Monday, October 10, 2016

Real Wedding: Hurricane Matthew Edition



This is totally the motto of my life and of our company. As we all know Hurricane Matthew blew in on Saturday and truly took us by surprise. We knew it was coming - but had no idea the damage and flooding that was going to come with it. I am not gonna lie- Saturday was tough. I think I said this quote 100 times. I was here at The Bradford planning Alannah and Gabe's wedding and Courtney was in Raleigh planning Ashley and Lee's wedding.

Ashley and Lee had planned a beautiful backyard wedding at the home they had just moved in to. Early in the week they made the executive decision to have it moved to an indoor location. A full day of calling and a quick venue trip had them at Art Space in downtown Raleigh. The time had to change slightly due to it being open to the public, but Courtney handled it all well moving all the vendors, adding rentals needed, changing shuttle routes and times, and making sure all the guests had what they needed and were informed.

Alannah and Gabe had planned on having everything outside under the market lights. Early on in the week we saw the hurricane and consulted the tent company about what winds it can withstand. The max they felt comfortable with was 40mph. At the beginning of the week we were looking like between 50-80. We made a Rain plan with sustainable winds, and a hurricane plan. We flirted with the idea of moving it to Friday, but our caterer was not able. We called every vendor, every day to keep them updated on the plans. On Thursday Matthew had shifted enough for the expected winds to go down to 15/18mph with 25mph gusts. We made the call on the tent- and had it installed Friday afternoon. With a major sidewall snafu - the clear walls on reserve were unusable as they were damaged (unknown to the company until Thursday afternoon) - I went on the hunt and found enough clear walls (driving to Wilson!) to tent the sides we needed. We had a plan, we were good to go. We all went to bed Friday ready for what looked like a storm, but not a hurricane.

 At 1:30am on Saturday morning - I woke up to wind hitting our house and quickly got online. Matthew had shifted. Rain fall was expected to be about 10-15 inches here and I realized that not only did the projected wind gusts change from 20mph to 55mph - but we had the tent up. The tent can not withstand it. I stayed awake all night thinking through how to make this happen. Luckily we had a "hurricane" plan in place, but the logistics were so much more complicated. Mid-way through the morning we had to make the call that the tent is just not safe. We just had to pray that it would not 1. blow away or 2. break a window. Courtney stayed a little later to help make some decisions, the tent company came back to reinforce it (they couldn't take it down), and we all had a pow-wow about was safe for guests. We had two back up generators I procured earlier in the week, and were just praying we didn't lose power. It was a little scary watching that tent flex and move so much. Bailey and I would just grab the other's hand and squeeze it when those big gusts came through praying that it would be fine.

In the meantime - Courtney was driving to Raleigh. It was brutal. Trees were down, water was just gushing everywhere. She drove at a snail's pace to get there. There was multiple times of minor hydroplaning and I think she said when she got there she was just a bit shaky and needed a few minutes to collect herself before she assessed what was needed. Already the parking lot was 3/4 up her (minivan) tire. The lights were starting to flicker. They hunkered down and made some plans for the worst possible scenarios. The bride's house lost power and she got a call that the caterer's kitchen was flooded, Wake Forest Road was flooded, and they weren't sure they could make it.

On our end, I got a call that a few roads were closed leading to US1, but US1 was fine. A few vendors called and said they were coming - but were moving slow. Everyone got there safe and sound. We had to make quick decisions on catering since this was a plated meal and they needed space. The lights flickered a few times and no one was allowed to say "at least we still have power!" as they would jinx it. We made the decision to have ceremony in ballroom, cocktail hour in the house, flip the ballroom for dinner, with few tables in the house (had to move everyone in the ballroom for announcing and blessing and flip the house in a record 15 minutes), use the dining room for caterer prep, clear a few tables after dinner for dancing, clear the prep space for seating since people lost their tables, and set up dessert and coffee in the house. We never stopped moving furniture, tables, and chairs. The Bradford staff was drenched valeting cars, tightening tent straps, moving tables and chairs, and helping get trash out. We had minor issues with water coming into the ballroom as the gust would cause waterfalls down the side of the tent into the room. We used every towel that The Bradford, and we personally owned (the joys of living next door!) and got it manageable. The food truck for late night snacks showed up, and every vendor got there and delivered what they were suppose to deliver.

