Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Best Brother's Wedding: Part 1

The water was every bit as cold as Luke's face would lead you to believe.

(Before you start reading, I just want to warn you that even though this post is ridiculously long, it is amazingly only the first half of this story. Yes, there is even more to come. If you don’t feel like reading this small book, I can understand, but I think if you do read it, you may enjoy it. I wanted to get my thoughts down on an extremely fun weekend, and this was the logical place. Like the obnoxious Mountain Dew Voltage commercial with the giant mosquito says, I hope you enjoy it, but fully understand if you do not. In a lot of ways, this post is like an entry into a journal for me.)

I sojourned to Tucson, AZ this past weekend for my brother’s wedding. I didn’t run into JoJo, so he must have ignored the advice and not gotten back. (Bonus points to anyone who gets that rather obscure and mostly unfunny joke.) Bruce was getting married, and since he wanted me to be in his wedding, I figured it’d probably be a good idea to show up. Plus since I put down the $20 deposit on the tux, it’s not like I could just let that money go to waste. I took off Friday from work, which hardly required anyone to twist my arm, and got up even earlier than normal to head to the airport with my family. When Jen woke me at 4:30 in the morning on Friday so that I could leave my warm cozy bed and get ready, I had some severe second thoughts. I decided I may as well get rolling as my wonderful wife wasn’t going to let me sleep anymore anyway. Jen is very good at getting me up and going, which Bruce can be thankful for. If left to my own devices, I’m not sure he would have had all four of his groomsmen for the ceremony. My daughter was even less enthused about waking up at O’Dark Thirty. With a little bit of coaxing and a little bit of picking her up and carrying her against her will eventually the whole family was buckled in and on our way to my parent’s house.

We loaded up the grandparents and their luggage and soon our over-stuffed Toyota Sienna was rumbling on its way to Denver International Airport. There were no terrible airport horror stories in the usual, expected places. We breezed through the security line so easily I was almost was cheery despite having to remove my shoes and have my belongings picked through with a fine-toothed comb. I had a sunny disposition right up to the point I arrived at the McDonald's in Terminal A. This McDonald's was staffed by people from some Sub-Saharan country where learning English is apparently not encouraged so much as is learning how to give poor service without a smile. I have come to expect ridiculously inflated prices at airports, but paying $21.50 for three extra value meals seemed to be more than a smidge excessive, even at the airport. I looked at my receipt, and it appeared that in addition to charging me for my breakfast value meals, they also charged me the full two dollars apiece for each of the orange juices which were supposed to come with the meal. It was at this point that I became the ugly American inside of America, which was a bit surreal. I started out friendly enough by simply questioning the woman at the counter on this seeming mischarge. At this point I will allow that there is every possibility that I may have been mistaken, but in my defense it takes an advanced accounting degree to make sense of a McDonald’s receipt these days. I was willing to accept the possibility that this amount of food which would cost about eight dollars in the real world would cost me $21.50 at the airport. However, I at least wanted an explanation as the charge seemed excessive to me and the receipt did little to assuage my doubt. The woman at the counter either barely spoke English or she didn’t want to deal with a hostile customer situation, possibly both of these statements were true. Either way it took her all of about four milliseconds to call for her manager to come over. The manager did her best to explain the situation. And to clarify, when I say, “Did her best to explain the situation.” What I mean is, “She told me to shove off in the least pleasant way possible for her to express without losing her job.” Then she followed it up in her thick accent with a condescending; “Now you understand?”

Now, you can call me a xenophobe if you want, but I only ask for two things in a McDonald’s employee. The first is “Be Friendly” and the second is, if possible, “Be able to speak English plainly enough to explain why I’m taking out a second mortgage for an Egg McMuffin.” I don’t even need (or expect) the English thing if they are friendly, but this woman failed so miserably at the friendly part, that the being unable to communicate in English part pushed me over the edge. I angrily took my food, and replied to her condescending remark with a nasty, “Yes, I understand that I’m being screwed!” and I walked off in a huff. Now, I’m hardly ever this obnoxious and I felt guilty about it about three seconds after I walked away, and I wished I never had gone off for such a silly reason. However, I found myself wishing that McDonald’s could have at least ONE designated friendly employee able to explain situations to their customers in English. I don’t feel like I’m asking for too much here. Oh well.

