As with so many other activities and rituals in our lives these days, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we celebrate birthdays. In addition to Zoom birthday parties, drive-by birthday gatherings are now a sign of the times.

For Jill Petschek’s recent 65th birthday, her close friend, Janet Klein Brown, and her daughter, Brittany Boccuzzi, coordinated an intimate — but physically distant and safe — surprise party in front of Petschek’s Hunt Valley residence.

The morning of Petschek’s birthday on May 14 started out just like all other birthdays in the Petschek household: with festive decorations and cake for breakfast.

“Brittany went all out with a ‘Happy Birthday’ tablecloth, plates and napkins, a birthday crown and sash, and a delicious chocolate fudge cake. After breakfast, she said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to change. You’ve got to look good.’ Then, I knew something was up,” recalls Petschek, who assumed her daughter planned a Zoom call with her family. “Then, I went outside on the deck and I saw a car. I thought, ‘Is this a singing telegram?’”

Instead, Petschek watched as 10 of her closest friends left their parked vehicles and walked toward her driveway. They all wore face masks and big smiles while carrying balloons, gift bags and birthday signs.

“I was truly surprised and so happy to see people!” says Petschek. “I hadn’t seen anyone [since the beginning of the pandemic] and was really missing the contact. It really made for a very special day.”

Klein Brown says she planned the party after a phone call with Petschek in early May.

A crowd gathers in Hunt Valley.

“I asked about her thoughts for celebrating her big birthday,” she says. “Jill, in her giggly, coquettish manner, responded with, ‘l don’t know. Maybe you can think of something.’ Faced with this challenge and inspired by some children’s birthday celebrations that I had seen on TV, I decided to have all her close friends assemble in front of her house in our cars.

“When we arrived, given the large front lawn and us all being adults, it seemed safe to get out of our cars, while of course keeping six feet distance,” Klein Brown says. “Brittany was a big help in encouraging Jill to dress up a bit, and kept her from going outside too early.”

Boccuzzi, 23, says she was delighted with how everything came together for her mom’s soiree.

“Amidst the pandemic, it was truly wonderful having all of my mother’s closest friends at the house, even if it was in the driveway,” she says. “This just goes to show you don’t need a big fancy party to celebrate. Rather, it’s the love of close friends that brings people together.”