If this were a normal wedding, the guests would not be mingling outside over coffee and mini-muffins before the sun had even risen. Grim news from Iraq would not precede the notes of Pachelbel's Canon. Fireboats would not be shooting arcs of water into the Chesapeake Bay, 2,000 roses would not have filled the walk-in refrigerator, and country singer Trisha Yearwood most likely would not be belting out the lyrics "How do I live without you" to strangers in red crab hats.
But normal it was not. It was the culmination of the Today Show's "Hometown Wedding" contest, which united Southern Maryland couple Mark Dale and Sarah Raley at the luxurious Chesapeake Bay Beach Club on Kent Island. And, as such, it raised several questions. First among them was offered by host Katie Couric, who turned to the crowd as camera booms swept overhead and asked:
"Isn't this bizarro-land?"
"Yes!" they said in unison. But they loved it just the same.
"Wait till you see what comes out of the water," quipped weatherman Al Roker.
The details of yesterday's NBC wedding -- the four-tiered chocolate fondant wedding cake with pink accents designed to match the bodice of the bride's silk gown, the ring with the 26 round colorless diamonds and milgrain trim, the groom's three-button notch-lapel Red Sleeve tuxedo -- all came at the request of the viewing public.
It was the public that first voted on the Internet to chose Dale, 26, the manager of Pro-Fitness Gym, and Raley, 23, sales director at the Hampton Inn, over hundreds of other couples who sent in video applications to be married on the show. The bride and groom were both born at the same hospital, attended the same high school in St. Mary's County and have been together for six years. For the past eight weeks, America has decided how their wedding should proceed.
The preparations began early, with NBC rolling into Maryland's Eastern Shore on Tuesday and the beach club's staff arriving at 1 a.m. yesterday to set up.
By the time the guests arrived, bouquets of roses and garland-wrapped pillars decorated the grassy enclosure that overlooks the bay.
"When they say a production, it's a production," said the groom's father, Mike Dale, in appreciation. "I think America did a real nice job selecting everything, including this location."
After the cameras were in place, the bride and groom walked down the aisle to the sounds of a string quartet. The overcast morning opened up to patches of blue sky while the Rev. Gregory Cootsona spoke about two kinds of love.
"The first kind of love is passion. Biblical poetry describes it as flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it," he said. "But you both know that there's also committed love. . . . It's the kind of love that leads you to care for one another in the humdrum of married life, which will come."
The couple said their vows and, for a moment, no one paid attention to the cameras.
"I love you, you truly are my best friend," Dale said. "Today I give myself to you in marriage." He began to cry.
Raley wiped away his tears.
"I have shared my best times with you, leaned on you through my worst times and couldn't imagine experiencing them with anyone else," she told him. "You have a very macho appearance, but you're the most sentimental and generous person I know."
By 8:40 a.m. the ceremony was over, and other questions rose to the fore: What does one drink at a morning wedding?
"Screwdriver," said Dale's friend Thomas Harvey, 26, as he lifted his glass.
What about the honeymoon?
As if to hint, Couric led the couple down to the sandy beach before she reported that viewers had chosen a private resort on the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, beating out a South African safari, a California spa-and-wine tour and a trip to Chile.
What's left to ask?
Just one thing: America, what shall we name the children?