Our flight went off without incident and was actually quite pleasant. Our luggage dropped onto the carousel so quickly that my mother only had time to take twenty or thirty pictures of us before we were on our way. (Our luggage actually did come quickly, but my mom REALLY likes to take digital pictures.) We met up with our friend Kevin who was another groomsman in the wedding. We were giving him a ride from the airport to Bruce’s place since he wasn't planning on renting a car. It appeared that we were on our way to having a quick and pleasant airport experience in Tucson when we arrived at the (cue ominous music) Hertz rental counter. We entered the car rental area and there were five or six different companies represented, every single one of them had no line and four people standing behind the counter. Every one that is, except for Hertz. Hertz had two ladies working at the counter and a small line waiting for help. I wasn’t worried about the line, as there was only one person standing in front of us. I estimated it would take between three and five minutes before we were loading up our rental cars and driving off to Bruce’s house. That was before I realized that Hertz of Tucson measures the speed of their agents with a sundial. These women were so slow that either of them would be the perfect mate for the character that Ben Stein plays in “Ferris Beuller's Day Off”. "Beuller?? Beuller??" If these two women were one of Aesop's fables it would be entitled, "The Tortoise and the other Tortoise."

After waiting for what felt like an hour, (although, to be fair it probably wasn't much more than 58 minutes) the sloth twins finally got to us. My parents had rented two cars, one for my family and one for them, and to my horror, the woman at the counter said that she had to dispense the vehicles one at a time. I think the hamster nearly fell off the wheel in her brain when my mother also mentioned that she had reserved two car seats for our car. After painstakingly detailing every scratch that was mentioned on the liability report for my father's car and going through a Dead Sea Scroll's worth of waivers and insurance forms, they finally gave my dad his keys about fifteen minutes later.

Then it was my turn, and despite the fact that I had just listened to the entire massive and painful spiel, I was required to listen to it for a second time. Just as we were about to get our keys, she disappeared into the back for ten minutes to go get our car seats. This woman was draining my will to live, and my kids had apparently had enough and were beginning to lie on the ground directly in the path of foot traffic. This made the situation even more fun, because if waiting for a rental car agent to return from the secret room as if she was Moses on Mount Sinai returning with the Ten Commandments wasn't fun enough, having two bored and tired kids under the age of five lying on the airport floor really topped off the festivities. Mercifully, our sluggish friend eventually returned and told us that someone would meet us shortly at our car with the child seats.

I was beginning to feel the effects of not having much sleep, but I felt renewed now that we were on our way to my brother's place. My mother had been quite hungry before the odyssey at the rental counter. She was now ready to eat just about anything up to and including the car seats that were thankfully delivered quickly by a representative of Hertz of Tucson. (Not by one of the two turtle sisters, thankfully.) We now had our cars, car seats, directions to Bruce's house, and powerful appetites ready to roll.

We arrived at Bruce's house in just a few minutes and were introduced for the first time to
Bruce's stepson-to-be, a sweet little 7-year-old boy named Malachi. We toured the home as we had never been there before, and we took about half an hour to chat in his newly manicured back yard. Relatively shortly, we were able to get Bruce, Melisa (his bride-to-be) and Malachi piled into the car and the whole group of us made our way to a delicious spot called "My Big Fat Greek Restaurant." I don't know if it was the fact that we were approaching dangerous starvation levels or the food was just really that good, but everyone devoured their gyros and Greek salads with reckless abandon as we debated who amongst the men at the table was the most "Man Pretty." The delicious meals were followed by an amazing flambĂ© desert which had to be brought out twice because the first time it was ignited the ice cream fell on the floor. We didn’t mind that it took extra time because our appetites had been mostly abated by lamb and feta cheese, plus this gave us more time for our silly debate in which the near unanimous decision was that I am quite Man Pretty. Yes, we were slightly delirious.

