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The Dating Retirement Party


Eventually, I had to have my own.

I always thought that it would be nice to one day host my own big day, complete with all of the lovely people in my life.  (Famously, I imagined my big day as if I was going to marry myself, with all the Justin-esque fixins.)  Of course, I also really enjoyed the bachelor pad lifestyle that I have been living for the better part of five years...people always want to devalue and admonish the singles scene when, in fact, there's plenty of upside to living life on your own and I'm not one of those people who wishes marriage on everyone.

But, after dating my now-wife Meg (you remember her, right?) for about a month, I had to admit--NOW I've found the kind of person I can sit with on the porch when we're 80 years old.  We talked about a long-term contract extension, agreed on money and terms, cut out the middle men (and women)and signed on the dotted line Friday, September 11th, 2009.  Naturally, it was a blowout...but, I'm biased.  I'll try to be as objective as possible during the recap...uhh, try.  Thanks again to the Cooch, Bell and Brunt families for helping us have a great time on the big day.  (If you didn't receive the mini-photo album we sent out through Picasa, shoot me a note.)

Charlottesville, VA--Don't Hate, Appreciate

Speaking of unbiased opinions, Charlottesville is the most beautiful college town in the history of college towns anywhere anytime ever.  Certainly, as the real host for our wedding weekend, Charlottesville has its charms--UVA, good food, a "Top US Place to Live" ranking in the last five years, an eclectic wine/arts/history scene for those willing to venture 30 miles in any direction--but then, you add two ingredients to that and nearly any city becomes spectacular:

  1. According to, here were the temperatures for the days we were in town:  72 on Thursday, 79 on Friday (wedding day), 77 on Saturday, sunny and nearly no humidity all three days.

  2. Strangers--complete, total strangers--who say hello, ask how you're doing, or strike up completely unnecessary conversations with you all over town.  Even though I remember this happening when I lived in Charlottesville, it was more pronounced during this trip than I could have imagined.

Actual picture of the sky above The Lawn from Saturday, September 12th at noon; it looked like this all weekend!

Being in C-ville was made cooler for me as I walked around on Friday and Saturday; I kept running into various wedding guests who were taking walks around UVA's Grounds.  Turn the corner, there's my old UVA roommate Jonny Duran!!  Cross to the Lawn/Rotunda area, and there are my old UVA friends Jeanne, Lex and Dobson!!  Leaving the White Spot for breakfast, there's Meg's friend Ali!!  It really WAS like I had just left class on a random Tuesday during third year!!

Charlottesville itself has changed so much from when I was a piddly first-year in 1993; Route 29 is now essentially a super-highway from the Wal-Mart south into the Barracks Road area, Corporate America (Best Buy) has replaced the large Aunt Sarah's near the 250 West ramp and even Nameless Field on the UVA grounds has a name now.  In Afton, at the Veritas Winery where we had the reception, the setting sun provided for a beautiful backdrop on the entrance of the wedding party and UVA Chapel played host to the ceremony, which isn't half bad and is perfect for a group of 200 people.  The use of Garden I for our Saturday BBQ ended up being perfect, with about half of it being covered in shade and enough room for the kids in town to run free while folks fired down some Big Jim's 'cue.

I was surprised how many former UVA students hadn't been back to Charlottesville in years, and hopefully, this gets them to come down a little more often.

Do the Long Weekend

I'm no genius, but I've done enough weddings to know this much--six hours isn't enough time to hang out with 175 people; hell, three days isn't, either!

I was chatting with some of Meg's family at the wedding, some folks who Meg and I had made a priority because they were only going to be in town for the wedding and the reception, and it hit me like a ton of bricks--you want to make sure you get the chance to shake everyone's hand, and even with a receiving line (which we didn't do), you get zero quality time with anyone!!!  Now, this is okay if, say, you know no people going to the wedding except the bride/groom, and you have no interest in meeting any new people, and as someone that has done that in the past, that's totally cool.

But, for me, three days was perfect.  I didn't spend too much time with the people I see all the time up here in DC, but I did get a couple of opps to hang for a few minutes with all of the people who I don't get to see regularly, and that was great.  I'm lucky that I'm able to see most everyone I know every year, so that allowed for me to do more on the family side since I had some family in from other places that I hadn't caught in a forever.  And, if you chose to come in from Thursday through Sunday morning, you definitely got to meet some pretty cool, sexy, smart, interesting...

People: The #1 Key to Any Party

I say this a lot about the people in my life--I'm really proud to know some of the most incredible, funny, interesting, sexy people available.  Adding Meg's people to that mix and then throwing them all together (sometimes, randomly) at the wedding & reception led to one recurring comment throughout the weekend and in the days afterwards: random folks coming up to me telling me how interesting the people were.  In fact, even though I acknowledge that my family and friends are cool people, it was a nice recognition point to summarize my life prior to Meg--you work hard to keep up with the people in your life and you really crack a big smile when disparate parts of your family/social circles come together and meet, sometimes for the first time, and everyone comes out of it with some new appreciation of you as a result.

