There was a time, it feels like a century ago now, when I woke in the morning before the sun rose to the manic chirp of an alarm and took a crowded subway from Brooklyn to Midtown. After pushing through dense schools of people in Grand Central I rode an elevator to a trading floor and spent all day long arguing with people about the value of pieces of paper.
I did this for years, and met a number of great people and made a handful of close friends, one of whom, Dennis, decided to get married in Jackson, Wyoming in early June.
Dennis and I worked together for a while at a Big Bank. He was very, very good at his job and, away from his desk, was a great person. He was Minnesotan, and his inherent midwestern goodness made him a reliable friend and, thanks to my wife also being from Minnesota, I was always given carte blanche by Val when it came to making informal plans to have a quick drink after work (which, inevitably, meant unsteadily returning back to the apartment at one in the morning).
Generally, we’d simply sit on the roof of Dennis’ apartment and work off his inventory of relatively obscure and incredibly good Japanese single malt whiskey while talking all night.
He was, therefore, an early sounding board for me when I began to wonder what might happen if I simply walked away from my career, and knew long before most that I was going to take the plunge on this whole adventure of ours.
At our goodbye drinks in the city Dennis swung by with his girlfriend, Yubeteh, a lithe and radiant woman who had gamely endured my friendship with him, and, having been born in Tijuana herself, had some advice for our pending adventure: don’t go to Tijuana.
One long day on the road in Quebec, while reminiscing about that night, Val observed to me that there was something suspicious about Dennis’ behavior around Yubeteh. His normally cool demeanor softened, if not outright melted, in her presence, and Val said to me that she wouldn’t be surprised if the next time we saw her it would be as his wife.
Val’s intuition was dead on, and it wasn’t long after that conversation that Dennis got news of his wedding to us. While we didn’t know if we were going to be heading to Alaska or Panama at that point I sent him an email that told him, basically, we’d move heaven and earth to be there.
Months upon months later, as Val and I approached the end of our time in Los Barriles, we looked at a map and realized that it was very likely that, with some serious driving, we could actually make it to Dennis’ wedding in June.
I mean, what’s another two and a half thousand miles?
Sensing the serendipity of all this, I sent the following email:
There is some completely outside chance that Val and I, and the girls, can make your wedding this summer.
While I may be currently typing this from a beach on the Sea of Cortez (there were whale sharks this morning), we are headed north after four months and will be in northern Arizona by mid-May.
With a little aggressive driving, I think we could pull the truck into Jackson in time.
It would be off the charts phenomenal for us to be able to celebrate you getting hitched.
There are issues: we’ll need a place to pitch the tent, and of course, we’ll have to figure out what to do with the girls, and you’ll have to explain to your new family that you really are a successful trader even though you have people living in tents on your lawn, but this could happen.
Also, I will need an address in Jackson to send my suit to.
Finally, if we can make it, I insist that I be given the opportunity to toast you. If there is one thing I am not going to pass up on, it is the chance to enjoy as much alcohol as possible and then deliver a public tribute to the two of you… in Spanish.
Val and I wormed our way north into America, and over the next month took in the extraordinary geographic and geologic metamorphosis that daily presented itself to us, oceans to deserts, canyons to mountains, sage scrub to alpine forest, ochres and reds to lush greens.
Each day brought us a handful of miles closer to Wyoming, and quite suddenly it seemed, Val and I were pulling through the pass and dropping into Jackson, pausing only to pull out to the side of the road and hold, with a wonder I haven’t felt since I was a kid, handfulls of snow.
Coming into town, we were almost overwhelmed with excitement at being able to enjoy a weekend celebrating, with a bunch of good friends we had not seen in a year or more, Dennis’ wedding.
And my God what a good time we had.
The night and day aspect of our situation made it all the more magical. I mean, we had been living in a tent in the desert for the past five months, generally worrying about running out of water and keeping scorpions out of our shoes.
But after racing to the post office to collect the box, sent by my sister for General Delivery, that contained a suit for me and a dress for Val, we made our way to the cabin we would be staying at for the weekend and scrubbed ourselves clean to make sure we were presentable for the first event, Friday’s rehearsal dinner.
My hair presented an issue in the sense that there was a lot of it, wearing a baseball hat was out of the questions, and the only way I could figure out how to tame it was to help myself to a good handful of hair control product and sweep it all backwards out of my face. The end result made me look like a drug dealer circa 1982, but it was an improvement on looking homeless circa 2014, so I went with it.
The girls knew something was up, and after submitting to hot showers eagerly worked their way into the little dresses we had picked up for them from the sale bin at a Nordstrom in Phoenix. Seeing Leonie in her little black number and Sylvie in her bright stripes with special sparkle sneakers on was particularly adorable.
Anticipating a vigorous celebration we took a cab into town and were ushered to the outdoor patio of The Local restaurant, where the collective Roving Bugs jaw dropped as we drank in the scene in front of us.
For the girls, the source of shock was the remarkable bounty that greeted them.
