After years of hearing radio advertisements for massive bridal shows – accompanied by the traditional groan of organ music – it was finally my turn to go. After all that time of listening to an over-excited announcer insisting that the show is for “everyone, even people who just want to be married at some point” (to which my 20-, 21-, 22-, 23-year-old self said, “Thanks for the reminder,” as I ate another Cadbury egg and Liked the ninth engagement notification I’d seen on Facebook that day), I actually had a reason to attend.
I pulled in to a scarce parking space on Sunday two hours into the event with my mom riding shotgun. With a bright red folder filled with lists of wants and don’t-wants to reference throughout the next four hours, I strutted by a string quartet to the registration table to pick up my pre-ordered tickets. The woman at the table handed me a sponsored goody bag with sponsored items and brochures inside, along with a booklet that was to be my “passport,” which each vendor would stamp. Fifty-five stamps got you in a drawing for a door prize, she said.
The woman gestured to a clear container in front of me. “Get a bride sticker so the vendors can identify you. Have fun, and congratulations!”
I hastily grabbed the only sticker I saw – “She said yes!” – and stepped aside for the mounting crowd waiting behind me. A woman near the table whose job it was to strap those paper event bracelets on our wrists stopped us from going any further by flashing a wide smile and saying, “So, who’s the bride?”
Having not had a moment yet to peel my baby blue sticker from the paper and fix it onto my blazer, I grinned and brandished the sticker in my hand. “Me!”
Her smile faded to a sympathetic smirk. “Oh,” she said, “I think you got the groom’s sticker. Get the one that says, ‘Woo hoo! I’m engaged!'”
She led me back to the table, weaving among bewildered women, and grabbed the correct sticker. She then proceeded to wrap the paper bracelets around our wrists in a manner that some might consider “snug” in the same way that a doctor says a needle the width of a nickel “might sting a little.” With more congratulations and smiles from event staff, we were on our way to the first booth: a bridal shop, where I made an appointment and dropped a business card in my bag.
Next was a menswear store, where another business card and brochure joined the rest while I wrote down my information for (I think) the store to contact me with special offers. After that was a table for weight loss/energy supplements, food, horse-drawn carriage service, mobile makeup trailer, another bridal shop, flowers, photographers, more food, invitations, more food, wedding planner, skin care, pastries, more photographers, teeth whitening, DJs, drapery and other props, jewelry, dance lessons, more food, makeup, more weight loss/energy supplements, cotton candy, a photo booth, custom printing, travel agencies, more pastries. At almost every stop was another business card, another brochure, another card for me to sign for a drawing, another person for me to bump into as we all tried to get our passports stamped.
For about the first 15 vendors, I was cognizant and coherent. That was before we got to the ballroom of the venue, where my brain and my body started to drift away from each other. I wasn’t exactly in a dreamlike state, because I looked everyone in the eye and absorbed all their information…for the moment. When I realized how many vendors there were, I decided my plan of action would be to take the card and brochure/special offer and separate all the cards and brochures/special offers into piles in my living room floor later this week. Caterers here, flowers here, invitations here…
Somewhere in there, my friend Klent the Katerer (I told him I’d give him a fun name in this post) said hello and attempted a conversation with me in my overwhelmed state. When my mom told one vendor that this was my first bridal show, the woman hugged me and said, “Bless her heart. That’s why she has the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look! I was the same way!” Throughout the event, I saw brides- and grooms-to-be who looked to be maybe 19. I thought, “Neither of them are old enough to drink or supervise a learner driver, so how overwhelmed must they be right now? Is he even old enough for the draft?”
After about two hours of taking my time at each table, somewhere I somehow heard someone say that brides had until 3:30 p.m. to get at least 55 vendors to stamp their passports. At that point, it was a race, making everything a whirl of pastels and floral arrangements. By 3:15 p.m., I was just grabbing business cards, asking for a stamp and promising to come back to hear the spiel. It was 3:32 p.m. when I took my passport to the table to be reviewed. A bored-looking girl dragged her gaze across my pages before giving me the Mother Of All Stamps: The Bridal Expo Stamp. Approval. When she handed my book back to me, I realized that I had no idea what the Bridal Expo Stamp meant.
“Um, so what do I do with the passport now? Do I take it somewhere else?” I asked.
“No,” the girl said. “That’s only if they call your name for the main drawing. If you have enough stamps, then you’re eligible to receive the prize your name was drawn for.”
Translation: There was no reason to rush because you ain’t winning anything anyway.
As a wind-down, my mom and I spent our last few minutes at my friend Becca and her husband’s photo booth; me in a blue sombrero and Minion glasses, Mom in a purple pimp hat and giant sunglasses.
All that said, although a bridal show isn’t what I expected, it was the good time I imagined. It’s something special I got to do with my mom as we embark on this journey that is wedding planning. I know I’ll never forget how she held my increasingly heavy goody bag, asked questions I forgot to ask and sampled little plastic cups of gourmet food with me. (By the way, my best advice for future brides who will attend bridal shows is to take full advantage of the food samples, but be prepared for the unholy – shall we say? – “blowback” later. You’ll be able to clear a room.)
Something I didn’t expect (though I suppose I should have) was that everyone wanted to talk to me, the bride. I’ve never been one to demand attention on me, but I’ll admit that it was kind of cool to be the go-to person. (You can hold that statement against me when it’s crunch time for the wedding and people keep asking me questions when all I want to do sleep.) As hectic as the atmosphere felt at times, everyone I spoke to was informative and friendly, even though they had to say the same thing approximately 3,000 times that day.
But one vendor helped reign me in when I was in danger of floating out to the sea of information and technicalities. As soon as she saw me, she smiled and said, “I know you. You’re Cory Ramsey’s bride. You two are so cute together. I love it!”
She said she’s been a friend of his for several years and keeps up with him on Facebook. “I’m just so happy for you both,” she said.
The chaos of the event dissipated and a deliberate smile replaced the one that had grown stale on my lips. “Thank you,” I said. “He’s pretty cute. He’s pretty sweet. He’s good to me.”
In those three simple sentences, I pushed aside the fog of the day and grasped for what really matters. Whatever food the guests eat, whatever decorations don the tables, whatever makeup I wear, whatever colors our flowers are, it’s our day. And that’s what will make it special.