Monday, January 30, 2012

Here Falls the Bride

After "retiring" from the wedding and event coordination business, I began to miss the rush of it all.  I figured out a way to still get a fill of it but on my terms and without sacrificing most of my weekends; I would offer my services to friends and family as a gift.  It makes coordinating and overseeing weddings even more special since I am helping those near and dear to me—and I am already going to be at their wedding anyway!  I help ensure everything runs smoothly, and the road leading to the wedding day often bonds me with the couple even more.

A few years ago, one of my cousins flattered me by asking if I would help keep her on track with her wedding planning and if I would oversee things during her event weekend.  Piece of cake.  My biggest challenge was that she lived three and a half hours away, but she was up here and I was down there often enough [plus we live in a brilliant time of technology], so there were no issues with communication.  She knew exactly what she wanted in terms of décor and developed the concept on her own, which was absolutely fine because décor is my weakness.  I am happy to help decorate and execute a vision, but coming up with that vision has never been my strong suit.

She and I were having great times together—shopping for invitations, lunching, giving me a tour of her venue, modeling her wedding dress for me.  Things were swiftly moving in the right direction.  As she began developing her bridal party, she asked if I would be her Matron of Honor.  Of course I would!  What an honor it is to stand up with a bride and groom at their wedding!  It actually helped having an insider track by being in the wedding party, as I got to be involved with other details of the wedding, like having input with the bridesmaids (also cousins of mine—bonus bonding!) about showers and parties, surprises, etc.  Wedding coordinators typically do not have this type of advantage.

As the wedding date neared, I learned that there is a reason why the conductor of an orchestra does not also play an instrument.  It is far more difficult to direct a production if you are also on the stage.  Somehow, I pulled it off—I did have diarrhea for an entire week around the wedding—but I pulled it off.  I was putting out fires before they started, I delegated tasks based on others' strengths, rehearsal went buttery smooth, and everything went almost perfectly perfect.  I got my cousin-bride up the aisle, married, and back down the aisle with her groom.

You can't stay mad at someone who laced you into your wedding dress

Once a wedding ceremony has recessed, a coordinator can slightly relax at the reception.  The timing of reception events is fluid—it is best to develop a timeline to keep everything on track, but you can also adjust things based on the overall flow.  It can sometimes be a challenge to get a large group on the dance floor, so you may not want to hault a large dancing group to cut cake exactly at the time it was scheduled on an itinerary.  If everyone is enjoying themselves and cake is 15 minutes delayed, no big deal.  I opted to go with the flow of the reception, which was progressing absolutely beautifully, and enjoy some champagne and break it down on the dance floor with the other bridesmaids. 

Plenty of champagne later, it was somehow already time for the bouquet and garter toss.  As the beautiful bride was tossing her bouquet to a group of hopeful young ladies, I was on the sidelines and at the ready with a chair on which she would sit as her groom did his thing with the garter.  I placed the chair on the dance floor, the bride sat, the groom removed and then tossed the garter.  The bride stood up and was hugging guests and posing in photos as the music resumed.  The bride began dancing, which indicated to me that she was finished sitting.  I pulled the chair back and began carrying it away when everything turned to slow motion.  I saw my cousin leaning back to sit in a chair that was no longer there!  I dropped the chair and dove towards her—and we both fell to the ground.  Wedding magic bounced us back on our feet as quickly as we had landed on the dance floor.

So there you have it.  The person most responsible for keeping everything flawless ended up being the person responsible for the bride busting her ass in front of all of the guests at her wedding reception.  I welled up with embarrassment and apologized profusely—we both began laughing and hugged.  Of all of the weddings in which I have been involved, I can say that this has been my favorite to date.  Despite a week of stress-induced diarrhea and perhaps the most unbelievable champagne hangover of my life [and a curiously large champagne stain on the crotch area of my dress], I enjoyed some memorable times with my cousins and we'll have stories to tell for years...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not Your Typical College Job

In college, I worked part-time for a wedding consultant & event coordinator.  It was a lot of hard, stressful work, but I absolutely loved it.  Of all the jobs I’ve had, this might have been my favorite in terms of what I got to do—it was fulfilling to feel like I was even a tiny part of someone’s most special day.

Weddings were 18+ hour workdays—we would begin at dawn with production.  Production included setting up tables, placing linens and chairs, draping and pinning fabric, hanging lanterns or any number of other things, filling candle holders, and a million details surrounding these types of tasks.  It seems simple enough, but when you are decorating for a ceremony and a reception site for 250 guests, that’s a lot of freaking chairs to place—you’re setting up for two separate events.  250 people could mean 500 chairs.

One of my favorite Cake Tables that I helped decorate

The production portion of the day would typically take until mid-afternoon, and when we were finally satisfied with how everything looked and had completed our finishing touches and final tweaks to each site, we typically had about 15 minutes left to turn into beautiful, professional-looking onsite managers—changing out of sweats and into suits.  We would make our best attempt to freshen up wherever we were—a hotel, a church, an event center, a park outdoors, our car.  Summer proved especially difficult to undo a sweaty, red face and look composed and ready for anything.

