If anything can go wrong, it will.
– Murphy’s Law
When my good friend Phil asked me to stand up in his wedding in Scotland on May 22, 2010, I was both honored and thrilled. Not only would I get to see Phil, after whom one of my dogs was named and whom I had not seen in four years, but I was finally going to Scotland.
And the kicker? I’d be wearing a kilt. The ceremony was to be so traditionally Scottish that I decided to pack some blue face paint just in case we had to defend my friend’s land from Scottish knights loyal to the Queen, a la Braveheart.
Welcome to Stokedville, Population: Me.
Our friend Timmy was flying out from Chicago and would also be standing up in the ceremony. The plan was to arrive in Glasgow and then spend a day in the Highlands at Phil’s parents’ bed and breakfast before heading down to the wedding. There, we would be kicking it Glasgow-style with Phil’s immediate and extended family- a colorful assortment of saints and rogues who were sure to make the event one for the ages.
As it turned out, an event for the ages it surely was. But for reasons much different than any of us could have ever reasonably anticipated.
I have come to understand that the most important life lessons always seem to come with a price tag. By that I mean you don’t grow as a person when Fate kisses you on the cheek and makes all of your dreams and wishes come true. No, in those moments, the only growth is usually you turning into an insufferable jack-off.
The price of stronger character is ego-splitting humiliation. You learn who you really are when Fate sneaks up behind you, whispers, “It’s go time, Cupcake,” and punches you in the kidney.
The ash cloud over Iceland had resumed a new round of spewing approximately a week before Timmy and I were to fly out from Chicago and San Diego, respectively. Flights were re-routed first, then delayed, and then canceled. As our dates of departure neared, Timmy and I faced the very real possibility of not making the wedding.
He would be leaving Chicago on Sunday, and his odds of departing were growing slimmer by the hour. I was not leaving until Tuesday, so my chances of avoiding the volcano spooge looked significantly better, although nothing was certain.
Then my itinerary took its own turn for the complex with news that British Airways, who would be ferrying me from London to Glasgow, was canceling scores of flights in response to work stoppages by the cabin crews. I soon learned that my flight was one of the casualties in the fight for better working conditions. Acting quickly, I managed to secure a tolerable, though not ideal solution- I would land at Heathrow and shuttle over to London’s other airport, Gatwick, where I would catch a flight to Glasgow.
Compared to Timmy’s situation, I was golden.
Timmy made it to Philadelphia before finding out that his flight to London was canceled. Through quick and persuasive phonecalls to the airline, he caught the last flight from the US to London for the next day. Unfortunately, once in London, he had no way of getting to Glasgow due to the ash cloud and flight cancellations. With no other options, Phil’s brother Gordon (you’ll meet him shortly), had to drive eighteen hours roundtrip to collect Timmy in London and get him back to Scotland.
Timmy’s luggage was the next on the block, as the airline lost both his luggage and their copy of the claim form that he filled out at their direction and in their presence.
Things were getting hairy. Meanwhile, I was en route to London, about to endure my own descent into in-flight Hell.
The food poisoning kicked in at a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, approximately five hours after polishing off the special vegetarian meal that I had requested for myself. I will now allow my carnivorous friends a moment to laugh at my expense.
As I sat in my little business class cocoon getting ready to catch a snooze, the first wave of nausea hit me like a two by four across the face. I barely made it to the lavatory before collapsing onto the disgusting, urine-varnished floor and sweating as badly as any hot yoga class I had ever taken. I managed to keep it together somehow, staggering back to my seat and trying to ride out the sickness that was overtaking me with a vengeance.
We landed in London, where I survived both Customs and the one hour ride to Gatwick before catching that lovin’ feeling as I entered the second airport. I barely made it into a men’s room stall before I began yelling my specially-ordered, fancy pants vegetarian meal into a dirty English toilet.
