None of us had checked bags, so we fumbled our way to the taxi stand and grabbed a cab to our hotel downtown, the Holiday Inn Central City. Nice cheap flat rate, while the hotel shuttle would have been close to the full charge each. We were too early to check in, arriving around 11am or so, so we checked our bags with the bell hop, cautioning him about fragility - I had carried the wedding present onto the plane in a white C&B box with a handle, planning to wrap it here just in case security decided they needed to open it. We went a couple of doors down to get brunch (nixing the hotel staff suggestions for lunch places), and had soul food at Mert's. My pancakes were a bit spongy, but Matt's shrimp and gravy and grits were good (except for the grits part). Cris went with the salmon cakes, but I filled up before trying them.
We still had lots of time before the 2-3pm checkin, so we were browsing the local indie paper and the city guide from the hotel when I spotted the Charlotte Shout festival listing, a food festival that was on it's last day, just 8 blocks away. So, we walked over. Oh, man, it was fun. :) We walked in on an Iron Chef style cooking demo being filmed on a main stage, complete with rapt audience. Then we walked through the tents offering food, wine, and more cooking demos. We spotted lots of things we wanted to try out, so we coughed up 10$ for some tokens and wandered back around nibbling. Matt got the krispy creme bread pudding (good, but omg sugar shock), and the grilled artichoke. I couldn't resist the latter, and got one of my own, as well as a lobster and shrimp ceviche. Cris got the bbq duck, and Matt and I split a wonderful hand rolled german pretzel with gruyere cheese. We watched the sustainable seafood cooking demo - not a lot of info on the sustainable part, and I wasn't grabby enough to get one of the sample plates, but it was entertaining. We also caught a demo of a roasted squash and apple soup, and I grabbed the recipe card for that one.
It was close to 2 now, and we decided to head back and try to check in. Matt took a detour trying to find some stuff that he'd forgotten, and we had him come up to our room when he came back as his and Krista's wasn't ready. Krista arrived soon after, and reported that the Toronto crew was settling into their hotel now. They weren't quite ready to head out, and I was feeling the need to get some down time, so Matt, Cris, and Krista headed out to the food fair to see the James Beard Foundation panel talk. I went with them as far as the one CVS we found that was still open, and walked back with my big jug of water and snacks for the hotel room, as well as tape for wrapping the wedding present. I took a nice long bath and changed into something a bit cooler, then when Cris came back, changed into pjs so we could read and nap to get ready for the evening. I'd talked to Will while walking back from the pharmacy, he was busy with the rehearsal dinner but would call when we was done and we'd all meet up, somewhere in the 8-9pm time frame. The rest of us made plans to meet at 6pm in the lobby to go for dinner (I was a tiny bit sad to miss out on Alton Brown's 6:30pm cooking demo at the food fair, but c'est la vie). I was ready to go a bit early, couldn't sleep for some annoying reason, so I volunteered to go get Cris a coffee while he showered. I put on my sundress and meandered around semi-desperately, finding that a cafe was really a bar, and that the pizza place across the street didn't serve coffee (and totally missing the Starbuck's). I ended up in the hotel restaurant and got a coffee to go, and the waitress assured me that I'd get free refills all night with the receipt, just before I almost keeled over at the price. Brought it upstairs and decided to change, as the dress was being annoying and it had cooled down anyway. Had a minor snit over nothing fitting right (oh the perils of vacation + moving + birthday -> no exercise) and ended up in a tshirt and jeans, lamenting the limited storage capacity of my backpack and only bringing along a tiny amount of clothing.
We met and basically decided to try one restaurant that Martin had spotted on the way from their hotel to ours, and Steph and I led the way. Axel and Siobhan were in the pack now too. The menu at Monticello wasn't to everyone's liking, so we moved on, fragmenting as we broke off to look at menus posted on Tyron St., but we eventually agreed on RiRa since they had a non smoking section inside (until 10pm at least) and room for the 8 of us (and it reminded me of a pub in Boston that used to be called RiRa and is now the home of a weekly goth night). It turned out to be a great choice, the beer selection was good for the rest of them, and they had a nice selection of gin for those of us that eschewed the beer list. And, bonus, the food was great. I had the Kilbeggan Salmon, salmon stuffed with crab, shrimp and brie, with a lobster sauce, mashed potatoes (some of the best I've ever had) and apsaragus. I also went with a Hendrick's gin martini, it was lovely and I got a lot chattier very quickly. :) It was a bit chilly, as we were seated right by the open door to the patio, and Will was running late (I was texting him and he was texting back, so we figured he wasn't busy per se just caught up, but then my batteries started dying and Krista took over contact point duties), so when we settled up the food bill but decided to stay for more drinks, I ducked out to run to the hotel and get my sweater. Unfortunately the meandering to find a place to eat had turned me around and I took the long way back to the hotel. Which was fine, as it killed time while Will was still stuck in pre-wedding-land-ia.
