In Washington, three weddings (whew!) and a shutdown

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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, greets couples unable to obtain marriage licenses because of the partial federal government shutdown after signing the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses, following a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, signs the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses during the partial federal government shutdown during a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, greets couples unable to obtain marriage licenses because of the partial federal government shutdown after signing the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses, following a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Wedding planner Rachel Rice, owner and operator of The One Moment Events, is pictured January 11, 2019 at her shop in Fairfax, Virginia. (AFP)
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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, greets couples unable to obtain marriage licenses because of the partial federal government shutdown after signing the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses, following a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, seated, holds the LOVE Act she just signed joined by soon to be newlyweds, Claire O'Rourke, left and her fiancé Sam Bockenhauer; Caitlin Walters, back left, and her fiance Kirk Kasa; and Danielle Geanacopoulos, second from right, and her fiance Dan Pollock, right, after signing the LOVE Act that will allow couples to get married in the District despite the government shutdown during a ceremony at the Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, (AP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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In Washington, three weddings (whew!) and a shutdown

WASHINGTON: There doesn’t seem to be much love in the air in Washington these days, as a long and bitter government shutdown drags on with no end in sight.
But couples whose marriage plans were thwarted by the partial shutdown have gotten a break, thanks to the action of Mayor Muriel Bowser and city council.
The city’s Marriage Bureau, part of the US capital’s federally funded court system, had been deemed “nonessential” and shuttered as part of the thorny standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats.
But on Friday, Bowser signed an emergency measure authorizing city officials to validate marriages in the absence of the Marriage Bureau, which closed when the budget standoff began on December 22.
“They can shut down the US government, but they cannot shut down love in the District of Columbia,” City Council member Brandon Todd said when he introduced the measure.
Titled the Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Amendment Act, or LOVE act, the law is valid for 90 days and will spare future brides like Claire O’Rourke from finding themselves in Kafkaesque situations.
“Practically, we couldn’t sign all the legal certificates during the shutdown without having a marriage license,” O’Rourke, a Washingtonian who was preparing to wed fiance Sam Bockenhauer, told AFP.
“So we were going to have a wonderful party, of course, but couldn’t be legally married in DC until we got our marriage license.”
Some couples, like Dan Pollock and Danielle Geanacopoulos, had no time to spare. They managed to get their wedding license on December 27, just two days before their scheduled wedding.

“By the time we figured out we couldn’t get a license, we were running out of time before friends and family were coming to Washington to celebrate with us,” Geanacopoulos said. “So we focused on the really important thing — celebrating — and decided to figure out the rest later.”
Her mother, Daphne, said she was “delighted.”
“We had a really great big wedding two weeks ago... (but) it feels wonderful to have it official.”
For Caitlin Walters, who plans to wed Kirk Kasa on February 2 on the campus of Catholic University, the shutdown was simply “a small speed bump in the road.”
“Obviously we knew about the shutdown, but we didn’t know that it would directly affect our ability to get married in DC legally,” said Walters, a New York resident who was determined to get married in the nation’s capital.
But while some have taken the shutdown in stride, it has brought “chaos” to those in the wedding business.
“It’s a lot of chaos, it’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Rachel Rice, a wedding planner who recently had to shift a wedding ceremony from Washington to nearby Virginia.
Even if the shutdown were to end next month, Rice said, “some people might say, ‘I can’t wait to book my venue; I have to book my catering, my photographer.’“
On top of that, the approximately 800,000 federal employees sent home or forced to work without pay — some of them with wedding plans, no doubt — have just missed their first paycheck and will be forced to scale back their plans.
Claire O’Rourke has her own shutdown-related regret.
She had hoped to have her official wedding photo taken in the National Portrait Gallery.
But like most of the capital’s vast Smithsonian system, the popular museum remains closed.


Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

A woman poses for a photo among poppies in bloom on the hills of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California, on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

  • More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

LAKE ELSINORE, California: Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” the Southern California city of Lake Elsinore is being overwhelmed by the power of the poppies.
About 150,000 people over the weekend flocked to see this year’s rain-fed flaming orange patches of poppies lighting up the hillsides near the city of about 60,000 residents, about a 90-minute drive from either San Diego or Los Angeles.
Interstate 15 was a parking lot. People fainted in the heat; a dog romping through the fields was bitten by a rattlesnake.
A vibrant field of poppies lures Dorothy into a trap in the “Wizard of Oz” when the wicked witch, acknowledging that no one can resist their beauty, poisons the wildflowers and she slips into a fatal slumber until the good witch reverses the spell.
Lake Elsinore had tried to prepare for the crush of people drawn by the super bloom, a rare occurrence that usually happens about once a decade because it requires a wet winter and warm temperatures that stay above freezing.
It offered a free shuttle service to the top viewing spots, but it wasn’t enough.
Sunday traffic got so bad that Lake Elsinore officials requested law enforcement assistance from neighboring jurisdictions. At one point, the city pulled down the curtain and closed access to poppy-blanketed Walker Canyon.
“It was insane, absolutely insane,” said Mayor Steve Manos, who described it as a “poppy apocalypse.”
By Monday the #poppyshutdown announced by the city on Twitter was over and the road to the canyon was re-opened.
And people were streaming in again.
Young and old visitors to the Lake Elsinore area seemed equally enchanted as they snapped selfies against the natural carpet of iridescent orange.
Some contacted friends and family on video calls so they could share the beauty in real time. Artists propped canvasses on the side of the trail to paint the super bloom, while drones buzzed overhead.
Patty Bishop, 48, of nearby Lake Forest, was on her second visit. The native Californian had never seen such an explosion of color from the state flower. She battled traffic Sunday but that didn’t deter her from going back Monday for another look. She got there at sunrise and stayed for hours.
“There’s been so many in just one area,” she said. “I think that’s probably the main reason why I’m out here personally is because it’s so beautiful.”
Stephen Kim and his girlfriend got to Lake Elsinore even before sunrise Sunday to beat the crowds but there were already hundreds of people.
The two wedding photographers hiked on the designated trails with an engaged couple to do a photo shoot with the flowers in the background, but they were upset to see so many people going off-trail and so much garbage. They picked up as many discarded water bottles as they could carry.
“You see this beautiful pristine photo of nature but then you look to the left and there’s plastic Starbucks cups and water bottles on the trail and selfie sticks and people having road rage because some people were walking slower,” said Kim, 24, of Carlsbad.
Andy Macuga, honorary mayor of the desert town of Borrego Springs, another wildflower hotspot, said he feels for Lake Elsinore.
In 2017, a rain-fed super bloom brought in more than a half-million visitors to the town of 3,500. Restaurants ran out of food. Gas stations ran out of fuel. Traffic backed up on a single road for 20 miles (32 kilometers).
The city is again experiencing a super bloom.
The crowds are back. Hotels are full. More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest park with 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq. kilometers).
But it helps that the masses of blooms are appearing in several different areas this time, and some sections are fading, while others are lighting up with flowers, helping to disperse the crowds a bit.
Most importantly, Macuga said, the town’s businesses prepared this time as if a major storm was about to hit. His restaurant, Carlee’s, is averaging more than 550 meals a day, compared to 300 on a normal March day.
“We were completely caught off guard in 2017 because it was the first time that we had had a flower season like this with social media,” he said. “It helps now knowing what’s coming.”