it was done, and what it meant for our mostly outdoor affair: the sunset cocktail hour, the fire-pit lounge, the custom-built tiki bars, the taco-truck dinner, the dance floor under the stars, and the plentiful camping for our guests were just a few of the “best laid plans” that had to be reimagined at the last minute, thanks to Mother Nature.

Thrifty Love

Weddings can get real expensive real fast. Everyone told us this as we started out naïvely toward our nearly 300-person knot-tying extravaganza with visions of frugality dancing in our heads, and, well, they sure weren’t lying. However, with a little bit of slow and steady legwork in the months leading up to your big day, you can certainly keep things in the neighborhood of affordability.

Thrift stores, for example, will become your best friend. It certainly seems like marriages happen in bunches — or, as some say, spread like diseases — so use this to your advantage. Popping into thrift stores once a week and looking for plates that are all the same color or have some other overarching similarity is a great way to assemble a collection of dinnerware for a fraction of the rental price. And, since you now own them, you can pass them along to the next friend or family member getting hitched; after a few weddings, this collective of plates will have saved people thousands of dollars. This same approach can be used for coffee cups, silverware, drinking glasses, cake plates, appetizer serving platters, and tablecloths. Really, virtually anything can be found on the cheap — or at least cheaper — if you take a little time to look around.

Other tricks we used included hiring one of our favorite S.B. bartenders (Thanks, Emmett!) and a few of his friends to pour drinks rather than a bar or catering service, stocking our own bar with booze from Bevmo and Costco, and hiring an off-duty school bus (literally half the price of a more traditional bus or van service) to drive lubed-up wedding-goers to and from the party.

But with each of these “losses,” we received unanticipated treasures in return, such as the aforementioned group sing; the memory of some of my closest friends, dressed to the nines, digging a trench in the pouring rain on the uphill side of the tent to divert water from the dance floor; or one of my best men, Sky, getting electrocuted not once but twice as he struggled to suss out the constantly failing generator situation; and the image of my wife laughing and informing a concerned cousin that she couldn’t care less about the mud streaks slowly making their way up the backside of her dress; and the toasts that, due to failing power and leaks in the tent, were made under a giant umbrella draped in battery-powered Christmas lights. A friend of my parents observed the sunny day after our wedding that the ceremony and reception “were like some sort of wonderful Fellini movie.” I like that; no, I love that, and I am fairly certain that would have never happened if things had gone as planned.

You see, ultimately, weddings are like love itself — an all-in sort of gamble where risk and reward are directly proportional to one another no matter what type of measures you may take to “protect” yourself. For us, like every couple holding hands on their way to matrimonial bliss, even though we planned and crafted and argued and dreamed and planned again to create the wedding of our dreams, we ended up with something else, something even better. This boy from Cape Cod who hates shoes and this girl from Montana who hates spiders ended up living a dream that fateful Friday so boundless with wonder and insulated with love that it could only exist in our actual lives. Getting dirty along the way and the late-night mud-wrestling were simply icing on the cake.

Wedding on Canvas

The first time I saw a wedding being painted was at my friends Dave and Lynn’s nuptial hootenanny. It was early fall, a vintage Santa Barbara stunner of a day, and they were tying the knot outside in the courtyard at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Plein air wizard Chris Potter, a dear friend of the couple, had his easel set up alongside the various matrimonial pomp and circumstances, and when the action got underway, his paint brush started blazing, creating a real-time rendering of Dave and Lynn’s big day. Even better, the finished product was then used as the front of the thank-you cards the couple sent out a few months later. It was an awesome and creative touch of timelessness in this day and age of technology. After all, true love is a work of art.

Click to enlarge photo

For our wedding, the art happened a bit differently, that is to say, we didn’t plan for it at all. Fred Gowland, a good friend of both mine and Anna’s, was a guest, and being the celebrated and constantly entertaining artist he is, he decided to paint us a picture of our wedding day. He did it after the fact from a few snapshots and his memory. The result is a dreamy, emotion-filled rendering, not of an actual moment, but rather of the feel of the day itself. It hangs in the hallway outside our bedroom, and whenever I pass it, I cannot help but be a little bit transported back to the magic.

Bridal Ale

In medieval times, the brewing, selling, and consumption of beer were critical parts of getting married. According to the Brewhouse’s Pete Johnson, a former NASA engineer turned brewmaster extraordinaire with a wonderful penchant for telling beer-related stories, the role of suds in nuptials went something like this: A bride-in-waiting would brew up a batch of ale and sell it on the run-up to the Big Day to help raise money for the event and for some cash to get the couple started in their new life together. In those days, beer brewing was a critical role typically reserved for women, with most households having their own homegrown stash. But even so, as Johnson told it recently over a pint or two of his own creation, the villagers, even though they “probably had better beer at home,” would pop in at the bride’s house and support the newlyweds by buying some of the first batch. It was in this way that the tradition of “Bridal Ale” was born.

As a nod to this history, Pete and the Brewhouse invite contemporary brides-to-be to 229 West Montecito Street in the weeks before their wedding to brew up a batch of their own. For a fee, you can roll up your sleeves, stir your own mash, rake your own malt, and mix your own wort just like the lasses of yesteryear while also adding flavors and spices of your own liking. Once it’s ready, you get to keep a keg or two of your brew for serving or selling at your wedding while the Brewhouse keeps the rest to sell from their already extensive lineup of libation offerings.

For our wedding, Anna spent a full day doing the dirty work and prepared a rather delicious Bridal Red Ale or “Anna’s Red BEER’d Ale” as she liked to call it in honor of my facial hair. Both my beard and I liked it very, very much. And we weren’t alone; our two kegs were bone-dry before our reception was over, making them perhaps the only two dry things at the whole wedding.

To brew your bridal ale, call Pete Johnson at 963-BREW.

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