Featured photo: When friends in the service industry decide to get married, we do the thing ourselves. (photo by James Douglas)

The event company is punctual. At 9 a.m. sharp, a pickup truck and trailer emblazoned with pink lettering and a flowery logo crest the hill above the field where about 10 of us sit, stale convenience-store coffees in hand. The truck holds a professional young couple and their cargo: three large tents, 130 chairs and multiple tables. The small crowd that arrived earlier helps unload while the couple assembles the frames that hope to contain the upcoming fête. The day’s heat is just starting to make itself apparent when the tents are fully erected, staked in and strung with lights. As the event company leaves, we all stand by the road and wave goodbye, just a happy band of helpers, silently watching as the truck and trailer disappear over the hill. The tents are secured and ready for whatever the weekend will bring. We admire the work for a moment, and immediately start to dismantle them.

The wedding party has begun, and time is short.

Service industry workers are an odd bunch. Masters of “make it work,” most can shine when necessity requires it. The jobs are varied and allow versatility. They plan, they improvise, they adjust. In a town like Winston-Salem, the proximity of similar jobs allows a bastardized version of networking to occur. For many of us, the separation of social and professional lives is nonexistent. We work together; we play together. We visit each other at our jobs, and we tip each other. We call each other about private gigs that pop up, and work outside events for extra scratch. We drink together after work, we do activities together, we travel together.

We date each other and, sometimes… we get married.

The group currently taking apart the tents are all from some branch of the industry. Nothing ever is exactly to plan and the rental company supplying the tents (understandably) didn’t want to go off-road. The actual wedding is going to be in a nearby hayfield, completely enclosed by trees and only accessible by a small hidden gap slowly being enclosed by kudzu. Not an issue; they don’t have to know that. We know how to prep a party. We know how to set up and break down. Most know the ins and outs of events.

What do we do when our friends, a chef at a popular restaurant and bartender at a popular brewery/bar, decide to get hitched? We do it ourselves.

Between the lot of us, we know DJs, caterers, bakers, craftsmen, brewers, bartenders and event workers. We are them. Chances are one of us knows a guy with access to a pretty field in the country.

The field by the road is actually our parking area. So, methodically, deliberately, we march the newly dismantled frames, poles, lights, tables and chairs through the gap and reassemble. The wedding is Sunday afternoon, the rental company is coming back Monday at 10 a.m. sharp to retrieve the tents. Plenty of time to return them to the original location with none the wiser.  We decorate and organize until it’s picture perfect.

A wedding in the service industry is a rare gift. Everyone takes off work, and some places even close, since everyone who works there is going to be attending. This time, we’re the ones dressing up and enjoying an open bar. It’s a chance for a large crowd of colleagues who spend their lives catering to others to cater to themselves, and we all know it.  Tomorrow, we’ll be back at our respected establishments. Tonight, we play. We celebrate our friends, and each other. We dance, we sing. We revel in the moment, and it’s lovely.

We also don’t consider the eventual, inevitable hangovers.

 So, as the morning sun begins reveal the extent of our revelry and the various campers spread about in the field; three or four of us stretch, down some caffeine (and ibuprofen, and water, and leftover cake), and begin the arduous breakdown. We clean, bag trash, wipe down. We begin to dismantle and move the three tents. We start to move the 130 chairs and multiple tables back in their original location, all hopefully reassembled before the rental company arrives to collect at 10 a.m. sharp.

At 9:58 am, the truck and trailer crest the hill.

We’re all weary smiles. But the job is done.

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