Yesterday our friends Brian “Steamboat” Wille and Melissa “the Hurricane” Van Dyke were married. They held the ceremony and reception in their home in West Lakeview, Chicago. Whirl and I were among the small group invited to attend. I first met Brian through Mooch in 1996 when Mooch and I worked together. Several years ago Brian brought Melissa around to a poker game to meet the usual suspects. That’s when I first met her: at that game at Mooch’s place.
The highlight story of that poker game involves Melissa naively digging through the discard pile to try and recall what she’d folded. Her first offense garnered a warning and a pass. The second offense earned her a full-throated series of harsh rebukes from most of us: the callous, self-declared leather-assed poker old-timers. We made Melissa cry. But Melissa picked herself up, came back to the table and never repeated the mistake. Two years later, she was winning tournaments at Binion’s Horseshoe. I was the one reduced to bankrupt tears over beers at the loser’s bar.
The effect Melissa has had on Brian has been remarkable. Early in their relationship, Melissa served as a stabilizing influence. She buoyed Brian when he got down. She encouraged him to try new things. She made him laugh. — I could keep the cliches coming, but I think you’ll appreciate it if I stopped here with a simple summary. Melissa made Brian happy. Brian with Melissa was a happier Brian than I’d seen in a long time. Happy was not a condition that I often associated with Brian over the many of the years I’d known him before Melissa.
It hasn’t been a one-way relationship with the two of them. The effects went in both directions. Brian’s intellect and introspection have challenged Melissa. She’s working full-time and going to school full-time and when she gets out the other side of all of this will be a force to be reckoned with. They bring out a level of competitiveness blended with cooperation and coordination that makes both of them stronger, better individuals.
The four of us became close friends. Brian and Melissa were there for me when I got hurt. We’ve traveled together to Las Vegas. Gone to Blackhawks games together. We’ve hung out with her family, her brother her parents. They’ve taken us out with them to poker games held in the suburbs by collectives of manga artists. I taught them about phở in Little Vietnam. Brian and Melissa have become instrumental members of our urban tribe.
So when they told us of their intentions to get married a few months ago, Whirl and I were ecstatic. The two of them had planned a simple ceremony for family and asked if I would mind being a backup photographer: they explained they had a relative to shoot the event for them, but if I wouldn’t object, could I get a few pictures of the reception. I agreed. Yesterday when I arrived, I learned that the primary shooter had decided against shooting still photography and wanted to focus exclusively on video. Tag! You’re it! I set about shooting the wedding. I’ve never done this before — not in any significant way. I’ve shot some personal shots at weddings. But this was me shooting the wedding for the bride, the groom and their families.
I did my best to set my anxieties aside and just have fun with the shoot. These are people I really care about during a watershed moment in their lives. I could have drawn a much worse hand with which to go all-in. I’d been invited to share in this experience — to share it in a two-fold sense: to be a part of the moment itself, and also to record it, to share it to the broader world on their behalf.