I’d been stranded in a hallway at Arco Arena for a good half hour, waiting for a media escort with zero interest in taking me anywhere, least of all the Monster Jam monster-truck rally roaring somewhere nearby. Having already radioed two requests on my behalf, the receptionist at the security office had stopped making eye contact, opting to pass our time together by busily straightening every scrap of paper on her desk. The minutes ticked on, my temper revving like the truck engines vibrating the walls.

As the show’s Quad Team rolled its four-wheeled ATVs into the hallway, it occurred to me—not for the first time—that life would be much easier if I were one of Charlie’s Angels. On Charlie’s payroll, I’d simply unzip my jacket and toss my hair in slow motion. Instantly magnetized by my spy-babe wiles, the riders would chat me up. Before you knew it, I’d be wearing one of their uniforms and jumping an ATV over cars to an awesome rock soundtrack while the crowd cheered and Crispin Glover shook his fist in the background.

Alas, I managed only a weak smile before choking on the exhaust from a half-dozen tailpipes. The riders ignored me. When they rolled out five minutes later, I wondered—not for the first time—how I was going to review my first monster-truck show without actually seeing it.

Just before intermission, when I was too dizzy from car fumes to care, the media escort arrived. Without a hint of remorse for going AWOL, she led me upstairs to a rough plywood table on the second level. Every seat at the table had a place card with a journalist’s name, and every seat was empty. News flash: A monster-truck rally isn’t one.

Finding no card with my name, I decided to be John Dickinson of KHTK 1140 AM. Where were you, John? Or you, Ryan Yamamoto of News10? Are you too cool for monster trucks or were you just smart enough to leave the hallway of asphyxiation before losing half your brain cells? Well, here at SN&R, we persevere until all our brain cells are gone!

To that end, I inserted earplugs and focused on the automotive feats below. The arena floor held some 700 cubic yards of dirt, carefully sculpted into ramps, jumps and racing strips. Three rows of crushed cars, patriotically painted red, white and blue, were half-buried at one end.

Engine clamor drowned out the announcer’s commentary, leaving me to puzzle things out on my own. The trucks seemed to be in the midst of speed trials, a deceptive moniker given their bulk. (It takes 2.5 gallons of methanol to move a monster truck the 250-foot length of one race, climbing over cars on the way.)

For me, the most thrilling aspect of these four-wheeled sprints was the horrendous sound of gunning engines and grinding gears. Every time the trucks moved, a tiny animal part of me thought, “Am I about to be run over by a semi?” Repeatedly confirming my relative safety had a soothing quality, but I wouldn’t say it made me a fan.

Grave Digger, a menacing roadster with a green-skull paint job and red headlights, clearly was the crowd favorite. Raised fists and Jolly Roger flags greeted its every appearance, and fans booed when it lost the final race to Bulldozer, a tan pickup with horns.

Real bulldozers stacked the smooshed cars higher for the freestyle competition. The first truck, Arachnophobia, promptly flattened a red van like an empty box. Each truck upped the ante, catching air off the car pile and turning lawn-eradicating doughnuts. Grave Digger, the last competitor, charged straight into the arena barrier before backing up, flying over the crushed cars and landing on its side.

I think I screamed—not that I could hear myself. Flags waved riotously as the driver climbed out the passenger window and waved. A bulldozer righted the truck and the fans headed into the night, satisfied with the automotive chaos. With ringing ears and a deep uncertainty about the appeal of the spectacle I’d witnessed, I realized missing half the show might have been a blessing.