After lunch, we split up into teams to accomplish the goals that were before us. Kevin, my Dad and I made our way to the tux shop to pick up our rented clothing for the next day's ceremony whilst everyone else headed to the Hilton to do our part to support Paris' retirement fund by checking in to our various rooms scattered amongst the seven floors of the hotel.
At the tux shop, Kevin had no problem and quickly picked up his tux. However, my tux had several issues including the fact that the top button of my tuxedo shirt was broken in two, a seam in my pants was all bunched up, and my tux shoes were so scratched and dinged it looked like they had seen a tour of duty during Desert Storm. The guy at the tux shop was amazing. He had a friendly and calm demeanor and he was pretty much all the things that the employees at the airport McDonald's were not. He calmly told me that he would take care of everything and that I could pick up everything the next morning, including a nice new pair of shoes that he would order right away for me. He didn't even flinch when Kevin and I were trying on our clothes and I yelled to Kevin from inside the dressing room, "I think we may have a problem, I'm too sexy for my shirt." The tux place was wonderful, even if the tux they delivered had a few issues.

From there, we were off to the hotel. The rehearsal would be later that afternoon, but we had a few hours to kill. My four-year-old daughter had gotten dressed in her bathing suit and was desperately campaigning for a trip to the swimming pool. Who was I to argue with a great idea like that? Although we were in Southern Arizona the weather was unseasonably cool, but a dip in the pool still sounded like a decent idea. My mom, my daughter, my son, Malachi and I donned our suits and headed out to take a dip in what turned out to be one of the coldest swimming pools in recorded history. Jumping into this pool actually qualified you for the Polar Bear's club. I somehow survived in the icy pool for almost forty minutes before I decided that I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain how I lost three fingers to frostbite in Arizona in April. I retreated to my room and a wonderfully hot shower, got dressed and made my way downstairs to prepare for the rehearsal.

That is a look of shock from the cold after I jumped into the pool.

People were beginning to arrive and many hugs and smiles were exchanged in the lobby while I was plopped on a cozy couch exhaustedly watching the festivities. Although it was fun to watch, I lacked the will to forcibly remove myself from the couch to say hello myself. Somehow I was able to stay awake as I sat and waited for the rehearsal which started about half an hour later than scheduled. The wedding was going to take place outside adjacent to the same pool in which I narrowly escaped disfigurement only hours earlier. The rehearsal was held with most of the participants having all the focus and attention of airline passengers during a safety demonstration. I vaguely knew where I was supposed to walk in and where I would stand. The rest of the time the other groomsmen and I stood around and debated whether or not we would shove Bruce into the pool the next day or if perhaps he would faint and fall in all on his own.

The rehearsal dinner was held back at Bruce's place and it had a luau theme since they were going to honeymoon in Hawaii. I was given a lei but it was itchy and pink so I only wore it for about twelve seconds. One Sam Adams and several cold cuts later, I was feeling much better about life. The rehearsal dinner was very relaxed and I had some wonderful conversations with friends and family. There was some talk of heading to downtown Tucson with the guys for an impromptu bachelor celebration of sorts. After several hours of celebrating at the rehearsal dinner, I was nearly conked out on another squishy sofa. I had been up since 3:30 AM local time and it was now around 9:00 PM. At this point people were taking bets on whether or not I would make it out for the night on the town, and my making it downtown was a huge underdog.

I am either a hardy soul, or an idiot. (Probably both) I headed back to the hotel, took a brief look at the warm and inviting bed, and quickly peeled out of the hotel room and down to the lobby to join the guys that were heading out for a night of revelry. There were eight of us, including my Uncle Mark who used to travel with the Grateful Dead. We piled into two cars and drove to downtown Tucson. I will say this about the bars in Tucson, they are unique. The first place we headed was called “Che’s.” It had an odd theme which I would describe as surrealist Communist with a thrash metal twist. I had a Newcastle and wandered through the place checking out the art which included several pictures of Chairman Mau. There were other strange pictures such as the painting of a two-headed goat and our favorite piece of art which had a guy holding his finger under his nose and his finger had a mustache drawn on it. The greatest moment for us at Che’s was watching two old and unattractive people hook up and then proceed to heavily make out with each other. It was painful to watch, but had a humorous train wreck type quality which made it nearly impossible to turn away from. After about twenty minutes at Che’s we decided to bolt and try our luck with another bar.

