Life Comes At You Fast and Furious
Or, How I Recovered My 50th Birthday
On the last day of December 2002, in Washington DC, four friends and I discovered the cure for FOMO on New Year’s Eve. As a group of emerging (i.e., broke) theater artists, we gave up on the expensive dinners, overcrowded nightclubs, and house parties with inadequate food offerings and instead planned a get-together at the apartment that two of us shared as roommates. The celebration revolved around several bottles of champagne, a giant party tray of sushi, and as many seasons of Sex and the City we could find on DVD. The magic ingredient was the small circle of the company we kept. And though we all went our separate ways in the years after, the bonds that we formed back then remain constant to this day.
Since that year, if I didn’t receive a more enticing invitation for NYE (which was often the case), I’d continue the tradition on my own with a bottle of prosecco, enough sushi to confuse my delivery driver, and good old-fashioned binge-athon. I discovered a while ago that movie franchises that continue over several years are better for celebrating the passage of time than a season or two of the same television series.
I’ve been getting New Year’s Eve FOMO every day since it was clear that COVID-19 was sticking around through 2021. It’s like someone keeps shaking the cosmic Magic 8 Ball for predictions, and the outlook is always not so good. So, I’ve been trying to cope with the pandemic using my same time-tested tradition: drinking a lot, overeating, and binge-watching hours of movies and television. When I teared up during Friends: The Reunion, I realized I might not be quite ready to re-enter society. Fuck.
People are begging their employers to let them continue working from home, but if I have to endure another year of Zoom theater, I am ready to burn this whole house down to the ground. For one thing, I don’t even own this joint. But, at the same time, I am in deep denial about returning to work as a costume designer and an educator. My livelihood depends upon opening public spaces, which right now, doesn’t feel safe. Wait. Am I going to have to wear hard pants and a bra again? I don’t think I can face it. Believe me, if you think my morale has been low, you don’t want to see the titties.
What I needed was a good old New Year’s Eve-style binge-athon. Something that would remind me that time was still moving forward and possibly not directly off the side of a cliff. For this, I would have to break out the big guns. I was going to need The Fast and the Furious.
OK, hear me out.
First of all, the Vin Diesel “family” memes trending in July on Twitter after F9 was released were hilarious. Then, I realized I had not watched any movies from The Fast and the Furious in about a decade and that the entire franchise now expands across twenty years. Honestly, even before I watched the first eight movies again, I thought the criticism had been far too harsh. These characters and their backstories are high-key relatable when you really stop to think about it. *Caution — spoilers ahead!*
DOM TORETTO, of course, is the heart of the story. That’s why the two movies they made without him are both subpar. Our anti-hero’s core dilemma is that a street car racer has few transferable skills in the open job market. Sure, he could be a car mechanic, but what a waste of talent. So instead, he resorts to a life of crime. I don’t know a single struggling artist who has never contemplated doing the same.
Toretto is a guy with a tough exterior and soft underbelly. For a thief, he has a solid moral code, and he prioritizes home, family, and financial stability. When he gets in trouble, he escapes to a tropical paradise. In the face of such evidence, I have no other choice than to reach this conclusion: Dom Toretto is a Cancer, like me, but with a Leo rising. Try to change my mind.
LETTY is Dom’s ride or die. However, in the 4th movie, Fast and Furious, he abandons her “for her own good.” In Fast and Furious 6, she doesn’t even recognize him anymore. Ultimately, by the end of Furious 7, she realizes she still loves him. I mean, this is the same basic storyline as all my failed relationships. Michelle Rodriguez is messy in real life, so I’m OK with seeing her take a punch. Still, it’s not nearly as satisfying as watching her give Gina Carano and Rhonda Rousey the beatdown they deserve. I mean, what in the fucked up feminism? It’s like the casting agents purposely sought out women with the worst opinions in Hollywood, stood back, and said, “Let them fight.”
