The date was Friday, January 16, 2009.
US Airways pilot Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger had just made headlines the day before when he guided Flight 1549 to an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Barack Obama would be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States four days later. The Killers' new album Day and Age was in heavy rotation on my iPod (particularly track no. 3, "Spaceman"). I was fully self-employed as a massage therapist and about to complete the final edits on my first novel, Thanks, That Was Fun. But the big thing that happened on January 16, 2009 was meeting a guy called John. I had no way of knowing that the cute, charming, bearded Brit that took me out for tea and Thai food that night would one day become my husband.
|Photo of me taken by John on the night of our first date. |
If I could go back in time and tell the woman in the above photo three things, they would be:
Since time travel is not an option, I'm eternally grateful that somehow--after all the stresses and changes and bumps in the road we've weathered over the last 3+ years--John and I have managed to hang on and make everything work.
And so, 1,349 days later, John snapped this photo of me:
View from our room on the 20th floor
We were in and out of the courthouse so quickly (Vegas is efficient with those marriage licenses) that I didn't have time to snap a photo of some of the hilarious signs posted. Luckily, I was able to find one of them online:
Never drink and marry.
We then headed back to the Mirage to meet Sarah, John's sister-in-law, who had flown out from England for our nuptials. Her husband (John's younger brother) Richard was supposed to be with her, but he had a pretty bad case of nerves the day before their flight (he suffers from an intense fear of flying) and was unable to make it. We were disappointed but still very happy to have Sarah there. She was funny and easy-going and I liked her right away.
After meeting up with Sarah we walked around the casino a bit, did a little souvenir shopping, then headed out for an Italian dinner. I was beginning to feel a little bit jittery about the ceremony the next day, but I was nowhere near as nervous as I thought I'd be. We dropped off Sarah at the Luxor and went back to our hotel room early so we could both get a good night's sleep...I didn't want to wake up on my wedding day with dark circles and puffy eyes!
The next day the weather was perfect--89 degrees and sunny with low winds. I was wishing I'd remembered to bring my swimsuit because the pool at the Mirage is amazing. But, with my hair and makeup appointment at 12:30 and the limo coming to pick us up at 3:15, there wasn't much time for poolside lounging.
View of the palm trees surrounding that gorgeous, gorgeous pool.
After breakfast, Sarah and John went down to the casino to gamble while I had my coffee, showered, made some last minute phone calls to my family and puttered around the hotel room. Elaine from Pampered Brides showed up at 12:30 sharp (another Las Vegas perk--they send makeup and hair stylists right to your room!). I wanted an updo with some loose curls but Elaine suggested a "younger" look: a Taylor Swift-ian sideswept ponytail with loose curls hanging down here and there. After I okayed it, Elaine went to work on me with a curling iron, about 87 bobby pins and a can of hairspray. I was happy with the end result, although after Elaine left I took my wide-toothed comb and a few bobby pins and tamped down the "bump" she did at the back of my crown, as it was a little too Bristol Palin for my taste. She did an excellent job on my makeup though, and I learned a valuable mascara tip: coat lashes with a regular mascara first, wait for it to dry, then go over them again with a waterproof mascara to "seal" it. (Who knew?) It worked: I teared up a bit during the ceremony but I had nary a smudge to show for it.
With my hair and makeup done, I changed into my dress and John and Sarah returned to the room to get cleaned up and dressed for the wedding. I was starting to get a little jittery again, but more excited than anything else. The limo picked us up in front of the hotel at 3:15 and drove us out to the lake for the festivities. Originally the ceremony was to be held at the Always and Forever Wedding Chapel, but about two weeks before the wedding we received an email saying that there had been some massive floods in Vegas and that the Chapel was temporarily closed due to water damage. To remedy the situation, they gave us a free upgrade to their Lakeside Garden site. It was quite serendipitous: I had always wanted an outdoor wedding--preferably by the ocean--so this was the next best thing. It worked out beautifully.
When we got there we sat down with the minister and the photographer and worked out the processional. We decided that John and Sarah would be waiting for me down front and then they'd cue the music and I would walk down the aisle solo. John had asked for a civil ceremony as opposed to a Christian ceremony (we are both practicing Nichiren Buddhists) but the minister told us that, instead of reading off the book for the generic civil ceremony, it would sound more natural if he did the usual Christian spiel (which he had memorized) and just left out the religious parts. That sounded fine, so we agreed to that.
Our wedding at Always and Forever Lakeside Gardens
I actually walked down the aisle to "Here Comes the Bride" (I don't think I've ever attended a wedding where they played that!), stood next to John and the minister began the reading. But here's the thing: he totally forgot to leave out the Christian-y parts! He went on about how God had created woman to be a companion to man and yada yada yada. I didn't mind so much, I just thought it was kind of funny. When he finished, I handed Sarah my bouquet and the minister had John and I turn and face one another for the vows. The minister said something really sweet about how out of all the millions of people in the world, John and I chose one another and we must always remember that and that's when both of us got all misty-eyed. The minister said a few other things and....then he forgot himself and repeated the exact same "millions of people" speech verbatim. John and I were still holding hands and facing one another, we both realized at about the same time that he was repeating himself. We were both staring at each other, trying not to laugh and a small part of me was panicking, hoping that he would be able to transition smoothly into the vows (he did). So we said our vows and exchanged rings, and (to my relief!) the minister remembered to read the Apache wedding blessing that we'd written down for him to say at the end. So then John and I kissed, smiled for the photographer, walked back up the aisle and we were married! It was awesome.
