Howard and I met at Atomic Books, which sits between a methadone clinic and a sports bar with Baltimore scenes on the interior walls, painted by someone with dubious skill—the Cal Ripken has fiery eyes that might shoot lasers, in the manner of Godzilla. Howard was the kind of person who “got” how awesome that was. Right from the beginning, we could just look at each other and crack up.
But what were the chances this would go anywhere? We were both never-married 40-somethings who lived alone—and happily—with lots of friends and trips and hobbies. I had broken up with people for chewing with their mouths full or wearing too much khaki.
We spent our first full day hanging out together at Comic-Con, running from stall to stall, picking up comics and toys, marveling over them like religious relics. We soaked in the ambience, the painted-green people and the monocles and capes. What hit me—in between the laughing and the ool-ing—was that he didn’t take any of this for granted. We had both moved to Baltimore a few years earlier, far into our careers. He understood what it was like in towns where a social life included such choices as A) the bar at Applebee’s or B) the bar at Chili’s.
Howard, a family practice doctor and the son of Chinese immigrants, had always collected things: music, books, sneakers, T-shirts, movies, toys, comics, art. He took photographs of his deconstructed meatloaf in restaurants, and he had seen all 813 episodes of “Dr. Who.” I’d been a punk rocker as a teen and a stand-up comic in my early 20s. I wrote short stories—sometimes weird ones, such as the one about a man who is only a floating head—and I taught creative writing at colleges hither and yon. “Yon” included a five-year stint in Europe, but also time in Kentucky, rural Illinois, Alabama.
I’d come to Baltimore for yet another job at yet another college, and I fell for its bars with bizarre themes, and its penchant for taxidermy classes and yarn bombing. I loved that the town wasn’t slick enough to have a Starbucks on every corner. I was the least tattooed person in my neighborhood, but people accepted me for me—it was an easy place to make friends, more so than any place I’d lived. I was gooey about Baltimore. And it seemed to me the only place where I could have connected with someone the way I did with Howard. We started taking trips together, and then we moved in together. He proposed on my birthday in our second year.
As happy as we were, we found ourselves in the very unfamiliar position of doing something traditional—getting married.
In the year between our engagement and our wedding, we agonized about how to make the ceremony work. He had an enormous extended family. Some were non-native English speakers. Some would be coming from as far away as Japan. Mine was large because of divorces and remarriages, and many of my relatives would be coming from “the heartland,” which is code for “where people don’t eat weird shit.” How could we avoid religion but still have a ceremony everyone would like? How could we incorporate some Chinese traditions? How could we do this for less than 25 grand?
The most expensive puzzle piece in any wedding is the catering. After touring a bunch of wedding-y venues, we realized that most of them forced you to choose from a list of vendors. Everything about this seemed stifling. And expensive. Plus, as a vegetarian, I pictured myself eating that most dreaded dish—pasta primavera—at my own wedding.
We decided instead to do that Baltimore thing known as D.I.Y.
The Baltimore Streetcar Museum on Falls Road didn’t have those vendor restrictions, and it also didn’t have the glossy veneer of a “wedding.” There was a ticket window, and there were models of little neighborhoods under glass cases from the ’60s. A bunch of retired guys—streetcar enthusiasts—ran the place.
We opted for food trucks, something that concerned our families at first. What kind of wedding involved eating with plastic forks? Would people who traveled halfway around the world feel like they’d been let down? For us, it wasn’t just the fact that food trucks cost us 10 grand less than traditional catering would have. It was that this was us. This was who we were. And this was Baltimore. We wanted to share our love of it—and of each other—with everyone else we loved.
Our friend Tom Hamrick, a longtime catering guy and the manager at the Hotel Indigo’s bar, helped us with the rest of it—things like Who’ll move the chairs after the ceremony? and Where will we borrow a sound system? and How will we deal with this tiny parking lot? and Where will the trash go? Although the wedding “industry” had been disheartening, it was easy to see why it had burgeoned. D.I.Y. was definitely not for wimps.
When our guests arrived to beautiful weather on Memorial Day Weekend, they wandered through museums, leafy parks and stretches of blue waterfront. Locals bought Natty Bohs for one UK friend, who was so taken with the friendliness and variety of Charm City that he seriously began to consider relocating here.