The next bar we found was called the Surly Wench; to say this place was out there barely begins to describe the vibe. The best description I could come up with was that it was a Goth bar with lots of skulls and skeletons with a hint of Roller Derby. While the atmosphere at Che’s was deafening, the Wench had a much mellower, albeit slightly sinister, atmosphere. I had a shot of Crown Royal here and quickly decided that I didn’t feel like going any further with the alcohol for the rest of the evening. I am a bit of a lightweight drinker. I have also never seen the appeal in getting drunk or in drinking so much that you get sick. I decided that I would strictly be a drinking spectator for the rest of the evening. Naturally, that didn’t stop the rest of the crew and after a few drinks at the Surly Wench we began discussing the important questions of life such as, “What is this cheesy 80’s movie that they are showing on the television.” The answer was “Manhunter” from 1986, as we discovered through the magic of our friend Ryan’s iPhone. It felt like it was starting to get late although I had no real sense of what time it was, but the evening was showing no sign of slowing. We decided that forty-five minutes was about as long as the Surly Wench maintained her charms, and once again we hit the street in search of adventure in the form of another bar.

The next place we passed looked very boring and preppy, so we decided to avoid it and try the tropical looking bar across the street. It turned out that they had a live bluegrass band and a three dollar cover. I had no cash, but my uncle generously paid for everyone and we walked on in. I have no idea what this bar was called, but it was definitely the best place we visited. The bluegrass band wasn’t highly talented, but they were fun, and it set a great mood. I must have spent almost two hours just hanging out, listening to music, having conversations about life and watching my crew get more and more inebriated. Shortly before we left, my brother’s best man Eric bought shots for everyone. Unfortunately he made the decision to have the bartender decide what we would drink. The fluid that the bartender filled the shot glasses with was some purplish swill that the bar business manager must have ordered on accident and was having a hard time getting anyone to drink. The drinks looked foul lined up in their ominous purple lines. Although I had pretty much finished drinking for the evening hours earlier, I felt like I needed to partake in this bonding moment, but I took a small sip as I didn’t want to partake too fully. That decision proved to be wise as my eyes did not deceive me. The small sip I drank tasted like stale Gatorade mixed with gasoline. I never heard what the drink was called officially, but I believe that the unofficial name we all agreed upon was Blueberry Windex. Shortly after partaking of this unique taste experience, we left the bar to head back to the hotel.

We got back to the hotel a few minutes after one in the morning. Although most everyone smartly decided to head to bed, Uncle Mark and I decided that we were hungry and were not yet ready to head to our hotel beds. We called up Bruce and Eric who had stopped at In-n-Out Burger on the way home and asked if they wanted to join us. Bruce said that he wouldn’t eat anything, but that he’d love to come along. Bruce was Eric’s ride, so Eric had no choice but to also join us. The four of us stumbled into Denny’s at 1:30 in the morning.

At this point I had been up for nearly twenty-two consecutive hours, and the other guys were still feeling the effects of the Blueberry Windex, needless to say we were more than a little bit giddy. We were at that point where just about anything that anyone would say was hilarious, and we were in no mood to stifle the laughter. Bruce, Eric and I all ordered milkshakes, and they came in glass mugs with the old-school mixing cup that had the extra milkshake in it that didn’t fit in our cups. Both Bruce and Eric spilled a significant amount of ice cream onto the table when they tried to refill their cups, and somehow I managed to bite my tongue chewing my shake. We couldn’t control our laughter at any of these blunders. Truth be told we couldn’t stop giggling at just about anything that was said. We were quite obnoxious, and I’m pretty sure that our waitress was ready for us to leave long before she delivered our Grand Slam breakfasts. Yes, even Bruce ordered a full meal, even though he had just polished off a Double-Double only minutes earlier and it was two in the morning. I was impressed at the gastro-intestinal courage being displayed by a man who was only hours away from getting married. Mercifully, we made it back to the hotel, although we were drenched as we had to run through a torrential downpour to get back to Mark’s car. Heavy rain the night before a wedding was an omen of weather to come, but we thought nothing of it at the time. I walked into my dark hotel room where the rest of my family was blissfully asleep, and twenty-three hours after I had gotten up that morning, I finally made it to bed.

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