If I can get all Freudian for a minute, BRIAN O’CONNER embodies the struggle between the Id, Ego, and the SuperEgo. Brian was channeling his baser instincts (Id)through the discipline of law enforcement (SuperEgo) until he met Dom and his crew. Then, after witnessing the fallout from his questionable choices, Brian tries to repair his mistakes (Ego) with the moral equivalent of duct tape and a smile. It’s like the horse, and rider analogy, except the horse is a car that he runs roughshod over everything around him. The only reason he keeps getting a pass is because he’s handsome, charming and riddled with guilt — or, in other words, exactly my type.
MIA TORETTO is the sister/wife/mother of the crew. She’s strong but soft, understanding yet firm, sexy but wholesome, content to hang in the background but ready to go when danger calls. Mia is constantly in danger of losing her brother and her man, but she knows they have a better chance at survival if they work together, so she has to let both of them go. I’m inviting Mia to the cookout because no one understands the pressure to be all things more than any Black woman living on the planet. Plus, you can tell the stress got to her between the first movie and Fast and Furious 4 when she decided to get bangs.
ROMAN PEARCE is the kind of friend who is only fun to hang out with in small doses because he is all Id all the time — but can we just talk about Tyrese for a moment because I have questions. First, who cast this man in not one, but two major franchises, essentially playing the same egotistical clown? Second, how is it possible to be this good-looking and yet totally unfuckable at the same time? Ugh. Whenever he opens his mouth, all I can think about is that Chris Rock bit about how a woman prays that a man won’t say something so dumb during sex she has to put back on her panties and go home.
TEJ PARKER evolved from a gold-chain, afro-wearing bookie from the hood to an IT professional who moved to the suburbs at an alarming rate. But I get how it can happen. When they added Ludacris to the cast of Fast Five, I still had at least one freakum dress on high alert. By Furious Seven, my knees were bad, and all my favorite shoes had velcro closures. If Roman is primarily Id, then Tej is mostly SuperEgo. He’s probably the only crew member to invest his cut of the money after their last successful heist. And though his look may have turned a li’l nerdy, his attitude reminds folks, “you can always catch these hands.” Yes, honey, I’m here for it. Do me and my taxes.
HAN LUE is my low-key favorite because he is cool enough to pull off that 70s feathered haircut, and he’s always eating snacks. Han is an integral member of the crew, but I always get the sense that he’s quietly judging them. Maybe he’s subconsciously aware that he dies in the prequel, Tokyo Drift, and is pissed they’re all acting like it’s no big deal. His own girlfriend keeps suggesting they should go to Tokyo like a siren leading a sailor to his doom. It must be super frustrating to see yourself hurtling towards catastrophe, and you can’t do anything to stop it. GEE, I WONDER HOW THAT MIGHT FEEL?!!
LUKE HOBBS is a problem. He technically isn’t part of Dom’s team; he is more like their auxiliary leader. That’s what happens when you invite Dwayne “The Rock Johnson to be in your movie. In The Fate of the Furious 8, you’ll notice he doesn’t interact much with any of the characters other than Dom and his nemesis, Shaw. Dom and Hobbs are Alpha dogs fighting for dominance, except Hobbs is more of a lone wolf. If you are dating a Hobbs, you will always be third in line behind his daughter and his job, and you can’t even get mad about it without sounding like a petty bitch — which is exactly what I am. I hope the Hobbs from my life steps on a LEGO® in the middle of the night every time he gets up to go to the bathroom.
Whether you find these movies relatable or not, what they do best is provide a high-octane distraction from the real world with loads of cheesy dialogue, totally bonkers stunt sequences, and a veritable rainbow coalition of women’s asses. I’m just saying. If you’re going to put that much man-candy in a series of action movies, you could also help a sister out. Of course, these movies didn’t solve any of my issues, but I did watch a lot of scenes with my arms folded over my head like the Regina Hall meme, and that was a lot of fun.
In all seriousness, I would personally like to thank Vin Diesel and the entire cast and crew for helping me get through the most brutal week in July. At the same time last year, I was blind-sided by the loss of my younger sister, who died five days before my 50th birthday. My sister struggled with depression and anxiety for decades without health insurance or medication. She never left home or held a full-time job, and my mother took care of her alone for nearly 45 years of her life. The co-dependency of their relationship was truly heartbreaking for all of us. My whole family tried in different ways to get both of them the support they needed, but as they say, you can only help someone as much as they are willing to help themselves.