The museum volunteers dressed in their finest conductor uniforms, orchestrated my grand entrance via streetcar, took our guests on rides for hours and hours and then danced with us. For as much hand-wringing and hand-holding as we did about the food trucks, they turned out to be everyone’s favorite element of the day. People mentioned them for months—how tasty, how memorable. “I’d been dreading eating wedding chicken,” people said. “But that was the best food I’d ever had at a wedding—or maybe ever!” Some guests had never been to a food truck before and now lamented that their towns didn’t have them.
When we’d talked in advance about what we wanted the wedding to be, the word we kept saying was: fun. By the time we reach our 40s, the hard realities of life have presented themselves many times over—losses of all stripes, both personal and in our communities. It perhaps helps us appreciate in a special way that a wedding is about gain.
Love is fun, and that’s worth celebrating.
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES!
Reception 101: We chose one truck that offered more adventurous fare: The Green Bowl, Latin/Asian fusion. thegreen bowlfoodtruck.com The other truck, Bistro Lunch Box, provided wraps, black truffle fries, Old Bay fries and salads. Prices start at $15/person. bistrolunchbox.com
♥ Libby Francis of Modest Florist really got our late ‘50s aesthetic. She created arrangements that looked like ice cream sundaes, using local and seasonal flowers. We paid $1,500. themodestflorist.com
♥We ordered stemless wine glasses for guests to keep. And we printed Chinese symbols on them for “double happiness,” a traditional way to wish people well on the occasion of a wedding. 100 glasses for $267! Wedding Favor Discount. weddingfavordiscount.com
♥Julie J. Simon, “Day-of” Coordinator, was at the venue to receive deliveries, coordinate staff, put finishing touches on decorations and manage the ceremony itself. She brought Frisbees and balls to entertain guests. $50-$75/hour. 410-961-5050
♥As part of our fun campaign, we transported our guests to the venue in a shiny yellow school bus. Cost: $600 from 4-11 p.m. viennastransportation.com
♥Anyone who grew up watching classic cartoons probably has a special appreciation for the harp. $250/one-hour ceremony, as well as consultation beforehand to choose musical selections. Elaine Bryant, Harp Shadows: harpshadows.com
♥Our DJ, William, started a Facebook group with Howard and me so that we could post songs we liked. William Allen Industries, special event DJ: Rates vary. williamallen.com
♥I knew and loved Philip Laubner’s photography from gallery shows and wrote to him on the off chance he did weddings. We loved the idea of someone with an artistic bent. Philip Edward Laubner Photography: base rate of $2,250/six hours/two photographers, but price will vary. [email protected]
♥Christina Somensky and her partner Jackie Nunez created the pin-up 1950s look that I wanted for the bridal party. For the trial run and the actual event, I paid $400. Bridesmaids and moms paid much less.
Makeup: Christina Somensky 410-940-8117
Hair: Jackie Nunez 704-968-1314
♥We enjoyed our cupcake tasting at La Cakerie so much that we went back three times! Cupcakes were more affordable than traditional wedding cake, and guests could choose among several flavors. Price: $2.85/per cupcake + tower rental and delivery. 443-608-4338.
♥We held the rehearsal dinner at Der Kleine Duivel, the Belgian beer hall at 3602 Hickory Avenue in Hampden. They not only allowed us to reserve the whole place for several hours for the cost of the beverage tab (about $1,000), but they also let us bring in our own Chinese food buffet, courtesy of Howard’s parents.
Decorations: Little touches made a big difference, but didn’t have to cost a lot. Some examples: Majesty palms from Home Depot for $10/each; shepherd hooks from Dollar Tree were $36 for 12; 18” turquoise paper lanterns were $27 for six, from Oriental Trading Company; plastic frames for the food truck menus on each table were only $1/each at Ikea.
Dress: I bought it on Amazon for $100. My mom was bummed that my process didn’t involve dress shopping (one of my ideas of hell), so sometimes we’d talk on the phone and “shop” together online. I spruced up the basic piece by spending more on sash, gloves, veil, jewelry and shoes.
This article appears in the May/June 2016 issue of STYLE.