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St. Louis car lovers honor life of Paul Walker in memorial ROWW ride

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Following the death of race driver and actor, Paul Walker, just two weeks ago, a world of moviegoers were stunned. This weekend marked a time to remember and celebrate Walker’s life, coast to coast. An E! News exclusive filed Dec. 16, 2013, reports: “About 200 people gathered at a soundstage on the Universal lot for the ceremony in honor of the late actor” on Sat., Dec. 14. The California ceremony of remembrance was just one way in which those who’d known Paul personally could come together in his honor.

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But Paul Walker’s life was more far reaching than he could have ever imagined. The “Fast and Furious” movies made him more than just a race driver or celebrity. He was a pop culture role model, whose impact resounded across the country. It was only natural then, that many who love cars as much as Walker did would find a way to remember him in their own way.

On Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at least 1,000 residents across many neighborhoods in St. Louis, Missouri, all of whom were basically strangers before, came together to honor and remember Walker, in an event publicized only on Facebook, which was all it needed to help those with a shared respect for the passing Walker, and to recognize the work of Walker’s charity that he founded, Reach Out Worldwide, or ROWW as it’s better known. Plus the event wound up creating some tremendous new friendships and alliances that will continue to grow in years ahead.

How did all this happen? By age 30, Paul Walker had achieved national prominence as one of a talented group of celebrities and pop culture figures included in the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise. Over the past 12 years, that movie series had grossed close to $3 billion in tickets. After six of the films, the well-known Walker’s life ended tragically as he was a passenger in a Porsche driven by his friend, Roger Rodas. A tragic one-car accident on Nov. 30, 2013, claimed both lives.

Sunday’s St. Louis event was initiated by St. Louis resident Dorian Mariano Tomei on Facebook, as the St. Louis Paul Walker Memorial Cruise and ROWW Charity Car Show drew interest and excitement that had never been anticipated. Good things happen when strangers come together.

Tomei’s words speak best as to the event’s intent:

A time for mourning and re-captivating moments of Paul Walker and Roger Rodas, both on the set and off, or on and off the track. Join us for a memorial cruise (route TBD), not as any single group or crew, but as a family that has followed him from the beginning (directly or indirectly), whether you believe his (Walker’s) acting to be sub-par or his movies not of grade A material, the feeling is still there for the loss of someone who helped excite one another in the theater and out.

Tomei’s inspiration was of longstanding:

This is a local gathering for those of us who did idolize him (Walker) in middle/high-school, and or feel that he contributed to at least some level of excitement in the theaters and simply wish to pay our condolences in a way that only seems fit. Nothing more.

With that message as impetus, the Facebook event page took off like wildfire. Rush Garage, on St. Charles Rock Road in St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton, was the intended point for Saturday’s 2:00 p.m. start time.

In only two weeks’ time, a collective group of over 1,000 (mostly) men, many in the 25-35 demographic, found a way to mark Walker’s life, assembling a citywide event, or “ride” as it’s more properly called, where total strangers could come together and talk about Paul, and then ride. Attendance skyrocketing from “0 to 1,000” participants in two weeks’ time--how did that happen?

In an exclusive interview for examiner.com, St. Louis resident and car enthusiast Andrew Anderson shared some things about the process that “went viral” thanks to Facebook. Said Anderson,

The event was posted on Facebook two weeks ago, started by Dorian Tomei, a member of the Miata Club that I have talked to on Facebook before, but had not yet met. Ever since Paul Walker died, I’d been thinking about trying to start something like this myself. So, I was really excited when I learned of it and saw that things were starting to grow. At first it was to take place at a Sonic Drive-In. We’d thought that 50 cars would be the coolest thing ever to have! But after just two days the number had jumped to 150 cars, so the place was changed, for more room, to Rush Garage. Rush is a performance shop for all types of cars on St. Charles Rock Rd.

His excitement in remembering the events of the preceding two weeks was catching.

By the time the numbers of cars reached 500, and the local TV news got wind of the story, it went from 500 cars to almost 800 overnight! Car clubs from all over were going to come as far as Chicago and Kansas City! The garage was not going to hold that many cars, so they got the surrounding lots’ permission to use their property. The event was on Sunday and we ended up getting 3-4" of snow on Saturday. Instead of the number going down due to snow, it kept rising!

Andrew and nine other car enthusiasts had joined in a chat-room discussion to help get the word out, and in two weeks, Anderson shared that the excitement was “unreal” when the number of “those going” hit the 1,000 mark. In that two weeks the core group of event publicists had talked online frequently and learned a lot about one another, such that “we are on our way to making one big car club here in St. Louis.”

The weather was not kind, however. Sunday morning, race day, found St. Louis temperatures about -10°F with the wind chill. “Our core group met at Rush Garage about 9:30 a.m. and we found we had some snow to shovel and salt to put down to get ready for the event,” said Anderson.

