Bri and Lindsey Leaverton have 16 bottles of leftover bubbly. Good to have on hand while you’re sheltering in place.
When the Cedar Park couple join a Zoom video call last week, they show up sipping the sparkling wine. They’re quick to laugh and in great spirits, and they should be. They toast through the camera, because it’s not every day people get married at a drive-in movie theater during a pandemic.
"I wore mascara for this," Lindsey jokes from the other side of the screen.
Just a week before, the Leavertons walked down a dirt aisle at Doc’s Drive In Theatre in Buda, 45 cars packed with loved ones on either side. They originally pictured a big day with fewer carburetors, but the coronavirus has done a number on everyone’s plans.
The dresses got filthy. The ladies got hitched. Now, they’re telling the story to media outlets across the country.
Lindsey, 37, grew up in Midland before moving at 17 to Austin, where she now works as a wealth management services director. Thirty-one-year-old Bri, née Houk, is a lead surgical dental assistant — Tulsa born, Louisiana bred. "So I'm a Cajun queen," she says. "My little crawfish," her wife chimes in. Bri has a 3-year-old boy. Lindsey adopted her twin girls from birth, and they’re 7 now.
The two met on a lesbian dating app on June 13, 2018. It was Lindsey’s birthday, but she didn’t have any plans. They started talking at 6 a.m., and 12 hours later, they were at Blues on the Green with a bottle of wine and a blanket on their first date.
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After 13 months of dating, Bri proposed to Lindsey while they watched the Austin Pride Parade last year from the balcony at downtown restaurant Caroline. Lindsey had planned a proposal, too, at an October hot air balloon festival in New Mexico. And then, for the first time in 50 years, the festival canceled all the balloon flights because of fog.
"So we're sitting in the basket for hours and waiting, and the sun rises and goes on its merry way," Lindsey says. She still proposed, though — and ever resourceful, she schemed with a local news crew that had shown up at the festival to get the whole thing on camera.
It’s the theme of their relationship, they say: "Well, that didn’t go as planned." This year has proven the couple can stick to a theme.
Their original wedding was supposed to be at the historic Hotel Ella on Rio Grande Street on Good Friday. ("Nothing says ‘happy Easter’ like a good lesbian wedding," Lindsey says.) The couple planned an "over-the-top" affair — like, there was going to be hand-spun cotton candy.
As concerns grew about the spread of the coronavirus, Bri and Lindsey watched the number of people allowed to gather in a single place dwindle. A couple of weeks before their wedding day, shelter-in-place orders came down from the city of Austin. Then, a family member tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
"We realized, you know, we’ve got to let go of this," Lindsey says. Holy matrimony would have to be postponed, they finally decided, until it was safe. "We did what any strong female couple does in a time of resilience, which is eat our feelings and give up," she deadpans.
On Good Friday, Bri and Lindsey went on a sunset date to the top of a parking garage. Just them and some sparkling wine. They said their vows to each other — a mutual surprise that they hadn’t planned.
"And then it was the very next day where the drive-in movie theater wedding was born," Lindsey says.
The couple’s wedding planner, Cassie Crudo, emailed on April 11 with a wild idea: What if Bri and Lindsey threw a socially distanced wedding at a drive-in movie theater? They’re both movie people. In fact, Bri spent summers with her grandma in Tulsa watching movies at a drive-in from the tailgate of a pickup truck. The idea felt right. Austin’s Blue Starlite Mini Drive In was closed, but Doc’s in Buda wasn’t. That drive-in runs a kitchen so could remain open as an essential business, the couple say.
Bri and Lindsey had 17 days to plan a whole new wedding.
They picked April 28 as their new wedding date since it was the first day their officiant, Austin author and spiritual leader Jen Hatmaker, was available. Years ago while interning at a church, Lindsey asked Hatmaker to be her mentor. Lindsey’s life led her to full-time ministry and a career as a Christian music recording artist. When she came out as a lesbian in 2009, Lindsey says she "lost everything." But in that moment, she called Hatmaker, because she knew her mentor would love her. When Hatmaker and her husband started leading Austin New Church, it was one of the first places Lindsey led worship when she started singing again.
Hatmaker’s new book was just coming out, and her calendar was tight while Bri and Lindsey were scrambling to plan a new wedding.
"Once we knew that Jen could marry us, we were like, ‘We’re doing the damn thing,’" Lindsey says.
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With the officiant in place, figuring out how to livestream the ceremony on Doc’s movie screens was the last box to check. The last, last, last box.
"The night before our wedding, we're up there until 11 p.m., drinking beer, hanging out, trying to figure out how the hell we're gonna get this ceremony to be up on both screens," Bri says. If the wedding guests couldn’t see the wedding, it would be pointless, the couple felt. "And I'll just let you know that we did not have both screens working until 8:21 p.m. (the night of the wedding), and Lindsay was getting ready to walk down the aisle at 8:27 p.m."
Bri and Lindsay were so pumped that night. They hadn’t been out of the house in a while, which is relatable. The two brides got ready in separate movie-themed tiny houses on the Doc’s property. Bri and her sister had a private dance party to Megan Thee Stallion’s viral song "Savage" in a "Star Wars"-themed room, until the twins walked in unexpectedly. Then they all let loose together to a kids song.
At the same time, Lindsey reminds her wife, she was trying to get her Spanx on in a "Harry Potter"-themed room half the size.
When the time came, the couple pulled their car up to the drive-in’s kitchen before walking down the aisle.
"Have you ever seen two brides in one vehicle? It is not a pretty, pretty sight," Lindsey says.
Lindsey walked first, with her girls taking her down the aisle.
"There's this moment when I saw my parents, and they were in their car, and I just lost it because it meant the world that they were there," she says. "They had a hard time when I came out about a decade ago. ... So it just caught me in a way I wasn't expecting. And then to not be able to hug them or embrace and connect with them just broke my heart, because we've been quarantined from them."
From the car, Bri watched her fiancee up on the big screen. She held her bouquet in the car seat. She closed her eyes and took 10 deep breaths.
There were cords everywhere as Bri walked down the aisle, running to two outlets. Guests stayed in their cars, tuned into the ceremony on their radios. "Go slow, don’t fall," Bri remembers thinking as she took her steps.
During the ceremony on a shaky platform, Lindsey sang a love song she’d written. Bri read vows to the girls. Fireflies flitted around. Junebugs, too, but those did not practice social distancing, and Lindsey swiped one off of Bri’s wedding gown before chucking it into the sea of cars.
As the newlyweds drove off, their guests stayed to watch "Airplane!" at the drive-in, one of Lindsey’s favorites. The couple wanted to screen "Bridesmaids," but alas, it was too long for the time they were allowed at the drive-in.
Their 10-day dream honeymoon to Tulum, Mexico, was canceled, so a two-day "mini-moon" in an Airstream trailer got the job done. Then, it was back to that pesky reality of weeding the flower bed and home schooling the kids. Amid the pandemic, Bri was laid off, but Lindsey’s been working the whole time.
When things get a little safer out in the world, maybe the Leavertons can get back to karaoke outings, self-guided Old Fashioned tours at local bars and camping with the kids. They want a proper reception party, too — LED dance floor, booze, hugging, the works. But they’re homebodies, they say. It’s nice to be cozy with a little bubbly and the family they’ve made together.
"There is this magic when you don't hold so tightly to these plans that you're obsessed with, and all that ‘It's supposed to look like this, it was supposed to be like this,’" Lindsey says. "Own it. Accept it. Grieve it, yes, but pivot. For me, nine times out of 10, those plans B, C, D have been so much more profound.
"I love that about life. The only thing that's guaranteed is that everything's gonna change."