It was not the easiest trip, but my son’s wedding was incredible, inspiring, humbling and the coolest nuptials I have ever seen Casey and Nicole were married Oct. 31, 2015, Halloween Night, and no matter the archaic notions surrounding that date – the night of the living dead and all that – the wedding was nothing but a really fun party. In costume. In the woods. In the dark.
But I cannot describe the experience without talking about the Major Fuck Ups. Not anything caused by the bride and groom, mind you; I’m sure there were a million things that did not go as planned (has there ever been a flawless wedding?), but from the perspective of a single guest everything seemed to be about perfect. No, it was the trials and various obstacles that tried, unsuccessfully, to stop me from being there.
MFU 1: The Absentee Father
I live in Bulgaria. No easy task, living in Eastern Europe and trying to help my son in Illinois. Long-distance assistance is tricky when separated by a gazillion time zones and communication is limited to digital text messages. I am certain I did not help him as much had I been a father living under the same roof (or at least in the same country), and I understand how it might have seemed to him and my daughter-in-law – that only a selfish bastard would move to Bulgaria a few months before their wedding. Even if my coming here was a life-changing opportunity I could not turn down, I appreciate that my doing so contributed immensely to the resentment members of my immediate family might have felt about my decision. I helped with the wedding financially, and despite many obstacles I did make it to the wedding as promised, but living on the other side of the world did not make it easy for me to be a traditional father of the groom. I am deeply sorry if people expected otherwise.
MFU 2: Wrong Flight
I made my wedding travel plans last July, before moving to Bulgaria. Because I had so many things to work out – like what country to fly out of and when – I decided to use a professional travel agent. Online travel sites could assist me, but I wanted there to be no fuck ups.
But two things went wrong. The agency did not schedule the right date, and I trusted the correspondence that said they did. And so it was that I traveled from Blagoevgrad to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, a day early. I went to the airport anyway, hoping I could switch flights, but Iberian Air could not accommodate me. I spent most of my extra day in Sofia texting everybody in America and reworking my carefully-planned schedule – from when my brother picked me up, to renting a car and to seeing Casey and Nicole the night before the wedding. Given that the tiniest fluctuations in my plan could prevent me from getting to the wedding on time, that extra day in Sofia was one of the longest and most frustrating days of my life.
MFU 3: Layover in Madrid
The next day, I did indeed fly very early in the morning from Sofia to Madrid. After a one-and-a-half hour layover I boarded a British Airways flight to Chicago. And then I just sat there. For more than an hour the plane did not move. Cryptic messages from the cockpit suggested there was some problem with a runway we had to use, but a jumbo airplane packed with weary and very-hot travelers is not a fun place to sit for an hour.
When we finally took off, the captain informed us that the delay could affect passengers who needed to transfer to another flight in Chicago. And that would be me. If we were on time, I only had 45 minutes to catch a flight to Rochester, Minnesota. But we were not on time. We were at least an hour late.
I had my laptop and one carry-on bag, but I had checked a nearly empty bag in Sofia that I had been told I would need to pick up in Chicago and transfer to the flight to Rochester. I had brought along the extra bag so that I would have room for various grocery items I wanted to pick up in America (like Bisquick and Lipton tea!), things I could live without but would make life in Bulgaria a little more pleasant.
I was impressed with my hometown airport. O’Hare is a monstrosity on steroids, but there were people waiting on me when I arrived, nice people with expedited transfer tickets to help me get my checked bag, get me through customs and security, and get me to a completely different terminal. I ran most of the way. The gate for boarding my next flight was already closed when I got there, but the nice people of American Airlines let me on anyway. Thanks.
MFU 4: Lost Luggage
I made it to Rochester on time (albeit a day late), but my checked bag did not. My brother Mike, a handsome devil with a disarming lack of worries about anything, told me it was all good. I had things in that bag I really needed for the wedding (like a shirt and tie!), but Mike said he would take care of it. I was totally exhausted, jet lag being what it is, and Mike took me to his house where I could shower and sleep for about 10 hours. Which I did. The next morning, the day of the wedding, my missing bag was there waiting on me (thank you, big brother) and I took off in a rental car for Black Earth, Wisconsin (stopping first at Target to buy some black shoes!).
