Vowing To Be Different

When my son and his wife were married five years ago, there was a moment in the planning stages where I realized their wedding day would be anything but “traditional”. Credit their beautiful outdoor venue (no church), the “mixed-up” wedding party (ladies aside the groom; men aside the bride), their Keds canvas sneakers (no formal shoes beneath the tuxes and dresses) or the trays of truffles after dinner (no wedding cake) – they found dozens of details to make their day unique and memorable. But given the most recent wedding trends, perhaps my son and his wife were more old-school than I thought.

Hindsight being what it is, my own wedding to my wife thirty-two years ago now seems downright formulaic.  We were married in a church, accompanied by an organist and harpist.  We exchanged rings and vows before a priest.  We lit a “unity candle” at the altar.  Our reception was in a hotel ballroom, with an open bar and live band.  Dinner was served, wedding cake was cut, and the only time the dancing stopped was to toss the bouquet and garter.  Our one and only off-script detail? We included a contemporary John Denver song in the ceremony (much to our priest’s dismay).  Otherwise ours was a carbon copy of just about every other wedding of the 1980’s.

I’m sure you have examples of just what makes weddings different these days.  Let me guess.  They’re no longer just outdoors; they’re now in backyards or in barns or at faraway “destinations”.  The ceremony is facilitated by an officiant (“basic online ordination package” – $29.99!)  The bride grooves down the aisle to something more like Metallica than Mendelssohn.  The vows – far removed from the dusty “to have and to hold” – could double as songs or poems.  The receptions take place in twinkly-lit tents.  The food is more likely “finger” than “buffet”.  The wedding cake has been replaced by a cupcake tower.

“Non-traditional” should be a non-surprise when it comes to modern-day weddings.  After all, the average age of today’s marrying couples is 29, which typically follows years of living together or even a purchased home.  Four of five couples who marry are millennials, and millennials are all about personalization.  Thus, 44% write their own vows, and only one in four have their ceremony in a religious institution.

Fido bears the rings?

Let’s dig deeper, shall we?  If you’re not convinced the traditional wedding has gone completely off the altar, check out the Chapel of the Flowers website (“Voted Best Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas!”), particularly their article, “New Wedding Traditions to Trade In for the Classics”.  Perhaps you and your future spouse will consider the following from their list of suggestions (not that I would):

  1. Rings – Skip the jewelry store and head for the tattoo parlor.  Your wedding band tat will never fall off and the ink will remain… “until death do you part”!  For that matter, your tattooist might also be an officiant, so you can have the whole shebang right there in the parlor.  I’m sure the biker dude in the next chair will be happy to witness the signing of your marriage certificate.
  2. Wedding Dress – Skip the white in favor of pastel hues or bright, tropical colors.  After all, the “innocence, purity, and light” of white may not be – ahem – the appropriate statement.
  3. Pocket the Phones – As in, ask guests to refrain from taking their own photos.  Really?  Is the Force with you or something?  Unless you hand out physical restraints as your guests walk through the doors, those phones will keep on a-clickin’.  Moving on…
  4. Smaller Wedding Parties – 1-3 family/friends at most.  This suggestion is either overlooked, ignored, or most likely mocked.  If anything, wedding parties seem to be getting bigger these days.  Moving on again…
  5. Gifts – Out with the wedding registry and in with “donations to a good cause”.  Say what?  I get that modern-day couples live together and already have most everything they need, but what about cash?  Clearly, money dances have fallen by the wayside.  Donations to good causes works for funerals but not for weddings.  Hard pass.
  6. Delayed Honeymoons – Don’t delay… I repeat, don’t delay.  I know several couples who never had a honeymoon because, well, “more important” things got in the way (i.e. real life).  I also know a couple who divorced before they even made it to their honeymoon.  Don’t delay.  Have some fun while you’re still carefree and unconditionally happy.

No matter how you feel about “new traditions” at weddings these days, there’s an underlying positive to be gleanedAt least we still have weddings.  The vows may raise your eyebrows.  The food and festivities may not be your particular glass of champagne.  But those details don’t really matter, do they?  At the end of the day, you still have two “I do’s” and one “I now pronounce you…”, sealed with a kiss.  You still have a marriage.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “They Solemnly Swear Their Wedding Will Ditch Tradition”. (8/6/19)

Tryst With a Twist

I’m leaving my wife for another woman. There, I said it.

I never thought it would come to this; I really didn’t. My wife and I have been together for thirty-one bliss-filled years – as smooth and as satisfying a marriage as one could hope for. And yet, tomorrow afternoon, I’ll catch a ride to the airport, kiss my beloved goodbye, and board a one-way flight to Las Vegas. All my worldly possessions stay behind, save for the overnight bag in my hand and the wad of cash in my pocket. When I get there, I’ll dress up, head over to one of the finer restaurants on the Strip and reunite with a woman over thirty years my junior. We’ll smile at each other and raise our glasses in anticipation. A new adventure will commence.

Now then, let’s shed a little more light on my tryst, shall we? Yes, I’m leaving my wife (but only for a day and half). Yes, I’m going to Sin City on a one-way ticket (but then I’ll turn around and drive back home the next day). And yes, I’m meeting up with a woman thirty years my junior. She also just happens to be my daughter.

