Although the doors opened just 30 minutes earlier and the thermometer hovers around 30 degrees, the line outside the Office of the City Clerk is already halfway down the block. It’s 9 a.m. on Valentine’s Day in New York City, and this crowd is in love.
People huddle together against the morning chill, some in pairs, others in larger groups, waiting to get a wedding license, to get married, or to support friends and family. The line outside the downtown Manhattan government building is filled with glittery heels and overcoats, lace veils and jeans, white dresses that sweep the pavement and smart suits. Taxis pulling over in front of the building drop off casual brides and formal grooms. Those in line turn their hoods to the wind. Hands shove into pockets or clutch cellophane-covered bouquets. One groom laughs about the fact that this line feels like the first test of marital hardship.
But the mood is festive. Someone has scattered rose petals over the steps and a couple poses with their newly acquired certificate.
Fatima Bawoh, 30, a store manager from Bayonne, N.J., waits patiently towards the back of the line with her fiancé and his cousin, who is serving as witness, photographer, and anything else the couple needs today.
“My husband-to-be chose Valentine’s Day,” Bawoh says. Her fiancé, Geovanme Talbot, 31, explains that he tries to be a romantic. It wasn’t a necessity for the couple to get married on Valentine’s Day, but it was a sentimental thing for them.
As Bawoh spells her last name, she corrects herself. “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s Talbot now,” she laughs. “Fatima Bawoh-Talbot. Fatima B. Talbot, sounds so strong!”
Others are just here in support of their family and friends who have picked this bright February morning to tie the knot.
Sara Lind, 37, and her family are here for their AuPair of almost two years, who is already inside the building. “Her family’s not here, so I’m kind of serving as the mother of the bride,” Lind says. “And my kids, who are in the Starbucks right now, are going to be the flower girl and the ring bearer.”
She clutches a small bouquet. A moment later, Lind’s husband arrives with the two small children in tow. They’re finally getting closer to the front of the line.
A woman in front of Lind says she, too, is here for a friend. “Actually, my friend just met her husband,” says Runyu Liang, a 25-year-old from China. In her arms, Liang cradles a large multi-colored bouquet. She says the bride, one of her oldest friends, met her partner at the beginning of this year. The couple has known each other for less than 40 days. “I don’t know why she is getting married. I have to go get inside and ask her,” she says. Liang and Lind both laugh.
But not everyone is here just because it’s Valentine’s Day.
Lily Shen and Jing Hao met online and have been together for five years. They wait outside surrounded by friends. The couple did not choose Valentine’s Day for its reputation as a sappy day of romance. They had another reason.
“That’s when all our friends were available,” says Hao, a 32-year-old consultant in a sharp white Calvin Klein jumpsuit and top hat.
“I think it’s such a cliché to get married on Valentine’s Day,” adds Shen, 21, a student at Parsons, who will be graduating this year. “And of course, there’s this line, so…” She looks out at the sea of people that stretches in front and behind their group. Shen wears a vintage dress— elegant, old lace from top to bottom— and a tiara that catches the early morning sunlight.
Near the front of the line, a vendor and a couple of photographers offer fresh buds and longer-lasting souvenirs.
George Taxi is a 50-year-old veteran who works outside the building selling rings and roses. Today, the colorful bouquets are $50, priced higher than their usual $30 to $35 for the holiday. As Taxi surveys the sidewalk and the continuously forming line, his hands dexterously rearrange blooms.
“This is one of the busiest days of the year and it’s a Friday, so that’s a double whammy,” Taxi says as he picks the leaves from a stem. “In a way, it’s like Vegas.” Taxi’s wife works beside him this morning, but he says Valentine’s Day is the only time she comes out to help.
A woman approaches Taxi’s table while he talks. “Who’s getting married today?” Taxi asks, smiling. “Me!” the woman responds. She hands Taxi the cash and he gives her the bouquet.
Taxi and his wife don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day on the holiday, though. They said they’re going to do something special tomorrow. “We’ll probably go to Applebee’s after this,” he says. They’ll want to get out of the crowds. But until then, he’ll help these romantic—and pragmatic— New Yorkers celebrate Valentine’s Day.