This article originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Style section on June 19, 2011.
The day Justin Manus proposed to Jenna Goldman in December 2009, nothing seemed to go according to his plan. Jenna, stressed over Christmas shopping, canceled Justin’s plans for a romantic brunch and shot down his suggestion of going out for evening cocktails.
“I didn’t have a huge backlog of ideas for a contingency plan,” said Justin, who had told his and Jenna’s families that the proposal would be happening that day.
Evening set in and Justin knew he was running out of time. He impulsively grabbed Goldman’s hand as they crossed the intersection of 19th Street and Texas Street near their Potrero Hill home. In the crosswalk, with the San Francisco cityscape as his backdrop, he dropped to one knee.
As he slipped the ring onto a hyperventilating Jenna’s finger, a family emerged from the corner house holding a bottle of Champagne. They had seen the impromptu proposal from their window, and came down to toast to the happy strangers.
On June 4, 2011, a year and a half later, in the very same crosswalk, Justin and Jenna exchanged wedding vows. This time, the couple was prepared for every contingency. With the help of wedding planner Jean Marks, they secured the proper permits from the city, alerted neighbors, rented street barricades and portable toilets and left enough room for emergency vehicles to navigate around the makeshift aisle.
They had 100 white umbrellas on hand to protect their guests from raindrops, and Jenna had a pair of white rain boots to pair with her gown in case of a downpour.
“It was definitely more complicated than most venues,” said Marks, who has worked in the San Francisco wedding industry for almost 20 years. “A lot of my wedding-planner friends would ask me, ‘How’s that street wedding going?’ But this location was really personal for Jenna and Justin, and it really is worth it to make it happen.”
The wedding details took 18 months to plan, but the relationship itself was 29 years in the making. Justin and Jenna first met in their families’ Philadelphia neighborhood – and, at the time, they were both in diapers.
Their parents were neighbors and friends, and Jenna and Justin were born the same year. But the Manus family relocated to San Francisco when Justin was only 18 months old. For the next two decades, Jenna and Justin rarely kept in touch, except for a brief stint as elementary-school pen pals.
Both enrolled in college in the early 2000s, Justin at Stanford and Jenna at Bowdoin College in Maine. And both were frustrated with the dating scene.
In 2005, they once again became pen pals. They began to e-mail each other in preparation for a ski trip both families were going to take. The ski trip was ultimately canceled, but the e-mails continued. They were inconsequential notes at first – she wrote about her love of buffalo wings, and he wrote about falling off his bike – but both came to look forward to checking their inboxes.
“It was like the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ ” Jenna said.
After nearly six months of e-mails, Justin decided he wanted to see Jenna in person. His family was taking a summer trip to Russia, and he nonchalantly suggested they have dinner with the Goldmans on their East Coast layover.
“Imagine going on your first date with your whole family,” Justin said, laughing. But all the relatives didn’t stop him from noticing that Jenna “looked beautiful.”
Her mother, Susan Sargent, fondly remembers how clueless she was about the reason behind the night’s dinner. “Mitchell and I were so happy to see Carol and Clark (Manus) that we ended up ignoring the kids,” she said.
After the family dinner ended, Justin and Jenna went out for a drink. “The real date,” according to Jenna.
“He walked me home at 3 a.m., and he called me the next day from the airport,” she said, smiling.
The next four years were a flurry of cross-country plane trips. She went to business school in Texas, and his job with Hewlett-Packard kept him in the Bay Area. But as soon as she graduated in the spring of 2009, Jenna moved to San Francisco to work for AOL and hoped to make her home with Justin for good.
“We could not have been happier,” said Carol Manus about her son’s engagement. “We thought it was hysterically funny. If we had tried to arrange this relationship, it would never have worked, but they discovered it on their own.”
“You want your kids to find someone to spend the rest of their lives with,” Sargent said, “You just don’t think it’s going to be someone they’ve known their whole life.”
The crosswalk nuptials came to a close with cheers from the 200 wedding guests, plus a few curious joggers and neighbors who had gathered to take photos from their porches and rooftops. Justin’s sister, Taylor, and Jenna’s brother, Andrew, surveyed the scene and offered a fitting toast.
“We’re so happy for you … and we wonder which of these neighbors’ kids your children will grow up to marry.”