That doesn't really speak to me as much as it does the individual people, and even though many people in my life could not make it to the wedding, those that did come hopefully left my wedding weekend a richer person as a result of briefly interacting with some new people.  We made a point to sit all of our friends with some random people we thought they didn't know, to ensure that even if you were only around for the reception, you got a taste for some of the other folks in our lives and that seemed to be effective.

Food: Stellar

I want to thank many of you for inviting me to your wedding in years past, because I got to learn so much about what would and would not work for me if I ever got married.  One of the chief items on that list?  Wedding food.  I have to admit that in nearly 90% of the receptions I previously attended, the food was somewhere between not good and fucking terrible.  (At one wedding last year, three of us tried to return our filet mignon entrees from the same TABLE because they were so badly cooked, and this wasn't even weird to me.)

In fact, wedding food was so consistently bad for a stretch of weddings I went to that I firmly decided a few years ago that as long as the food was edible--and, who really can make great food for 100+ people at the exact same time?--it would work for my big day.  When we did the tasting at Veritas Winery (thanks again, Amy and Jason Handy, for the rec), I thought the TASTING food was average and that made me say again that as long as it was edible, it would work.

Then, something happened between our January tasting and the September wedding--somebody apparently figured out how to make 175 individual dinners great.  Since I asked more than a dozen friends, my family and Meg about their meals, and taking into account my own steak, I feel good that this is statistically significant--apparently, our wedding food was amazing.  Not good or above average; AMAZING.  This was easily the shocker of the wedding weekend, because I specifically wanted food whose only requirement was to not be complete and utter dogshit; anything better than that was a winner.

Instead, two of our 13 vegetarian meal recipients said that it was "the best vegetarian meal I've had at a wedding" (high praise, since usually my veggie/vegan friends just eat dinner before weddings to avoid problems), one guy sent me an e-mail after the weekend to remind me of how good his steak was, and one woman said to me the day after the reception that her salmon "was the best salmon I've ever had", which blew us away.  By the time people started mentioning the food to me unprovoked, I knew that something was going on--maybe the food really WAS great at the reception.

Another wedding food fact--115% of wedding cakes suck.  (There's a good chance I have been to more weddings than you; trust me on this, even if you thought your wedding cake was good, it wasn't, and if it was, you were tipsy, a foreigner, or an international drunk.)  Honestly, if I had gotten married at 24, not 34, I would have had a wedding cake and not really given a damn.  But, over the years, I've been amazed at how consistently people say the same thing about wedding cakes, then get their own cake, and it sucks.  In recent years, I've been to a few weddings that have done some out-of-the-box thinking with the wedding dessert--chocolate fountains, ice cream stations, and cupcakes--so I blatantly stole from others and after Meg and I went to her friend Sarah's wedding last year (cupcakes), we decided on providing the stellar (soon to be interstellar) Georgetown Cupcake for our cupcakes, and that was a winner.  We did make one mistake though about buying the cupcakes...we didn't buy enough.  We thought 200 cupcakes would be enough for 175 people, assuming a lot of folks skip dessert or find calories frightening...I was way wrong on this, since a lot of folks mentioned they didn't get a cupcake, and a number of my friends had multi-cupcake icing evidence left on their collective cheeks.  The dead giveaway?  When a buddy came up to me after the reception: "Man, the Triple Chocolate one was good, but the Key Lime Pie one was even better..."

Adding food from the surprisingly amazing Downtown Grille rehearsal dinner meal (on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville), Aunt Sarah's for the groomsmen brunch on the day of the wedding, Big Jim's Catering on Saturday for the tailgate and breakfast at The White Spot on Sunday morning before skipping town only sealed the deal; man, I love food!!

Two Words:  The Red Roof Inn

Honestly, I don't know why more people don't do their weddings in a semi-remote location where most guests stay at the same hotel; as I say, staying at The Team Hotel is always a lot of fun.  When you have half of a hotel's rooms over one weekend, the staff falls in love with you, you walk out of your room into a hallway and see three of your friends (or at least three other people going to the same place), you have a post-wedding party in somebody's room and you can always meet everyone in The Team Hotel lobby.  What's not to love, even if it IS the most expensive Red Roof Inn in the country?

"Bring Your Dancing Shoes"

It took about ten months, but going through our combined 8,000 songs to make a three-hour playlist of less than 1% of that number was as tough as I thought it was going to be.  For the first--and, maybe last--time, we listened to every song on our iPods to come up with about 50 songs that would make up the mix; I had pushed for an iPod wedding because I didn't want Annoying DJ Guy to MC our reception and I didn't want to hear snippets of popular hip-hop songs and wedding pop classics, almost all of which suck.  Even though I like wedding bands (and, thanks to many of you, I've heard some good ones), I generally like to dance to original hits; I like to say that if it's "Ladies Night" by Kool & the Gang or "Ladies Night" by Mom & Pop's Cover Band, I'll stick with the original.