MFU 5: Finding the Middle of Nowhere
Getting me to Black Earth, Wisconsin, was not a problem for my smart GPS-tracking phone. Getting me to the wedding site, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, was a different matter. There is no cell-phone or Internet service out there in the lonely woods of Wisconsin, but with the help of some nice people at a Black Earth filling station, I managed to find this very isolated place essentially in the middle of nowhere (I first missed the little tiny sign on a one-lane dirt road, but it was a tiny sign).
It was raining and so I found Casey and Nicole adjusting their outdoor wedding plans for indoors. It was great to see them again, and I was happy they had many friends on hand helping them. I felt bad about the weather not cooperating, but the wedding couple were in good spirits and seemed well prepared.
MFU 6: No Tie
I helped how I could with moving tables and chairs, but I had to get to a hotel in Middleton, Wisconsin, to get ready for the wedding and to meet up with the other Wigintons coming in from Minnesota. Although I made it to the hotel thirty minutes before we were supposed to take a shuttle bus back to the wedding site, that was when I discovered that, in my haste that morning, I had left my tie at my brother’s house. Mike and I were going to the wedding dressed as The Blues Brothers, and that wasn’t going to work if I didn’t have a black tie! And so I raced to a nearby mall, found a men’s clothing store and convinced some nice customers to let me cut in line. “I’m on a mission for God,” I told them. I’m not sure if they believed me but I got the tie and made it back to the hotel with only minutes to spare.
MFU 7: The Wayward Bus
About 20 of us (in costume!) got on a big yellow school bus at the hotel. The driver was a local fellow and though I told him we had only about 20 minutes to get to the wedding, he was not in very much of a hurry. When we finally took off I quickly became suspicious of the route he was using. I had been at the wedding site only an hour before and the driver was certainly not going the way I had gone. But I stayed quiet. After all, it was his town.
But when he pulled into a state park in the middle of an urban area, I realized there had been a tragic mistake. He had taken us to the wrong park, at the wrong time in the wrong town. It took several minutes before I could convince him of the mistake, an act of persuasion not helped by his lack of phone service to his base or him not having any kind of GPS system on the bus.
To make matters worse, once the driver finally agreed to drive us to Black Earth he admitted that he did not have enough fuel to get us there and that he would have to stop in another town to get the propane he needed. I was in touch with Casey, keeping him aware of the situation, and I could tell he was close to panicking. I assured him we would make it. I had traveled 6,000 miles over two days and after all the fuck ups I had already dealt with, there was no way I was going to miss his wedding because a damn school bus needed gas.
Thankfully, my son and daughter-in-law are calm and understanding people. They held up their wedding for nearly an hour so that I could help the bus driver get his gas, meet the needs of everyone on the bus (people had been drinking, it was a wedding party), and then navigate his own country. The narrow dirt road going through the hills of a Wisconsin forest made him jittery, but I kept telling him not to worry, just drive, and so he did.
MFU 8: The Debit Card
I hated having to add any wrinkles to all the planning that went into this wedding (see Major Fuck Up 1), but my American bank account had sent a new debit card to my house in Illinois. Casey and I had worked it out in that he would bring me the card (and a few other requested items) when we meet up before the wedding. So, yeah, bless his heart, he remembered everything but the debit card itself. Oops.
The problem is that I pay cash for everything in Bulgaria, from my rent to the light bill. And to get cash I need a debit card. Thinking I would soon have access to an ATM machine, I had stuffed all the cash I had in an envelope for Nicole and Casey. After much hand wringing with Mike and Coleen, I solved the immediate problem by getting a cash advance on a credit card.
That money got me back to Chicago and then to London and then on to Eastern Europe, but unfortunately I had to get Casey to stop by a post office on his way to his honeymoon. My new debit card arrived in my university mail box eight days later.
THE WEDDING: Marvelous, fun and seemingly flawless. Everybody everywhere should have a wedding like this. I cried, laughed and was humbled by Nicole and Casey’s impeccable love and grace. It was a perfect evening. An elegant Star Fleet Captain officiated, and the ring bearer was, of course, Frodo Baggins.
Shots of apple cider (from IV tubes) and a wedding cake with bloody icing were delicious, and the smoke machine made the dancing under spooky lights all the more eerie and fun. I would never have expected my son and daughter-in-law to have anything close to a traditional wedding, and with that he and Nicole were true to themselves. It was picture-perfect, no fuck ups could have made it otherwise, and I remain a very proud father.