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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Go West, Young Man

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  • Ontario, Calif--I spent the weekend in California for the wedding of my longest-tenured friend’s brother and, honestly, it was a waste of time and money.
    I don’t know how you feel about “destination weddings,” where the bride and groom require their guests to travel some distance to attend, but I used to loathe them. I always felt it was egomaniacal and self-indulgent to ask people to shell out serious coin and perhaps burn vacation days to travel someplace exotic for your “special day,” but I’ve changed my tune in recent years.
    Why? Because now, for me, every wedding is a destination wedding. With the vast majority of my friends and family in the Milwaukee-area, even if they have a wedding at “home,” I still have to travel. So, this latest wedding didn’t bother me much--plus it wasn’t a true destination wedding, anyway. Yes, the groom and his family all live in southeastern Wisconsin, but the bride and her family all reside in California. And, in a tie-situation like this, we all know the woman is going to win that battle, so they got married in California.
    Since I had to get to and from California quickly, flying was my only option--despite my well-known aversion. For someone afraid of flying, I do fly a lot--probably between 50 and 75 flights in my life--but I’ve got my system of self-medicating pretty well established by this point. Nevertheless, the myriad plane tragedies over the past few months--two Malaysia airlines going down (one still totally missing) a flight crashing in Taiwan due to a typhoon, a father-son trying to fly around the globe instead plummeting to their demise in the Pacific like Icarus, an Air Algerie flight disappearing like the Malaysian jet, before then crashing in Mali due to weather, etc.--were enough to shake my already-fragile psyche. By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to bail on the entire trip, but I’d spent too much money on airfare and hotel--which couldn’t be refunded--that I honestly figured dying would be preferable to knowing I ate all that cash.
    Plus, candidly, I felt compelled to go; Josh (who in California seemed to have copied his entire look--hair, clothing, and shades--from Ryan Gosling) has been my dearest friend since we were in the same kindergarten class, and we stayed in the same schools all the way through high school. Growing up, his house was like my second-home--I used to jokingly refer to it as my own personal “fortress of solitude,” as if I were Superman--and it seemed I was over there all the time. Outside of my parents, I think I’ve spent more time around Josh than anyone else on this planet! That type of time equity builds a bond, and I don’t think I’m out-of-bounds in suggesting he and his family view me as basically another family member--albeit an unwanted, debauched, and incorrigible one.
    Page 2 of 4 - Consequently, I’ve gotten to know his brother, Andy, reasonably well, too--he and I even had a few carousing trips in Chicago when I was living there getting my master’s at DePaul and he had enrolled at the University of Illinois-Chicago. As a matter of fact, I met his now-wife, Tiffany, a former Colorado State University volleyball player, on one of those Chicago excursions.
    So, in some ways, this wedding amounted to a quasi-family reunion; I hadn’t seen Josh since December 2013, and it’s been even longer since I’d seen Andy, his mother, Mary, or her husband, Phil.
    So, up to the Twin Cities I went, flying American Airlines to Ontario for the wedding weekend. Luckily, on my flight from Dallas to Ontario, I was seated next to the voluptuous Alicia, which certainly took my mind away from the perils of flying. She’s a Fontana, Calif., native (which is near Ontario), and we chatted about her work for the Treasury Department traveling around the country performing “stress tests” on financial institutions.
    I did have a lovely hotel in Ontario, and I also got to have a “Lawrence of Arabia” moment Friday night. I realized I’d forgotten a wedding card, so I needed to procure another one. The woman at the front desk informed me the nearest store was over a mile away; I had no car, and it felt superfluous to grab a taxi for that short of trip, so I decided to hoof it. She and her colleague told me I was a fool--too hot in the summer desert sun to make such a journey. I replied that in “Lawrence of Arabia,” my hero Peter O’Toole (as my hero Lawrence) improbably crossed an entire desert, so I could surely walk two miles roundt-rip. It was rough, I’ll admit, but when I made it back to the hotel, I strode in triumphantly, just like T.E. Lawrence/O’Toole, and then celebrated my accomplishment with the front desk woman.
    Despite the fact that the bride’s father played in the NBA, and some of her relatives on her mother’s side live in France--Corsica, no less--Saturday’s wedding struck me as a bit cheap. First, it was all the way in Orange, Calif.,--when we drove past the Angels baseball stadium in Anaheim (smaller than it looks on TV), I knew it was far away, so far that my cab ride that night back to my Ontario hotel ran $100.
    (Permit me a digression here about the French relatives. First of all, the French do just dress better. One fellow was wearing a blue jacket, black pants, an untucked dress shirt, and a tie, yet, improbably, he pulled it off with elan. Another fellow was wearing a simple black suit, white shirt, and pink tie--nothing terribly original, and yet he looked as though he'd stepped off the pages of GQ. It was all just so crisp and magnificent. The French people also all smoked as if they were auditioning for the cast of "Mad Men." I'm pretty sure I even saw a three-year-old boy puffing away in the back--kidding, kidding! We kid because we love. 
    Page 3 of 4 - I also got myself in a spot of trouble with the French contingent. You see, I was talking to people I did know at the bar, and they disappeared, and, suddenly, I was left alone with these French relatives who spoke little English and whom I'd barely met. The best conversation starter I could come up with was saying how much I always enjoy hearing their national anthem when it's played at events like the Olympics, and the look of horror on the woman's face immediately told me I was in jeopardy. Shaking her head, she said, "Have no never heard the words? Terrible, just horrible. It's all about killing people, chopping their heads off." The song came about during the French Revolution, hence the violent imagery, but I tried to explain I just was meaning the melody--the way it sounds--not so much the words.
    Feeling I needed to dig out of a hole, now, I pulled the only other arrow left in my bag: I brought up Francois Hollande, the current president of France, who I now is very unpopular in the country, to show off my cosmopolitan knowledge of world events. This went better, as she explained her and her family, like the majority of the country, dislike Hollande. She then translated my question to her husband, who spoke no English, and there was no translation necessary for his reaction--a vigorous shake of the head and a hand gesture that meant disfavor. So, I felt I was back on level ground with these people after the national anthem fiasco, and I got out of there before I could make another faux pas.)
    The wedding was also at a house--with no air conditioning--that the owners evidently rent out, the ceremony was in the front yard, and the reception was in the back. They had to move the chairs from the front to the back, which took awhile, so were all standing at our tables after the ceremony! I also got tossed out of the kitchen by the caterer when I tried to turn the Whitney horse race on TV. An overcast day even turned into rain that night--and it never rains in the California valley--so that struck me as portentous. Moreover, after the officiant--who seemed to be auditioning for a role as a standup comedian--finished his spiel, he read the vows, which the bride and groom wrote themselves. They were brutally honest in an attempt to be funny, but talking about how they met on Match.com and how Andy was terrified of committing to marriage struck me as a little too open.
    The music seemed lifted from a Woody Allen-movie soundtrack (that’s not really a criticism), and Josh--as best man--gave a toast that was not as bad as I feared it might be. (Would’ve been better if I’d written it, of course, but still.)
    Page 4 of 4 - All in all, I should’ve stayed home; I would’ve saved over $1,000, and I might have even seen more sunshine!

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