We would be onsite for pre-ceremony photography and help however we were needed.  We would adjust gowns, fetch bottled water, fetch Kleenex, finalize details with vendors as they arrived—and I usually got assigned to babysitting the groom’s party, where my main task at-hand was to keep them from getting too smashed before the wedding began.

This actually is the ceremony set-up from my wedding--she is absolutely amazing!

We conducted weddings as if they were an elaborate symphony—timing was everything to make each component seen, heard, smelled, tasted and felt exactly as the bride wished and had always dreamed.  I mastered the art of wedding cake cutting, lighting 300 candles in 15 minutes, carrying 20 punch cups at a time—on my fingers, not in a box!  I felt like we were magic makers.

When these events concluded—often close to midnight, we had the pleasure of spending the final three hours of our day tearing down everything we had worked so hard to build.  At least deconstruction took far less time than production.  Cake had to be shaken out of linens, chair covers had to be removed, the candles that were still burning had to be blown out, and someone had to take those lanterns down from the 30 foot ceiling!  Oh, and who else was there to finish off that open champagne that was left behind?

Another from my wedding--our Sweetheart Table.  I admire her creativity and décor skills...

After a couple years of spending most weekends helping others enjoy themselves, I began getting burned out.  The main drawback of the business is that weddings and events typically take place during evenings, weekends and holidays—times when I prefer to do what I want, not what someone else wants.

Even though I have no desire to professionally work in wedding and event planning again, there are times when I miss the rush I would get as everything somehow fell into place, when only half an hour earlier we were sure we would run out of time.  I acquired so many skills—task prioritizing, time management, keeping my cool when I wanted to explode, being able to successfully talk someone else down who wanted to explode, winging it when plans A, B, and C fail—and still come out looking like a star.  The event planner and I are still close friends--I got married at her home and she even decorated and oversaw my wedding.  I couldn't have done it without her!

Cake Table from a Persian Wedding
There was a traditional knife dance when it was time to cut the cake!

A Few of My Most Memorable Times as an Assistant Event Planner

·         The first wedding I worked with the coordinator was in Fort Worth.  After tear-down we went to an old dive bar for a cocktail and I ordered a rum and coke, which the bartender handed to me.  I was 19.

·         A bride yelled at me after making a plate for her because I included beans with her barbeque.  I got in trouble for giving her a sampling of all of the food that she picked out for her dinner buffet.  I recently heard that she and her husband are getting divorced.

·         I danced with a groomsman at one of our event receptions, and then he asked me on a date.

·         I assisted with several events at one venue in particular—a gorgeous, huge plantation-style home with wrap-around porches, secluded on acres and acres of beautifully landscaped land out in the country.  The owners asked if I would live at their house/venue for a month while they went home to Europe on holiday.  I accepted, but that story is a blog post in itself…

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Dinner with Chewbacca

My husband is a cartoonist and humor writer, and because of this I have had the opportunity to meet and socialize with people I might not otherwise.  In November 2008, we went to a comic convention—this one included comics, movies, video games, toys, sci-fi, pop culture—everything that would make a little nerd’s heart sing.  For those of you who do not frequent the comic book scene, I will have you know that actual celebrities tour with these types of conventions.  Granted, more often than not it is a little person who wore a lot of makeup and played an alien musician in a cantina scene of Star Wars Episode I, so no one really knows who this person is—but it’s exciting because you have to buy an exclusive pass to see them up close!

There are also times at these shows when the set up is more relaxed and you get to walk past a table and notice Lou Ferrigno [*ahem, The Hulk, guys, stay with me] smiling and winking at you from the other side of the table.  That was neat, by the way.  So these celebrities tour with conventions and [for a hefty fee] will let you pose in pictures with them, get their autograph and sell you t-shirts, lunchboxes, lighters, buttons, navel lint and pretty much anything you’ll trade them for money.  Like people in general, some of the celebrities are jerks and there are others who are completely humble and surprisingly down to earth.

A friend of ours actually knows Chewbacca—who, I am sad to reveal, is really a giant man in a Wookiee suit.  Even though I have seen him at prior shows, I was formally introduced to Peter Mayhew [the giant man in the Wookiee suit] at this particular show.  That evening, we all went to dinner together in a large group.  He doesn’t wear the suit to conventions, just to clear that up.

Mr. Mayhew is over seven feet tall, so sitting next to him at dinner gave the illusion of a normal-sized adult standing next to me at the table.  Chewy was witty, funny, and of course interesting with lots of tales to tell.  I didn’t get to speak with him as much as I would have liked; we had a large table with about 12 of us total, so conversations were choppy and blended into each other.  And there were cocktails, so…

My most notable exchange with Mr. Mayhew occurred following dinner.  At the end of the evening when we were saying our goodbyes, I was telling him that it was a pleasure to meet him and reached out to shake his hand.  His incredibly gianormous fingers wrapped all the way around the back of my hand—my hand was completely surrounded by his.  This has never happened in my life, so it was fascinating to me.  Mr. Mayhew is 38 years my senior, and all I could do was blush while nervously giggling when I commented on the size of his hands and he replied with, “Everything is in proportion, my dear.”  Good for you, Mrs. Mayhew!  And yikes.