The Mystery of Monsters

Before the eyesores known as Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium sprang up, before developers started naming buildings after juice brands and energy companies, we had the Astrodome. Pat Buchanan called for a cultural jihad from the Dome, and Robert Altman set his cult film Brewster McCloud there. The Houston landmark is where the Bad New Bears broke training, Duran Duran played the rodeo, and the Who staged one of its "final" concerts.

But now, the end is near. The Olympic Committee has kissed off Houston, and Houston has kissed off the Astrodome. Still, there's time for one last hurrah. At the United States Hot Rod Association's Monster Jam, the Dome will be restored momentarily to its former glory. What better time to say good-bye than when the Eighth Wonder of the World is filled to the brim with its true truck-loving fans.

The popularity of monster trucks is puzzling. Nolan Ryan couldn't sell out the Dome, and the rodeo couldn't do it without stars like George Strait and the Dixie Chicks. Yet without fail, Grave Digger, Team Meents, Gunslinger and Madusa pack the joint.

"I can't explain it," says David Bering, a longtime Dome employee. "I thought that it was just a kid thing. My son Conor loves them. So one time I brought him out and we sat in the stands. And I was amazed. The parents were more into it than the kids. It's just a mystery."

"There's no mystery to it," counters fellow Dome employee Mark Kennedy. "It's simple. It's everyone's dream to drive over another man's car. Nothing more, nothing less."

The Astros now play downtown. The Oilers hightailed it to Nashville. Pat Buchanan took his jihad elsewhere. The Bad News Bears flew off to Japan. But this weekend, the monster trucks return for one last Jam. Grave Digger has never deserted the Dome. The truck is no fool.

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John W. Royal