If you have found yourself downtown, in a North County city, on a Friday night, around dusk the last few months, you probably stumbled upon what seemed like an impromptu car show, but it was much more than that.

At the beginning of April, Paso Robles resident Scott Keith started the Facebook page “Paso Strong Car Cruise.” Three months later, that page is up to nearly 2,000 likes and draws the attention of motorheads who are already depressed at the canceling local car shows.

While many of those in the community were aware of the cruise nights, almost none knew its origin and the message behind popular Friday night activity.

The idea started near the end of March when the county was in the early parts of quarantine when Keith received a Facebook message about a cruise night in downtown San Luis Obispo since all the stores were closed. Following a few different cruises in SLO, Keith decided to take the initiative and make a cruise page in North County, where old, cool, cars are a way of life, and it spread like wildfire.

Some in the community assumed the car cruises were created as a way to rebel against the stay-at-home orders. Some wondered if this was something that had been happening for years with little attention.

The real answer is that Keith just wanted to create something that gave people a sense of normalcy for an hour or two while also helping out local communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos courtesy of Rick Evans

“When they talk about high-risk individuals, I am who they are talking about, and because of that when they issued the stay-at-home order, my doctors pulled me from work,” said Keith, who was born with a congenital heart defect which puts him at extreme risk if he were to catch the COVID-19 virus. “My thought was that when music and concerts and sporting events and car shows, and everything that everyone has in common gets taken away, the only thing that people have left are the things that divide them.”

Through the last couple of months, the cruise nights continued to grow in both size and popularity as have the Facebook groups. There are currently three groups in the North County, Paso Strong Car Cruise, Templeton Eagles Cruz Night, and Atascadero Cruise Nights. The cruisers rotate the cities and ride each Friday unless explicitly stated otherwise, like the cruise in Paso Robles for graduates this past weekend.

“The first time we did it, I’m not even sure how many hundreds of cars we had in downtown Paso,” Keith said. “I just kind of took the initiative and formed a Facebook group, and it’s not an official thing, we aren’t trying to recreate the regular cruise night. All of that stuff is going to come back, the car shows the cruise nights and all that stuff but for the short term in this unprecedented, weird moment in history that we are in, let’s see who we can get to come out.”

While most of the cars pictured and perhaps the most remembered are the candy paint hot rods, the 1962 Shelby Cobra, or the one with hydraulic lifts, these cruises aren’t only for nice cars, they are for everyone.

What started as a fun thing for drivers and their families and a way to give local restaurants a little help has now swept through the North County, lifting the spirits of many people from Paso Robles to Santa Margarita.

Last weekend the cruise night helped celebrate Paso Robles High School graduates who had the final months of perhaps their most memorable year stripped from them. Before that, the cruisers raised money for a local nursing home.

“Brandon Stier, who is one of the co-admins, got involved through a motorsport company that he is part of where they do big long cruises that will raise money for charity,” Keith explained. “So the two of us started brainstorming, and we organized a car show of about 50 or 60 cars to drive by a local nursing home in Paso Robles that had reached out to us.”

With a couple of charitable endeavors under their hoods, the cruisers are stepping it up one more notch this weekend on June 20 when they are going to raise money for three different charities in one ride.

The cruisers will start on the north side of Paso Robles and drive to Santa Margarita, taking back roads like Vineyard Drive. They are also encouraging drivers to bring three separate envelopes with $5 in each one (or whatever a person feels comfortable giving). The route will stop by three designated spots where someone will be waiting to collect envelopes.

“We are going to stop at the Children’s Museum in Paso Robles, and as every car passes by, they hand one envelope to a designated receiver who will collect them as people pass by. The reason there are three envelopes is that we are doing that for three charities, The Children’s Museum, Camp Natoma, and The Family Care Network in Atascadero,” Keith explained. “All of those places have been shut down, and so has their fundraising. Big events and groups is how a lot of these nonprofits generate money through the summer to fund these programs.”

Next time you see a line of classic cars in one of your towns make sure to smile, wave, give a courteous toot of the horn or even join in as it’s just a big group of North County people trying to help out their neighbors in one of the best ways they know.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles