How to Throw a Surprise Party

There’s nothing better than seeing the look of complete terror upon someone’s face. Especially if you know there’s a benevolent force behind it. Such as with a surprise party…

Allison’s birthday was on Sunday past. And I wanted to make it something special.

So at the beginning of November, I started contacting her friends, seeing who I could get to come out and scare the bejeezus out of my fiancée. I knew that I had to start early, because it takes a while to plan out all the little details. And it doesn’t matter how straight-forward something seems — there are always little details.

The last time I’d organised a surprise party was when my close friends Stuart and Therese announced they were moving to Calgary. I wanted to give them a farewell present, by showing them how much their friends would miss them. The party was as much for me as it was for them…

Planning it had been a nightmare … the logistics were murder. While Therese and Stuart were wandering about Europe, I had been pulling together their friends (with the help of Therese’s friend Rachel and Stuart’s friend Jay) and planning out all the details. How?

Rule #1 when planning a surprise party: Get the parents involved.

Why? Simple: If you don’t tell the parents, they’ll inevitably screw up your plans. Not intentionally, mind you, but they’ll do something that will make your well-laid plans worth sqwat. (Yes, “sqwat”.) So, if you get the parents involved with the process, you don’t have to worry about things backfiring on you.

That’s how I succeeded with Stuart and Therese’s party … and that’s how I succeeded with Allison’s party. The best part is, most parents are clever — they’ll suggest good ideas without you have to tell them what to do. In the case of Allison’s parents, they invited Allison over to Nanaimo for her birthday. This left our apartment open.

So brought about the second problem: How to get people into our apartment to surprise Allison. This took a lot longer than I thought it would, and the ultimate solution was so simplistic I had to kick myself for not thinking of it earlier. Keys. Cut a spare set of keys, and leave them with a friend.

Then it was setting up a decorator, and making sure that our Key Master would arrive before everyone else. Where we would go for dinner … even a theme for the evening.

But above all else, the hardest thing to do was keep Allison in the dark. She’s a smart cookie, and it’s really hard to keep things from her. Especially when it comes to her birthday. Luckily for me, Allison’s parents were running a good cover for me.

We left on Friday the 3rd, catching the late ferry to Nanaimo. This gave me enough time to clean up the bedrooms. We did this under the guise of not having enough time to clean before Allison’s aunt appeared on Monday for a visit. (I hadn’t asked her aunt to come the day after Allison’s birthday as an added distraction … it just kinda worked that way.)

But we didn’t get everything. Allison’s insistence that we leave negated any argument I could have to clean the kitchen table. I didn’t want to have papers all over it when her friends showed up.

The wonders of today’s modern technology no longer amaze me … I use them with gusto. I made several calls over my cell phone to Michelle (our Key Master) and begged her to clean off the kitchen table before people started to show up.

(There’s always one thing that doesn’t go quite right.)

Allison’s family birthday party was the next day, the 4th. This amounted to a wonderful dinner of salmon, which Allison had asked for. Also on the menu was chocolate cake. This was no ordinary chocolate cake, mind you — this was the King/Queen of Chocolate Cakes. It was called something like Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Chocolate Whipped Chocolate Filling, or something like that.

It was evil.

In a chocolatey good way, that is. I have never, ever has such a devilishly good chocolate cake in my life. (I’m actually beginning to salivate, just thinking about it.) I can’t even begin to describe what was in this thing … all I know is that it was really, REALLY good.

The next day, we were to leave on the 1:00pm ferry. We would arrive in Horseshoe Bay around 3:00pm, and back at our apartment around 3:30. We would talk, chat, whatever for about two hours, and then go to dinner.

That was the plan. But plans have a way of not working exactly as planned.

The ferry was at 12:30, not 1:00pm.

I started to panic a little.

It was a fast ferry. We would arrive nearly an hour before we were supposed to.

I started to panic a lot.

Miracles of modern technology. I called Michelle, and let her know that things were not as well-planned as I had hoped. We tried to figure out what I could do to stall. I had suggested taking Allison to lunch, but she wanted to eat something on the ferry … that ruled out lunch at the other end. I couldn’t take the long way home, as it would make her suspicious. Feigning car trouble wasn’t even a thought — BCAA would put an end to that right quick.

Then Allison proposed the solution herself — she wanted to go to IKEA. That would blow an hour and a half, easily.

So it was with much relief that we bypassed our apartment completely and went directly to IKEA. It was a failed mission, in that respect — the chair covers we had gone looking for were not to be found. IKEA didn’t carry them in the style we thought they would. We headed home, Allison a little apprehensive about what I had planned for her.

When we arrived (at nearly 4:30, about an hour late because of nightmarish traffic going back), I made sure to grab all the bags, thus tying up my hands so I couldn’t open the door. No, it’s hardly chivalrous. but I had to make sure that Allison was the first into the apartment. As we passed the security camera, I looked, waved, and smiled. Because I knew that the 12 people sitting in our living room were watching Channel 59 — the security camera channel. They knew we were there.

The elevator was a bit slow, by my heart was racing. It was part anticipation, and part realising that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But it was too late, so I concentrated on the anticipation. The hard part was not showing it.

The elevator took forever to finally deposit us on the 6th floor. I exited first, but let Allison lead the way. As we got to the door, I saw that our weekend paper was still wedged in the mail slot — our awaiting guests had not removed it. I was excited beyond repair. Allison had no clue what was about to happen.

She got in, remarked that the bathroom door was closed (our friends had tossed their shoes in there). The lights were off and it was dark inside, which was good because if we could see, Allison would have seen some of the snacks left on the counter in our kitchen. But she didn’t see it. (Mind you, Allison saw the extra jackets in the closet, and still didn’t clue in.)

Then it came. A giggle. From someone in the living room.

Allison gasped. Someone was in the apartment. Someone had broken in, and they were still there! As the onset of sheer terror was about to take effect, a very loud and resounding cry was heard (probably through the entire building): “SURPRISE!”

Several camera flashes went off. I’m told the pictures are priceless.

I nearly fell over laughing. Yes, I’m cruel. I admit it. It was mostly from pure relief that things worked out, after all. (Although for another 20 minutes or so, I was still a bit edgy, wondering if Allison was all right with everything.)

The group went out to dinner at a restaurant not far from our apartment. Wasn’t the best overall venue, I’ll admit, but it was the best choice given the size of our party. The place would probably be more interesting later in the evening.

After dinner, most people went their separate ways. (It was a Sunday night, after all, and many people had to go to work the next day.) But Michelle (our Key Bearer), Mike (her husband), and Tyler stuck around. It seemed that there were other things in the evening that I had not planned.

The evening became organic, developing its own events as we went along. We started off at Commodore Lanes, with some five pin bowling. I’ve discovered how to beat Allison in five pin: Get drunk. Both of us. Her bowling average goes way down, and mine goes way up. (Otherwise, Allison is virtually unbeatable in five pin.) The five of us had a grand old time being really lousy at many things. Especially table hockey. I’ve always been a lousy player. And foosball. I got creamed at that.

After our bowling excursion, we ended up at Death By Chocolate on Burrard. One of us mentioned that it was Allison’s birthday. When her dessert showed up, it had a candle on it. Our server just stood there, waiting. Finally, she said: “C’mon folks, work with me here.” We sang Happy Birthday, and indulged in really bad things for us to eat…

The day so ended as we headed home. Overall, it was a good day, all stress aside. Now I just have to figure out how to outdo myself next year.