YOUNGSVILLE, N.C. — Carrie Grace McQuaid and John Michael Simpson exchanged vows on Sept. 27 missing some of the trappings of a traditional wedding.
The bride didn't get a dance with her dad, nor the groom with his mother. There was no dinner banquet for 250 guests. Some loved ones had to watch via Zoom.
The whole affair took place in a parking lot.
And yet, it was the perfect start for a couple's matrimonial adventure: proof that, even in a pandemic, love finds a way.
"Super cute. Very Carrie," guest Judy Strickland said at the end of the ceremony, which she and most of the others in attendance watched through their windshields. "If anybody could do this, Carrie is the one who could make it happen."
Marrying in a parking lot was not Carrie's original plan. But it hasn't been a good year for plans.
She and Simpson met in 2019 after being introduced through an Instagram matchmaking gimmick.
McQuaid, a motivational speaker, described during their service how she realized on their third date that she was going to marry this man, a photographer. They were eating at a restaurant and she dropped her fork. He got up immediately to pick it up and get a replacement. On the way back to the table, he scooped up someone else's trash that had fallen to the ground.
AN ELABORATE SURPRISE
In April, Simpson formally proposed in an elaborate surprise that included a dozen of McQuaid's friends lip-synching to one of her favorite Taylor Swift songs, "Love Story," about a 21st-century Romeo and Juliet.
It was spring, and though the whole country -- and most of the rest of the world -- had shut down to prevent the spread of covid-19, an early fall wedding seemed a safe bet.
But then North Carolina's numbers didn't improve enough for the state to lift restrictions on how many people could safely gather. The state has an exception for weddings, but Carrie didn't want to put any of her friends or family at risk.
"I cried and cried," she said in an interview with The News & Observer before the wedding. "I just couldn't cut people from the list."
As they visited potential venues for their scaled-down ceremony, it occurred to her she might be able to include a drive-by segment for people who couldn't fit into a socially-distanced service. She was inspired by the way teachers had been doing motor parades through the neighborhoods where their students lived after in-person classes first got canceled.
"Then I thought, wait, can we do the whole thing in a parking lot?"
CARS IN A SEMI-CIRCLE
She went back and revisited several venues, evaluating them this time not for their well-appointed indoor spaces but for how many cars they could accommodate in a semi-circle and how photogenic a backdrop they could provide for an all-outdoor event.
She settled on The Victorian, a new wedding venue in the former J.B. Perry house on Railroad Street in Youngsville, named for a successful merchant who lived in the Franklin County town around the turn of the 20th century. The grand two-story house with its Queen Anne styling and expansive porch made a picturesque setting, and the new outdoor patio provided a place where the wedding party could eat dinner afterward. Owners Brian Whitley and Giuliana Abate were excited to work with the couple.
Guests began arriving a half-hour before the 4 p.m. service, settling bumper-to-bumper into the gravel lot. A red Honda, a silver Nissan, a blue Toyota, a black Dodge -- nearly 100 people in all, confined to their vehicles but present to witness McQuaid's and Simpson's promises to love and cherish each other, always.
Each received a program welcoming them to "Our Tailgate Wedding," a nod to Simpson's Alabama heritage and football fanaticism.
PUSHED GATHERING LIMITS
The wedding party itself pushed the gathering limits. Nine attendants, including McQuaid's sister, Annie McQuaid of Raleigh, the maid of honor. Five flower girls, a ring bearer, and four groomsmen, including Simpson's three brothers, Peter, Nick and David, who traveled from Nashville, Tenn.
McQuaid's parents, Bev Koester and Jim McQuaid of Durham, N.C., and Simpson's, Deborah and John Simpson of Birmingham, Ala., all were there.
The women wore pink chiffon, which fluttered in the afternoon breeze. The flower girls' gold-glittered shoes sparkled.
Officiating Pastor Danny Franks of The Summit Church, where the couple attend, acknowledged the unusual circumstances but noted that everybody loves a good wedding, "because we love it when the guy gets the girl."
After exchanging vows and rings, the couple danced to 'Slow Dance in a Parking Lot," performed live via Zoom by the county singer himself, Jordan Davis. Simpson twirled McQuaid, spinning the ruffled hem of her candlelight trumpet gown.
There were toasts, and treat baskets for all the car-bound guests, and the celebratory honking of horns, though the neighbors grumbled a bit.
The following weekend, the couple will traveled to Alabama and renewed their vows wearing their full wedding regalia at a smaller event for Simpson's extended family.
The couple will live in Durham.