The long and twisted story of how we ended up at the Capitol on Boehner’s balcony for a Washington wedding that almost wasn’t.
The Washington Wedding that Almost Wasn’t
It wasn’t actually a backroad trip. Okay, it wasn’t a road trip at all. But it was definitely an adventure, and that is enough to make it blogworthy on Backroad Planet. So here goes . . . .
Wedding plans for Jerry’s daughter Brandy had been in the works for months. Last April, Brandy and her fiancé Mike Music permitted the Jefferson Memorial for their outdoor wedding to be held on Friday, October 4. Because the destination wedding was to be held out of town, only a small wedding party of family and friends would be attending. With great anticipation, we made hotel reservations, bought our airplane tickets, and made arrangements for time away from our jobs.
Excitement continued to build over the months with wedding showers, bachelor/bachelorette weekends, and last-minute shopping until Monday morning, September 30, when Brandy received the following email from the National Parks Service: “Good Morning, This email is to inform all wedding applicants about the possible government shutdown. Unfortunately, if the government should shut down the National Mall and Memorial Parks will be closed. That means while the government is shut down the National Park Service would have to terminate all permitted activities until the government reopens . . . .” Receiving news like this only four days before the wedding left virtually no time to make alternate plans. Brandy and Mike were utterly perplexed.
By midnight, no agreement had been reached between President Obama and Congress, and Brandy and Mike’s worst fears were confirmed, with the partial government shutdown beginning on Tuesday morning, October 1. Brandy and Mike both work for the Polk County Sherriff’s Office, Brandy as a Quality Assurance Officer in the Emergency Communications Center, and Mike as a Sheriff’s deputy. It wasn’t long before their boss, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, got wind of the situation and placed a call to U.S. Congressman Dennis Ross. Before the end of the day on Wednesday, October 2, Rep. Ross had contacted Brandy with a commitment to help them make contingent plans for the wedding to take place at an alternate Washington, DC, location. By Thursday morning, October 3, Congressman Ross had made arrangements for the wedding to be held at the United States Capitol building. Everyone was ecstatic over this turn of events. Could it be that Plan B would surpass Mike and Brandy’s original plan?
Mike, Brandy, Jerry, and I, along with matron of honor Pate Joe and her husband Stanley, flew out of Tampa early Thursday afternoon. Midflight, Brandy leaned over and told us to tune in to a live news story airing on our seatback TVs. The report stated that gunshots had been fired at the Capitol building, creating a breach of security. We could not believe this turn of events as we watched the plot of the Washington Wedding Saga thicken before our eyes. Before we landed, however, we were relieved to hear a news update that the Capitol building had been cleared for reoccupation.
We arrived safely at National Airport, met up with friends Brad Perez and Lacee Evans, and took the Metro together into the city. We emerged into daylight at the Blue Line Metro West station and began the five block trek to our hotel. (Anyone who has visited DC knows that even with public transportation, you end up walking everywhere!) Later that evening, the remaining members of the wedding party gathered in the hotel lobby before heading out on foot to dinner at the Tortilla Coast. We had a great time catching up with everyone, and after an evening stroll down to the White House, we returned to our rooms for some much-needed shut-eye.
Early Friday morning, Jerry and I laced up our sneakers and walked over a mile to the Lincoln Waffle Shop, one of our favorite DC breakfast locations. We were saddened to see government shutdown signs hanging in the windows of the doors to the Ford’s Theater located just across the street. After a breakfast of salmon cakes, eggs, grits, and fried potatoes, we hiked back to the hotel to get ready for the afternoon wedding. Brandy and Mike had decided earlier that all the guys in the wedding party would wear bow ties. Jerry and I bought pre-tied bow ties, but Mike and his best man Brad had bought the old-fashioned kind, and apparently I was the only person in the party who knew how to tie a bow. So guess who got stuck with that . . . .
Brandy had been both on the phone and in meetings with Congressman Ross’s staff about the wedding arrangements all day, but it was not until everyone was getting ready, running in and out of each other’s hotel rooms, tying bow ties, hunting hair gel, and such, when I first heard the wedding would be held on House Speaker John Boehner’s Capitol balcony. My first reaction was not entirely positive. I suspected the wedding was being set up as a publicity stunt or grandstanding opportunity much like what had happened with other congresspersons earlier in the week at the World War II memorial.
