I was 13 the first time I laid eyes on him. Those blond curls, those blue eyes, that face, that smile. He was so damn beautiful it didn’t seem fair. He radiated cool with every fiber of his being; it was intoxicating without being the slightest bit intimidating. You definitely wanted to be friends with this guy, and the crazy thing was you felt like you could be friends with this guy. This guy was Paul Walker playing the role of Brian O’Conner.
The encounter came by way of cable television. I want to say it was a Thursday night, and TNT had the world television premiere of 2 Fast 2 Furious. This was 2003, the absolute heyday of cable channels like TNT, USA, FX, and more, showing any action movie they could get their hands on every night of the week and almost always finding a way to bill it as a “premiere” of some kind.
I didn’t know a single thing about this film going in other than I had seen Ludacris was in it. I knew I liked Ludacris thanks to his hit song, “Move Bitch,” which was a fun song for a barely teenage kid from rural Ohio to sing along with and act like I had any understanding of the lyrics when I most certainly did not. Ludacris was cool, so that meant a movie with him in it would be cool, because that’s how my barely teenage brain worked.
Fortunately, I was not wrong.
Watching 2 Fast 2 Furious, I fell in love with Brian O’Conner. I wanted to be him. Even more, I wanted to live in the world he inhabited. It seemed like there could be no better day than one spent sitting out back of Tej’s garage, betting on jet-ski races, and no better night than racing incredibly cool cars at incredibly fast speeds.
It took a few hours after I finished the movie, but laying around my house that night, my barely teenage brain realized one final and important thing. The movie I had just watched was called 2 Fast 2 Furious, which is a silly name for a movie. That is, unless it was the second movie in a series, in which case, it’s a fantastic name. And if it’s the second movie in a series, that meant there was a first movie in the series. And if it came first, it had to already exist in the world, and I, being 13, could even go purchase it myself at the local Wal-Mart.
That weekend, I purchased The Fast and the Furious on DVD (and was even able to scratch together enough allowance money to buy 2 Fast 2 Furious along with it).
On the ride home, I was ecstatic; I couldn’t wait to see more of Brian O’Conner. When I arrived, I ran straight to my basement and popped the DVD into my PlayStation 2 and was off. Around the twenty-two minute mark of the movie, my whole life started to change. It did so because I became witness to what had to be the greatest moment in movie history.
My guy, Brian O’Conner, had just lost a street race to a man named Dominic Toretto—Dom for short. It was an awfully close race, but Dom, being the more experienced driver, was able to pull ahead at the last minute for the victory. While the other three racers had put $2,000 on the line, Brian had risked his car if he was to lose the race, meaning it now belonged to Toretto. The car was smoking, so Dom and his friend Jesse opened the hood to inspect the damage done to their newly acquired vehicle. Throughout this moment Brian is smiling, which catches Dom’s eye. That’s when the following exchange takes place:
Dom: “What are you smiling about?”
Brian: “[Smile getting bigger with every word] Dude, I almost had you!”
Dom: “You almost had me?”
Dom: “You never had me—you never had your car!”
(Crowd cheers loudly.)
Dom: “Granny shiftin’ not double clutchin’ like you should. You’re lucky that hundred shot of NOS didn’t blow the welds on the intake! Now, me and the mad scientist gotta rip apart the block and replace the piston rings you fried.”
(Crowd jeers Brian.)
Dom: (Motions to someone in the audience.) “Almost had me?”
Dom: (Turning to face Brian again.) “Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don’t matter if you win by an inch or by a mile. Winning’s winning.”
At this moment, the crowd of people surrounding both men erupts in applause. Dom spreads his arms wide to their full wingspan, motioning at the crowd as if to say, “See? These folks know.”
While it is true that memories from that age can be deceiving, I am fairly certain that the moment Dom began to raise his arms, I too was raising mine because I had started to clap and cheer right along with that crowd, and I didn’t stop for a good eight seconds.
At this moment, I was officially all in on the world of Fast and Furious. I was all in on Dominic Toretto. And I was all in on Brian O’Conner. I was in love, and that love would only grow over the years.
Cut to a decade later in May of 2013. I’d just graduated college, and to celebrate, I took a trip to Vegas with a group of friends. We were there for three nights—which is, of course, two nights too long for anyone to visit Vegas, let alone recent college grads who had yet to start earning an actual income.
Our first night there was one of the funnest nights of my life. We gambled for all of an hour before all but one person of the group had already hit their cutoff point for money lost. That lone person was my friend Brian, who we were all astonished to find out both knew how to play craps and was maybe even really good at it. Everyone watching Brian play craps was fun enough, but eventually we needed to call an audible. That’s when we picked up a few cases of beer and walked to the famous Bellagio Fountains. There we sat for hours on end, singing every song we knew, while reminiscing about the collegiate years that were officially behind us. It was a nearly perfect night. Nearly.
I say this because while this was and remains an amazing memory, something was keeping me from being fully present: Fast and Furious 6 was released to theaters that day, and unlike the previous two installments, I was not in a theater on opening night. Here I was, a 23-year-old kid roaming the streets of Vegas with some of my best friends, celebrating our recent college graduation and ascension into adulthood, and all I could think about was how in the hell Letty was alive. I had to see this movie, and I had to see it in Vegas that weekend; there was no time to waste.
There was one friend in my group who I knew had to be feeling the same way. His name was Zach, and I spent the entire morning and afternoon of day number two reminding him that the movie was out and we could go see it. I did this enough that by the time we were at our third buffet of the day, he decided that he too did not want to wait. It was time to ride or die.
