January 14, 2004

No Man's Land


Were it not for the fact that all the women there were engaged to be married, the Great Bridal Expo, held on Tuesday night at the Marriot Marquis Hotel, would have been a fantastic place for a guy to meet chicks. In a gathering unparalleled in the wedding world, women from all over the Tri-State area descended upon Times Square to see the latest in wedding wares and services. I was there, however, in the name of science. Because of this website, some things cross my radar screen that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. When I heard about the GBE, I asked myself a question. Could a guy, unaccompanied by his fiancée - L was busy at a meeting - survive a bridal convention?


I was relieved when I walked through the revolving doors of the Marquis shortly before five thirty. I was out of the cold, but unaware of the mob scene I was about to enter. At the top of four flights of escalators, I was confronted with a line that probably rivaled the 1955 opening of Disneyland. Instead of a sign telling people how tall they had to be to ride the Great Bridal Expo, posters comforted those intimidated by the line's length that it would move quickly once the doors at its end were open. But the doors were open and still the line crept at a snail's pace.

I was not surprised to find few men waiting. The GBE's organizers apparently weren't either as only women were instructed by staffers to fill out survey sheets and raffle tickets. Are men's opinions not interesting and aren't we worthy of an all expense-paid trip to the Caribbean? What men were there were holding jackets and bags for their fiancées in preparation for the inevitable swag haul waiting inside.

As I rounded one length of the enclosed corral, a woman handed me a pack of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. And it was a good thing, too. If the wait had been any longer they would have had to hand out glucose injections.

A woman who held two rolls of stickers asked each person who rounded the next bend "Bride or groom?" As I have never been mistaken for a woman, her question left me perplexed about her thought process. "Um, I'm not sure if this guy is a bride or a groom so I'll just play it safe and ask him." Since there was the slight - okay, atomically miniscule - chance that I was just some random guy who enjoys checking out bridal conventions even though he's not engaged, It seems the better question would have been, "Are you a groom?" But with hundreds of people in line and a long night ahead of her, this woman reduced her question to two choices: bride or groom?

"Groom" I said decisively and received a sticker with that read "VIG." Very Important Groom. Women were given VIB stickers. With the exception of the occasional mom, sister or friend, virtually everyone in line was a bride or a groom, so the stickers seemed a little unnecessary, like having every student in pre-school wear a T-shirt that says "Kid" to make them more easy to identify as, in fact, children.

But if there was ever a place where one's status as a bride- or groom-to-be was viewed as a commodity, it was at the GBE. When I related this experience later to my friend Mike, a web designer and all around tech guy, he told me that it's a common philosophy in User Interface Development that when everything on a web page is rendered in bold type, nothing stands out. And there we were. A lobby full of bold type.

But up ahead a few people were whisked to the front of the line by GBE staffers. Who were these people? Didn't they see my sticker? I was a Very Important Groom! Were these people VVIB or EVIGs (Extra Very Important Grooms)? I consoled myself with the explanation that, like people at the airport who have only five minutes to get to their gate and are sent to the front of the check-in counter, perhaps their weddings were scheduled for this weekend and they hadn't yet booked a band.

Twenty-five minutes after getting in line, I made it to the ticket table. "One please," I said to a heavily eye-shadowed young woman and gave her a ten dollar bill. She eyed me suspiciously as if the very idea of a guy coming alone was entirely alien to her. She handed me my change - one dollar - and motioned to the doors across from her table. "Enter right over there," she said.

The set-up inside probably belied the true size of the function room, and the elaborately decorated booths and low ceilings gave me an instant sense of claustrophobia, as if being crammed into tightly woven TensaBarriers hadn't already made me a tad unnerved.

A barrage of giveaways began immediately with magazine representatives handing out copies as fast as they could. Samples of chocolate truffle cake were passed from one area. Everywhere you turned people were giving things away. Keychains. Bookmarks. Water bottles. Coupons. Brochures. Videos. No trinket was considered too inconsequential to be left behind by the throngs of brides who assembled at each booth. If I had a pile of old mismatched socks I wanted to unload, all I would have needed was a banner that said "Free" and a table at the Great Bridal Expo.


