The Big Easy Wedding, pt. 4

Awakened by loud knocks at nine a.m. You rent rooms in these places and everyone just wants to come in. We told the maid to come back later and hung out the “Do Not Disturb” sign for a little more sleep but the spell was broken so we headed downstairs for breakfast. The Sheraton offers a breakfast buffet in its sun-drenched glass-ceilinged atrium, $11.95 and all you can eat. Which never turns out to be much. These people know what they are doing. We ran into Erin and Greg and sat together at a table under some potted palms. Omelettes were available from a courtly chef in a tall hat and we sipped coffee and nibbled at fresh fruit while we waited for him to fry ours up. All in all it was a great buffet, but, in what would turn out to be a pattern for the weekend, the waiters and other staff never quite seemed to be ready for prime time. There was, for example, the difficulty of getting our coffees refreshed. Why was everything self-serve except the one item people are physically addicted to? Restaurant meals just jump the rails for me when I run out of the accompanying beverage. I sit and stare at the food growing cold on my plate, not wanting to keep eating because I know I’ll enjoy it so much more when I get a fresh drink. Next time I’m in a situation like that, I’ll order two cups from the start. We weren’t the only ones who had trouble. Aaron and Julia waited ten minutes after loading their plates for someone to arrive with silverware. Alison’s coffee never arrived, so, as she and Kevin were finishing up, she repeated her request and asked for it to come in a to-go cup. The cup arrived, but it was empty. Later, I had occasion to call guest services for help researching how I would get to the New Orleans airport on Monday. Every question I asked met with the same response: “I’ll look into that and call you right back.” I wasn’t asking how many hot-water heaters the hotel had in the basement; you’d think that, in a “full service” Baton Rouge hotel, the answer to the question “how can I get to New Orleans” would reside in the reference binder next to the guest services operator’s phone.

But I suspect that there was no reference binder at all.

All petty complaints aside, we quickly became addicted to life inside the Sheraton’s shell. I’d never stayed in a “full service” hotel before, but I quickly saw the appeal, especially for this type of travel where one is not from the area and is also not really visiting “the area” (scenic downtown Baton Rouge, anyone?). Anytime we went anywhere we were dependent on other people for a ride, and dependent on their schedules as well, but we were in control inside the cocoon of the hotel.

The wedding ceremony would start at seven p.m. so we guests had the day off and a large party of us retired to the pool. There were pitchers of pina coladas, rum-soaked cherries, and synchronized swimming. Aaron stood on Kevin’s shoulders and left him bruised. I got some typing in but soon had to abandon the effort in favor of socializing like a human being. Such strange customs your species has…

For lunch, the groom wanted to go to Frostop’s, a local greasy-spoon chain. Kevin and Alison went along but A., Natalia and I decided we wanted to lay in some sort of counterbalance against the caloric excess of the upcoming reception dinner. We retired to Shuck’s on the Levee, one of the hotel’s restaurants, with a window-seat view of the casino boat and the muddy Mississippi, the tug boats chugging past with immense strings of barges. We ordered salads and were glad to finally finish a meal without feeling painfully full before even swallowing the last bite. In the late afternoon, everyone met up at the bar for a last round of drinks with Greg as a bachelor, as meaningless a term as that is among people who tend to live together for years before “the question” comes up, and then we all headed to our rooms to gussy ourselves up for the big night.

The wedding was an outdoor ceremony behind Erin’s parents’ house, officiated by a Unitarian minister who for some reason worked the fact that he was a Unitarian minister into his service about a half dozen times. Two to three hundred people watched from white folding chairs ranged in the grass. Trees loomed overhead (and power lines), and birds provided musical accompaniment. With the ceremony over, guests helped themselves to homemade etouffe and artichoke dip and crackers and cheese for appetizers, with two massive vats of jambalaya for the main course. One of Erin’s cousins, a mortician who moonlights as a limo driver, tended bar and mixed them strong. A local band played for the dancers, the average age of whom was kept low by a pack of little girls who spent the evening whirling and running across the dance floor. The cake cutting was in the living room, where a table groaned under the weight of nine different cakes. A groom’s cake in the next room was fashioned to look like a cheeseburger the size of a car’s tire.

The wedding party’s tuxedo rentals had been of sufficient quantity that the store had thrown in a limousine ride for free, and Erin and Greg were nice enough to offer a ride for everyone headed back to the hotel. Sometimes you see a limo going by and imagine that a wild party is ensuing behind those tinted windows, but really it was all we could do to stay awake.

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