It’s moments before midnight and as Valentine’s approaches, the lobby of A Little White Wedding Chapel is hopping.
The reception area is abuzz with giddy, anxious couples, all eager to tie the knot at the city’s most famous chapel on the most romantic day of the year.
Outside, seven sparkling white limousines wait patiently under the night sky, ready to whisk their newlyweds off into the night.
Inside the chapel lobby, some of the couples sit patiently, while others pace back and forth. As a bride from Wales criss-crosses the lobby in a full-length gown, white satin gloves and a sparkling tiara, it’s unclear if she’s anxious or nervous.
In a few short moments, however, it won’t matter. Her wedding is just six minutes away.
“I can’t wait,” she stammers with a smile.
Behind the front desk, which also serves as a wedding accessory display case, two attendants are in constant motion. The pair zig-zag back and forth, gracefully checking people in, taking reservations, manning the phones and providing information to the spontaneous couples who walk in on a Valentine’s Day whim. As chaotic as it looks, the pair seems almost choreographed; graceful, even.
Further behind the desk and unbeknownst to the crowd in the lobby, a wedding is going on. And not just any wedding: This will be the first wedding of Valentine’s Day 2009.
From the waiting area, the only visible indication that a wedding is taking place is the backside of a little red head of hair, which can be seen popping in and out of what looks to be a bay window.
The head belongs to none other than Charolette Richards, the Chapel’s proprietor and main minister, and she is conducting a drive-through ceremony in the chapel’s so-called “Tunnel of Love.”
Inside the Hyundai SUV parked outside the window is Chavon Peace and Jeff Grossmann. While the local couple didn’t plan on being the first Valentine’s Day marriage, Peace says it was pretty “awesome.”
The Centennial Hills residents had been engaged for six years and, after the years-long wait, decided the eve of Valentine’s Day would be their big day.
Richards quickly performs the curb-side service – all her weddings are between 10 and 15 minutes in length – and sends the couple on their way.
The newly married Mrs. Grossmann admits she never dreamed of a drive-through wedding when she was a little girl.
“I never thought I’d get married,” she says, but, she adds, she thought the convenient nuptials were perfect.
She and her fiancé drove down to the chapel and, after saying their “I do’s,” drove back home.
The newlyweds will vacation in Hawaii at the end of the month, they said.
Back inside the chapel, John Uribe and his fiancée, Gamze Kircalioglu, are waiting patiently.
When their names are called, a male minister greets them, but they ask if Richards could perform the ceremony instead.
The 71-year-old minister is in demand.
Uribe and Kircalioglu have been engaged for two months; they figure they can wait a few more minutes before walking down the aisle.
The couple drove from L.A. to Las Vegas to get married and brought just one person with them: Kircalioglu’s 14-year-old son, Sarp.
As 1 a.m. drew near, the spiky-haired teen began to yawn.
“He never stays up this late,” Uribe laughed.
It wasn’t long, however, until Richards reappeared, spry as ever and cloaked in her black robe, to usher the threesome into the main chapel, which is located just off the lobby floor.
While Uribe and Kircalioglu’s ceremony was taking place, another love-struck couple sauntered through the door and made their way through the waiting fiancées to the front desk.
They had no reservation and had no marriage license, either, but 18-year-old Jamie McKnight and 20-year-old John Lamacker wanted to get married.
The wedding was a surprise Valentine’s Day present from Lamacker, McKnight said.
The couple, who are both marine field radio operators stationed at 29 Palms in California, had been planning to get married for some time but hadn’t had the time – until now.
“When we have vacation we’re going to go to Oklahoma and have a real wedding,” Lamacker said.
Not that they didn’t think their impromptu vows in Vegas weren’t real.
“I’ve got her dad’s blessing, so it’s all good,” Lamacker said.
Still, the two were told their “I do’s” would have to wait until morning, when the marriage licensing bureau reopened and they would be able to obtain the necessary paperwork.
The setback didn’t deter the two.
“We’re going to go there at six and hopefully be the first in line,” McKnight said.
Glancing at the clock, they realized they had four hours to enjoy before heading down to the courthouse.
Rather than go back to the hotel to sleep, however, they decided to throw themselves a little bachelor-meets-bachelorette party, and headed to a nearby gentleman’s club.
They say that couples who play together stay together. If that’s true, McKnight and Lamacker just might live happily ever after.