Caught in a Monster Jam

Subcultures are made up of people who share a passion about a specific interest that is often stereotyped. Hippies, bikers, skate boarders, NASCAR racers, bird watchers, body builders, punk rockers, break dancers, to name a few. Recently, I learned about an American subculture that has been around since 1992 but escaped my attention for a couple of reasons–geography and interest. 

We were living in Cyprus and Taiwan in the 1990s, and I was involved in learning quirky details about other cultures rather than paying attention to what was going on in my home country. Also, the subculture I recently witnessed in California was about 180 degrees outside of my normal interests. Possibly because it involves five and six-ton vehicles doing impossible tricks–jumping in the air, spinning donuts, flipping over, standing on two wheels, and racing in circles. It is a competitive spectator sport of huge trucks with notorious names and drivers. This is Monster Jam.

While visiting a four-year-old grandson who is obsessed with cars, trucks, and trains–basically anything with rotating wheels, I was notified by his father that we would be attending a Monster Jam rally with the entire family on Sunday afternoon. I watched a YouTube video that told me, “If you don’t know what Monster Jam is, you are a certified city slicker.” 

Monster Jam is a live motorsport event under the auspices of U.S. Hot Rod Association, based primarily in North America. The Monster Truck series is the longest running and most successful competition of big trucks in the last 30 years.

Monster Trucks are special off-road vehicles with heavy duty suspension, 4-wheel steering, and oversized tires. The tires are a monstrous 66 inches tall and 43 inches across. Each truck is built like “an engineered fighter jet airplane” but only used for competitive entertainment. They cost $250,000.

The drivers work on teams, performing in seasonal rallies that tour the U.S. with famously known and named vehicles–Grave Digger, Son-uva Digger, Zombie, Whiplash, El Toro Loco, Megalodon, or Jurassic Attack. Currently, there are 14 female Monster Truck drivers in a predominantly male circuit. All driving teams are salaried and receive no prize money.

Monster Jam is one of the safer driving sports. Drivers are protected from head to toe in custom-made fire-resistant suits, helmets, and gloves. They are completely strapped in with head, neck, and body support. When a truck flips upside down or catches fire, most drivers walk away unscathed.

It’s very LOUD when turbo-charged engines rev up and grind away in competitive stunts for several hours. Grandchildren six-year-old Leila and four-year-old Archie wore protective headsets with flashing lights over their ears. We stuffed orange and white foam plugs tightly into each ear canal. The arena was packed with fans of all shapes and sizes, ages, and genders, defying stereotypes. Families, couples, and singles gathered for the same purpose, waiting for their favorite Monster truck to take center stage and perform.

And so, the show began.

Exactly on starting time, overhead lights dimmed. Multiple Monster trucks vroomed into the stadium flashing headlights, painted in bold designs. The first competition was racing around in a circle. Followed by the Two-Wheel event where each truck has two attempts to show their strongest skills on two wheels, either front or back. Drivers could choose to spin in a whirlwind of donut dust as an alternative in this category. The final competition was Freestyle, where trucks showcase any, or all, of their abilities in timed competition from ramp jumps and diving, flips, or wheelies. 

Like any subculture, Monster Jam has its own vocabulary. Cyclones are high speed donuts. Doing an endo is not cool. This is where the truck does a front-end rollover and crashes. Pagos are good and applauded loudly. It means doing a wheelie and bouncing forward on the rear tires. In contrast, riding the wave is bouncing up and down while standing precariously on the front tires. The hot shoe is the top driver who scores the most points overall. Grave Digger driver, of course.

During our show, the lone female driver attempted a flip…but failed. The indoor venue was a bit small for this maneuver, but she was the only one who tried. Then had to be rescued from sitting on her head by a massive crane that re-righted her machine. She emerged smiling and waving to the cheering crowd. And won the Freestyle event.

It’s a formula that works and has gained popularity over the decades. For adult spectators, large-can beer drinking is involved. For children, sticky blue and pink cotton candy from a bag is preferred. For any age, heavily breaded chicken nuggets and french fries smothered in ketchup. American dining not at its finest. But this is Monster Jam! 

We said “yes” to it all and were caught in the uplifting atmosphere of a new experience. It was about participating in the enjoyment of a boy who knows the names of all the big trucks and has a fine collection of them at home. He owns this subculture, for now. 

Here’s to boys and girls everywhere who love to push, [even across the street on the way to breakfast] or drive, big wheels that go around and around and sometimes even upside down. 

Monster Jam. Know what it is. Don’t be a city slicker.

If invited, I would go again.