I checked into my new flight and ducked into the British Airways lounge, where I spent the better part of an hour kneeling in another putrid, urine-soaked stall, while my abs squeezed the last drops of food and drink from my stomach.
But I eventually made it into Glasgow.
Gordon hit the sheep just around the time my pasty, sweaty, shivering ass was landing in Scotland.
He was driving along a country road, minding his own business, when a sheep, in a sudden act of Hari Kari, ran out in front of his car, reducing by one both the number of bumpers on Gordon’s car and the number of sheep on the planet. Police and insurance would need to be involved.
The next twenty four hours were relatively calamity-free. We spent the day at the bed and breakfast, where we rode out our jet lag, stress, and for yours truly, the final pangs of food poisoning. Phil however, was understandably getting a bit nervous about the wedding. He wasn’t getting cold feet but simply bracing himself for more snafus after the lost luggage, canceled flights, food poisoning, and sheepslaughter.
Timmy and I eagerly assured Phil that everything would be fine and that we had nothing more to do but chill out and let everything fall into place.
We could not have been more wrong had we told him that they would be using Kim Kardashian’s extra collagen to plug the BP oil leak.
Phil and Nicola, his bride-to-be, had secured a fantastic location for their impending nuptials. The wedding and reception were being held at the New Lanark Mill, a historical preservation site in a particularly picturesque part of Scotland that served as part landmark, part hotel, and part function site.
All we needed to do was to be there for the wedding rehearsal at four o’clock on Friday afternoon.
Phil, Timmy and I were late getting on the road that day. With Friday rush hour traffic starting, it appeared that we would make it to the rehearsal with little or no time to spare.
We were discussing how lucky we were to have made it out ahead of rush hour traffic when the rattling started.
The loud, rhythmic knocking began suddenly as we cruised down the highway. It sounded like someone was under the car, smashing a hammer into the axle. As it rattled progressively louder, Phil finally pulled over into the breakdown lane to see what it could be.
It is important to note that the breakdown lane in the UK is on the left.
Timmy walked around the left side of the car (the side furthest from the highway), and examined the underside of the car. Nothing looked out of place, and so, being guys, we wrote the sound off to that whipping boy of all unexplained automotive rattling- the exhaust pipe.
We were perilously close to being late and had no idea whether the noise was malignant or benign. What else could we do?
Phil pulled back onto the highway and the rattling resumed, even louder. We pulled back into the breakdown lane. Phil’s stress was now manifesting in a slight shake in his hands and that look that guys get when they realize that things are slowly spiraling out of control, and they are powerless to intervene.
I said that I was sure the noise was coming from somewhere right under me- the right rear part of the car. But with my side abutting traffic, I couldn’t safely get out to see.
Now here’s some free insight for the ladies- when we guys encounter a problem that we are entirely incapable of assessing, we will always do something. No matter how patently absurd our solution, we would rather change something- anything, than sit there and wait for help.
And so, faced with a loud, unnatural rattling that we could not explain, and compounded with our need to get our asses to the wedding rehearsal, we found something to do.
“Hey, maybe it’s the luggage in the trunk?” I offered.
“You think maybe it’s rubbing against the exhaust?” Timmy asked.
“I dunno, but maybe we should move it and see.”
So we moved my suitcase from the trunk to the back seat next to me.
I kid you not- the solution to the loud, nerve-grating, metallic clanging beneath my seat was to move a suitcase from one part of the car to another. None of us had any problem with this solution.
We then buckled in and Phil pulled back out onto the highway.
More rattling. We pulled over again and then this conversation took place:
“What the fuck is that?” asked Phil.
“Dude, I have no idea. I checked everything I could, and I couldn’t see anything wrong” said Timmy.
“We’re never going to make it by four,” Phil said.
“Fuck it- let’s just go,” I declared.
“Yeah, what can we do? Just turn up the radio and we’ll figure it out when we get there,” added Timmy, without a trace of irony.