We looked up a movie theater and found but one place that could grant us the experience we needed; it was a movie theater in the Palms off the strip. This was a bit problematic because, as previously mentioned, we had lost all the money we came with the night before. We could barely pay for the movie tickets without asking another friend to help out, so we surely were not getting a cab that night. Undeterred, we looked up the walking time and decided an hour-long walk each way was perfectly reasonable.
There was a moment on that walk I will likely remember longer than I’ll remember singing at the Bellagio Fountains the night before. It was around 9 pm so it was already quite dark outside. We had been on a sidewalk, but as the street we were on crossed over the main highway that ran through the city, the sidewalks went away, and instead we were just walking on the edge of the road, looking down at the cars speeding by below. I looked at Zach and could tell he was having terribly similar thoughts to what I was thinking at the moment, which was:
This was my second night ever in Vegas...
I was on a trip with a group of my best friends, whom I’d spent the last four years with and didn’t know when we’d all be together again as we moved to new cities to start new chapters in life...
This trip that had been months in the making, and never in that planning included going to the movies because that is a thing you can do nearly anywhere...
And here I was, walking on the edge of a street, at night, crossing over a main highway, thirty minutes into an hour-long walk because I couldn’t wait a few days to see the new Fast and Furious movie.
We both reached the same conclusion that, to anyone passing by, we had to look some mix of dumb, crazy, and pathetic. We then both immediately reached another conclusion: We were going to see a brand-new Fast and Furious movie and there are few things better in this world than getting to see a brand-new Fast and Furious movie! So, in fact, at that moment, our lives were pretty much perfect.
Jump forward one more time with me to April 2nd, 2015. It’s a Thursday, 10 pm, and I’m sitting in the exact middle seat of a packed movie theater. I was able to obtain such a preferred seat because, months prior, I had purchased this ticket within mere minutes of their being on sale.
While the theater may have been full, I had come by myself and that was a very purposeful decision. I knew it was going to be an emotional evening, and I preferred to go through it alone. This was because the movie I was seeing was Furious 7, which meant I would be seeing Paul Walker on a movie theater screen for the last time.
Paul had been in a fatal car crash on November 30th, 2013. I first read the news of his death on Twitter and thought it had to be some kind of horrible joke.
The company I worked for at the time was an early adopter of trying to make the office a “fun” place to be, so much so that there was a literal treehouse that could be used as a meeting room or place to work privately. It was in that treehouse that I learned my childhood idol was gone, and it was in that treehouse that I cried over the passing of someone I had never met yet was realizing had meant a great deal to me.
So back to the theater. As someone whose love for these movies was founded on a love for Brian O’Conner, I was extremely anxious and nervous to see how they were going to handle saying goodbye to the character and to the actor. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew one way or another I was going to get very, very emotional in that movie theater that night.
Turns out they had handled it perfectly. Brian makes it through the movie alive, and we arrive at a final scene of the entire family on the beach, watching Brian, Mia, and Jack play by the water.
The moment that Dom says, “It’s never goodbye,” and the song “See You Again” starts to play is the moment I could no longer hold back tears; the crying began.
The moment Brian pulls up next to Dom on an empty road and says, “Hey, thought you could leave without saying goodbye?” is the moment I went from crying to weeping.
The moment Brian’s car turns down a different road than Dom’s and drives off into the sunset and the words “For Paul” came on the screen was when my weeping turned into sobbing.
To this day, I have watched Furious 7 all the way through somewhere around twenty times, and I have cried during the final scene each and every time.
I tell you these stories in hopes of making it abundantly clear that I love the Fast and Furious franchise. They are without a doubt my favorite movies ever—each and every one of them.
These very fun and very silly action movies that started out as street-racing movies—then turned into heist movies then went straight-up save-the-world movies—have provided me way more meaning and enjoyment than I’d have ever expected a movie franchise could. Yes, they partly did so because of how silly and fun they were, but mostly they did so because regardless of how they changed, they always kept a core theme of family that extended beyond the screen.
I wanted to write this book because I know that my love for these movies is a shared feeling for millions of people around the world. For many different reasons at many different times, many different people have come to love these movies.
Maybe you were like me and saw in Brian O’Conner the coolest version of yourself there could ever be. Perhaps you were attracted to the gravity that is Dominic Toretto. Might have been the quiet bravado of Letty, the commitment of Mia, or the showmanship of Roman. Certainly for some it was Han and for others Gisele and others yet it was Han and Gisele together.
Maybe it was the original movie, but perhaps it was Tokyo Drift. It’s certainly possible it happened for some of you upon realization that Fast Five might be a perfect action movie.
Maybe it was the street races and maybe it was the fights and maybe it was the out-of-this-world crazy stunts and set pieces.
One way or another, we all found reasons to love these movies and the people who make them. Everyone was able to find someone and/or something that appealed to them, that felt similar, that allowed them into the family. Of all the movie magic that comes out of the Fast and Furious franchise, this universal appeal may be the most magical.
So consider this my attempt to give my full appreciation to movies that I will always cherish and that I know you reading this will too. Thank you for being here.
Salud, mi familia.
 Marketing can be strange.
 Eight seconds may not sound like a lot of time, but go ahead and actually clap for eight seconds and you will realize that it is a long time to clap for anything, most especially for a movie you are watching alone in your basement.
 At least that is what I thought going in, but I should have known myself better. I wound up seeing this movie in theaters four times, so I got to see Paul Walker on a movie screen three more times.
 Even now, as I re-watch just that scene to write this, I find myself crying in the middle of a crowded coffee shop.