“It was cool watching groups of cars all in a line cruising in together and parking, but the small groups we would park turned into a 600-car line that kept coming and we had run out of room!” Anderson said, “The local police were really very considerate, especially when we had to take to everyone pretty much parking up and down the street.” All the people enjoyed the car show with people visiting with each other, checking out what was under everyone’s hoods, and reviewing the car detailing with the owners. Motorcycles and trucks were included, too. Everyone was welcome.

The event started out with a prayer and a moment of silence. From there, the directions given to all racers were not as well heard by 1,000 as they would have had there been a formal public address system in place. Some of the younger drivers caused a bit of an uproar as they were new to what a ride was really all about.

“Some of the kids started burning their tires and were disrespectful to other drivers who were there for a Memorial Cruise, with some unplanned street racing,” explained Anderson. But, still, the point was to bring together car enthusiasts who cared about Paul Walker’s work, on and off the screen. The majority of the cars found the right path for a 60-mile planned run, in a multicar two-lane cruise. So, it was all good.

“So many tremendous things came out of yesterday’s inaugural event,” shared Andrew. “I’ve personally been into import cars since before I could drive. My father and both grandfathers love cars, so I’ve been to auto shows, I’ve detailed and souped up so many cars I can’t even count,” Anderson recalled.

It’s no surprise that Anderson, like virtually every other driver in yesterday’s race, had seen all the “Fast and Furious” movies. Paul Walker was the hero of every import car driver. Anderson owns a Hyundai Accent that shines—rain, snow, sleet, or sunshine. He said, “The first ‘Fast and Furious’ movie was released at the height of the import car scene. So, everyone had to go and see it. The movie was no let-down; it was all like we couldn't wait for more. Paul Walker was our new, and only, import car hero at that point.”

St. Louis is a perfect town if you love cars and driving them to show your stuff. One of the biggest cruising spots is South Lindberg Blvd., and with the debut of the first of the “Fast and Furious” movies, the local South County Police added 55 police officers and had two police helicopters overhead. Anderson laughed as he remembered that occasion.

I was a ‘lucky winner’ of a ticket from the police, for having some blue lights on the front of my car that I shouldn’t have” and it seems the police were enforcing a zero-tolerance rule for unauthorized car accoutrements. Anderson said, “The police were writing tickets until their hands were sore!”

The YouTube video accompanying this story was posted by driver Srdjan Sarcevic and captures some of the excitement of yesterday’s ride. Andrew shared, “those movies have really been a fun part of our car guys' and gals' lives! Some kids who showed up yesterday to our cruise had grown up watching these films!”

Overall, the St. Louis race day in Walker’s memory is emblematic of what today’s movies, the world of contemporary/pop culture, the exciting world of auto shows, import car racing, and driving “with a need for speed” can do, when one actor, Paul Walker, as part of an ensemble of movies, the "Fast and Furious" franchise, finds life has ended without warning.

Andrew Anderson is one of those in the country, specifically in St. Louis, whose life was touched by Paul Walker and his work in racing and acting. He said, “Some might say, “okay, Paul Walker was an actor in some movies and now he’s not here any more. Life goes on.” But for the more than 1,000 who came together at the initiative of Dorian Tomei, part of which was shared on video by Srdjan Sarcevic, it’s epic.

Just one visit to see all the extensive comments, sharing of photos, emotions, memories and experiences on the Facebook event page, clearly Walker’s life and charitable works on behalf of the ROWW charity are important, urgently so. Current posts this evening provide information on some event t-shirts available for purchase for those who might want extras; sales profits will go to ROWW.

ROWW is a "network of professionals with first responder skill-sets who augment local expertise when natural disasters strike in order to accelerate relief efforts." Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW) founder, the late Paul Walker, said it well: “When you put goodwill out there, it’s amazing what can be accomplished." To donate to this nonprofit based in Burbank, California, visit their web site here.

Founder Dorian Tomei, who is the chief of the core 10-member crew known as StatusFLOW, said the next ride will be set for a day as close to Sept. 12, 2014, Paul Walker's birthday, as possible. It's expected to be much better St. Louis weather conditions for the next ride for early fall. Justin Patterson, one of the photographers of pictures in the accompanying slide show, noted, "we have an Instagram account for anyone who wants to share photos from Sunday. Check us out at @statusf10w."

In addition to Tomei, the founding crew is: Andrew Anderson, Lucas Flannery, Brandyn Hasmer, Dirk Hicks, Cody Hubertus, Brad Lawrence, Justin Patterson, Jonathan Stalzer, and Rob Sigmund. New crew members will be named as StatusFLOW members. Another positive outcome from yesterday's ride is the unveiling of a new group page for StatusFLOW on Facebook. You can find it here.

Andrew Anderson concluded succinctly: “For the 1,000 people who showed up yesterday at 9 a.m. and didn’t get back home until 4:30 p.m., or later, in 10-30°F weather, the life of Paul Walker was remembered. “ Said Anderson, “Tell me the last time a movie could create the impetus for an event like this, inspired, created, and shared across people who had never met before but many of whom have begun friendships that will endure far beyond yesterday’s race. It’s simply amazing!”

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