Brandy had instructed us to meet at the Cannon House Office Building located at the corner of New Jersey Ave. SE and C St. SE. She and her girls would be arriving separately. So like good little boys we did as we were told, rounded up the rest of the guys, hired a couple of taxis, and set out for our appointed destination. We arrived early, met up with Mike’s parents, and then Jerry started searching for the assigned entrance. Before too long, Congressman Ross’s chief of staff and other assistants met us outside and gave us a step-by-step run-down of the wedding afternoon. We were pleased to hear that Ross’s office had turned the press away, and that the wedding would be a private affair so that Mike and Brandy could have a memorable ceremony in spite of the government shutdown.
Next, we cleared security for the Cannon Building and made our way upstairs toward Mr. Ross’s office suite. We passed office after office of various congresspersons, some well-known and others not so much, along the way. Upon arrival, Congressman Ross’s office staff gave us water, directions to restrooms, and instructed us to make ourselves at home. Some people moseyed down the hall to the necessary room, but then I noticed the congressman’s private restroom and thought, well, they told us to make ourselves at home, so I did. My tax dollars at work, I guess.
Eventually Congressman Ross arrived, greeted everyone cordially, posed for group pictures, and we received instructions for the next segment of our journey. The congressman led us downstairs below ground level and into a tunnel that would take us to the Capitol building. Although the tunnel was old and industrial in appearance, it was well-lighted and the walls were hung with award-winning artwork from high school students across the nation. When we reached the subterranean entrance to the Capitol we again had to clear security.
We continued our trek through winding halls, up more stairs, down corridors, through the incredibly beautiful Statuary Hall, past the House Chamber in session (no pictures), and the Rotunda. With the government shutdown in effect, I was shocked to see the halls and rooms of the Capitol building filled with students on field trips and other groups of visitors. When I questioned why so many people, I was informed that only regularly scheduled tours were closed. Visitors could still enter the Capitol if invited and escorted by a congressman. Soon we arrived at Speaker of the House John Boehner’s suite and were greeted by his staff. They offered more water and gave instructions where the wedding party and guests would stand on the Speaker’s balcony.
So, on an unseasonally hot October afternoon we positioned and readied ourselves on the balcony overlooking the National Mall for the wedding-that-almost-wasn’t to begin. Brandy’s cousin Ricky Chadwell began playing “Crash Into Me” by the Dave Matthews Band on his guitar. Soon matron of honor Pate Joe walked through the door to the balcony followed by the bride Brandy and her father Jerry. Mike and Brandy repeated their vows, exchanged rings, sealed it with an extended kiss, and the rest is history. Literally! Speaker Boehner’s assistant shared with us that she knew of no other wedding (at least in recent history) that had taken place at that location.
Hours of pictures followed the ceremony, first on the balcony followed by more on the Capitol steps. After conveying our deepest gratitude to Congressman Ross and staff, we boarded taxis and headed to the wedding dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill, our very favorite DC dining establishment. We heard sirens blaring and observed a cluster of emergency vehicles with lights flashing as we passed the National Mall. Later we heard the sad news that a man had set himself on fire just moments before. The wedding party was seated in the atrium of Old Ebbitt’s where we enjoyed a delicious meal followed by wedding cake prepared by the pastry chef at the Hamilton.
On Saturday, the remaining wedding party ate breakfast together at Founding Farmers, toured Arlington National Cemetery, lunched at the Post Pub, took an afternoon nap, and ended the evening with a Ghost Story Tour of Lafayette Square, the seven-acre park adjacent to the White House on its north side.
Pate, Stanley, Jerry, and I flew out Sunday morning, leaving Brandy and Mike behind to continue their federal shutdown honeymoon. At this writing, they are still there, and if texts and Facebook posts are any indication, they are finding plenty of activities to keep them entertained and having a great time in spite of it all. Although there were times of uncertainty, doubt, and even fear, we were able to leave behind the bitter and focus on the sweet, making it a perfect Washington Wedding Weekend. In this case, everything worked out for the best. The surprise of the ultimate wedding location in the Nation’s capital coupled with the company of a very cool group of people made for a once-in-a-lifetime, although not backroad, adventure.