5 Bizarre Things You See Working At A Vegas Wedding Chapel
If you've watched even one movie or sitcom that takes place there, you know Las Vegas is the home of millions of hasty, often ill-advised decisions, chiefly regarding marriage. You'd fully expect the place to be chock-full of quickie wedding chapels open all hours of the night ... and you wouldn't be disappointed. We talked to a woman who used to work at one of those places, and yes, the stories are ridiculous.
The Local Government Enables Irresponsibly Impulsive Weddings
The proverbial Wacky Vegas Wedding isn't merely a byproduct of the drunken, reckless behavior the city inspires in people. The state of Nevada has taken great pains to enable on-the-spot elopement. It all started in 1928, when California passed a "gin law" for a three-day waiting period to avoid drunk marriage. Its neighbor to the east, having no such qualms, picked up the slack. Unlike every other government office on Earth, the Vegas wedding bureau is open until midnight each night, every day of the year, including Christmas. Clark County has a marriage licenses bureau just north of the Strip, and anyone who wants to be married only has to show the clerk a photo ID.
Finally empowering couples who are both ready for a lifelong commitment and don't want to miss the Cirque du Soleil show.
Even with a line (and it gets very busy sometimes), the whole process generally takes less than an hour, and it costs $93 for the license and certificate. On a good day, you can go from zero to married in under an hour for under $100 bucks. It's more expensive and difficult to get Celine Dion tickets.
So, for example, one night at 9 p.m., an extremely happy couple came in looking like they'd dressed as a Texas wedding for Halloween. The groom wore a cowboy hat, Boise suit, and bolo tie, the bride a dress with leather tassels. After making sure that these people weren't cartoon characters, it was discovered they had overlooked the minor technicality of getting a license (not the first to assume that they didn't need one here). We directed them to the bureau and got the sense we'd never see them again (maybe they'd get distracted by a Western-themed casino and blow their license money learning how to know when to fold 'em).
"At least we won't have any money to argue over in the prenup."
But barely a half-hour later, the couple barged in with their license. This was a summer evening, which meant heavy traffic and long lines -- they must have raced back and forth, weaving through traffic like a car chase in a Jason Bourne movie. They're still married, by the way. They send us a Christmas card all the way from Rotterdam every year. I like to imagine them walking around various Dutch landmarks, still in their rodeo formalwear.
You See Some Odd Repeat Customers
We married one man four times in one year. His first marriage was in April, and two weeks later, he popped in with another bride. I was about to tell him he was already married when he took out the annulment. Well hey, these things happen, so we married him again. Three months after that, he had another bride. A few months after that came bride four. He always had papers, so at least we know he wasn't some sort of Black Widower. We joked that we should have started a loyalty program just for him, but we never saw him again, so either he moved on to another chapel or the fourth time was the charm.
It's also possible he realized how much it was costing and figured it'd be cheaper to get ordained.
He was far from our only repeat customer. One couple got married early in the year, either divorced or annulled, and then each married separate people in two weddings later in the year, all at our chapel. We had one couple who got married the first night of their vacation, annulled the next day, and then got married again within the week.
Apparently, jewelry stores won't take the ring back if you get vows all over it.
I remember them well, because we had an issue with their souvenir T-shirts. We had run out the first time and told them to stop by a few days later to pick them up, but when they got married again, they ordered different shirts with their new wedding photo. Our salesman asked them which ones they wanted, and they decided to get both. Why wouldn't you want to occasionally pull out the shirts to remind you of the time you decided your first wedding was a grave mistake? For all we know, they've gotten married and unmarried 20 or 30 times since then. Piles and piles of shirts.
We've even had bridesmaids and groomsmen show up for their best friends' weddings and decide to pick one up for themselves as well. It's entirely possible that these marriages were the result of long-considered deliberation, and were not spontaneous decisions made by people who can't think five minutes into the future, but either way, we can expect several of these "copycat" weddings every year.
Yes, We Do Turn People Away
If anyone ever pulls a Hangover and tries to convince you that they have no memory of the stranger they woke up with or where those rings came from, they're probably bullshitting you. Drunk marriages are actually illegal in Vegas, and a blackout isn't hard to spot, so no chapel that wants to stay in business would have served them. They used to be able to get away with it (actress Janeane Garofalo was unknowingly married for 20 years after one such adventure), but the law does a better job now. We even had our own personal breathalyzer if we weren't sure. If a customer looked inebriated, I took out the BacTrack, and if it was over .08, no wedding for them.
We assume that goes double for the drive-thru places.
