Every seven minutes like clockwork on Thursday, a couple nervously exchanged marriage vows inside a gray, windowless room in downtown Sacramento.
The room is known as the ceremony room of the Marriage Unit of the Sacramento County clerk's office at Eighth and F streets.
Here, the only decoration that hints of love and betrothal is a wooden arch trellis topped by a strand of faded plastic flowers.
It's a shockingly drab setting that gains a spark only when bride and groom, and whatever entourage comes with them, walk in.
And walk in they do, especially on Valentine's Day, when nonreligious ceremonies spike at the unit. Thursday's tally was expected to be more than 80 couples married, said Donna Allred, chief deputy clerk recorder at the unit.
Allred said she has seen it all in the decade she has worked there – from couples who show up in shorts and flip-flops to young brides and grooms who call her up the next day asking how to accomplish a quick annulment.
Some who come to tie the knot are barely of legal marriage age, like 18-year-old Pfc. Aldin Ambol, who donned his crisp Marine dress blues to marry 18-year-old Marissa Acosta, whom he met on Valentine's Day last year.
"She was my friend in high school," said Ambol, a recent John F. Kennedy graduate who is shipping off to Okinawa, Japan, next week.
The brisk business seen at the unit is the latest evidence that more couples are opting to tie the knot at the marriage unit. Since 2007, wedding ceremonies performed there have risen 16 percent – from 2,967 in 2007 to 3,450 in 2012.
"I guess people are doing it because it's such an economical way to get married," said Allred.
A marriage license costs $83. The unit issues 8,000 of them yearly. Slightly more than one-third of the couples opt for a ceremony at the unit, which costs an additional $36.
For Hayward resident Anmol Prasad, getting married to young bride Yogeeta Prasad on Valentine's Day was not only a deeply romantic gesture; it serves as a mnemonic device.
"We came down here today because we wanted our anniversary to always be remembered," said Prasad. "Because this is when the whole world celebrates, and it helps me remember it, too, especially me being a guy."
The two, who hail from Fiji and are of Indian descent, qualified for the most detailed and colorful ceremony dress seen at the unit Thursday. Yogeeta Prasad was clad in a stunning traditional ghara choli dress, with a bold red blouse filled with sequined inlay, her wrists covered with many colorful bangles.
"In our culture you have a choice when you come down to a legal place like this – you can dress in Western clothes or traditional," she said. "I went traditional because I've been a real traditional girl from when I was a child."
Anmol Prasad said a traditional Fijian wedding is on tap in a few months. That event will be a big affair with prayer, singing and dancing, as well as vegetarian cuisine.
The peculiarities and protocols of the way people get married are what Allred remembers the most after so many years on the job.
"Some cultures, like those from certain Asian counties – they do not kiss each other at the end of the ceremony. They barely hold hands," Allred said.
The most memorable of all?
That would be the Samoan ceremonies, she said.
"Those are just beautiful ceremonies as they bring a ceremonial rug on their backs, and they spread it out for the ceremony," said Allred. "They exchange some vows of their own and then they break out into song. Usually between 30 to 40 people show up for those and sometimes it's so many people we have to move the ceremony into the waiting room."
Thursday, the mood was slightly less effusive outside the county clerk's building, where Woodland resident Poshi Mikalson and her partner, Reed Walker, came to get a marriage license. It was a symbolic move given California's current ban on same-sex marriages.
"This is the first year that Reed could get time off of work to come down here," said Mikalson.
The two live together and have known each other for 12 years. They decided not to get married in 2008 when a short window opened for same-sex marriages in the state.
Mikalson said that at the time, she did not want her marriage to be tainted by the invective surrounding the Proposition 8 debate.
So the couple waited to tie the knot until after the vote. "We had faith in the voters we were devastated," she said.