I called Stubhub the morning of the Monster Jam Rally in Anaheim, CA and the sales representative had more questions for me than I did for her.
“What is this thing?” she asked, pleasantly for first thing on a Saturday. “I’m in Jamaica and people have been calling all morning. Is it one of those concerts where they eat a snake?”
For the first time since purchasing one (one) ticket to a monster truck rally, I realize I don’t have an answer to that question. In fact, I can’t even say with certainty that there won’t be a concert or a snake. Instead, I elect for the safe option: pretend I’m just as confused.
“Oh, who knows. I just got this ticket for my nephew and I, um, I just wanted to make sure his ticket is there.”
“Like, do people get hurt? In the trucks?”
I am breaking into a sweat. “I honestly don’t know. It’s for my nephew, Connor.” I try to summon a fictional nephew in my head, who maybe fries ants with a magnifying glass and smells like garbage.
“Okay, ma’am. Now, is the ticket under the same name as the credit card holder?”
“It looks like the name for the ticket is the same name as your name.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” Bye, Connor.
There’s two men screaming about the second coming of Christ to the thousands of people waiting to get into Monster Jam, just in case you want to get quickie saved before filing into the stadium. The crowds, mostly families, are polite, if teeming with excitement.
Monster Jam’s choice to jam monstrously in Anaheim could be a deliberate one — Orange County is one of the only areas in Southern California that still leans Republican, even if the party’s stronghold on the area has waned with time. The vast majority of people at the event are white. There is a smattering of “Make America Great Again” t-shirts and an equal number of oversized t-shirts plastered in screen-printed eagles, wolves, and monster trucks. They get pretty loose with their racial slurs and willingness to pay absurd sums of money for okay beer in uncontrolled environments.
I’m genuinely excited to be here, and just minutes after entering, I get myself some appropriate camouflage: a t-shirt and the cheapest booze available. I still feel very out of place, but I’m almost certain that I’m going to have a good time, maybe meet nice people and almost enjoy myself enough to justify the cost of a $30 extra-large children’s shirt. After covering the fan culture of the WWE for upwards of a year between 2015 and 2016, I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by the level of intelligence, acceptance, and enthusiasm that the audience displays for each other and the event they’re attending.
The monster truck people have drained me of this naive optimism completely. Do not go to a monster truck rally.
“Smile more, smile more!” a son and his father chant at the only female truck driver competing in tonight’s jam. The kid’s mother sits next to them with her phone, assuring them it’s being live-streamed to Facebook. Honestly, it’s just nice to see two angry, horny men screaming at anything that isn’t a woman trying to cross the street.
I’ve just taken my seat after mistakenly sitting two rows closer. Fortunately, there was a family of 14 there to inform me that I was sitting in their seats and was, to quote directly, “a dumb bitch.” That’s a fair point because I was the only person in the row who wasn’t wearing a mesh PBR trucker hat, which was a very dumb and bitchy choice of wardrobe on my part.
My actual seat is beside another family, who appear to be wearing matching hats from a previous Monster Jam. Before we rise and remove our mesh for the national anthem, the announcer encourages cops, veterans, and first responders to stand and be applauded. There were a lot of them.
A quavering rendition of the national anthem is sung by what I am assuming is a genetically engineered “Ideal Monster Truck Fan”: a man in his 50s with a so-so baritone voice and a scraggly beard who holds the “land of the freeeeeeeeeee” verse for a length of time that could have been anywhere between 37 seconds and four hours. I’m the only one who isn’t into it, though; echoing through the stadium are wild roars of “USA! USA!,” “America first!,” and from one audience member who screamed as if he were dying, “This is my fucking country, goddammit!” In what could be seen as suggestive of slight nativist sympathies, he points at the ground after finishing the song, saying, “This is our country.” More cheers. It’s about here that I recognize the feeling in my stomach and register the fact that I want to fucking leave. Another pang in the back of my head reminds me that I should have waited on the shirt.
