Residents of Lorain Road in San Marino were treated to an unusual, yet welcome sight on Friday, March 27.
A “car parade,” for lack of a better term, celebrated the birthdays of Jackson Wendling and Cathy Newton in the no-contact era of COVID-19.
Adhering to a posted schedule, friends drove by the residences of the two honored guests, who stood outside their homes and waved at their friends and family members who cruised past, many in cars adorned with signs bearing good wishes and other adornments.
While it seemed like a choreographed effort, the two events, which took place just an hour apart, were actually quite coincidental.
Marci Wendling, Jackson’s mother, was on a virtual book club meeting several days ago, wondering aloud how she could help acknowledge her son’s birthday when San Marino resident Stephanie Perry mentioned the trend.
“I saw it on the internet,” Perry said, “but it was for a much different reason. What I saw was for a girl who was celebrating her final chemotherapy treatment and couldn’t come into contact with her friends. Marci was talking about Jackson’s birthday party and I just mentioned it it to her.”
Jackson was told to go outside the home to take part in a family game.
“All of a sudden, about 15 cars pulled up, decorated with flags and balloons,” Jackson said. “I was not expecting it. In fact, I was not expecting anything, but it was really nice. People even threw candy out the window.”
A 2019 graduate of San Marino High School and current freshman at Texas Christian University, Jackson had left his college campus and is at home due to the COVID-19 threat. He had started his 19th birthday feeling “really bummed.”
“I was supposed to be in New Orleans with my fraternity on my birthday,” Jackson said. “So I was just going to lay low. But this was a really nice surprise.”
An hour earlier, at 4 p.m., the same event took place just four doors down, at the home of Cathy and Joel Newton. In fact, when Marci Wendling heard the honking of horns for Cathy’s birthday, she initially thought that either guests were early for Jackson’s celebration or she had not remembered the proper time.
“This is one of the really positive outcomes of something like this,” Marci said with a laugh. “We have lived down the street from the Newtons for years and didn’t know that Cathy and Jackson shared the same birthday. We have lived in San Marino for 15 years and I’ve never been more grateful for my community than I am right now. The warmth, the smiles, and the support have made a challenging time so much more joyful!”
Meanwhile, just a few doors away…
Cathy Newton, a pediatrician, also had much different plans for her big day.
“Leading up to my birthday, I wanted to go to see the musical ‘Hamilton’ and also go to a Dodger game over the weekend,” Cathy said. “My husband and I were looking forward to a busy weekend, which usually includes multiple Little League games for my two boys and gymnastics lessons for my daughter. As the reality of the COVID-19 epidemic set in, all of our plans quickly dissipated. I was happy and resigned to spend the day home with the children. As a pediatrician and health care worker, I know I am at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 so I knew there was no way I could risk seeing any family or friends in person.”
She didn’t. At least not in the “up close and personal” sense.
“My husband guided me to go outside at 4 p.m. and look toward the street,” Cathy said. “Suddenly I saw a drive-by parade of friends and family coming by to wish me a happy birthday! Some friends even decorated their cars! It was such a thoughtful, pleasant surprise to see them all.”
Afterwards, her children treated Cathy to dinner at what became known as “Effort Restaurant,” staffed by her four children, who served as host, waiter, chef and busboy. Finally, her husband, Joel, surprised Cathy with a Zoom meeting in which friends from all over the country logged in to sing “Happy Birthday.”
“It was really thoughtful and endearing and better than any material gift anyone could have given me,” Cathy said. “In this time of isolation, I felt quite the opposite. We are surrounded, but in a different way. It was one of the best birthdays I ever had. When I think back to the Zoom call, we probably wouldn’t have done that under normal circumstances.”
Joel Newton was surprised that a neighbor had come up with a similar manner to toast a loved one’s special day.
“It was such a coincidence,” he said. “But when you take away all the options and there isn’t much left on the menu, this is what can happen. There are probably millions of these going on around the world.”
One of which, as it turns out, was just down the street.