Eventually the band started tuning up and the smokers started lighting up, so we decamped to the hotel bar at the Holiday Inn. The others had time for a drink, courtesy of Matt's new patent bonus, and then Will showed up, snazzy in a suit. We stopped to say a brief hi to his mom in the lobby, she was very sweet. He led us across the street to Cosmo's, but first they wouldn't let Axel in (dress code violation, he had runners on), then they would, then the other bouncer tried to kick him out, but that was cleared up and we all wove through the crowded bar up to the top floor. And couldn't find anyplace to sit, and it was loud and smokey, so, we trooped back out again. :) Will next led us to The Breakfast Club (best url ever). The club was awesome, not very crowded nor smokey, and the music rocked. We were introduced to some of Will's friends, including his best man Michael. I tried a gin and tonic, but wasn't too fond of the tonic aspect of it, so stopped drinking at that point (total: 2 drinks, state: happy). Cris had to head out around midnight, as his flight was leaving the next morning, but at least he had a chance to meet Will and pass on his congratulations in person. And hang out with every one at the not a bachelor party too. :) The walls of the club were covered with 80's album covers and there were plastic hand shaped chairs to sit on (I went with a bench). I checked out the upper floors, we missed the dance floor on 2 and the balcony on 3 until near the end, as well as the outside patio! We hung out there when the smoke started to get bad inside, and it was really neat watching my friends boogie against the downtown skyline - there was an expanse of parking lot and then a light rail line separating us from the tall buildings so we had some perpsective. The very odd thing was that we must have seen 7 bachelorette parties that night (one twice, at dinner and the club!). We lasted past last call, and some of the others (Matt and Krista I think) decided to go over to Will's apartment to continue the evening, but I was beat and wanted to have a chance at getting up and having breakfast with Cris before he flew out, so I headed the trickle back to the hotel, luckily only a couple of blocks up one street, with the neon sign visible from the ground. I took a quick shower to get the smoke out of my hair, and fell into bed at around 3am.
Since I was sitting facing towards Discovery Place and had walked past the huge Body Worlds banners a few times, I decided to do that after eating. I feared it wasn't a very sensible choice, but this time I knew what not to look at (flaps swaying in the breeze, slices with hair on them), and my stomach stayed happy as I browsed through the plastinated bodies. Some repeats from Body Worlds II in Boston, but the horse and rider I think was new, and the duck blood vessel one defintitely was. The basketball player and the figure skating pair were awesome. The knee replacement joints were kind of fascinating, as I figure there's one in my future someday. The tai chi man with so many joints replaced made me wonder just how mobile the man was before death. I spent about an hour in there, and headed out via the touch pool in the small aquarium section of the science center and the rainforest (saw a bright blue macau or parrot below me on a branch, but the looming vines made me wary of snakes and I soon scurried out of the humid glass enclosed area).
