I'm a man's man. I grabbed my camera, my notepad and my woman, and marched down to Philips Arena for the reddest of Red State activities, the screamin', roarin', metal-crushin', exhaust-belchin' Rolling Thunder Monster Truck Challenge (sponsored by the Rick Case Automotive Group).
You might think that a monster truck challenge loses some of its charm and novelty now that our roads are filled with street-legal monster Excursions, Escalades and Hummers. If you do, you're wrong, and I recommend that you go back to Manhattan or France or wherever you came from before I grab that stale baguette from your hands and beat you over the head with it.
The show began, as all worthwhile events do, with the national anthem. Then, brave young motocross riders entertained us by ramping their bikes 75 feet over the concrete arena floor and performing deadly acrobatic moves with names like "The Heart Attack," "The Double Heart Attack," and "The One-Handed Superman Seat Grab."
With the crowd warmed up and buzzing thanks to a steady flow of delicious American beer, the monster trucks rolled out for the "freestyle" portion of the competition. The trucks -- Big Crunch, 'NTrepid, Bear Foot, American Bad Ass, Born To Be Wild and Smoke -- smashed the hell out of the two rows of windowless, white-painted junkyard cars. American Bad Ass was easily the most successful of the crushers. It was the only truck able to crush going forward and in reverse. Big Crunch was the least successful. It got tripped up by an early '80s Chrysler New Yorker with a rich, burgundy Corinthian leather interior.
During the intermission, the emcee entertained the crowd with the arena Kiss Cam. In addition to your good, old-fashioned, God-approved, America-friendly man-and-woman-type couples, the Kiss Cam also focused on same-sex couples. Don't worry, though, the Monster Truck Challenge hasn't been infiltrated by the queers or the Berkeley Feminazis. The emcee made it perfectly clear that, while it's OK for two women to kiss for male entertainment purposes ("I like it when girls kiss," he explained), two men kissing "just wouldn't be right." That, my brothers, is the American way.
Stardate: Last Thursday night, I went to the Fernbank Science Center Observatory to gaze at space from the facility's 36-inch telescope. Entrance to the observatory is free and it's open to the public every Thursday and Friday night (weather permitting).
The hazy sky that night limited the available number of visible space objects, but it didn't stop the fun. The telescope is actually steered by a computer. You just type in "Altair," "Polaris" or "woman down the street undressing in the window," and the telescope points at it automatically. I saw the Summer Triangle (via naked eyes) and the star clusters M15 and M13, one of which was so faint that it looked like the hazy vision you get from a loose eyelash.
At one point, a woman named Lorelei came in with a piece of paper printed with the coordinates of a star that someone paid to have named after her. The 'scope minders found it for her.
I also overheard the following gem of a conversational snippet. It was very dark, so I have no idea who was talking: "How many constellations can you name?" "About 88." "I can find Orion." "Orion? That's easy!"
Late Elvis: As a writer living in the American South, I am duty-bound to devote at least part of my column each January and August to Elvis' birthday and deathday, respectively. Last weekend, I double-Elvised.
First, I went to the Elvis-shrined Star Bar in Little Five Points on Saturday night for Elvis Pride 2004. The headliners, local rockers Bitch, donned self-described "homoerotic Elvis outfits" and plowed through a mix of Elvis covers and boozy '70s hard rock like AC/DC's "Live Wire," "T.N.T." and Rod Stewart's "Hot Legs." Joining Bitch on stage was an endless parade of guest vocalists, each introduced by guitarist Ted Lathangue with a mountain of acclaim normally reserved for Grammy-winning legends. Elliott Michaels' guest vocals on "Burning Love" were particularly enjoyable to me.
On Sunday afternoon, after recovering from an Elvis Pride-induced hangover, I Elvised again at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross. It wasn't a concert or anything. It was Folk Fest 2004. It wasn't explicitly Elvis-themed, however approximately one-quarter of all folk art produced and marketed in the Southern United States consists of depictions of Elvis Presley. The remaining three-quarters consists mostly of depictions of Jesus, household pets, and discarded metal with folksy sayings.
Periodically though, a stroll through the folk art ghetto will turn up gems. This year, my favorite of the folk art bunch was a series of paintings by L.A. resident Jay Schuette. His "Germantown" canvas, a trippy montage of wrong-sized figures in a valley that looked like something Dali would have painted had he spent time working for FDR's Depression-era Farm Security Administration alongside Dorothea Lange.
Much of what's called folk art is called that because it's made using cheap, discarded, and/or nontraditional materials. My favorite examples of that at the show were Jessie Montes' corrugated cardboard paintings and sculptures. Montes' work included a cardboard portrait of the prez and a people-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower.
In the parking lot on the way out, I heard a little kid expressing his cynicism about folk art to his family. His mother admonished him, and this is an exact quotation, "People who do this think it's art, so be respectful."