Kansas was one of the places we drove across when A and I moved here from Arizona at the end of the summer of 2005, and although all I remember is flatness and a larger-than-life tableau set up to honor the Wizard of Oz, I didn’t have anything in particular against it as a state. Flatness isn’t a huge sin in the Midwest and there were plenty of places to dislike more, like the Texas panhandle, which smelled of cowshit and was hot and flat in a completely different and far less tolerable way than Kansas was. Frankly, I didn’t give the state much more thought until I started my present job, two years ago; my co-worker Martha, a sweet redhead, and her boyfriend Ben, were from Kansas, and I was soon schooled in some of the finer points of the state’s geography, history, random facts, and general goodness as a place. It turns out that Kansas people love their state, and that there are a great many more of them in Chicago than I was expecting somehow; for awhile, it seemed like every other person I met was from Kansas. (Now, it seems like they all work in sex toy stores or whatever. I don’t know what that says about the trajectory of my life.) But at any rate, I spent this past weekend in Kansas, helping Ben and Martha get married. Or rather, I spent most of my weekend in the process of getting to and from Kansas with a little subsequent time for eating and drinking too much coffee, and Ben and Martha got themselves married with considerable help from friends and family.
Since I moved to Chicago, I don’t drive much. I left my car behind and flew here when I began grad school and I’ve been exploring public and personal transportation ever since, spending hours on buses, trains, bicycles, and my own two feet in order to navigate this city I live in. I almost forget that I used to spend a significant amount of time inside one of the metal machines whose presence I generally only register for as long as it takes me to swear at them when they come close to running me down. But it’s true: I spent my childhood driving around the western half of the country as my dad moved from job to job, I spent two years of college driving across Arizona—approximately seven hours round trip—every other week for music lessons, and in the summer of 2005 I drove first from Tucson to Alaska and then from Flagstaff to Chicago. At this point I feel like I can consider myself an experienced road tripper; I’ve driven through extreme weather conditions sans windshield wipers (out of necessity, of course, not out of a need to show off my road skillz), I’ve driven through sunrises and sunsets and alpenglow and darkness, and I can cook a veggie burger on my engine block while in transit and eat it using condiments I’ve stolen from the food courts of strip malls. I have favorite driving music that I can scream along with until I’m hoarse even when I haven’t heard it in years; I have detoured hours out of my way to see the world’s largest frying pan. I have repeatedly push-started a van on streets and highways across Poland, and my only regret is that I didn’t get any pictures.
The trip back to Kansas, however, nearly killed me. First off, I don’t recommend sleeping a mere three hours before a ten-hour road trip, even if you mostly didn’t sleep because you were making podcast cds for the trip that will eventually save your sanity as you head towards Topeka. (Also, there was cookie baking. Naturally.) I also don’t recommend assuming that, just because you once drove to Alaska more than four years ago, you can power through a six-hundred-mile trip without physical and mental side effects that range from unpleasant to downright painful. Last and not least, let it be noted that the engine blocks of Toyota Corollas are not well set up for cooking. This made me very sad.
But I made it through, largely due to The Moth and sheer willpower, and I’m glad I did. In addition to road trips I’m also experienced in regards to weddings, although most of the time I’m just making your boutonnieres or playing in your ceremony, wearing black and snarking behind the backs of the guests when the officiate says something unintentionally funny. I did those things this weekend (I am a killer wedding guest, albeit a sometimes tactless one; I can’t deny I snorted when the person leading the ceremony told us that both the bride and groom would be giving and receiving in their marriage. I know what he meant, but I have an incorrigibly dirty mind and hell, I made some nice boutonnieres to balance it out), but the difference was that this time I actually knew the people I was doing these things for. I go to a lot of weddings, presumably way more than the average person, but they are nearly always for strangers and I am there in a purely functionary way; I have been to exactly four weddings where I actually knew the people involved. Marriage is something I don’t feel inclined towards—I could get into this, into the gay rights movement’s emphasis on marriage as a way to somehow end homophobia and such, but I’m not going to—but I don’t particularly begrudge people who desire it as long as they aren’t using it for nefarious purposes. Weddings are one of those times when I let my theory go and allow practice to take over; I’m simply not mean-spirited enough to let my politics get in the way of my friends’ happiness when what is being celebrated (at least in the moment—I’m not talking long-term import here) is emotional connection. I am, in point of fact, happy for people I know who get married, because it is a joyful thing for them and because I want my loved ones to be as joyful as possible.
Ben and Martha are people I love dearly. They have helped me through the beginnings and endings of relationships, listened to me blabber about the wide variety of things that come into my head, spent evenings eating soup and watching funny internet videos while they pet my cats. I saw the last Batman movie at midnight with them, after a frantic and unfulfilled search for Red Vines; we’ve gotten drunk at work parties and hugged each other way too much. (Or maybe that last one was just me.) They are my friends. And their wedding was an affair of friends and family in a way that I wholeheartedly approve of. My manager’s mother made Martha’s dress, out of material she got from a vintage lace dress; my boss’ husband, a rabbi (neither Ben nor Martha is Jewish) led the ceremony; they had friends planting the succulents they used as centerpieces, videotaping wedding confessionals in the entryway, and even baking the cakes. And yes, I did help with the flowers, and I played some Bach for the processional and Moon River for the bride, and I shed my first ever wedding tear, although it really was mostly just because other people were crying and that gets me every time. Really. But truly, it was such a pleasure to feel happy for my friends, to appreciate their relationship and see how their bonds to the people around them had brought us all together.
I’m running the risk of cheesing out completely here--wait, who am I kidding? I always cheese out--but it’s nice to see the heartfelt side of weddings. I spend so much time playing for strangers, people who I don’t know and who furthermore cause me stress and anxiety in exchange for never-ending repetitions of Pachelbel’s Canon so that their Special Day can be just like nearly everyone else’s. It makes me bitter and jaded. And even though I’m still skeptical of marriage on many levels, I’m all about love, and that was ultimately what I was there to witness--not only between Ben and Martha but between them and their many, many loved ones, the people who helped them to get there and brought us all along with them. There are so many types of journeys; some of them end with twelve hundred more miles added to your lifetime driving record and muscle aches and an excess of snack food, and some of them end with wedding rings. Some of them end solitary and happy, curled up with lonely cats and stuffed animals in your tiny studio apartment, writing about love. All are worth celebrating, in some form or another. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: weddings aren’t always so bad.