Frozen Euphoria

One of my favorite M.F.K. Fisher quotes is this: Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures. To this I would add another companion comparison from my own recent experience: children and ice cream.

In 1686, the first café in Paris, Le Procope, opened in Saint-Germain-des-Prés with a Sicilian chef at the helm. His recipe of milk, cream, butter and eggs, an early Italian gelato, made ice cream available to the general public for the first time. For centuries it had only been enjoyed by the aristocracy. Over in America, it wasn’t until 1790 that an ice cream parlor opened in New York. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were known to have an affinity for this creamy icy treat. Ice cream’s reign as an indelible taste of summer is in the hearts of people around the world. Perhaps children most of all.

When I was growing up, the seasonal ice cream truck rang its bell through the streets of our neighborhood in St. Louis once or twice a week every June, July, and August. Parents doled out pocket change. We shouted and ran to the ice cream man who opened his portable freezer filled with drumstick cones or chocolate coated vanilla ice cream on a stick or ice cream sandwiches. It was a race to eat as fast as possible in the heat and humidity while trying not to lose precious drips on the way home. There was usually some kind of messy “plop” on the sidewalk which was left for the ants.

There are, of course, other foods typically consumed in the summer besides ice cream. Fresh corn-on-the-cob or s’mores made around a campfire are two of them. Food happiness, measured individually by expression, is certain to occur when delicious things are eaten by young children for the first time.

In April, we drove across two states to care for a two-and-a-half-year old grand-daughter and her eleven-month-old brother while their tired parents flew somewhere else for adult R & R. We brushed off muscle memory around the heavy lifting required with infants and toddlers. By the third day, it was time for a change of scenery away from the house, backyard, and front porch. Some kind of field trip. 

Because of the previous fifteen months of shutdown life during Covid, I thought an outing for ice cream might be just the thing for young and unsuspecting palates. Also, it could be accomplished outdoors on a warmish spring day.

With the 2-year-old, things began with the anticipation of a drive somewhere new. There was curiosity to stand at a window, place an order, and be held up to see what was going on inside. There was eagerness when a cup of vanilla ice cream smothered in rainbow sprinkles was handed through the window. There was barely contained excitement while carrying it to a red iron bench and sitting down with a spoon and her own multi-colored delight.

While husband fed tiny tastes of ice cream to infant brother, the independent “I-dood-it-myself” girl spooned one transformative bite into her mouth. After one or two more she discovered a faster method.

It was the hand-to-mouth-vacuum-cleaner-technique. Her eyes narrowed momentarily as the heady sensation of cold and sweet sank in. Both hands tipped the cup to vertical maximum.

There was a moment of selfish possessiveness as she huffily pulled away from brother’s outreaching hand. Letting the remainder of the icy creamy semi-liquid slide into her mouth, she paused to consider what had just happened. Then, with a smug and satisfied grin, what was left was an empty container and face, hands, and clothes covered in sticky.

The success of the outing was summed up in one final moment. It was the kind of moment that captures the best part of kids and ice cream. With a timely click of the camera, a small girl was framed in a spontaneous second of joy…and ice cream bliss.

Happy Summer.


Guest Ready Sweetness

hazy smoke sunset over Long’s Peak
blood red sunset due to nearby wildfire
smoky mountain views in RMNP [drone photo by Jeremiah Green]

To say it has been an atypical summer in the mountains is an understatement. Forest fires burning around us since July, ash and haze obscuring mountain outlines, no rain in three months, statewide fire ban, surging global pandemic, and a lack of visitors except for children and grandchildren.

rocks and a river

I’m more than ready for next season’s return to normalcy if it works out that way. By ready, I mean that I have three exceptional recipes to satisfy the sweet tooth of any person or group that drops by, sits around a campfire, or stays overnight.

idle campfire ring [drone photo by Jeremiah Green]

Maddy’s Caramel Bars, Patricia’s Double Chocolate Brownies with Sea Salt, and Jean’s S’mores Bars are unbeatable for chewable bites of sweetness cut out of a 9×13 inch-baking pan. 

As all great passed-on recipes should be, these come from stories about friends.

Last summer’s road trip in 2019 was to Maddy and Cabby’s cabin on the Methow River [A Guest Room Under the Porch] in eastern Washington State. Maddy is a great cook and hostess. Their log home, with overflow teepees and tents, is a revolving door of family and friends. She offered us her always-on-the-counter pan of caramel bars and said, “Try these. People love them! They are my go-to for company all summer long.” We sampled and agreed. Caramel bars with chocolate chips and pecans were prepared over and over for our own guests, with rave reviews.

