For nearly a year, my 3-year-old son Jack has been obsessed with heavy machinery. We rent films from the library with footage of backhoes, excavators, and bulldozers pushing around heaping mounds of debris, which Jack sits and watches with absolute focus as long as we will allow it. Whenever we are going someplace in the car, Jack erupts every time he sees a crane, a steamroller, or anything gigantic, mobile, and yellow that can lift or, even better, crush, things.
I don’t worry about it much. Crushing stuff is cool — I get that. I figure it is just a phase he is going through and that he will leave it all behind soon enough. For boys, life is just a series of meaningless obsessions until they’re old enough to notice and then obsess over girls, which crushes all their other obsessions like a giant monster truck rolling over a bunch of Volkswagens.
I guess I should have foreseen what would happen the first time Jack saw a monster truck. Before I really knew what was happening, he began obsessing about something called a “Monster Truck Jam.” I soon discovered that commercials for an upcoming monster truck extravaganza had been playing pretty much nonstop on television for the past few weeks. Every time “SpongeBob SquarePants” paused for a commercial break, there were “Grave Digger” and “Monster Mutt” rolling and rumbling over rows of crumpled cars.
“Daddy, I like Grave Digger! Please take me that monster truck show! Please daddy please!”
Soon, I found myself on the Internet looking at seating charts and ordering tickets, great tickets actually, on the lower level. My 7-year-old daughter, Kayden, decided she wanted in on the action, so I bought us three tickets and on Saturday, we drove down to the BiLo Center in Greenville to get a look at these monstrosities in action. The kids were so excited they could hardly stand it. We made up monster truck songs on the way down, and talked about all the great things we expected to see these monsters do.
We were pretty hungry when we got there, and thanks to a slightly late start and slow traffic, we had to settle for getting some food at the arena, which, of course, was a big mistake. I shelled out 25 bucks for two fossilized hot dogs, one rubbery hamburger, one order of charred fries in a cup, and one large soda in a cup that could have served as a swimming pool for a small otter. I had to carry all of this on a flimsy gray tray about the size of a potholder, while also holding onto the kids somehow and worming my way through a thicket of monster truck enthusiasts. Imagine, if you will, trying to climb a rickety ladder while balancing three hardboiled eggs on a popsicle stick with one kid on your back and another one pulling excitedly on your pocket, and you will have the basic idea.
Of course, our seats were on the other side of the arena, and by the time we made our way around the arena and finally reached the ramp leading down to our seats, the cup of French fries, top heavy with the addition of ketchup, took a sudden suicidal leap off the tray onto the floor. Four dollars, shot, just like that.
“I guess we won’t be having fries, huh, Daddy?” Kayden said, surprisingly chipper under the circumstances.
Once we found our seats, I was somewhat startled how close to the action we actually were. Wow, the kids were going to be thrilled with these seats, I thought. The brightly colored monster trucks were arranged in a semi circle on our side of the arena, and the closest truck was no more than 40 or 50 feet away.
We had made it just in time. I had no sooner passed out the food than the announcer took the mike to begin the show. A few seconds later, the drivers appeared to wild cheers from the crowd and assumed their positions behind the wheels of the trucks. The kids were leaning forward in their seats with anticipation.
Suddenly, there was an enormous explosion that rocked the entire arena, pinning the kids back against their seats, transforming their looks of eagerness into expressions of abject terror. The explosion did not subside — it was constant, all enveloping noise, noise more monstrous than the trucks from which it issued. It was merely the sound of the gentlemen starting their engines. Merely. I looked at the kids. Both were weeping.
“Daddy, I’m scared!” Jack said. “Please take me home right now!”
“Please, Daddy, get us OUT of here,” Kayden agreed.
I quickly reviewed the numbers. Fifty bucks for the tickets. Twenty-five bucks for two dollars worth of food. Another twenty for gas. Four hours of driving. Fifteen seconds of “entertainment.”
I tried putting my hands over Jack’s ears, while urging Kayden to cover her own ears. Still, they wept, harder, since it appeared that the ordeal had just begun.
I saw it was no use, and ushered them out of the arena, away from the terrible noise. I was ready to take them out for ice cream, or to go in search of some local park to salvage something from the trip, when an idea occurred to me.
“Hey, guys, what if we go up higher, far away from the trucks where it is not as loud? If you are still scared, we’ll leave in a few minutes, but let’s just try it.”
They were in no way sold on this idea, but they could see that I was determined to give it one more shot, so they played along. So we gave up our expensive, choice seats and headed to the upper level, up, up, and up some more until there were no more seats behind us and we had an entire section more or less to ourselves. From here, the monster trucks were not so intimidating, the noise not quite so earsplitting.
The kids were still uncertain when we settled in, but they stopped crying, and in a few minutes, when I stole a glance to my left, I could see Jack nodding his head in the affirmative, as if in response to some internal question he had asked himself. Yes, I can. Yes. Yes.
“Daddy, look at the one with the ears and the tail!” Kayden shouted with something like enthusiasm. “His name is Monster Mutt! He’s my favorite!”
Two hours later, I had experienced my first Monster Truck Jam. We made it through. By the end of it, I felt like one of the few survivors in the Poseidon Adventure. We had climbed out of the wreckage below to the hull of the ship, and were now waiting for someone to cut us out with a blowtorch.
“Did you have fun, Daddy?” Kayden asked, as we waded among thousands trapped in the flow, slowly oozing like tree sap in the general direction of the exit. I thought of Woody Allen’s comment on reincarnation. “Does it mean I have to sit through the Ice Capades again,” he wondered. There are no more Ice Capades. But there will be other Monster Truck Jams.
Then I looked at my two children, now buzzing with excitement like miniature monster trucks waiting to unleash their own torrents of noise on mom as soon as they got home, stories of enormous trucks crushing things, and motorcycles jumping off ramps, and dune buggies racing around the track!
“Fun?” I said. “You bet I did. One of the best times ever.”
I looked at Jack, who was nodding again. Yes. Yes. Yes.
I didn’t need to review the numbers again. This time, it all added up.