Most of the swag was junk and the coupons were more or less worthless. If a company is selling you a wedding cake for one thousand dollars, it doesn't suddenly become a great deal if they throw in a free groom's cake. There were a few raffles and contests, but most involved filling out surveys and providing more information than even John Aschcroft could find out about me. I filled out one and sure enough received six emails in my inbox this morning with offers for everything from a white dove-release at the end of our ceremony to "innovative" silk and plastic flower designs for the reception.

The room was full of brides, but it was also full of salespeople as I was quickly reminded. Although I use this website to dispel certain stereotypes about grooms, I resorted to an old one to get out of a conversation with a close-talking saleswoman who wanted to know everything about my registry. "Well, the registry really isn't up to me," I said to her. "You know how it is." She left me to talk to a woman who had a serious question about anondized aluminum.

As time wore on the room continued to get crowded. It was impossible not to bump into someone, especially when everyone was carrying at least two bags of goodies. Note to thieves: head to the largest assembly of engaged women you can find. Distract them with gift bags and free pieces of cake and you can make off with their wallets.

I'm not sure if I surveyed the entire room but I counted only three booths staffed exclusively by men. One was for a tuxedo rental company, Men's Wearhouse, whose employees modeled some of the tuxedos they offer. But wearing a tux when no one else around you is formally dressed doesn't make you look good, especially when you are passing out free bags. It makes you look like a butler.

Another booth was Surviving-A-Wedding.com (website up next month). From afar I thought this could be interesting but on closer inspection was disappointed to learn that this was just a dance studio. If you think of your wedding as something to survive, then you need more than dance lessons. They gave out the only thing I took home, a "Things To Do" magnetic notepad. L and I, after all, have a lot To Do.

One more booth was tucked at the end of an aisle further away from the main entrance. It may have been staffed by men, but what they were offering wasn't for men. One of the men, with his shirt off and abs more sculpted than an action-figure's, handed out flyers for a male strip revue. Another man at the booth was dressed all in white. I didn't stay long enough to see if he was supposed to be a naval officer or a doctor.

I was getting tired and so were some of the people around me. Polite exchanges after bumping into someone were slowly turning into minor threats. Hearing "I'm sorry" as a simple statement of fact is a lot less menacing than when someone throws it at you as a question. "I'm sorry? You bumped into me?"

The other men were tired, too, shuffling around like zombies. The bags were getting heavier and their backs were getting sore, especially when so many were used as a hard surface on which to fill out contest entries.


It was almost time for the fashion show, but I didn't need to see models sashaying down the runway in gowns and tuxes. I overheard one man say to a woman, "I'm not interested in the fashion show." She responded "But it will be fun." Perhaps the scientific question isn't whether a man can survive a bridal convention by himself but whether or not he can survive it with his fiancée?

I left the GBE's main room and headed for the down escalator. Hundreds of people still waited to get in, and more men accompanied their brides. It was almost seven o'clock and more people were probably done with work.

I took my bag and, seeing nothing worth taking home to L, left it by a garbage can near the escalator on my way out of the hotel.

After being in such a confined space I had almost forgotten how cold it was outside. But it was refreshing to be hit by that blast of cold air and I walked down Broadway, marvelling at the neon-lit space above me. Only a roomful of agitated brides could make Times Square seem like a peaceful oasis.

I was barely one block away when I was handed one last card by a distributor, an older woman who was bundled tightly against the cold with an orange vest that read "Legz Diamond." I didn't read the card until later, when I slipped it out of my pocket. At least they were offering free admission.


Posted by The Groom at January 14, 2004 04:35 PM

Crash, you made it back from the front lines! Well done on the recon mission.

Posted by: Jonathan at January 14, 2004 09:08 PM

What on earth posessed you to even attempt to go to that thing in the first place???

Posted by: Sister of the bride at January 17, 2004 04:00 PM

I don't think "chick" is very PC, Mr. D.G. And by the way, how many of those bride do you think will be available in the next 6 months to a year? Perhaps it is a good place to pick up womyn!?

Posted by: JT at January 19, 2004 04:35 PM

In a place where women are practically at each other's throats over coupons for 5% off a wedding dress, PC goes right out the wyndow.

Posted by: The Groom at January 19, 2004 05:32 PM

OK, I didn't see the post a comment box the first time I read this post, but as I told you when we spoke, I can't believe you left all those freebee's there and only brought one magnet home! There must have been more magnets or paper for you to have collected. Really, you must try to to better the next time around!

Posted by: Paula Kaye at January 20, 2004 09:10 AM