Courtney had to delay dinner an hour to get the caterer there and set up and had to figure out how to get coffee for 100. The percolators they had rented had to be picked up and it wasn't possible in the storm. They walked to Raleigh Times and got enough for everyone. The wind died down, the rain slowed, and it was enough to keep power on, and shuttles running. They still had flickers, but everyone got there safe and sound and the guests had a blast!

The hardest part was just being in your bride's shoes. You know that this was not the day they had imagined and you so desperately wanted to make it perfect for them. Even if it means getting extra gas for back up generators in the literally pouring and flooding rains, or feeling like you could float away driving to your event. You will literally do anything to make it right. I so wanted to tell her - it's fine! The tent will be fine! We can just go as we planned! But I couldn't. I had to be calm, but realistic. I never lead my bride with false hope- giving her the needed information- but I also never panicked in front of her or family. There were times on the inside when I felt very anxious. The reality that your decisions are going to affect 120 people and their safety is a little much at times. We had to be smart, not rash, optimistic, but realistic at the same time. The logistics of the day changed so much and there was so much to account for. There were times we were in the middle of a conversation and I had to say -"You know what, I am not 100% sure on the logistics of this, but we can figure it out, give me a second." Then I would go to my team - layout the problem and possible solutions. Everyone piped in considering the guests' comfort, the bride's wants, and the vendor's needs. We then made the decision that made the most sense and informed all parties. It was mentally exhausting, but it felt so good to make decisions and in the end see that it was the right one.

Through all of this - keeping a calm presence, was key. There were times I felt panicky. There were times (going to gas and sand bags) that I had to have a moment. But in the end I really did have confidence in my team and I knew that we would get through it together. Courtney said that when she got to Art Space, she had to just let herself stop shaking from the fearful drive and then kick it into gear. She had to stay calm, collected, and clear headed to make the best decisions for her client. She too had a stellar team that supported her, brainstormed with her, and helped her get a space flipped with no caterer, and keep everyone happy and none the wiser until they could show up.

It took us all day yesterday to recover from the most massive "wedding hangover" (industry peeps you know what this is!) I've ever had. But I woke up to a Thank You e-mail from my bride, texts from vendors saying how awesome we were, and I knew that it was all worth it. In the end- we wanted our brides to say their day was maybe not how they pictured it, but it was still perfect.

We understand that a year+ had gone into this day. THOUSANDS of dollars have been spent. And most of all- it is a dream these couples have had for a very long time. I am so proud of our brides. I think what I love the most is the opportunity to see them start a life together and truly- who can imagine starting a marriage in a hurricane! They handled it beautifully. They were positive, flexible, and still felt free to express sadness and disappointment at times. I never expect on a day like Saturday for the bride to be like "it's perfect, I am fine, everything is fine!" They are real people, and sometimes they need a moment! Whether that is to grieve their vision of their day, or just to let out the frustrations of a week on pins and needles - it's ok! The important thing is that it doesn't ruin the day. And both of our brides didn't let this ruin their day. They still married the man they have loved for years. They still laughed, cried happy tears, and danced their hearts out. They were also some of the most appreciative, gracious, and kind people we have worked with.

Through it all- our vendors rocked it out. My food truck showed up - which was shocking due to the road conditions - and kept me very informed. My cake, flowers, photo booth, DJ, rentals, caterer all came. A little wet- but happy. On Courtney's end, the caterer with the flooded kitchen and flooded road figured out how to get there. Everyone knew we were in a hurricane and some not even sure if they could drive back home. But they came. They worked their tails off. We all pitched in and filled in the gaps. Sometimes we were bussing, sometimes we were pouring champagne, and sometimes we were clearing out trash. We were in it together- and we were going to make it work.

I am so grateful that I get to work in an industry that when I say "So- we have this and this, but we still need to figure out how to do that-" Everyone has the attitude that "It's Figureoutable! We can do this!" So thank you to every vendor that came, that worked, and that made this all happen for our clients.  A really special shout out to our team: Bailey (and her boys!), Whitney, Sarah, Leah, and Julie - you all were calm when maybe we weren't, wise in your advice, and never stopped moving all night. I so appreciate the constant encouragement that we were doing a good job, and even the forced feeding of dinner - thank you. I can't say enough how unbelievably grateful I am for you guys. But most importantly- thank you to our brides, their families, and their guests. Thank you for not freaking out, for trusting us, and for allowing us to be a part of what is sure to be one of the most memorable day of all our lives!

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