A 12-year-old La Cañada Flintridge boy recently celebrated a birthday he won’t ever forget.
Jake Olivarez had an estimated 100 cars go by his home to celebrate his first-ever “virtual birthday” on Crown Avenue.
“At first I was nervous because of all the cars I just randomly saw,” Jake said afterward while standing next to a “Happy Birthday JAKE 12!!!” sign in front of his house. “Then my mom said, ‘This is going to be a long ride.’ It was really fun and my friend [Parker Winzenried, who attends Paradise Canyon Elementary School] came and stood next to me while everyone was honking and the cop cars came and I was happy.”
After Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Shelter in Place” order was announced in March, directives were given locally and statewide regarding social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus. So Jake’s mother Johanna came up with the plan after watching the local news and seeing someone else throwing a similar party.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s a beautiful idea.’ I mean, what else can we do at this point with social distancing? I wanted him to feel like he was loved [because] kids on their birthday want to feel the love,” she said. “I thought it’s the best I can do because I can’t have his friends over.”
Jake’s father Jason said his wife called the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Department and the local Fire Department to attend the virtual party.
“They actually went way above and beyond,” he said.
Sheriff’s Department Sgt. John Gilbert said after receiving the call, a message was typed out to officers to see if anyone was available. Four deputies and a sergeant went in patrol cars to drive by Jake’s home with one deputy singing “Happy Birthday,” he said.
“It’s got to be tough for young kids and try to deal with social distancing and not have the party they would ideally want,” Gilbert said. “In these tough times to see the creativity and ingenuity of the community to overcome these things and still celebrate and have fun, that’s great.”
To set up the surprise party, Jake initially thought he was simply waiting for his grandparents to come by but a woman who lives down the street appeared by the house, Jason said. She said to him, “Happy birthday, Jake … I came to play you a song!” and played “Happy Birthday” on a trumpet.
“At this point, I think Jake was starting to think something was up … but was still unsure,” Jason said. His grandmother then pulled up first in a line of cars and she honked her horn “like crazy” and gave him a gift, he said. From there, Jake noticed his grandfather across the street videotaping as the parade started.
“I will be honest in saying I thought it was a crazy idea when my wife brought it up last week,” Jason said. “I begrudgingly went along with it and, as usual with these things, she was right. She nailed it. Jake loved it and I think the participants did as well. This ‘Shelter in Place’ is getting old and people need a distraction.”
Johanna said she wasn’t certain if the birthday plan would work out and others, including her husband and her 14-year-old daughter Summer, weren’t sure either. Her daughter wasn’t sure anyone would show up and prematurely wanted to end it.
“I was actually having anxiety over no one coming,” Johanna said. “[My daughter] was like, ‘You need to make it stop.’ I said, ‘Once you put something on the Internet you can’t make it stop.’ My neighbor next door goes, ‘I think it’s going to be embarrassing.’”
Her neighbor who made the comment, Michelle Ametrano, stopped to speak with Johanna after the parade.
“I came over to give my apologies for doubting,” Ametrano said with a laugh to Johanna. “She’s got some crazy ideas sometimes but this one she pulled off. It was really cute. The best part was the turnaround in [Jake’s] face from when I first saw him … it was great.”