Some kind of monster

by Brian Clarey

On Friday night in the Smokey Bones barroom, our crowd was starting to get a little rowdy.

“I want strawberry lemonade!” one said.

“Me too!” “Me too!” So a round of strawberry lemonades is procured for the bulk of our party, who range in age from 2 years old to 14, while their dads make do with pitchers of Red Oak.

It’s our annual sojourn to see the monster trucks make a mockery of the US auto industry by wasting fuel and destroying cars in the Greensboro Coliseum, a tradition begun six years ago by my friend SG and me, when our boys were much smaller and our own tolerance for these giant machines somewhat stronger.

But tonight the thing has blossomed into a full-blown event.

We’ve got four more dads here with us getting ready for the trucks, with a combined total of 11 children teetering on tall chairs in anticipation of Gravedigger et al.

“Where are all the mommies?” a woman in the bar, a grandmotherly type, asks me.

“Tonight’s just for the dads,” I tell her. SG gives me daps. “Can you believe it?” he asks me. I cannot.

Moms do stuff like this all the time — at least, moms who have the time do: Organize outings with other moms and the kids, scamper along the dinner table to make sure everybody’s eating, coordinate bathroom trips, arrange jackets on corresponding chairs, wipe noses, change diapers, quell crying jags, buckle car seats and attend every other issue of custodianship that comes up when you’re doing something with a bunch of kids.

The dads, it seems, do it a little differently. For our part, my 7-year-old filled his little sister in on the No. 1 rule of hanging out with Daddy for her first trip to see the monster trucks: Be cool. That means no crying, no complaining, no fighting, no asking for stuff and no running off, among other things. She accepted the guidelines solemnly in the car on the way to dinner.

Dads also don’t bother with some of the niceties generally associated with children in restaurants: no booster seats, even for the little ones who sit on the fathers’ laps; no children’s menus, just a wide assortment of communal appetizers; no double-dipping; and for God’s sake no dessert — maybe you can have some Dippin’ Dots at the coliseum.

We did let them keep the crayons. At the Greensboro Coliseum, our party took over the YES!

Weekly corporate suite just as the engine roars began to fill the arena.

A word here about the monster trucks: I am not a “car person.” I don’t watch NASCAR; I can’t change my own oil; and I don’t particularly care what I drive, as long as it can convey me from my house to work and back.

But there’s something about these behemoths as they lurch around the dirt track, crunching across old vans and sedans, carving rooster-tails of muddy wake on the coliseum floor that excites the little guy inside me in the same way as fireworks or really good water guns.

Still… it’s not exactly sports, now, is it? My 7-year-old was excited by the new trucks making their Greensboro debuts this year, notably Mopar Magic, which he liked pronouncing; the Monster Mutt Dalmation, with moving-tongue action; and Stone Crusher, who my boy said was in line to “kick Gravedigger’s ass.”

He also liked the Screamin’ Demon, a jacked-up Ford that suffered two wrecks that night, the first a vertical stall atop a crushed car on its first run of the night — yes, Screamin’ Demon was straight up and down and had to be winched back to the ground.

And yes, Gravedigger was there. I know we’re supposed to love Gravedigger because the truck is from North Carolina — the Outer Banks, to be more specific — and because it’s got a cool name and there’s a skull on the side. But seriously… how long is one monster truck supposed to sit at the top? Gravedigger has won every single monster truck event I’ve ever been to save for one — and that one was back in 1986, when a truck called Bigfoot was the top dog in the pile.

Bigfoot was a big deal, spawning a line of toys and T-shirts that were must-haves for kids of a certain generation. But Gravedigger — just one of the bevy of monster trucks touring today — is out of control: Gravedigger crew shirts, polos, jackets, pajamas, like 50 different types of caps, thongs, boy shorts, DVDs, hoodies, lawn chairs, commemorative bats and balls, banners, skateboard decks, checkbook covers, wall clocks, Frisbees, license plates, pencils, lunchboxes, barstools, seat cushions and dry-erase boards are all available at the Gravedigger website. At the arena, I saw a man in the audience dressed in an exact replica of the driver’s suit. The macabre vehicle was clearly a crown favorite.

So it was no big surprise that the Digger “won” the monster truck rally, even though the thing stalled out on the big ramp on its final freestyle run and had to be pulled down with big crane.

The dads griped a bit on that one, but for the kids it was a satisfactory ending.