And, since I still go out dancing with friends here in DC and many of my friends are my friends because of a past dancing relationship, I knew that our dance party would be great since many of our peeps go dancing more than twice a year at wedding receptions.  What I DIDN'T see coming was that so many of these people would dance for the entire three hours we allotted for the shimmy time; even building in songs that I was convinced would clear the floor to allow for folks to get drinks/cupcakes/coffee didn't work.

We also had the added advantage of about 25 women who came to our wedding unattached (either as single ladies, or without their significant other) in addition to the couples who aren't really that "couply", if you catch my a result, there were no slow songs in the mix.  (You'll note in the list below that there are a couple of songs that are slow-ER, but danceable, like the Hall & Oates track.)  Women make a dance party and there were a lot of women at our event!!

And, as many great moments as there were during this dance party, Meg's addition of "It Takes Two" to the mix a week before the wedding was the moment of the night; the intro played and our dance floor (another key of why we loved Veritas--the all-wood floors meant no temporary parquet had to be installed) went from busy to jammed in ten seconds.  It didn't clear for literally the rest of the night.  In writing, I have to say to Meg--good call!

Some of you asked me for a copy of this, so while I won't be mass-producing mix CDs for the team, here's the list of songs (in order) played at the reception:

  • "Stayin' Alive"--The Bee Gees

  • "Ladies Night"--Kool & The Gang

  • "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"--Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

  • "I Wish" (Single Edit)--Stevie Wonder

  • "Butterflies"--Michael Jackson

  • "Jump"--The Pointer Sisters

  • "Stay With Me Tonight"--Jeffrey Osborne

  • "Upside Down"--Diana Ross

  • "Work to Do"--The Isley Brothers

  • "Let's Go Crazy"--Prince

  • "Got to Give It Up, Pt. 1"--Marvin Gaye

  • "It Takes Two"--Rob Base and DJ Easy Roc

  • "Smiley Faces"--Gnarls Barkley

  • "Nite and Day"--Al B. Sure

  • "P.Y.T."--Michael Jackson

  • "The Glamorous Life"--Sheila E.

  • "Lovely Day"--Bill Withers

  • "Give It To Me Baby"--Rick James

  • "Let the Music Play"--Shannon

  • "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"--Hall & Oates

  • "Iesha"--Another Bad Creation

  • "Me, Myself & I"--De La Soul

  • "Vivrant Thing"--Q-Tip

  • "So Whatcha Want?"--Beastie Boys

  • "Scenario"--A Tribe Called Quest

  • "Red Alert"--Basement Jaxx

  • "Groove Is In the Heart"--Deee-Lite

  • "Pump Up the Jam"--Technotronic

  • "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"--C+C Music Factory

  • "Music Sounds Better With You"--Stardust

  • "Canned Heat"--Jamiroquai

  • "The Train"--Quad City DJs

  • "Rhythm Nation"--Janet Jackson

  • "Poison"--Bell Biv DeVoe

  • "Push It"--Salt-N-Pepa

  • "Hip Hop Hooray"--Naughty by Nature

  • "SexyBack"--Justin Timberlake feat. Timbaland

  • "Show Me What You Got"--Jay-Z

  • "In Da Club"--50 Cent

  • "You Dropped a Bomb on Me"--Gap Band


Overall, I'd like to think that Meg and I were good hosts for our wedding weekend, and from looking at our pictures and the pictures of others already posted on the World Wide InterWeb, it appears that people had a good time.  On the drive back home, we both agreed that we need to do a big, blowout, multi-thousand-dollar party every year to celebrate our family and friends; hopefully, we can find investors to put this party on, since I'm always down for some extracurricular "hangin' out."

A lot of people say their wedding weekend was a blur; one of the nice things about having your own international blog outpost is that some of the memories can be locked in by putting them in print.  I don't think I got it all, but hopefully this was a good-enough summary for those that were there as well as those that were not.  See you at our anniversary party next year!!


Random Bellviews, courtesy of Bell & Longer Community Trust:

  • Having an old-skool photo booth at your wedding reception (thanks, Andy & Laurel):  Opening Weekend

  • ManTears at the rehearsal dinner:  Opening Weekend

  • $55 titanium wedding ring (thanks, Brian & Lucie):  Opening Weekend

  • The realization that you are 15 years older than half the co-eds walking around campus:  Hard Vice

  • Multi-colored ties and bridesmaids with their own black cocktail dresses:  Opening Weekend

  • UVA football, the coaching staff, the comparisons to Duke football, declining attendance, NFL recognition that we have talent on the roster, and the prospect of losing eight or nine games this season:  Hard Vice

  • Legal recognition that I'm no longer somebody's "sin-in-law":  Opening Weekend

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 11/05/09