My dad always had a big car. It made sense: there were seven of us to haul around.
So my childhood was filled with huge, exotic-sounding vehicles: a Plymouth De Luxe, a Chevy Biscayne, and a Pontiac Bonneville. There was also a blue Ford station wagon among the fleet. Not too exotic sounding, sure, but substantial nonetheless.
The cars of my youth were titanic, built to cruise with maximum capacity.
One time the Old Man showed up with a black Volkswagen Beetle. A mid-life crisis, perhaps? Doubtful. I don’t think they had been invented yet. Still, it left a lasting impression, mostly because I had never seen anything so pocket-sized in our driveway.
The small-car trend didn’t last. The Bug was replaced by a Buick LeSabre, or something equally imposing. Order in the General Motors Universe was restored.
Not one of the cars was new. It didn’t matter. What matters here is size. The cars of my youth were so big they had their own zip codes. They were massive, which comes in handy when you’re pulling a dream out of the trunk.
That happened when I was 12. To that point I had been an altar boy for a few years and, like most who were new to the job, took God for granted. Skepticism would have to wait until college. But when Dad pulled the most magnificent bicycle I would ever see out of the trunk of his car and handed it to me, I knew that not only was there a God but that She was smiling at me.
The bike, a purple Huffy Dragster III, was brilliantly outrageous. It was a three-speed, stick-shifting beauty with a banana seat, monkey handlebars, white-walled tires, and front and rear handbrakes.
I was dumbstruck.
It wasn’t Christmas and it wasn’t my birthday – the only two days of the year you could even dare to dream about receiving a gift of this magnitude. If a Martian had landed in our next door neighbor’s front yard it would not have been as surprising as the Huffy emerging from that vast trunk.
The bike I was riding at the time was made of mismatched spare parts assembled by Mr. Simonis, a kindly old man who built bikes for kids. He had a makeshift shop in his garage off the alley a few blocks away. One day he pulled a blue Frankenstein’s monster of a bike out of his garage and gave it to me. I was thrilled. In my hand-me-down-world I had my very own bike.
But this, this purple three-speed thunderbolt from the gods, was different. I had not only a NEW bike but a COOL bike. To be more specific, it was a muscle bike. And at 12, with glasses, buck teeth and no sign of puberty on the horizon to save me, I could use all the cool and muscle I could get.
That summer my bike and I were inseparable. I rode that purple wonder to playgrounds, to Little League practice, to the A&W Root Beer Stand with a glass-gallon container for root beer in my hand. But mostly I just rode around town with no particular place to go. Smiling. Just being a kid.