They called themselves the Three Musketeers. All for one and one for all, and that's the way it would always be. They wore their Levi's pale and low, their white bucks meticulously aged to a velvety gray, their hair Princeton cut. They avoided girls, hated chores, begged for money, and dreamed of freedom.
Freedom was not a mystery. Freedom equaled transportation and transportation equaled freedom. It was as simple as that.
Bicycles had given them their first taste. From their bikes they saw their world in a whole new way, not the distorted, oblique view they got from the back seat of the family sedan, or through the grimy windows of the uptown bus, but on their own terms, at their own speed, from their own point of view. From their bikes the world looked different, closer, more real, full of color and energy. From their bikes the world belonged to them in a way that made them whoop and holler. They had been on their bikes, jouncing along a path through the woods at Palmer Park, when one of them, waving a stick in the air like a sword, first called out the words, “The Three Musketeers!”
Earl, Dean and Mike had met at church when they were ten, became best friends, hung out together at Sunday morning services and the Sunday night youth group. On fair summer days they'd hook up and cruise the town, Dean and Earl on Schwinns, Mike on his Monkey Wards copy, hitting their usual stops like Emil's Texaco Station, the woods and pond at the park, the cluster of shops downtown; but often, they rode without any destination in mind, just for the joy of it, racing up side streets and down alleys, banking around corners at speed, cutting up driveways and across sidewalks and lawns.
Long before they were old enough to drive, cars were their obsession, and when they'd spot something special, a hot car, an odd car, a fabulous car, they'd call it out, I.D. it, cruise it, circle it, touch it, peer inside, know it, make it their own, a marriage of metal and mind and heart. Stoodies. T-Birds. Boxy Nashes with seats that made into a bed. Caddie Coupe de Villes for the rich. Henry Js for the poor. Crestlines. Victoria hardtop convertibles. Hudson Hornets. Imperials with three hundred horses under the hood. Hot rods. Chopped and channeled lowriders with dual cans. Bullet-nosed Mercs with bubble skirts. Whitewalls and chrome.
On an otherwise normal September Saturday, Earl said he had something he wanted his friends to see, so they biked over to the neat brick bungalow where he lived. Earl led the way to the side door of the garage, unlocked it, and the boys stepped into the cool dimness. There, glowing softly under a hundred-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling, was a car, Earl's car, a maroon and white two-year-old Plymouth Belvedere four-door. Mike and Dean were speechless. Earl was still three months shy of being able to drive legally, so the three climbed in, Earl behind the wheel, Dean riding shotgun, Mike in back, and just sat there for the next two hours, talking little, each in his own waking dream, while on the car radio Tony Bennett crooned Rags to Riches and Teresa Brewer cooed Baby Baby Baby.
Years later, Mike understood that this day had been the beginning of the end for the Three Musketeers, the end of childhood. Earl, always a few steps ahead of his two friends, was soon dating girls, and that was pretty much it. Mike also came to understand that transportation really wasn't the same thing as freedom, that the idea that the two were one was an illusion, and that mobility merely led to confinement of a different kind. After all, look what it had come to—the purchase of a vehicle finally big enough to carry him and Barb and their three kids in comfort. And didn't the little ones grow up so quickly? They'd just taken the training wheels off their oldest boy's first bike. He'd be pedaling all over the neighborhood before they knew it.
George Dila’s story collection Nothing More to Tell was published by Mayapple Press in 2011. His stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals. He lives in Michigan. www.georgedila.com