I met Tabbie and Bobby when I lived in Spain after college. We all taught English in Madrid for several years, and I have many a fond (and somewhat hazy) memory of non-third wheel la marcha with the two of them - late night drinking, dancing and general early-20s revelry. So I wasn't entirely surprised when they contacted me a few months ago about tacking on a secret Vegas elopement to their trip to California from London. All they told me was they wanted to get married at the chapel where Britney Spears got married (the first time) and they wanted to stay in a tacky Vegas hotel. As their best man and maid of honor, J and I were only asked to not outshine the bride in her brown dress and the groom in his khaki shorts and striped t-shirt.
And so Tuesday afternoon we sped across the Mojave Desert to get to the Vegas registry office before it closed at midnight. Since I haven't been married before, I can't say if Vegas is the only place with an express lane for wedding licenses, but I can safely assume it's one of the few places with a gauntlet of wedding chapel hawkers standing just outside the registry office, pouncing to recruit the almost-weds for each of their Elvis/Showgirl/etc wedding chapels. I have to say, Vegas certainly makes it easy to get married - the registry office is open until midnight every day of the year, the only real paperwork requirement is that you can spell your and your parents' names properly, and your have to be at least 18 (except in certain circumstances). And with the entire "what the heck, why not" general atmosphere in the city, J and I had about two minutes of serious contemplation about whether to make it a double wedding. (In the end, we decided, um, not to steal their thunder.)
Paperwork and Flowers at the Registry Office
After a night on the town and a morning drinking beers by the hotel pool, our limo picked us up to take us to The Little White Chapel. The limo comes standard with even the cheapest $55 wedding package. Other packages include Hummer rentals, witnesses, wedding dress and tux rentals, ceremony DVD, photography, bouquets, champagne glasses, and (undefined) keepsakes. The chapel itself was located along a street of somewhat rundown strip malls and across the street from a strip club. We also discovered that Joan Collins and Michael Jordan were married here (hopefully with somewhat longer marriages than Britney Spears.)
There's also a drive-through window, in case you're in a real hurry to get married.
me, looking puzzled at the drive through window
With all of the typical Vegas cheesiness, we weren't sure what to expect from the 10 minute choose-your-own-religious-language wedding ceremony, especially when the minister told us they were the fifth British couple he'd married that day (not to mention all the other folks who had also passed through.) And we had no idea what to expect from Tabbie and Bobby themselves, who had been treating the entire caper with a casual nonchalance throughout.
However, from the moment the wedding march music began, the cheesy overtones stopped mattering at all as Tabbie (and I) started crying outright, Bobby couldn't stop grinning, and the minister delivered an incredibly heartfelt ceremony. Although his words were standard Christian vows he'd probably repeated thousands of times before, he approached them with a tenderness for their commitment and with a recognition of the importance for the step the bride and groom were taking together into marriage.
Before Wednesday, I'd been set on personalizing our Jewish ceremony and vows. And although I still think we'll still probably take that route, I found a whole new appreciation for incredibly personal act of simply saying "I do." Though Tabbie and Bobby used the rote ceremony provided by the Little White
We then spent the rest of the day imitating flamingos at the Flamingo hotel, hanging out by the pool, attending the Big Elvis impersonator show, eating dinner at Paris (overlooking the Bellagio fountains), wandering around the strip, and having a generally great time. All in all, a perfect day of reverent love and irreverent fun. Which is precisely what I'm hoping for from marriage itself.