The bridezillas were peaceful at first. So were the groomzillas, the maids-of-honor, the moms, the grandmas and, in at least one case, a man who volunteered to sleep outside the behemoth Wellington Webb municipal building so his mother's hairdresser could get the wedding date of her dreams. But it didn't stay peaceful forever.
Not in an Occupy Denver sort of way, mind you. Instead of pepper spray and cops in riot gear, there were exaggerated eye rolls and city employees with clipboards. And no tents. (Although there was one inflatable mattress.)
But let's start at the beginning. Full disclosure: I was one of those bridezillas freezing her 'zilla off for a chance at a cheap wedding venue. The city has two choice ones: the City Park Pavilion and the Washington Park Boathouse. Both are way less expensive than your average hotel ballroom and you can bring your own food and booze, which is good news for your wallet and bad news for your friend who likes to bake and owes you a favor.
There's one catch, however. The city operates on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 7 a.m. on a very specific date: today. So if you want to get married on a Saturday in June, July, August or September, you better be willing to line up the night before.
My fiancé and I arrived at the Webb building at 8 p.m. last night. We thought we'd be wicked early; the city's facilities coordinator, a very nice man who is undoubtedly having a very stressful day, had told us to get there by 3 a.m. to be safe. We decided to overachieve, however -- and it turns out we weren't the only ones. By the time we arrived, bundled in hats and mittens and toting camp chairs, there were sixteen people ahead of us.
The gathering, which for our purposes we're calling Bridezilla Campout 2011, had the friendly, we're-all-in-this-together feeling of an office picnic or a disaster that's not that disastrous. No one really wanted to be there, but we had to be, so we decided to make the best of it. Someone brought around a bowl of Halloween candy. Someone else busted out a portable game of cornhole. There was pizza-ordering, chit-chat and coffee-sharing.
Upon taking our place in line, we were approached by Stephen Partridge, an outgoing fellow who had officially designated himself the unofficial date-taker. Each time a new party arrived, he opened his red Moleskine notebook and took down their venue and date. That way, he could tell each newcomer whether someone ahead of them was planning to book that same combination -- a task that was born of his own curiosity.
"I wanted to know where I stood," he said. (He was thirteenth in line.) "To stand here for fourteen hours and not know if I was going to get my date was going to drive me crazy."
September 8 seemed to be the most-wanted date. Unfortunately, it had been claimed by the second person in line, a man named Ted Shannon who'd arrived at 3:30 p.m. with a sleeping bag, an iPad and a sandwich. He was one of the few loners in the crowd; his fiancée was home, tucking his son -- a pint-sized Optimus Prime who was forced to surrender some of his trick-or-treating candy to "the Halloween ghost," a.k.a Shannon -- into bed.
"My friends think I'm nuts for sitting out all night," he said.
"But my really good friends are like, 'Yeah! Get it, Ted!'" Before Shannon in line was a young couple, Chris Waldheim and Sara Duran. If anyone "won" the Bridezilla Campout, it was perhaps these two. Waldheim's mother had begun sniffing around the Webb building at 2 p.m. and set up her chair at 3:15. It was she who'd brought the bowl of candy, perhaps as a consolation prize for all of us losers, as if to say, "Here, have a Hershey's bar. Because you can't have July 7."
However, the life of the party -- the mayor of Bridezilla-ville! -- was a man named Angel Macias. Clad in a loud Broncos jacket and even louder orange snow pants, he was the saint who was holding a place in line for his mother's hairdresser, a woman he'd never met. He was also the one who called out witty answers when passersby asked quizzically, "What are you guys waiting for?"
"Eric Clapton tickets," Macias would say.
Macias was all about the cornhole game, shouting out "Daaaaaaamn!" every time someone sunk the bean bag in the hole and, "Oooh! I thought that was money!" whenever they didn't. At midnight, when a woman showed up and asked if anyone was waiting for July 21 at Wash Park, Macias replied with the same Eric Clapton-straight face: "Wash Park? Nope, nobody is here for Wash Park. Pick any day you want! It's your wedding!"
At 3:30 a.m., I awoke from my half-slumber to see him doing push-ups.
Even though there were a couple hundred people waiting by the time the doors opened just before 6 a.m., Macias, a salesman for Budweiser, seemed to know most of them. That came in handy at 8 a.m., when the entire crowd -- most of us bleary-eyed and cold -- were herded into the second-floor city permit office. Macias coordinated the sleepy clumps of people into a line, making sure we stood in the same order as we had outside.
"If there's a fire, we're all going to die!" he said to encourage us to move.
There was no fire, but there was plenty of fuming. The handful of city workers on duty to attend to the hundreds of anxious couples was completely overwhelmed. On top of that, there seemed to be technical difficulties; rumors flew through the crowd about the city's system "being down." Other said the city was "between systems." Either way, the ladies behind the desks were doing everything by hand, collecting paper applications and using pencils to write the dates requested in a big "master" book.
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By 9 a.m., the workers had only gotten through the first twenty or so people -- and more and more people kept showing up, clogging the hallways and sighing loudly. Some got nasty. "This is absurd!" one lady called out. "It's like the fucking DMV!" It was true that the line was slow and the process was confusing. Over the course of two hours, my fiancé and I stood in four different lines -- some of which were simply the previous lines flipped around and re-routed to try to speed things up -- before we were done.
Having survived Bridezilla Campout 2011, I can say one thing for sure: the coldest, waiting-in-line-iest, cornhole-playing-est part of wedding planning should be over.
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