My sister’s test for COVID-19 came back negative; officially, the coroner’s report says she died from cardiac arrest. The hospital was the last place my sister wanted to be in the middle of a pandemic. Did she hesitate too long before seeking medical treatment? Was the hospital ward that wasn’t treating Covid patients understaffed or distracted? Or was it the garden variety of medical racism that ignores a Black woman’s pain when we could all see her condition deteriorating? All I know is she went into the hospital dehydrated from vomiting, and two days later, she was gone. She might not have died from COVID-19, but the pandemic can take its fair share of the blame. And would you believe I’ve got a Goopy older sister who won’t get vaccinated? I feel like I’m losing my god-damned mind.
Considering that Paul Walker died in a car accident before they could finish filming Furious Seven, you wouldn’t think I’d chose this particular movie franchise to help me get through the anniversary of my sister’s death. However, the complete disregard for any real-life consequences from stunts with an implausible survival rate allows me to laugh at the fragility of our existence. At one point, Letty asks Dom how he knew that a car would be able to break their fall after catching her mid-air from an overpass of a decimated highway. And I was like, gurl, WHAT?! Just stick to the bit. Ain’t nobody got time for your logic out here in these streets.
In real life, when Walker’s car crashed into a tree at 100 mph, he wasn’t able to shake it off and walk away. The cavalry didn’t show up in the nick of time to pull him away from the exploding wreckage. If there’s any big takeaway from this tragic loss, it’s that death-defying acts shouldn’t have to be reckless to be life-affirming. Some days, it takes real courage just to get out of bed and face your personal hell loop of Groundhog’s Day inertia.
I suppose the F9 chapter of my life story is happening right now. That could explain why I haven’t seen the movie. I can’t decide if it’s too risky to go to the movie theater, if it’s worth $20 to rent it from home, or if I should wait a few months until I can stream it for free. I’ve become so indecisive about dumb shit after making twenty years of major life decisions by asking advice from Evil Kermit.
Should I go into debt pursuing an unstable career that is highly prone to failure? Sure! You’ve got no other plans today! Should I continue chasing after this man who shows such little regard for my happiness and well-being? Maybe you can fix him! Should I quit my teaching job in the middle of nowhere and go back to freelancing in the city? What’s stopping you? You’re 40, still single, and you never had those kids you wanted! Pedal to the metal and hit the NOS!
Still and all, I am a working costume designer even if I haven’t won any Tonys — yet. I eventually found a better teaching position in Philadelphia. This year I finally paid off my student loans. I put some of the money I had set aside for my birthday party towards the downpayment on a condo for my mother, so she wasn’t forced to live in a house haunted by her child's death and an upside-down reverse mortgage. I may never have had a meet-cute that blossomed into a lasting romance, but I got so good at being single, it would take somebody really extraordinary to come along and change my status.
At the ripe old age of 51, I can tell you that twenty years can be a hell of a long time in the movie franchise of your life. Sometimes you get off to a strong start and lose the plot along the way when a small dog and a kid with shamble bangs try to hijack your story. The people who you thought were in supporting roles might leave you to do their own spinoff. But you can find a way to recover and thrive with miles of roads in front of you. Over time, you will see how the detours that led you astray actually fit into a bigger picture.
My life may not have turned out exactly the way I would have scripted it, but it’s certainly worth another sequel. After all, I’m not dead yet, and I still look pretty good. I mean, not like “J-Lo good” because I’ve been lazy af, and I have the genetic makeup of a happy buddha statue, but “melanin poppin’ good,” to say the least. Not long ago, I reunited in DC with the friends I made twenty years ago to celebrate my lost 50th birthday with a lot of wine, only a little bit of TV, and our usual amount of overeating, including a cake.
I don’t have a waistline; I’ve got family.
— LeVonne Lindsay began “Leona’s Love Quest” as a social experiment in dating over the age of 40. She designs costumes and teaches in Philadelphia, where she lives with her older, non-Goopy sister. Occasionally she decides to write.