I had planned to have a nice long bath and get ready for the wedding at a leisurely pace, but housekeeping at the hotel had antoher idea. I didn't put the do not disturb sign out, thinking that Matt or Krista might drop by and that I was safe since the room hadn't been cleaned by 4pm so it wasn't going to get done, but housekeeping kept knocking and calling, having to be told at least three times that I didn't want the room cleaned. Kind of destroyed the good mood, having to get out of the tub dripping (and no robe to put on!) to yell through the door, but I was able to get rid of them eventually and calm down again. Slipping into my new Fashion Crimes dress didn't suck either. :) It survived the trip in my backpack really well, the raw silk hiding most wrinkles, and hanging it up had made most of them fall out anyway. Grabbed the present and my sweater after throwing a shawl over my bare shoulders and headed down to the lobby at 4:50 to catch the 5pm shuttle. Everyone else was there already, and Will's mom was the one I kept my eye on as we waited on the couches for the shuttle annoucement, figuring that as long as she was still there, we were safe. It turned out that the mother of the bride had comandeered the first shuttle and we all waited until 5:15 for what turned out to be a van. The relatives got in, and then Steph, Kirsta and I took the front bench when everyone else was hesitating (though I think we pushed out someone Will's mom wanted, the woman hadn't looked like she was waiting, so I refuse to feel guilty :) ). The ride over to the Van Landingham Estate was quick, it was only a couple of miles, and we were among the first arrivals. We pulled up a gravel and sand driveway that curved up to the front of the house, and the driver put out the step for us to alight. I put my present down in the front room as directed and then Steph and I wandered the grounds a bit. We found where the chairs were set up, the bar, and then a dead bird in a fountain and I doubled back to tell the estate people about it. We picked up Krista and continued to wander, backing off when we found where they were taking pictures. The estate is lovely, though I couldn't help remembering Will talking about his first tour of it, picking out hidden places for teen aged style mischief. :)
The rest of the crew arrived, and eventually we were directed to the
seats, taking up the back row. Scott, Will's wrestling buddy, sat with us
as well and we caught up a bit since the last
trip. The sun was starting to set, long golden beams were piercing
through the trees from the right and bathing the wedding guests with warm
light. The wedding party started to come in from the back, and at some
point Will, Michael and the officiant appeared at the front. Christine had
on a lovely white silk dress, and she seemed to float on the arm of her
father. We couldn't quite hear the responses at the back, but we could see
Will's occasional expression and it looked like they were having fun. :) I
kept the tears at bay by remembering that I had on mascara and didn't want
to turn into a raccoon, but it was heartwarming seeing Will so happy, and
Christine was radiant. They had their official kiss, walked down the aisle
and then were wisked away for pictures. We went straight for the bar (I
was parched, no water, but had a very sweet iced tea). Then we spotted the
buffet and got in line for that near the front. Oh, the cheese selection,
it was divine. :) Steph recognised a cheese laced with guiness, and I was
in transports over a goat cheese. There was chicken + cashews, roasted
sweet potatoes, stuffed red bliss potatoes, and more cheese. :) It was all
very good, and there was definitely enough for all. I just had room for a
berry crumble square for dessert. We came inside for the first dance and
Michael's speech but mostly hung out outside, sitting at a white draped
table under the trees in the garden. The DJ seemed to rely heavily on some
Cure tracks but otherwise the music was just background for us. We saw
Will more than I expected, he showed off his ring while we were sitting in
the front room (awesome couches in there, btw, huge solid things piled
with pillows, and the dark red wall paper was great in the front room as
well), but I missed it as I dashed upstairs to find the tea station, next
to the uber cool striped couch. I had left my sweater in the shuttle van,
but recovered it when the driver came back to pick up the first wave of
people leaving. We also chatted with Will and his cousin by the bar for a
while. Matt and I had a good chat on the rocking chairs on the front
porch, reminsicing about old friends and talking about relationships, and
fairly sucessfully navigating the waters populated by rocks set in palce
when we were dating years ago. The night came alive with cicadas and I was
strongly reminded of my trip to Austin ages ago. Our crew were among the
last to leave, grabbing the last shuttle at 11pm. We said goodbye to Will
at the gazebo bar, and I had a moment of looking up at him standing on the
steps above me, the warm light from the bar washing over the circle of
usually far flung friends saying our good byes and making plans to get
together again next year, and had a moment of knowing that this would be a
memory that I'd savour. I stopped to say a quick good bye to Christine,
not having had a chance to chat with her all night, and she immediately
jumped up and hugged me goodbye, thanking me for coming. Will came out to
wave us off in the shuttle, and that was my last sight of him, beer in
hand, standing by himself on the steps of the estate, waving.
The shuttle ride was quick, and I crashed hard at 11:30pm, falling into bed after packing up my stuff and calling to talk briefly to Cris.
I'm so glad that I was able to go, best wishes to Will and Christine, and I was so grateful for the chance to join them in their celebration.