Lynsey Koopman and Jayson Furusawa have been together for 13 years, ever since Koopman's sister introduced them at a party. "We met, we talked, and it was love at first sight," Koopman said. On March 21 of this year, they were scheduled to get married.
The coronavirus pandemic hit, erasing all of their plans. The couple was devastated. They knew they would spend their life together, but they also needed it to be legalized to qualify for an insurance policy.
Then someone from the Orange County Clerk's office called. The California couple could get married on April 17 -- as long as they were willing to be creative.
"We got married in the parking lot," Koopman says.
"Where we usually park for Ducks games," Furusawa adds.
Koopman and Furusawa are one of 2,600 couples who have gotten hitched outside of the Honda Center in Anaheim over the past two months. The clerk's office staged a pop-up chapel, in three ticket booths, remaining open through June 5.
"I've been there since Day 1, in 1993," says Tim Ryan, president of the Ducks and the Honda Center. "And we've always focused on what you can do on the inside of the arena. For the first time, we had to ask ourselves, 'How can we maximize the exterior of the facility?' I'd say, in my 40 years in this business, I never in my wildest dreams thought anyone would call wanting to book weddings in the parking lot."
Because of COVID-19, that became necessary. The backlog of people waiting to get married in the city was already at 600 people when the clerk's office called the arena in April. The Honda Center usually puts on 160 to 220 events per year; besides the Ducks, the 18,000-seat arena hosts everything from WWE to Disney on Ice. But it also has over 4,000 parking spaces, which it has been able to repurpose.
Besides weddings, the Honda Center parking lot has doubled as a drive-through food bank and the site of a blood drive. As sports remain on pause, sports fields and arenas all around the country have been retooled to help fit their respective communities' needs. Ryan says over the next few months, "everything is on the table" for the Honda Center. (For example, he's already been contacted by several churches, as well as concert promoters.)
"Just getting people out, and used to the ideas of doing things -- whether it's a drive-in concert, or getting married, or coming to pick up your food -- is a good thing right now," Ryan says.
While weddings at the Honda Center are pragmatic, the setup doesn't exactly scream romance. The ticket window, according to Koopman, "looks just like the window where you pick up your hockey tickets."
Ryan says they were actually booths borrowed from the local fairgrounds. "What do you call a parking booth that's been converted into a place where somebody goes through their vows?" Ryan says. "I don't know."
As for the actual ceremony? "The whole thing was 10 to 15 minutes," says Jeremy Rodriguez, who got married at the Honda Center on May 14. Adds his new wife, HaleyAnn: "And most of that was filling out paperwork."
Koopman says she was hoping to do a full ceremony with rings. "But it was just like, 'I do, I do,' then that was it," she says. "It was really quick."
Couples are given a time slot when they are supposed to show up. They must wait in their cars until it's their time to go. Although there are typically a handful of other couples also waiting in their cars, nobody can soak in the merriment together -- to observe social distancing rules.
Everyone also must wear masks, no matter what they're wearing -- and in Harleyann Rodriguez's case, that meant pairing a mask with her full wedding dress.
The Rodriguezes, who originally were scheduled to marry in Lake Tahoe, were allowed to bring a friend as a witness. They streamed themselves on Facebook Live for friends and family. "There was a little photo backdrop, so you could take a few pictures," Harleyann says. "Then they were kind of pushing you out, and you had to leave."
The couple drove home, and ate tacos for dinner.
Though it's unconventional, the couple says if they can start the foundation of their marriage through challenging times, they're ready for anything. "I'm just thankful they decided to do this," Harleyann says. "It's a time so many people had to postpone or cancel, and I feel grateful we still had the opportunity to get married."
Koopman's father is a longtime Ducks season-ticket holder, and she and her new husband go to Ducks games often. "We were almost going to wear our jerseys since we were getting married at the arena," Koopman says. "But we didn't know if that was appropriate."
Instead, the couple opted for Ducks hats. Koopman mentioned to the public relations staffer on site that Hampus Lindholm was her favorite Anaheim player. And by the time they got home that evening, they had a surprise in their inbox: a message from the defenseman.
"Hey, Lynsey and Jayson, I just want to congratulate you on the wedding," Lindholm says. "I hope you guys enjoy a happy life together, and I hope to see you back at Honda Center soon."