Patricia, whom I have written about in several adventures, Cocoa Cake With My Curry, Please, Sunshine on the Back of Your Knees] vacationed in Colorado in August. She rented a cabin bordering on the National Park just down the road from us. The double chocolate brownies she brought to our front porch originated from a friend in Wisconsin. Richly chewy, with texture from chocolate chips inside, these brownies are for every chocoholic. I switched out the garnish of powdered sugar for flaky sea salt sprinkled over the top. Et maintenant ç’est plus délicieux. Chocolate and salt can’t be beat. Except by caramel and salt. Or almost anything with salt. 

The last recipe came onto the scene this summer because of the harsh no burn season. We invited neighbors for a socially-distanced outdoor cookout around the fire ring. S’mores were requested for dessert. Except a campfire couldn’t be lit. Our friend, Jean, came bearing S’mores Bars baked in the oven and cut into bite-sized squares. These are even better than real s’mores, which often feature charred marshmallows blackened over red-hot coals. 

With baked s’mores you can revisit the original in one chewy, not overly sweet, bite of marshmallow and chocolate chip cookie dough over a graham cracker crust. There is melted chocolate on top so licking fingers is required. I substituted dark chocolate for traditional milk chocolate. [S’more better.]

baked s’mores

I’m anticipating the return of a next summer’s season of sequential guests. This winter while I drink coffee next to the picture window with the wide angle view of Long’s Peak, I will muse about the return of daily summer afternoon rainstorms followed by rainbows, campfires by sunrise, sunset, or moonrise, and baking pans full of dessert bars to sweeten everything that happens in between.


CARAMEL BARS  [Maddy Hewitt]

First Layer:

  • 1 C melted butter
  • 1 C flour
  • 1 C oats
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking soda

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour melted butter over and mix in. Reserve ¼ of the mixture for topping. Pat the rest into bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake 15 min. at 350 F. Cool 5-10 min.

Second Layer:

  • 1 bag Kraft Caramels, wrappers removed
  • 3 ½ Tbs butter
  • 3 Tbs cream [or Half & Half] 

Melt all together, SLOWLY, in cast iron skillet over low heat. Stir constantly. When melted, pour over cooled crust.

Third Layer:

  • 1 C semi sweet chocolate chips [or dark chocolate chips]
  • ¼ to ½ C pecan pieces

Mix together and sprinkle over caramel layer

Fourth Layer:

  • Using reserved crust mixture, sprinkle over the top of chips and pecans

Bake 10 min. more at 350 F. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Store in tins. Freezes well.

caramel bars

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH SEA SALT FLAKES  [Patricia Green-Sotos]

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 C butter
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C flour
  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 ½ C miniature marshmallows
  • Flaky sea salt crystals 
ingredients for brownies with sea salt

Melt chocolate and butter slowly in a saucepan over low heat. When melted, add sugar and set aside to cool slightly. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla and flour. Mix well. Fold in chips and marshmallows.

Bake in a parchment paper lined 9 x 13 baking pan [or grease the pan] for 30-35 minutes at 350 F. Top may be bubbly. Don’t overcook. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes and cool completely before cutting. Store in tins or plastic ware. Freezes great.


S’MORES BARS  [Jean Adam]

Crust:

  • 1 ½ sleeves graham crackers, crushed with rolling pin in zip-loc bag
  • 2/3 C melted butter
  • 1/3 C granulated sugar

Mix together and press into bottom of 9×13” pan lined with parchment paper. Bake 7 min at 350 F. Cool slightly.

Cookie Top:

  • 1 C butter softened to room temperature
  • ¾ C brown sugar
  • ¾ C white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Cream together. Add: 

  • 2 eggs

Stir in:

  • 2 ¼ C flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Mix in:

  • 1 C semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 2 ½ C mini marshmallows

Drop by large spoonfuls of dough carefully over crust and press into graham crackers without disturbing the layer underneath. Bake 15 min at 350 F or until golden brown on top. Quickly remove from oven and cover the top with broken pieces of Hershey’s dark chocolate bars. [2 large ones or 3 small]

Return to oven until chocolate melts ~ 3-5 min. Don’t overcook or let the top get too brown.

place broken chocolate bars over baked cookie dough layer
heat in oven just until melted

Cool completely before lifting parchment out of pan and cutting into small squares.

Refrigerate to slightly harden. Freezes well.

Summer’s End…

“It was now one of those moments when nothing remains but an opening in the sky and a story–and maybe something of a poem.”
–Norman Maclean, “USFS 1919-The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky” from
A River Runs Through It