“Alright,” said Phil, and he pulled the car out onto the highway.
Then the rattling stopped.
What relief we might have felt at the end of the rattling was obliterated by the sight of the right rear wheel leaving the car and rolling down the highway into rush hour traffic.
With the groom and two ushers standing on the side of a scorching hot, rubbish-strewn Glaswegian highway and a team of highway workers assembling, it was apparent that the wedding rehearsal was officially off.
It was at the tire repair shop a couple hours later that we received the news that the Nicola’s grandmother had just fallen and broken her hand.
As four o’clock arrived, the groom and two ushers were sitting in a garage an hour away from the rehearsal, hoping the right parts could be found to fix the car, while the bride made her way to the hospital to visit her grandmother.
We eventually reached the hotel a few hours after the busload of thirsty Irish cousins arrived from their own nine bus, thirty hour travel ordeal. As the families gathered in the hotel pub that evening, the bar staff were put to the sort of mental and physical testing generally reserved for SWAT and SEAL teams.
But finally everyone was in one place. All we needed to do was stay put and get to the wedding.
The next morning, when Phil realized that the jacket that he brought to the hotel was not the right one for his kilt, the wedding was just over two hours away.
The options were either wear the wrong jacket, which did not match, or drive back to his apartment to see if the right one was there.
In deference to Nicola’s wedding day serenity, it was decided to conceal this detail from her. Threats of violent kickings were uttered against anyone foolish enough to break this confidence and share this information with her.
After a thirty second pow wow among the ushers, Phil decided that he needed to wear the right jacket. As he would be the only one who would know where to look for it in his apartment, it was down to him and his dad to make the trip and off they went with the clock ticking louder by the second.
Ten minutes after Phil and his dad drove off, we were all sitting in the hotel lobby when a guest arrived and said:
“Was that Phil in the car? I hope he’s not driving back to [his apartment] because traffic is as bad as I’ve ever seen it. Between the good weather and the parades, the highways are backed up for miles.”
With all that we had endured, we simply met this gentleman with a thousand yard stare and responded with a collective, resigned grunt.
Somehow, Phil made it back to the hotel with less than a half hour to spare. It takes a minimum of thirty minutes to put on a kilt and all its accoutrements. Phil had not even shaved, let alone showered, for the past day. We would be racing to the very last second.
And so as a final push, the groom and ushers all met in my room and fumbled through the kilts, belts, dress shoelaces, sporrans, brogues, shoes, shirts, vests, ties, jackets, boutonnieres, and the cool little knives you wear in your socks. As the Dropkick Murphys blasted from my laptop, very little was said in the final minutes.
The two o’clock wedding began at 3:40 p.m. and ended approximately twenty minutes later without incident.
After confetti was thrown at the world’s newest marriage, pictures were taken on a sunny grass hill outside the mill, where guests and family gathered to congratulate the couple. A sumptuous feast ensued with great speeches, delicious food, and lots of fantastic banter at the tables. Dance-offs were challenged, the superiority of sports were hotly debated, music was enthusiastically discussed, and of course, wild stories and colorful jokes were exchanged between people who only hours before had been complete strangers.
When the dancing began, the floor shook under covers of Kings of Leon, The Killers, and other booty-shaking anthems. Flower girls stole extra wedding cake on the staircase and the parents of the bride and groom were completely incapable of hiding their immense pride, as evidenced by their loch-wide smiles. A thousand pictures were taken and a thousand promises were made to visit, call, write, and stay in touch.
To close the wedding, the entire reception gathered in a gigantic circle around the bride and groom while the band led a thunderous rendition of “Loch Lomond.”
As Phil and Nicola smiled into each other’s eyes and shared a kiss to bring the reception to a close, I realized that the wedding had been perfect in every single way.
At that moment, it hit me- there’s a memory, a lesson, and even a smile tucked away inside every second of the day. Sometimes you just have to look past all the noise to find it.