Wait staff smiled warmly and pressed drinks into our hands, passed trays of magnificent hors d’oeuvres were presented every few minutes, and then the ladies spotted the prize: a table at the far side of the room piled with local bounty, sausages made from elk and bison and venison and duck, a mountain of raw oysters, and cheeses of every description hemmed in with olives and fruit and warm breads.
They raced toward it, and dove in, and we didn’t see them again until we were seated for the proper dinner.
As for Val and I, the richness that greeted us was in the company. Friends we had not seen for a long time, who felt to us to be from another life, were all here in front of us, and we almost didn’t know what to do.
I spotted Dennis, and involuntarily whooped out loud, and he turned in alarm to try to figure out why a bearded maniac was crashing his wedding, but I closed in and threw my arms around him before he could escape, and with that Val and I began a great evening and weekend catching up and getting caught up, and feeling a not-insignificant amount of homesickness well up in us.
The wedding itself was the next day, with the ceremony being held in the afternoon at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Teton National Park.
That place, which I’ve been to before, is an exceptional spot, sacred in every sense of the word as its setting, hemmed in by the powerful, ragged curtain of the Tetons, is enough to remind even the secular of the enormous and unknowable magic of the forces of nature that surround us, and to be humble in their presence.
From there, it was off to the reception, held at the extraordinary Amangani, and the girls immediately put their newfound experience with five star living to good use. As they were serenaded by a mariachi band arranged along the edge of the infinity pool, they ordered custom lemonade cocktails from the bar, attacked the cheese tray, compared notes on the various delicacies on offer (“Dad, you have got to try this duck prosciutto”) and, with the precision of a pack of wolves, hunted down the staff passing out trays of perfectly grilled lamb chops.
I began to formulate a plan to make good on my promise to toast the bride and groom. The event was tightly organized by the wedding planners, and in my general experience American weddings, unlike their counterparts in Canada or England or Ireland, tend to feature few extemporaneous toasts.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, and certainly much is to be said from keeping a live microphone out of the hands of your second cousin Melvin after he’s helped himself to a half a dozen gin and tonics.
However, I’m Canadian, and so basically can’t stop myself when I am at a wedding and there is an opportunity to say a few words about the bride and groom. Val and I were seated rather conspicuously at the head table, and so I began to cast about for an opportunity to quietly sneak away to see if I could make the Commonwealth proud and engineer an old-fashioned microphone hijacking.
I crept out of the dining room at the Amangani with a very satisfying, very large glass of red in my hand and moved in on the wedding planner.
She eyed me with the same calm but wary gaze that elk use when first spotting a distant coyote.
This was warranted, as with my ridiculous mane of hair already beginning to escape the shackles of the pomade I had earlier combed into it, and wearing a navy blue suit leftover from my days as a financial services worker, I more or less looked like Christian Bale’s bearded stunt double from American Psycho.
I explained that I was hoping to say a few words about the bride and groom, and made my request calmly, respectfully, and used my most soothing “I won’t say anything rude, I promise” tone of voice. I also used a couple big words, hoping that might tip the balance in my favor (“ah, this guy went to college”).
The answer, which was clearly going to be “no” when she first saw me approach, changed to “well, let me ask the groom” which gave me a 50-50 shot, everything resting now on Dennis briefly abandoning good judgement.
Which he did.
And so, my belly full of salmon and several pints of a spicy cabernet, I took control of the microphone and delivered, to the best of my recollection, a pretty respectable toast, including a few choice words in Spanish (a rare strategy for a Canadian).
I joked that my “good friends” in Tijuana had helped me craft some heartfelt words for Yubeteh and her family who had, like us, journeyed all the way from Mexico, and then proceeded to say, in my horribly accented and grammatically imprecise Spanish, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Canadian, and here are my documents. I have no meat or produce in my truck, nor any drugs or firearms. These are my wife and children. Can anyone tell me where the closest Pemex is? Thank you.”
It went over about as well as I could have hoped.
The girls, along with the other kids attending the wedding, had decamped to the yoga studio in the spa and were watching movies, eating hot dogs, and having a generally great time.
As for us grownups, there was talking and laughing and dancing and drinking, and also some cocktails. I couldn’t stop myself and went for a swim at one point in the pool, and rather than change back into my suit, continued to enjoy the reception in a glorious fluffy bathrobe and slippers.
Thanks to my beard and my hair, I was christened “The Dude” at this point and fed a stream of White Russians for the balance of the evening.
There are (I hope) no pictures of this.
The next day Val and I packed up the truck in a bit of a fog, partly a function of dehydration and partly a function of sorrow.
We loved living in Brooklyn and we loved our friends. It was the other stuff that was so difficult to live with, and easy to leave behind.
Having a bunch of good people together for a carefree weekend in a place as exceptional as Jackson, all suffused with the optimism and the simple joy of a wedding, made us long for more time with them.
The good news is that all of these friendships we have are durable, and they’re waiting for us, and with a little planning, we can and will enjoy them for the rest of our lives.