Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Gevelow vs. Ida

I went to a wedding last week. This is my attempt to record what happened. It will take some time, and probably not do the event justice.

Weddings have never figured much in my social calendar. My family are a pretty godless bunch, for the most part, and my friends are not yet at an age where they crave nuptials, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. As it turned out, even an encyclopedic knowledge of wedding customs wouldn't have helped me understand what was going on. The whole event managed to be nothing like any wedding I've ever heard of while at the same time being the kind of experience that all other weddings aspire to be.

This is not the yet story of that wedding, however, this is the prologue.


For a long time the wedding was a vague and nebulous thing in the potential future -- along with Kristen's arrival in the UK. I'd been told that I would be invited if Kristen came to England, but otherwise not, which seemed fair enough. This pairing of events meant that once I was a confirmed guest, with the wedding a definite fixture on my mental calendar (I've never been organized enough to have a real one), I was inevitably rather distracted. Between a newly tangible Kristen, work, and the need to occasionally eat and sleep, Rachel and Ben's wedding remained largely out of my mind until about a week before the event.

The day of our departure lurched unpleasantly from "some time next week" to "tomorrow morning" in that way that such things tend to do. For me, November 11th, 2009, was the first day in years that started at four in the morning. We dragged our suitcase out of the house in the dark, wearing lots of layers. You get a special sort of silence in pre-dawn suburbia that is smashed into little bits by the rattling rumble of a heavy suitcase's plastic wheels. The little wheels were bucking and jerking the bag around from the start, and by the time we neared the station one of them had gone on strike and stopped turning completely. Kristen tried swiveling it to see if it was jammed with something, but the friction-heated axle scorched a big blister on the fleshy part of her thumb. This seemed a bad omen to me, but as I was facing down at least 20 hours of intercontinental travel I decided to keep such observations to myself. I made sympathetic noises and heaved the bag up to the platform.

The train to London Bridge was pretty dull. Like going to work, only with less people and more baggage. There were two off-duty train drivers sitting on the seats in front of us. Eavesdropping on their conversation taught me a number of things I didn't previously know (but most of which I could have guessed): First, train drivers aren't very interesting; Second, Southern railways are locked in a behind-closed-doors argument with the train drivers' union; and third, train drivers are really interested in trains. Like, really, really interested in trains -- more than I realized you could be interested in any mode of transport, even the cool ones like helicopters, hovercraft, and segways. The second train was equally dull, but more brown.

After the usual tedious business of check-in we shuffled, shoeless and saggy-trousered, through security. Things went in trays, laptops were removed, and liquids were scrutinized one last time -- just to be certain that there wasn't a liter bottle of lighter fluid among the shampoo bottles. I checked my pockets for change and keys, checked my feet for shoes, and my waist for a belt. All clear. I step through the scanner...


It's got to the point now where I am completely unfazed or even remotely embarrassed by the beeping of the metal detector, or the subsequent semi-friendly interrogation and pat-down that the beeping brings. I have no idea why it is but I always set them off. There are no plates in my head, no pins in my bones, and I've never, to my knowledge at least, swallowed any coins. Nonetheless, I get searched often enough to put me right off the idea of becoming a narcotics mule. Once they were satisfied that I didn't have a rocket launcher in my pants, me and Kristen fumbled our shoes back on, refilled our pockets, and stumbled off for some overpriced but sanitary airport food.

The journey from here to Atlanta was pretty much par for the course -- if you've ever flown long-distance then the tedium and discomfort will be familiar. Including the peculiar culinary efforts of Delta Airlines I ate about five meals over the course of the day. In my defense, the day lasted for about two days, so it's not like I'm a total porksnorter. I watched some films on the plane (Harry Potter and the Arse of Beelzebub* and 500 Days of Summer -- which was very good) and slept a little in a neck-crackingly strange position. In Atlanta we had to go through security again for some reason. I guess they were worried that somehow we'd got hold of explosives on the plane and were going to use them to blow up America. Again, shoes were removed, pockets emptied, laptops taken out, and liquids stared at. I stepped forward and...


I was waved through, slightly bemused. I felt like I'd been snubbed. This sense of confusion only increased when I realized that I'd forgotten to take off my belt with its huge metal buckle, or take the coins out of my back pocket. It seems that I make metal detectors work backwards -- perhaps a career as an international smuggler is on the cards after all.

The flight into Norfolk was stomach-distendingly rough. Like trying to sleep on a saggy water-bed that is being carried down a mountain by a group of drunks. Not a particularly pleasant experience. It was like landing in a hurricane or something. Funny that.

While waiting for our bags at Norfolk we looked outside -- Bangladesh-style monsoon rain, Scotland style wind, Southern-style chicken wings -- none of these things seemed to bode well for the drive down to Buxton, NC. Wedding control was contacted, word was that we were go for launch regardless. The weather kept turning uglier by the minute and they wanted us in the house that night in case the department of transportation closed the roads at high tide the next morning. Kristen got an upgrade on the rental car, "something big," she cried to the representative, "with the engine out of a flying fortress and the keel from a goddamn racing yacht." The lady behind the counter gave Kristen the keys to a Chevrolet Malibu, we decided to compromise.