So no, this isn't an "anything goes" situation, despite what the movies and tourism ads would have you believe. As in most places, it's illegal to marry your cousin here, but a striking number of people don't realize that before they take the trip. An officiator from a chapel nearby once told us that a brother and sister tried to get married (on a dare), but were stopped at the bureau because it seemed kind of suspicious that they already shared the same last name.
"Is there a discount if we only need one side for family?"
Underage marriages can be trickier, because it's not unheard of for young couples to lie about their age or forge their parents' signatures. The bureau usually stops them, but a few slip through the cracks. These marriages are void ... until both parties turn 18, at which point the marriage becomes legit, regardless of what's happened in the intervening years (unless the parents have it annulled). Thankfully, teenagers are known for their rock-solid long-term decision-making, or this could be a very unpleasant situation.
We've also caught already-married people trying to get married to other people. Sometimes they simply didn't care about the law, but sometimes they were surprised to find they weren't already divorced. To be fair, who among us has never spaced out on such trivialities? And again, they're not even drunk. Not everyone requires chemical assistance to let their life spin totally out of control.
Not Every Quickie Wedding Is A Happy One
Every so often, we would get a couple being, uh, "escorted" in by the bride's dad. It's usually clear that he's the primary motivating force behind this union. We'll ask "Why are you getting married?" and other cutesy questions to try to upsell them on a themed mug, T-shirt, scrapbook, etc., and all the grooms in these weddings do the same thing: Look back at dad and nervously tell us, "Because I love her." You could turn it into an ad for birth control.
"Trojan: Easier than slipping on a ring."
Every day, we had elopers come in, and the ensuing drama could be Shakespearean. One couple showed up the minute the bride turned 18, so that's one red flag. Right before they went up to the pastor, there was another in the form of a phone call from her parents. It turned out she had run out on her last few months of high school to marry her Romeo. She stood there for a while, arguing with her parents in the lobby, giving the other waiting couples a little pre-wedding entertainment and possibly second thoughts.
I brought her into one of the pastor's offices in the back so we could be alone, and so she could stop scaring away customers, and she gave me the rundown: They met last year, her parents had forbidden it, you already know the story from high-school English. They got the idea to elope to Vegas from a movie (of course). She cried while I talked about my marriage and what it meant to me, and eventually she called her parents to sheepishly request a plane ticket home -- a single one.
And hopefully not carrying an extra passenger ...
The boy she almost married had left by that point without even trying to convince her to stay. She was devastated, of course, but marrying some dick who wouldn't even argue with a Vegas wedding chapel employee for the "love of his life" probably would have devastated her more.
The Customers Are Often, Um, Unclear On The Legalities
The couples I've mentioned so far spoke English, but we get plenty from all over the world unfamiliar with both the language and the process. They'd seen the same movies and sitcom reruns as everybody else, so they assumed they could pop in and out without the hassle of paperwork -- an Elvis impersonator sings some vows, and that's that, right? We kept instructions in several different languages explaining what they needed, but even then, some thought we were looking for bribes. They'd take out a few c-notes and ask us if it was enough, as if we could reach into a drawer and get them a black market marriage license.
And then there's the same-sex marriage issue. The practice had been legal in Nevada for less than a year when I left my job. It turns out that even same-sex couples can make abrupt, poorly thought-out decisions. We had to say no to one gay couple because one of them was already married to a woman. He told the pastor, "Gay marriage is different, though. It's not polygamy. I can be married to a man and a woman. It's different. It's two different kinds of marriage." Did the wife know about it? Or did he intend to bring his new husband home and try to sell her on the idea?
"Try to think of this less as a betrayal of trust and more as having a third person to help with the housework."
Marriage equality opened a whole new market, but it also caused us some personnel issues. Two of our pastors were completely fine with gay marriage, but one was not. They worked in eight-hour shifts, so we had to awkwardly tell gay couples wanting a quick wedding to come back at 7 a.m. when one of the other pastors was on the clock (they often didn't, because a willing chapel was never more than a brisk walk away). Then they'd watch as we'd promptly marry a giggling hetero couple who'd met an hour ago.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, writer, and interview finder for the Personal Experience Team here at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to tell us about? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Last Halloween, the Cracked Podcast creeped you out with tales of ghost ships, mysteriously dead people, and a man from one of the most famous paintings in U.S. history who years later went all Jack Nicholson in The Shining on his family. This October, Jack and the Cracked staff are back with special guest comedians Ryan Singer, Eric Lampaert, and Anna Seregina to share more unsettling and unexplained true tales of death, disappearance, and the great beyond. Get your tickets for this LIVE podcast here!
For more insider perspectives, check out Mormons Run Everything: 5 Things You Learn Working In Vegas and 5 Things I Learned Cheating (And Getting Caught) In A Casino.
Follow us on Facebook, and we'll follow you everywhere.