Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMN: Wedding Chaos

(Not pictured: Sweaty Shane playing Rock Band.)

I've been moonlighting as a DJ ever since the glory days of buying my first mixer (Radio Shack - four "D" batteries required) and wiring my friends' home stereos together on a wing and a prayer. If you see me at a party, dance, rave, club, or bar, there's a pretty good chance I'm on my way to or from the DJ booth. But there's ONE place you will seldom see me in control of the music.

I hate DJing weddings. This is dumb, because mobile wedding jocks can make $1000+ in one night, but it's just not my thing. Between lugging heavy PA equipment around, dealing with neurotic brides, and worrying that equipment failure could destroy somebody's special day, I'll take a pass, thanks.

That said, I'm also a sucker for a friend. And when my friend Toni asked me forever ago if I'd DJ her wedding, I said sure. I knew she and her future hubby were on the tightest of budgets, so I told her if she could find a PA system for me, I'd show up and do my best to make it a party. Just one problem: "it" was in Cedar Falls, IA. No worries, though: I could just hop online, get a nice hotel room, maybe something with a hot tub, and make a relaxing mini-cation of the weekend.

That was before I discovered that apparantly, in the greater Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, hotel rooms are an endangered species. Not only were there hardly any rooms available, but the ones I DID find were NOT cheap. Bye bye, hot tub. Ah well, at least I could relax after the gig with a first-run movie or something.

I got there with JUST enough time to check in, throw my travel bag on the bed, and get to the venue. Cue shock #1: Instead of your traditional reception hall, this place was more like a creepy old house, complete with crusty antiques, life-size dolls that peered into your soul, and creaks and groans that would make the Ghost Hunter guys salivate.

Shock #2 was the temperature. I was expecting to walk through the doors into a blast of air conditioned awesomeness. Instead, I walked into a blast of hot yuck. It must have registered, too, because all it took was one raised eyebrow for an employee to apologize and tell me that they'd just fired up the a/c. Nifty, but by the time I'd lugged all the gear in and set up, I was a soaked, sweaty, gross mess of a human being with NO time to change.

When I DJ, a bring a modern digital setup involving laptops and MIDI controllers and mixers aplenty. But the easiest way to handle the dinner portion of a wedding? Make a playlist, plug in the trusty iPod, and hit shuffle. This went smooth. Guests arrived, the bride and groom did their toasts, and dinner was served. Things were perfect. And then it exploded.

Or at least a transformer did. With a polite little bang, suddenly the ballroom and stage were without power. The ladies who ran the house had no clue what was up, so I grabbed a flashlight and checked the circuit breaker boxes - nothing tripped. And since that concluded my electrical expertise, we called the local power company. 30 minutes later, a worker showed up.

"The problem," he told me, "is that no one's touched this stuff since the 1900's. They're gonna need an electrician."

"You guys," he concluded with the grace and poise worthy of the day's blessed event, "are screwed."

I was busy noticing two other issues. The first was that it started to feel like something BAD was going on in my stomach. The second was that it was rapidly getting hotter. The property manager confirmed my worst fear: the air conditioning was out, too.

Some rooms, though, still had power, including a small foyer where they'd set up an X-Box and Rock Band to entertain guests. I grabbed my friends Linn and Harry and forged a plan. Fifteen minutes later, the bride and groom had their first dance as man and wife to "Somebody to Love" by Queen -- as performed rather poorly by the three of us on Rock Band.

As the song started, I leaned over to Harry and asked, "Did you set it to 'no fail' mode?"


Gulp. That meant if one of us screwed up and hit too many bum notes with our fake plastic instruments, the song would stop and the X-Box, along with the 150+ invited guests of the wedding, would boo us. This didn't help the sweating. In the end, we scored three out of five stars, but made it throught the song to a round of applause -- well, maybe they were applauding the bride and groom, but I soaked it up regardless.

Soon after, people starting leaving, the temperature got unbearable, and I packed all my gear up in a sea of sweat and ick. I got to my car, drove two blocks towards the hotel, and got a phone call - "Power's back on." I'm going to guess that a few Cedar Falls residents may still be wondering why they pulled up to an intersection to see a sweaty guy banging his head against his steering wheel in frustration.

Seeing as how most of the guests had left, we decided to just call it a night, and I got back to my hotel room by 8 p.m. -- pretty much the exact moment when the something-bad in my stomach turned into a something-worse. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say the Clarion Inn might still be rueing the day that I ever booked that particular bathroom.

The room was next to the pool and reeked of chlorine. The TV had NO first-run movies as advertised. A wedding in the hotel was sending "oonch-oonch-oonch" beats through the walls. I took the best course of action I could muster up: I grabbed my clothes bag, hopped in the car, and made it back to Rock Island by midnight.

So if you're keeping score, then yes, I drove 148 miles to press play on an iPod, then spent $89.99 + tax in order to assassinate a defenseless toilet.

Thankfully, Toni and her new hubby had a fun night despite the chaos, plus they'll have a heck of a wedding story to tell people for the rest of their lives. Just as I've now got a story to explain beyond a shadow of a doubt why I'm touched by your offer but will NOT be DJing your wedding.

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