With gasoline prices nearing record highs and Friday night rush-hour traffic clogging all major arteries north, Thing 2 and I did what any other red-blooded, freedom-loving American father and son would do.
We hopped in the Minivan of Manliness and headed to our first-ever monster truck rally.
Thirty miles and 57 minutes later we reached (Insert Name for this Month) Bank Arena for the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam, "the world's premier monster truck series." This last part is important, I suppose, because you only want top of the line when it comes to overgrown pickups with wheels as big as restaurant Dumpsters crushing junker cars and spinning doughnuts that spray yards of dirt into the hooting and howling masses.
Those masses, as it turned out, were not dressed in the flannel or camouflage that several of my Tweeple had told me I would be required to don to gain entrance. (Didn’t even need to show proof of Skoal.) Instead, the crowd looked much like 9-year-old Thing 2 and myself -- families from the Gold Coast suburbs looking for a few hours of escape. (By the way, the fashion de rigueur proved to be earplugs or industrial-sized ear muffs to counter the roars of multiple 1,500-horsepower engines. Having already lost sufficient hearing from my teenage years of mowing neighborhood lawns with a Walkman on high, I went au natural.)
We settled into our $20 seats and steeped in an atmosphere of equal parts anticipation and methanol exhaust. Only a few weeks before we sat here for a Sound Tigers minor league hockey game but now, instead of ice, a pudding-thick dirt covered the arena floor. A 15-foot-high mound of it fashioned into a ramp formed the centerpiece and, given the 5-0 shellacking the Sound Tigers took that night we saw them, we could only hope the team's skates and sticks lay buried under it.
The evening started with a wheelie competition. Doesn't sound exciting, but your perspective changes when the second competitor - a truck fashioned to look like a crook horned bull called "El Toro Loco" (but pronounced in an Oprah-giving-away-cars voice as "El TOR-rooo LoooC-COOOOOO") - gets stuck sitting on its hind wheels atop two half-buried banana yellow Cadillacs.
Thing 2 burst into a belly laugh so big and full that I thought his recently consumed nacho cheese sauce would spurt from his nostrils. The sound reminded me of Snoopy's gut busting guffaws in the old "Peanuts" television specials. Kids don't make that sound while playing Wii or DS. Thank God! That would really disturb my beer enjoyment.
I came pretty close to echoing that laugh myself when the cherry picker trying to push El TOR-rooo LoooC-COOOOOO back onto its tires caused the truck to tip backward and land upside down. No one was hurt, though the truck ended up having to perform one horn down the rest of the night.
There were drag races among the trucks (my fave being a lobster-shaped one called "Crushstation"), races between teams of ATV's, and some pretty amazing motorcycle stunt jumps with back flips and trick stances. However, the main reason we came was to finally see in action our old friend Grave Digger, the red-headlighted black, purple and neon green mack daddy of monster trucks.
While this was our first rally, I had seen Grave Digger for years while driving past its home base on the Caratoke Highway in North Carolina en route to an annual trip to the Outer Banks. The past few years, our son had convinced us to stop there so he could tour "Digger's Dungeon," climb through the massive rigs and even take a $5 ride on a more humble, but still humungous vehicle.
(NOTE: I’ve never been allowed to ride the semi-monster truck. My Love always goes with the Things, I think, to prevent me from being tempted into a lifestyle she detests.)
Digger didn't disappoint. The last truck to perform in the night's freestyle competition, it snorted and jumped and spun around the arena, even seemingly defying physics and logic by leaping its 5-ton body off the massive center ramp, then landing with a rubbery bounce and dirt-spewing pirouette on its highly suspended frame to a standing ovation.
Well, at least one from this father and his son.