We put down our $10.25 plastic cups of Budweiser to stand for the national anthem. As the arena goes dark, the screens fill with the American flag and stock footage of a bald eagle. Speaking strictly musically, it is a very odd song. By the time we get to “land of the free” cheering has already broken out – partly from pure relief, it feels like, of the singer’s successful scaling of the octaves.
When Katie first announced at work that she was going to a Monster Truck rally at the weekend, I laughed at her. By late evening, I was sending begging texts asking to come along. I can go to all the nice parties and restaurants here that I want, but there are nice parties and restaurants everywhere. Watching comically oversized trucks compete to spin around in circles and leap over dummy cars: this seemed like a reasonably American opportunity. (“…the 2014 Monster Jam tour schedule will unfortunately not include an event in the UK”, their website informs fans. They are, however, “working diligently to have Monster Jam return in 2015”.)
If you’re imagining something rugged and cowboy, you’re in for a disappointment. The keynote of Monster Jam is family-friendly, and most people are here with young children. Think sports entertainment, in much the same vein as wrestling. The atmosphere, diesel fumes and sticky floors aside, is really pretty sweet. Suitably cute children are picked from the crowd and rewarded with free tickets to next year’s event. (It’s OK, the promoters will make it back on the hot dogs.)
Those things which are culturally dominant are often invisible. So it is with monster trucks. The thrill of watching a failed jump – seeing the truck yield backwards to gravity and land upside-down with a thump, smashing its windows in the process – this is probably universal. We’re all secretly wondering if a bloodied driver is about to be pulled out from underneath… whether the lights will dim unexpectedly for an unexpected tragedy. Of course, it didn’t. Of course, everything was fine. But as we warm to the fake-danger on stage, half the audience has already slipped in their ear buds. We’ve become accustomed to a culture which sees nothing strange in this – like selling anoraks in the queue for a water ride. Spectacle shouldn’t just be risk-free – it ought to be discomfort-free, too. A reasonable aspiration, perhaps, but it pushes ever wider the gap between our controlled experiences and the messy complications of ‘real life’.
We walk back to the train station to get some exercise. It’s about 5 kilometres – waiting for the bus (or, of course, jumping in the car) would be as normal in Britain as in America. Less common are the half-hearted attempts at sidewalks, which – to be fair – are often buried in snow. Running across the intersections feels greatly more dangerous than anything back at Monster Jam, but it’s also quite exhilarating.
Near the station, we pass the Rosemont Public Safety building. Their insignia is a hammer crossed with a machine gun. There’s no sign of any ear buds, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
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