While most New Yorkers experienced Snowzilla from the comfort of their studio apartments, I spent it hoping that my sister’s wedding wouldn’t get canceled.
My sister Sarah, seen here, is one of the most organized, detail-oriented people I know — but the one thing out of her control, the weather, ended up making her wedding more memorable than she could have ever planned for.
When she and her husband Tom picked their wedding date almost a year ago, they were aware that New York weather in January could mean anything — from the bizarre, 50-degree days like we had all December to obliterating blizzards. My guess is that they hoped for the former. Still, both of their birthdays are at the end of January, and Brooklyn Winery, their dream venue, was available, so they jumped on a Jan. 23 wedding date.
One week before their wedding date, they were splitting hairs over the seating chart. And then, three days before the big day, the weather report started looking something like this.
Nearly all of my parents’ friends, who live in the Washington, DC metro area (where my parents live, as well) called that day and backed out. As the guest list began to dwindle, there was a sense of panic, which soon gave way to an even more unsettling feeling of helplessness.
What happened over the next three mostly-helpless days whittled away any “traditional” wedding worries and reminded everyone what actually matters when two people get married. Here’s what I learned along the way:
1. Mother Nature is an unforgiving, relentless jerk.
The weather doesn’t care about my sister or my mother, two of the most organized people alive. It doesn’t care if you booked a shuttle to take guests to the venue, or if you planned on taking cute pictures of the bridesmaids getting ready in their robes.
Nope, the weather is what leads the MTA to shut down all above-ground transportation at 2:30 pm, just three hours before guests were supposed to arrive at the venue. The weather hurls snow at you at 40 miles per hour and makes stepping outside seem like a death wish. The weather is oblivious to guests who traveled thousands of miles to celebrate with you.
We found out about the above-ground transportation shutdown at noon, smack dab in the middle of the bridal party’s hair and makeup appointments in Chelsea. The hotel shuttles canceled on us, and the race to get the last Ubers out of Manhattan began.
2. Your type-A side doesn’t stand a chance.
Somehow, the whole bridal party and immediate family made it to the venue before 2:30. We’d planned on taking a leisurely car ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn in our full outfits, stopping for photo ops along the way. Sarah had the timing worked out perfectly; she’d gone over the details with me no less than three times to ensure that everything was well-paced and convenient.
Instead, half of the bridesmaids took the subway to Williamsburg, with their makeup done, hair pinned up to avoid getting it wet, and in sweatpants and snow boots instead of dresses and heels. Sarah didn’t get the professional, cute pictures of everyone getting pampered that she hoped for, nor did she get to use her meticulously-coordinated itinerary. But! She got everyone to Brooklyn safely and calmly, and the photos we did get (like the one above) are pretty good too.
Sure, her planning eventually went down the tubes, but her organization skills (in addition to having a ninja wedding coordinator) were the backbone that kept everything together when it could have all fallen apart. Don’t throw away those lists, people! You won’t regret making them.
3. Wedding vendors are goddamn professionals.
Originally, Brooklyn Winery wasn’t going to open to guests until 5:30, just a half-hour before the wedding began. As soon as the transit shutdown was announced, the venue informed us that guests could show up whenever they wanted, however they wanted, and hang out, as long as they didn’t mind seeing everything get set up. (Spoiler: no one minded!) They also opened the bar early, set out charcuterie and other snacks for people to enjoy, and did it all without a trace of stress. I later found out that they were working with only half their staff, but no one could tell. Not only that, but several employees had walked to work in the morning and booked a nearby hotel for that night just in case they couldn’t get home. Professionalism!
The florist showed up to the venue, flowers in hand, by 1 p.m., and arranged the bouquets and centerpieces on site. Professionalism! A hairstylist trekked in from Long Island early, just in case. Professionalism! When the second makeup artist couldn’t make it into the city, one woman did 12 people’s makeup with extreme care and attention. Professionalism! The DJ had set up his equipment the night before, just to be on the safe side. Professionalism! The band hung out at the venue all day, all dressed up and ready to play. PROFESSIONALISM!
Working weddings is the job of a vendor, of course, but seeing their grace under pressure was a miracle unto itself. A good vendor is good, but a great one is nothing short of life-affirming.
4. You appreciate the guests so much more.
Once flights begin operating, people tend to assume the worst is over and that everyone will be present at the ceremony and reception. The same goes for trains, buses, and cars. You don’t consider that the people who made it safely to New York (or wherever you’re getting married) still might not make it to your wedding — and that “so close, yet so far away” feeling is almost worse than knowing they never left home.
The New York City Subway is scary. Blizzards are scary. A good chunk of guests stayed in their hotels and never got to the wedding because it seemed too daunting, and though it’s a bummer, that reaction is 100% human and we can’t blame anyone who made that choce.
But that was only a small portion of the guests. Everyone else, from octogenarian grandparents to last-minute plus-ones, braved interminable waits for the L train and a block-and-a-half trudge through nearly two feet of snow to get to the venue. After all was said and done, about 110 people of the 160 who were supposed to attend made it to Brooklyn. Sure, they showed up in winter gear and had to run to the bathroom to change to wedding attire, but guess what? So did the bridal party.
5. People automatically adjust their expectations and focus on what really matters.
Somehow, even with the weather and cancelations and lost money and tested patience, no one lost their cool. My sister was a beacon of joy, and everyone upheld an unspoken promise to do what it took to keep her happy and calm. It worked.
Sarah and her husband never lost sight of why they were getting married in the months before the wedding, but when the frigid day finally came, they had to narrow down their wedding wish list to the basics: for family to get to the venue safely, and for everyone to have a good time. That all happened, and then some.
6. Everything just sort of miraculously works out… even when it doesn’t.
The seating chart my sister and her husband agonized over? It never got used; the place cards didn’t make it to the venue amidst the transit frenzy.
The adorable flower girl dress my niece was supposed to wear? It didn’t materialize, but a last-minute pick from Macy’s ended up being even cuter.
The photo booth they’d booked for fun wedding favors? That was the one vendor that couldn’t make it to the winery, but the memories made that night were an even better favor.
The officiant she and her husband hired? She backed out two days before the wedding because of an illness. The officiant immediately arranged a replacement, but that replacement canceled on the morning of the wedding because of the weather. That’s how my sister’s college friend ended up marrying them. She wasn’t ordained — though she offered to get ordained last-minute! — but she carried the ceremony with the grace and confidence of a seasoned pro. The backup officiant ended up signing the marriage certificate the next day.
7. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, your wedding pictures will be wonderful.
It’s no secret that snowy wedding photos are beautiful. But let me tell you something — those photos probably weren’t taken during a freaking blizzard. Blizzards bring face-numbing winds that turn your face red and sprinkle every square inch of your being with snow, which then melts into a drippy mess. Not so pretty for pictures.
And yet! A professional photographer can get frame-worthy snapshots even in the worst setting. My sister’s photographer, Sean Kim of Sean Gallery showed up early, braved the snow to get the best pictures, adapted his plans at the snap of a finger, and captured the weird, ethereal beauty of a wedding in a weather emergency. (He later told us he’d shot a wedding in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, so I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised.)
8. You’ll end up having a better, more memorable time than you would’ve had everything gone according to plan.
The harder you work for something, the better it feels, right? Everyone who made it to the wedding was so happy to be there that they danced a little more than they would have, and drank a little more than they should have. One of the things that happens when guests are forced to cancel is that you appreciate everyone who made it a little more. You give them a tighter hug and are so happy they’re there that you don’t think about those who didn’t make it. And that, to me, is pure wedding magic.
- Exactly 75 years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the internment of Japanese-Americans.