"What about reception venues?"
"Oh, well, we were wanting to have it at the Salem College cafeteria," I answer with obvious excitement. Carney gets a look that I have learned to recognize since we started talking about wedding stuff. It's her usual sunny smile, frozen in place, her eyes betraying her terror. She teeters on the edge of hoping that I am kidding and fearing that I am not. I take a perverse delight in making her get that look, and so I smile blandly back at her, as if I think that anyone would jump at the chance to get married in an institutional cafeteria.
"Yeah." I decide to give her a break. "Salem College is where we went to Governor's School together, where we met. We used to have 3 meals every day in that cafeteria." Throw a little sentimentality on something, and Carney will get on board. Her eyes grow soft, like suddenly cafeterias are romantic after all. Later, she found links online of cutesy school-themed wedding decorations. She's a trooper.
The cafeteria is actually called the refectory, though we called it the Rat Factory. And it looks like any college cafeteria. I could imagine my guests walking in and looking around in wonder - what is this place and why would anyone throw a wedding here? We'd have to explain it to them. No, no, it's not weird and ugly, it's romantic.
None of that matters at all, because Salem College doesn't rent out the refectory to outside parties. Jerks.
The next best thing would be Old Salem itself. Salem College is a small private girls college in the middle of the historical town of Old Salem. Every fifth grader in North Carolina visits Old Salem at some point, where they can walk down the cobblestone streets, talk to a real life blacksmith, and buy too much rock candy at the gift shop. There is a very nice visitor's center there, which does rent to outside parties. We stopped by the visitor's center to, well, visit, and check out the space to see if we wanted to throw a party there. The room was beautiful - lovely hardwoods, pretty molded designs on the walls, and a great big pipe organ. Not sure what the organ had to do with anything, but it was very nice. However, the room was on the smallish side. I wasn't sure if it would fit 150 people with room for a band and maybe dancing. On the bright side, rather than getting a caterer, we could just give people a few bucks apiece to go stuff themselves with rock candy.
Finally, we stopped off at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts. We refer to it as the Sawtooth Center, which is actually just the arts and crafts school located there. There is also a theater, a gallery, and several rooms available for rent. We didn't have to look for very long before deciding that this was our place. Larger and cheaper than Old Salem, it is a really beautiful and modern space. Plus, it's right downtown, so after our guests wish us well, they can walk a block and continue celebrating our nuptials (on their own dime).
Then I started to look at caterers. This wedding stuff is a racket.