Skip to main Content
Anchorage

Anchorage car club revs up graduation celebrations, one rolling parade at a time

“Charge!”

You know it, the bugle call in every old Western movie when the cavalry comes riding in.

These days, in the 907, recent high school graduates know their party is being rescued when they hear a very different kind of horn.

A car horn — or rather, dozens of them.

People drive by Dimond High senior Lafi Faualo’s house to celebrate his graduation on Friday, May 22, 2020 in Anchorage. The USO Ryderz 907 car club was joined by another large group of drivers who drove by, honking and playing music, as a way to honor the graduate while still maintaining social distance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

All over the country, with the COVID-19 pandemic canceling traditional high school graduation ceremonies, teens and their families are responding with creative alternatives, such as neighborhood car parades. And Anchorage’s Pacific Islander community is taking car parades to the next level.

“I felt really loved and excited ... it was really special to me,” said Precious Fagafaga, a 2020 East High graduate. She’s an all-Cook Inlet Conference volleyball player for the Thunderbirds who earned a scholarship to play at Western Oregon, and Anchorage’s USO Ryderz 907 car club pulled out all the stops for her graduation parade Monday.

East High graduate Precious Fagafaga smiles at her grandparents' house Monday, May 18, 2020, in Anchorage, where they held a graduation party for her. (Photo courtesy Precious Fagafaga)

The club was founded on need.

Julio Fonoti Jr., a mechanic and the club’s president, started the organization because he knows the pitfalls of youth and wanted to provide teenagers an alternative to running the streets.

So he invites them to hang out at the garage where he works with club members. There, the Ryderz can share tools, help repair or customize cars and install stereo systems.

“Just to keep the kids out of trouble, that was the meaning of me creating this car club,” said Fonoti, who moved to Anchorage from American Samoa four years ago.

The Ryderz commitment to “usos” — which means brother or sister in Samoan — has expanded from there.

If someone in the club’s circle of friends needs help with funeral expenses, they take up a collection. When a family is moving and doesn’t have the means to pay for it, the Ryderz have their backs.

Jonathan “Tana” Malivao, vice president of the USO Ryderz 907 car club, gives directions before the group heads out to celebrate high school graduates on Friday, May 22, 2020 in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

So when Class of 2020 Bartlett High graduate Kalala Masalosalo, an honor student who is joining the Navy, couldn’t attend graduation celebrations because of social-distancing guidelines, the Ryderz answered the call — in a big way.

After a family member asked the car club if it could help pump up Masalosalo’s planned celebratory car parade last weekend, the group made its graduation debut.

That jump-started a tour. The Ryderz were inundated with requests from the families of other graduates for the club to join their car parades. They have participated in more than 10 parades since.

Dimond High senior Lafi Faualo claps as trucks drive by to celebrate his graduation on Friday, May 22, 2020 in Anchorage. The USO Ryderz 907 car club was joined by another large group of drivers who drove by, honking and playing music, as a way to honor the graduate while still maintaining social distance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The parade is must-see reality.

But you hear it first, the unmistakable blaring of someone riding the horn in a traffic jam.

As the cars roll closer, it’s clear that everyone in the procession is honking — and having a jam session to boot.

Beneath the blasting horns is the steady drumbeat-thump of car speakers built to withstand heavy-duty bass.

By then, neighborhood residents are peeking out of windows to find out what’s going on or running out of houses gleefully yelling, “They’re coming!”

At that point, you still can’t see the procession, but the engines have joined the rolling symphony of thunder, tens of thousands of horsepower revved furiously with the rigs harnessed in neutral.

The final precursor to the long-anticipated arrival of the Ryderz is the passengers, whooping, bellowing, shrieking, shouting and singing.

Then you see them.

Dimond High senior Lafi Faualo is covered in leis to celebrate his graduation on Friday, May 22, 2020 in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Chromed-out Chevys and Fords, festooned with balloons and streamers, sauntering down your street, nearly 100 of them, taking their sweet time as passengers wave to the families of graduates who applaud and cheer.

And with that, a pandemic was turned into jubilant pandemonium.

All it took was a phone call.

[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]

Sponsored