There's a correction in today's New York Times about our wildfire wedding, so I thought I'd explain. The original Styles section piece had listed the wedding as set to happen on the wrong day. In this case, the date was important, not just because it was our wedding, but because it was on Oct. 21, not Oct. 20, that wildfires burned Malibu, which is where we had assembled for what was supposed to be a tiny family ceremony by the sea.
We had arrived at our hotel just after noon the Saturday before, and enjoyed a lovely day at the ocean (only dodging a few randy dolphins), later celebrating with an anti-rehearsal seafood dinner. But later, after a post-meal party on our deck, we began to smell something like autumn leaves ablaze. I recalled that earlier I had pointed out deer running down the hills south of Pepperdine University, near Serra Retreat. But we had just continued our merrymaking. Wildlife abounds in Malibu, and not just on PCH in Ferraris.
Nature had other plans, though. Throughout the night, the wind gusted, palms fell. At four a.m., I awoke to discover a power outage. Waves crashed violently in front of our deck (the sound was not the type on my meditation download), and Lina and I ran out to the hotel patio. Lina's Italian father, a native of Abruzzo's mountains and that guy who can smell snow three days before a blizzard, was outside watching the hills. Tarry smoke billowed out from the canyon. At first it had seemed like a small, contained fire happening a good 15 miles south of the beach where we would have the ceremony. I knew then that I'd become a Californian--or simply a New Yorker who had been in my hometown for 9/11--because I wasn't even miffed. This wasn't the end of the world, and our wedding would go on. A huge fire had nearly decimated Griffith Park, just behind our home, earlier that year, and I had since become a card-carrying fan of LA's firefighters.
Then, as the sun rose, I took my mother and Lina's father for a ride down the highway in search of necessities (coffee). The AM radio stations relayed that PCH was closed north of Topanga and south of Kanan, stranding us. The fires spread on account of the shifting winds, and that meant our officiant and photographer would not be able to meet us. Then we learned that our seaside restaurant had closed, and we discovered that everyone's cellphones had died in the night, searching for signals like singles looking for love in the room next door. Landline phone and Internet (dependent on actual electric power) was down, and we had no way of contacting anyone, or plans for an alternate site. (The worst we could have imagined during our wedding-planning process was rain, and we had just figured some sprinkling would land us back at our hotel.)
Meanwhile, debris shot through the air, and people coughed like career smokers. The fire closest to us raged more intensely (note: this was the Canyon Fire that would be immortalized in the L.A. Times and on the cover of the New Yorker magazine very soon; the fire that burnt a church on Malibu Canyon Road down to the ground). We had to make quick decisions. We'd had a tough year--medical stuff, alas--and I wasn't about to let the disaster ruin our day. But I had no way of even accessing the phone number for our officiant. Until Seth, my brother, reminded me that I had a cellphone car-charger in the car--and that we could drive a few miles and perhaps find a signal that hadn't been deleted by the closest downed Verizon tower.
Fortunately, we had enough access to send off a few texts, but not enough to log into mobile e-mail. Luckily, Seth's friend, Anthony, a N.Y. musician, was home from the opera that day, and we finally found a strong enough signal for a voice call, which we then used to ask Anthony to access my Gmail account, where I had stored and tagged every piece of wedding info. (Yes, Google, and the way I used Gmail as a mobile hard drive, pre-cloud, tagging each note with virtual labels, probably saved my wedding.)
Then it was just a matter of calling the officiant, Judge Fried, and our photog, Michael, and asking them to stay tuned. I decided that we would have to leave Malibu despite Lina's despair about the death of our beach wedding. Maybe we could marry at a scenic outpost on Mulholland Drive sans flashbacks to the David Lynch movie? Maybe we could use a beach in Santa Monica? (Better.) At that point Judge Fried got back to us and offered some amazing news: His private Hollywood Hills tennis club would let us use their skyline veranda with fantastic mountaintop views. Quickly, I assembled everyone on the patio and directed them to a Los Feliz motel. We packed, frantically. In 30 minutes, we were on our way, but not before I noticed that in the rush to find a pen to write down all this pertinent new info, I had sliced my finger. My left ring finger. In three parts. On a razor. On my wedding day.
So we zoomed to a hospital, perhaps the best ER I've visited--Santa Monica UCLA, where we found some sympathetic triage staffers who couldn't believe our tale and wanted to help lest they have to mop up more bridal tears. I was stitched up and back on the road to our place within an hour. And the drive was useful: I needed to call every restaurant in town--to ask for a last-minute 20-person reservation. In LA. I eventually struck gold with one of our Silver Lake haunts. (I would mention their name, but they've asked me not to share as they can't usually accommodate requests like this.)
We had an hour to ready ourselves. Brothers, cousins, and parents pitched in. Our group bonded in new, especially firey ways. Soon, we arrived at the club, early enough for some oh-so-warm pictures. The site was as exciting as promised--we just chose to ignore the other tremendous fire north towards the Valley. And all the smoke and helicopters.
Before we knew it, our generous new friend, Judge Fried, helped us through our ceremony. Which went swimmingly--including some gorgeous ad-libbed vows courtesy of an even more-gorgeous Lina as well as the Judge's sweet comments about our persevering spirits and coolness under pressure. I didn't mind that I had to wear my ring on the right hand as the mangled proper left digit throbbed; I was proud of us, and exhausted.
Most important, everyone was safe and thankful that we had found such good fortune in so many people and places on a day that could have spelled actual disaster for us. Only later the next day did we realize how damaging the California fires had been. By then, however, we were happily married, and on to an airline mix-up abroad.
P.S. Yes, we relayed this info to the Times, and that's why they ran the correction. They even kindly offered to run a Vows feature about the experience, but after some careful consideration, we declined. I think we have all had--and I speak for Shallot readers as well this couple and our families--enough wedding horror-storytelling. At least for 2007.