Oh yeah, my wedding dress! I'd found it two months earlier at Hippie Gypsy in New Orleans. It cost a mere 48 bones. Yep, $48.00. And it was perfect.
Hippie Gypsy. For all your wedding day needs.
After the ceremony the limo dropped us off back at the Mirage. We were all famished, so we changed clothes and headed for the buffet, where we gorged ourselves on tacos, curry, Thai noodles, pizza, mixed veggies, mashed potatoes, egg rolls, and ice cream (it was one of those buffets that had stations set up for any and every sort of ethnic cuisine you happened to be craving). I never really got the appeal of Vegas buffets before--during my two previous trips to the Sin City I was pretty underwhelmed by the general crappiness of the buffet food--but the one at the Mirage rocked. (My extreme hunger pangs may have had something to do with the deliciousness of the food.)
The next day (Wednesday) the three of us set out for Area 51, about 90 minutes outside Vegas. I took a lot of photos of the scenery along the way. I don't think I could live in a desert climate, but the landscape is beautiful.
John outside the Little AleInn
Sarah with the sign (and flying saucer!) out front.
After lunch and more shopping, we set out on the Extraterrestrial Highway....
....and completed our journey to Area 51, or as close as we could get to it, anyway. There aren't a lot of markers telling you where you are out there--we'd gotten a map at the AleInn--but it wasn't very detailed and it was hard to know what roads to turn on and where the "borderline" was. I sat in the backseat while John drove and Sarah navigated, worrying that that we'd inadvertently drive into the forbidden zone, where supposedly you would be shot on sight by the military, detained indefinitely, or--at the very least--be forced to pay a $600 fine for trespassing on government land.
Luckily, the desert gods were smiling on us that day and we managed to find our way to the cut-off point: the site of the mysterious black mailbox (which was actually painted white), and, a few miles down the road, a giant sign warning that if you went beyond that point your ass belonged to the US government. Wisely, we decided not to push our luck.
John and me, in front of the warning sign and cut-off point.
The graffiti-covered black (white) mailbox
Of course, we had to make our mark...
...and I threw in a plug for my book.
We got in the car to head back to Vegas, but then we had to stop when we spotted the mystery car parked about a mile away from the Area 51 border. Sarah had mentioned something about an abandoned car that was rumored to be parked near the site; actually, a few different cars, always parked in the same place. Sometimes there was a red car, sometimes a white one, sometimes a gray one. This time it was an old white Pontiac, very dirty, with an expired license plate from way back in 2002! Sarah and I went over and peeked in the windows. Inside the car was an old blanket, some pine tree air fresheners, and an empty Aquafina bottle. Of course, we both dared one another to try the door handles but neither of us had the cojones to do so.
Sarah inspects the mystery car.
Tabs expired in 2002. If this car were parked on a Minneapolis side street, it would
last all of 5 minutes before being handily whisked away to impound purgatory.
When we were done gawking at the mysterious Pontiac, we all hopped in the car and headed back to Vegas. On our way out of the desert, I had John stop so I could take one last photo for my friend Rachel.
We made it safely back to Vegas without being captured by aliens or the military. Sarah went back to her hotel room at the Luxor to rest, but John and I had to shower and start packing for home. We were catching the red eye back to Baton Rouge at midnight, but first---YES!---we had a concert to attend.
The concert started at 7:30 so we had to hurry. After hosing off the desert funk and changing into fresh clothes, John and I ran next door to Caesar's Palace. It turned out that we were still late, as we had trouble locating the door to the Coliseum. We finally found the entrance, had our tickets scanned, and dashed up about five flights of stairs to the balcony. Inside the Coliseum, the concert was already underway. Luckily though, we were only missing the opening song--"Love Train"--a song that Rod has never even recorded (to my knowledge, anyway). I was fine with that. If I were going to miss any songs, it might as well be "Love Train." I've been to enough wedding receptions in my life, thank you. There is no need for me to hear that song ever again.
It was the eighth time I've seen him live (my first was in 1989--some of my Minneapolis friends weren't even born yet) and he did not disappoint. The man is 67 years old, but seeing him perform, you'd never guess he was over 40.
Still rockin' the white socks and black shoes. Gotta love it.
The show was billed as Rod Stewart: The Hits so of course he did all the big ones--"Maggie May," "Forever Young," "You're In My Heart," "Tonight's the Night," "Hot Legs," "Have I Told You Lately?" "First Cut is the Deepest," "Young Turks," and--of course--"Do You Think I'm Sexy?"
By the way, yes I do.
The concert was John's wedding gift to me. He wasn't thrilled about going--John had lost interest around the time Rod stopped doing the seventies rocker thing (circa 1975 and Atlantic Crossing)--but he was surprised by how much he enjoyed the show. He even got misty-eyed and cuddled up to me during "Have I Told You Lately?" which was awesome.
Oooh yeah, there's more where that came from...
Aw hell, I might as well just post all of them.
In no particular order....
"Just remember every picture tells a story, don't it?"
When the concert was over, John and I made our way back to the hotel room to grab our bags and head to the airport. Sarah was staying on until Sunday to do more sight-seeing and shopping on her own, but our flight was booked for Thursday at 12:55 a.m. As we boarded the plane we both remarked that, weirdly enough, neither of us felt tired. We were exhilarated from the concert and the Area 51 trip and the excitement that we were returning to Baton Rouge as husband and wife.
We've come a long way, baby.