The car smelled of cigarettes and salesman-funk, but our bags disappeared into the cavernous trunk and there was an exciting range of lights, knobs, and switches to play with on the dashboard. After about 20 minutes of pressing buttons we figured out three things: 1. It had no ejector seats, 2. The keel had to be wound down manually, and 3. It was an automatic. Armed with this important information we set the windshield wipers to what my family call "Holiday Speed"** and set off. Kristen driving, me doing some slightly, but not disastrously, incompetent navigation.

We sloshed onto the highway and headed out of town, stopping for some coffee and hash browns at a Waffle House on the way. By the time we reached the top of the outer banks I was already a little nervy. The visibility was low, the roads were under about 2 inches of water, and the wind was literally howling. At this point, just as the roads got smaller and more curvy, the wind picked up to bastard-force, the rain reached an intensity I've only ever seen in films, and giant puddles appeared, lake-like, across the roads. I started wondering if Budget would let us go back and upgrade to a tank.

I'm still not entirely sure whether the rain actually continued to get heavier the whole way, or whether the wind just pelted it harder and harder into the windshield as we got out into more exposed stretches of road. Either way, it wasn't long before it was so heavy I thought it was going to crack the windshield and come rushing into out little haven of dry warmth. In fact, I had quite detailed visions of this happening in my head. I kept this to myself.

We got a call from Kristen's mom. She told us that there was worse to come. I assumed that we were already in the really bad patch she was referring to, and took this to mean that we were making good time. Turns out I was wrong. The conditions did get worse. What was really impressive was when the storm managed to go that extra mile, and get even worse than that.

When we passed Kittyhawk conditions were bad, going on scary. The rain was sloshing around the road, and all the other cars about were leaving swirling, turbulent eddies of water in their wakes. Get too near to another car and the wash would roll up the windscreen like a wave up the beach, totally swamping the wipers for a few seconds and leaving you almost completely blind. At times like that I found myself staring at the blurry patches of red coming from the lights of the cars in front, waiting for them to grow and fill the windscreen, getting suddenly closer... crash! I kept this to myself, and made conversation about the Wright Flyer, particularly the groundbreaking, but fundamentally flawed efforts of Otto von Lillenthal. He hadn't considered the need for a large rear stabilizer, you see, so he ended up tentpegging into the ground...

Over the next hour I went from teeth gritting, pulse-racing, terror to some sort of plateau beyond that point. After driving for a while we reached a long causeway bridge, I couldn't see anything on either side of it, so I have no idea what it was over. Here the wind picked up to such an intensity that the puddles and lakes were gone. The wind was instead flicking the water around in whirlpooling clouds a foot or two above the surface. The road was periodically dotted with strange looking grey blobs, with little smudges of grey spread on the road around them. It took me a while to realize that they were seagulls, surrounded by little trails of feathers, lying where they had fallen after being dashed against the railings of the bridge.

After that we hit a stretch where the road was essentially all there was to the island. A cross section would look like this:


Here the puddles covered the entire road. Kristen had to slow almost to a halt and aim for the center of the road. I held my breath and hoped that they were shallower than they looked. On a few occasions the water was washing across the road like a shallow, slow-flowing river. Driving through these was probably the scariest part of the trip, I ran out of humorous anecdotes to entertain and amuse and just tried to keep my breathing steady.

Later on we were informed that we hadn't been driving through rivers formed by the rainwater overflow. Apparently the waves were breaking over the dunes and washing onto the road. I think if it had been light enough for us to see this we would have screamed all the way to Croatan Ridge and spent the next few days curled up in the fetal position. Luckily for us, and for the wedding (a traumatized, catatonic maid-of-honor wouldn't have been much use to anyone) we carried on unaware of just how scared we should have been.

By the time we reached the dirt road that led to the house, trailing Mark's truck through the headlight-deep pools of water, I really couldn't have cared less whether or not the car went down like the titanic. I knew that we were within walking (or swimming) distance of the house and that was enough to stop me from worrying anymore, my suit could get eaten by fish for all I cared. The void that the absence of fear left in my head quickly filled up with anger. I think this is a built-in automatic reaction with me (something along the lines of "someone has put me in a situation where I have become this scared, someone is going to get a kicking"). By the time I got out of the car I was in a mood to punch someone and scream. I kept this to myself.

There wasn't really anyone I could be reasonably angry at, however, so I tried to keep it to myself. When we got up the house I made a rather theatrical show of being shaken up, I downed a beer and then immediately asked for another, not because I needed to steady my nerves, but because I needed some way of excusing myself from talking for long enough to calm down.

Everyone was lovely and friendly, however, so my urge to scream rapidly faded to nothing. Me and Kristen were led on a tour around the house, or at least around some of it (I didn't realize quite how much of it there was at that point) and received hugs, handshakes etc., from Rachel, Ben, and those of the friends and family who were still awake.

I expect that more happened along these lines, but I was so completely exhausted that I didn't really take any of it in. After a few minutes the power went out, and me and Kristen were led by candle-light to a pair of sofas that had been made up for us. Kristen left the room to find something, and by the time she returned I was out cold, fully dressed, and could not be woken for love nor beatings. During the night the power came back on, along with the lights and a stereo that had its speakers right by my head. I didn't stir.


*The newest one - I don't remember the name, or the film, come to think of it.

**Yes, I'll be honest, a holiday marked by apocalyptic storms is not an occurance I'm unfamiliar with -- I've been on holiday in Wales.