Jane Austen + Grinder Girl

Balls, Pucks, and Monster Trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  January 27, 2010

Occasionally, my editor would remind me that I have written about balls and pucks, but never monster trucks. To complete the subject matter trifecta reflected in the column’s name, I had to remedy that. Of course, monster-truck shows rarely come to town. Given this problem, we agreed that “Gravity Slashers,” a motorcycle stunt show playing the Civic Center a couple weeks back, was close enough.

I will admit having never understood the allure of motor sports. They remind me of Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1991, I spent a month there on a puppet-show internship (don’t ask), and in Charlotte, everyone looked at me like I was an embarrassing moron because I couldn’t immediately proclaim my favorite NASCAR driver. I hated that. Thirteen years later, in 2003, I happened to catch Ricky Craven’s legendary squeaker over Kurt Busch at Darlington live as it happened, but even that, a historically close finish won by a Mainer, failed to ignite any latent gear-head passion.

I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but to me, motor sports are like Jane Austen. I can’t get into them, but so many people do that I can readily acknowledge that they must have virtues. It’s just that those virtues are not readily apparent to me. Maybe I have yet to experience motor sports and Jane Austen in the right context. Maybe I’m just a philistine.

With these preconceptions firmly in place I went to the show, and immediately realized, upon walking in the door, that spending money on beer was unnecessary. All the exhaust fumes in the air provided a free buzz. Yuck. As for the show itself, I will say this: doing a mid-air back flip on a motorcycle (the night’s top stunt) is a pretty cool trick, but when the riders do it over and over again it gets old. “Gravity Slashers” had 15 minutes’ worth of cool stunts stretched out over two hours. Yawn. Jane Austen’s novels have the same problem. Her one literary trick is a hell of a trick, but it quickly wears thin with repetition.

Nominally, “Gravity” Slashers was a competition. The announcer referred to scores and judges, but I didn’t see any judges. When the motorcycle drivers took a break a bunch of dudes on BMX bikes came out to amuse the crowd with less impressive tricks. It reminded me of the way Pop Warner football teams sometimes play a quick game on NFL fields during halftime, except that it was far less entertaining. Already convinced that the show was lame, a few days later I saw a commercial for “Nuclear Cowboyz,” a motor cross promotion at TD Garden. It was similar, but “Nuclear Cowboyz” had go-go dancers, pyrotechnics, and “Grinder Girl,” a beautiful woman in a metal shop bustier who uses a grinder to make sparks shoot off her tiny outfit while she dances around. That’s pretty cool! Why can’t Portland get the Grinder Girl show? A little industrial vaudeville would have spruced the moribund “Gravity Slashers” right up.

As it was, the evening’s most memorable moment came last, after the show, when I was standing outside the Civic Center parking garage as all the Fords and Chevys within came out of the building. Every driver peeled onto Spring Street, squealing their tires in the snow as if they were Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise beginning the Cannonball Run. I laughed, even though I didn’t get it, and then, despairing of ever caring about motor sports, I walked home and picked up my copy of Mansfield Park. Might as well give Jane another try, too.

Rick Wormwood can be reached at rickwormwood@gmail.com.

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