David Adam Patterson's Surprise Birthday Party (June 4, 1999)

It took 30 years to surprise David Patterson with a party. As the last party of his youth, his mother (Linda) decided the theme would be Star Wars, recalling his earlier birthday parties. Lisa, the wife of David's close friend Mike Wehr, found and painted 35 imitation light sabers for the party. Linda also found a Darth Maul costume and sword for some lucky volunteer.

The Star Wars theme was seen  in the table decorations, a  land speeder flying overhead,   murals from Episode I, soothing bathroom decorations,  the cake, a well-known but publicity-shy guest or two, and even in our selection for party security. You get the idea.

Linda and Dave's father (Dave Sr.) weren't sure whether the secret could be kept from Dave. Linda contacted all his friends on Dave's email alias, accidentally including a person from Germany. In Germany they apparently even RSVP their surprise parties--Tteurtonic precision--as he sent electronic regrets to David but hoped he had a great party. Fortunately, David scanned his email quickly enough not to notice the party reference.

We had a close call when Dave left work early, but fortunately he called first, so Linda talked him into a taking a shower before coming up the hill. ("The Byrnes will be late," she improvised in their presence, after first whispering to everyone to be quiet.) His 35 friends all arrived by 7:15, and they cleverly parked their cars in random places so that Dave couldn't tell that there was a party going on when drove up. Rich Byrne and Dave Sr. stood sentry duty.

Dave drove up about 7:30,  but Rich slowed him down enough so that Dave Sr. could run in to warn the group.

As Dave walked toward the living room, the trap was set. His 2-year old nephew Andrew was playing by himself on the far left side of the living room, while 34 people and 1 alien--all armed with light sabers--hid on the far right side. His brother Mike hugged Dave as he walked through the door to further distract him.

As Dave headed toward his nephew, a small army yelled "Surprise!"  Dave's reaction was  total shock. A human army plus one alien with swords  lunging and yelling is startling, and Dave stood there in disbelief for at least 10 seconds. (Andrew had better instincts; he screamed and immediately ran out the front door.)

After being told that these were his friends and it was a surprise party (or perhaps it was just giving Dave the biggest saber), Dave relaxed and then joined the fray. The group drank Hefenweisen from the local Pyramid Brewery (Dave's favorite beer) and talked and talked (That's Dave's mother Linda as Princess Lea, Dave Dyson as Darth Maul, and Mark Racheal as the actor left of out the movie in the final cut.)

After the group later sang "Happy Birthday to You," Dave made a wish and then  blew out the candles of his birthday cake.

We were then entertained by a series of Improv games, each with a Star Wars theme, including one with Dave reacting as Darth Vader would act in different situations.

The party then moved to the Orinda Theater, where the group was treated to a late showing of Star Wars Episode I.

Needless to say,  the other movie goers were thrilled as they enterred the theater to see a small army holding sabers that glowed in the dark. Just in case they weren't going to get their money's worth, Dave and Mark went up on the stage and had a sword fight that Errol Flynn would have applauded. This brought the attention of the management, who thanked Dave and Mark for entertaining their patrons, and then rewarded their performance by escorting Dave and Mark to extra special seats.

I'd like to say that the movie was as good as the party, but then Lucas didn't have the same caliber of creative input, plus he had to work with a limited budget.

As they darkened the theater at 12:30 AM after the movie, everyone went home happy with the memory of surprising their friend, and having welcomed him to a new decade which is sure to be even more interesting than the last one.