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Monster jamming nice with nachos

ShaunBittle | Staff Photographer Staff writer Mike Danahey photographed ElgIL Wednesday January 21 2009.

Shauna Bittle | Staff Photographer Staff writer Mike Danahey photographed in Elgin, IL on Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

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Updated: March 12, 2013 6:19AM

Operas. Musicals. Rock concerts. Jazz fests. Golf tournaments. Punk clubs. Irish bars. Absurdist dramas. Russian baths. Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls, and Notre Dame games. Curling. Ski jumps. Cirque du Soleil. MythBusters. A 5-hour Elgin city council meeting. Even pro wrestling.

I’ve been to all of the above, but until last Saturday I had never attended a Monster Jam monster truck show.

I have some cheese product left in my ears to prove it. I used what I had left from my plate of the aptly named Monster Nachos to protect my hearing from the roar of the engines. Okay, I made that up. Still, the earplugs from Ace were the same color as the queso.

Yes, I practiced safe jamming. I am middle aged (and per foods like the nachos, middle rifted) and no longer want my ears to ring for days as they did after seeing the likes of Ramones, J. Geils, Aerosmith or Oprah.

Saturday, I learned that if you rub your face when you’re wearing earplugs it can sound like the scratch mixing from Herbie Hancock’s 80s classic “Rockit” or you can thump your face to simulate a heartbeat. Bonus points.

For further protection, at the Monster Jam in Rosemont, the first few rows were covered in a red plastic tarp. Much like Gallagher does to prevent the few fans he has left from getting watermelon in their eyes, this is to stop mud from getting onto patrons.

The monster truck show was very fan-friendly. Unlike wrestling, where villainy and rude behavior is stock in trade, Saturday everyone seemed so darn nice. The drivers even sign autographs before and after their shows — and they do seven shows over the course of a weekend.

Sure, there were chippy quad dirt bike races between a team of riders from Chicago and one from Miami. But the best insult the winning Chicago captain had for the Miami captain was that he ate too many corn dogs. He didn’t even go for a pork dish, cocaine or LeBron James reference!

Besides, I found it inspirational that burly guys could compete in front of a mostly-filled arena. And the drivers of the monster trucks seemed close to being my birth cohorts, too, and most had stylish facial hair, to boot.

As for the monster truckers, the eight drivers competed in three areas: wheelies, races, and freestyle. Two categories are judged like figure skating.

Between truck rounds, there were the aforementioned dirt bike races; death-defying freestyle dirt bikers doing circus-like acrobatics on their machines; and a really loud, tricked out Smart Car spewing huge flames that smelled like roasted lamb out of its tailpipe.

The very first truck driver of the afternoon, Darren Migues, nailed the best wheelie, bringing his big-wheeled, big-shocked, super-suspended Bounty Hunter to be stuck straight up on its back wheels for about 15 minutes. Another 3 hours and 45 minutes in that position and they would have had to call a doctor, but instead Caterpillar equipment cautiously righted the vehicle.

The other two categories were dominated by Charlie Pauken in the Grave Digger, which appears to have the same hold on the Monster Truck circuit that the Harlem Globetrotters have on the world of basketball.

Hardly goth or vampire-like, Pauken does a celebratory white-guy kind of a dance he calls the Chuckie, which he encouraged fans to do, too.

Upon wins or good rides, Pauken and other drivers headed into the crowd to give plaques noting their wins, flags, tickets to a show in Las Vegas, and toys to those in the audience who seemed most cheerful.

That niceness included Scott Buetow of Lake In the Hills from Team Hot Wheels passing out Hot Wheels-related items.

I kind of wish they had giant versions of the orange Hot Wheels track held together with purple plastic pieces I had as a kid for the trucks to use for part of the show — or to purchase as some sort of souvenir.

Instead, I went home with some Advance Auto Parts coupons, a free keychain and the urge to jump over cars along Interstate 90, or, at the very least, take a few automotive classes at the Universal Technical Institute in Glendale Heights.

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