Here’s the detail. After a year of living and working in Los Angeles, our youngest has decided to return to Colorado to give Denver a try (the “new adventure” I refer to above). The drive between those cities – if you’ve ever done it – is Las Vegas and a whole lot of nothing else. Imagine a twenty-hour jaunt in a lunar rover on the moon, only somewhere along the way you get thirty minutes in Disneyland. That’s LA to Denver: no people (at least, no sane ones) and a whole lot of cactus, dotted with a single oasis of slot machines and casino-hotels. Come to think of it, I’d wager big money the moon is more interesting than LA-Denver, especially the never-ending portion of the drive known as southern Utah.

Anyhoo, (to use a word from my daughter’s unique vocabulary), I’m sharing the Vegas-to-Denver drive with her – responsible father that I am – fully fourteen of the twenty hours it takes from Los Angeles. Somehow the idea of my daughter and her cat all alone in the desert doesn’t sit well with me.

The more I ponder this little adventure, the more I wonder if I shouldn’t be worried more about my time in Vegas. Think about it. I’ll show up at the hotel, and the front desk will undoubtedly eye my much-younger companion from head-to-toe. “Oh!”, I’ll say with a sheepish grin, “she’s my daughter.” Yeah, right pal, your ‘daughter’. When I arrive at the restaurant for dinner, the maitre d’ will say, “Sir, if you and your – uh – ‘niece’ will follow me, I’ll show you to your table.” Or let’s say I get my daughter to blow on the crap table dice for luck. Stink eyes all the way around. Hey big spender; who’s your prom date?

This is a no-win situation. Short of a blood test and a doctor’s proclamation, “Holy cow, they’re actually related!”, I’m destined to a jackpot’s worth of dirty-old-man looks in the next few days. At least I won’t be mistaken for a gigolo.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Sorry, I beg to differ. I’ll be pleased as punch to share the intimate details of my time with my “other woman” in Sin City. Heck, maybe I’ll even make it my next blog post. We checked into the hotel. We went to dinner. Dropped a few quarters into the slots. Went to bed early so we’d be rested up for the long drive head. Riveting reading, huh?

Manipulation Games

In April of last year Starbucks modified its customer loyalty program, linking reward “stars” to dollars spent instead of store visits. Where previously you nabbed a free coffee for twelve trips to the cash register, you now need a total purchase value exceeding $63 .  According to CNN, “…customers were furious with the new program.”  Maybe so but those customers didn’t stay away either.  Starbucks’ 2016 gross sales were $21.3B, up 10% from its previous fiscal year.

Once upon a time I resisted customer rewards programs but over the years I’ve made peace with them.  I keep a couple dozen loyalty cards in the car or on my phone, ready to play whenever I visit this store or that restaurant.  I still control where, what, and how much I purchase.  Since I don’t keep a close eye on my rewards, I’m pleasantly surprised whenever I qualify for a freebie or a discount.

But here’s what I don’t like about rewards programs.  They’re designed to manipulate your spending habits.  That’s where Starbucks – like so many other merchants – gets a “fail” on my customer satisfaction test.  In addition to their stars program Starbucks sends emails every other day (which I unsubscribe from but always seem to return).  Those emails encourage me to purchase in certain ways or quantities or timeframes with the allure of “bonus” stars.  It’s a ruse; plain and simple and obvious.  No amount of “free” will ever tempt me to buy three breakfast sandwiches in five days.  Or three Frappuccino’s in three days.  (I don’ t even buy one breakfast sandwich or one Frappuccino.  Just coffee.)

Starbucks may annoy me with their sales tactics but I still buy their products.  The same cannot be said for credit card companies.  The newest Visa and MasterCard programs include sophisticated reward programs where spending is literally the only path out of debt.  Take Chase Bank’s Sapphire Reserve Visa card.  As trendy as this elegantly thin metal card appears to be, it’s utterly manipulative.  For starters, just holding the card in your hand sets you back $450 a year.  Then you’re encouraged to spend $4,000 in the first three months to qualify for 100,000 reward points (recently sliced to 50,000).  You’re also tempted by an instant $300 travel credit – which can only be used through Chase’s partners – as well as credits towards Global Entry, TSA Pre, and airline lounge fees.

No matter how you justify the rewards of Chase Sapphire Reserve you’re still spend-spend-a-spending to recoup the costs.  Consider Sapphire points are valued at 2.1 cents each.  The best-case scenario therefore – spending on travel or dining – still needs to add up to $15,000 before you’ve paid off the $450 annual fee.  Too rich for me.

Las Vegas is getting in on the rewards game too.  Sin City’s legendary “free drink” is about to enter the history books.  Slot machines now include small colored lights, easy to spot by the passing cocktail waitress.  If you’re “red” she’ll walk right past you without so much as a smile.  If you’re “green” you’ve fed your machine enough to earn a “free” drink.  The same goes for casino parking lots; spend enough inside the building and you’ll earn a voucher for outside.  Is it any wonder gambling is no longer the biggest source of revenue in Las Vegas (in favor of hotel, restaurant, and bar purchases)?

Despite these trends, I’ll keep playing the rewards game and very occasionally cashing in on anything “free”.  But I’ll also be wary of the subtle manipulations.  Just yesterday I received my umpteenth Southwest Airlines’ Visa card offer.  All I must do is spend $2,000 in three months for 50,000 points and no annual fee.  That application goes straight to the shredder every time.  My one and only Visa card with its no-frills-no-cost rewards program suits me just fine.