The event itself has to be more complicated than it seems, or else it truly is possible to know everything about monster truck rallies by looking at one photograph. Wheelies are popped, trucks are flipped, every single driver is white and all but one is a man. Again, with the exception of the female driver, they are all fat and loud. Part of me feels like the past several months have depleted my ability to see people objectively, but most of me feels that they might actually just be nightmare people, stalking the earth like so many obnoxious Slendermans.
Grave Digger, from what I can tell, is the John Cena of monster trucks, and performs well in every event (are monster truck rallies rigged? I do not care). Each remaining member of the roster is also named with a flame font in mind: Black Stallion, Iron Giant, Jester, Wrecking Ball, and Son Uva Digger, which is relatively horrifying when being chanted by a group of white adults. The trucks (trux?) have a wheelie competition, compete against each other in speed trials, and finally freestyle, which appears to be a combination of wheelies and speed trials. The engines rev at full blast in the 30 seconds leading up to any truck movement, I think to symbolize that they cum a lot and are rich.
The family I’m seated next to, who to reiterate are wearing mesh hats from a past Monster Jam, and the son of the group mistakenly places his hand where my chair folds as I’m sitting down. It clips him, I apologize, and he hits me before bursting into tears. His mother holds him, and his father tells him to stop being retarded and grow up. When their daughter returns, her mother quietly warns her of the mean woman they’re sitting next to. I want to throw them all to the trux. I want to go home.
Before I tell myself I’m beating the traffic while actually actively fleeing from the most uncomfortable experience I’ve had since Inauguration Day, I take in the show’s intermission, which features a solid ten minutes of the most aggressive marketing I’ve ever seen. Monster truck helmets, Hot Wheels with Monster Jam teeth, Monster energy drinks (natch), and a very uncomfortable and valiant “Trux Girl” giving out free contact lens prescriptions to audience members. Every big event lays it on thick, but the Jam featured at least one advertisement for every truck movement. I regret the beer and the shirt, and I leave with the knowledge that every Trump cabinet pick will likely be approved and I’ll never be able to get an IUD again, sticking me with a dumb white child who wants to go to Monster Jam and destroy the world.
Maybe it’s the moment in time that this particular Monster Jam came around that even when failing to enjoy the flaming trux genuinely, I couldn’t assume a bullshit ironic appreciation for it, either. It isn’t funny the way it was this time last year, gathering with more people that believe that many of the people they share a country with don’t deserve the same rights that they do. Displays of blind nationalism and hostility aren’t abstract concepts the way they once could be, and the throng of pregnant women screaming “This is our country!” at a fallen monster truck feels too sinister to laugh about. An hour’s drive from my home is a stadium full of people who feel this way, and they’re not joking, and I understand why The Big Bang Theory is still on television now.
I’m honestly surprised at the amount of contempt I felt for every person in Angel Stadium that Saturday night. A lot of events commonly associated with blue collar Republicans — professional wrestling, even NASCAR — can be a hell of a good time, even if you likely don’t vote the same way as the person sitting next to you. Even with interjections from Son Uva Digger (I feel the need to repeat for weird and awful that name is) and Iron Outlaw, the air in Angels Stadium felt like hostile territory.
And that’s it. If you have not been to a monster truck rally, there is no rom-com twist, no moment of redemption or humanity. You will not be swept off your feet, and if you are, it is because someone’s beefy dad didn’t know when to stop with the $20 Bud Light tall boys and is about to knock your teeth out. It is, without any trace of irony, a hellscape of testosterone-fueled adults teaching their shitty children how to scream at a vehicle that is nothing short of a massive, combustible super-penis. It sucks.
Monster truck drivers, attendees, and the entire Budweiser company should be shot into space without suits. Genuinely wanting to attend this event should be punishable by five years in a federal prison with mandatory anger management. Everyone who has ever looked at a monster truck rally and said, “Hey, this looks like something that will not drain me of any remaining optimism I had for the people I coexist with on a daily basis,” including myself, should burn in hell. It is a sport created by, defined by, and executed in spite of erectile dysfunction, and there ain’t nothin’ more down-home American than that.
Photos via Jamie Loftus