Saturday, October 8, 2005

Opera and Truck Pulls

Note: The events describes in this entry occurred a full week ago. The bias that developed in the distance between today and seven days ago may shade this article. Such a bias is purely the result of deep-seated resentment.

Hearing, as I understand it, is mainly done by thousands of tiny hairs inside our ear. These hairs are different lengths. Each length of hair is responsible for a certain frequency of sound wave. For the entire spectrum of audible sound frequencies, a certain hair exists that is in charge of vibrating when the frequency rolls through. (Whether these hairs’ individual frequency responsibility exists as a result of design or evolution, I won’t even begin to discuss here.) Now, unless I’m mistaken, the phenomenon we generally call “ringing in the ear” or “ringing in my ears” or something like that has a very definite connection to these multi-lengthed ear hairs. You see, contrary to the popular superstition that such a sensation means someone is talking about you, I was once told by one of the better informed teachers at my high school that that noise is actually the death knell for that particular hair.

You heard me right, if you ear hairs haven’t yet fallen out.

Tragically, whenever a person feels ringing in his or her ears, they should know that that’s the last time he or she will ever her that particular frequency in that ear. That hair has just broken off, due to overuse and abuse — like the events I will shortly describe in this post. Say goodbye to that particular ring, dear friends, because you’ll never hear it again.

So now imagine what it must feel like if, instead of having just a certain grove of ear hairs vibrating at their predetermined frequency, you had all of your tiny, delicate, supersensitive ear ears shaking like telephone polls in a full-on Richter Ten. Imagine all your ear hairs screaming their frequency, as if they knew the sheer force of sound would soon snap them from their fleshy, cochlear base and render them as useless as the rest of the hair on your body.

Think about that and you’re about where you’d need to be to re-create my experience at the San Benito County Fair last weekend.

I went home last weekend for two simple reasons: paperwork and family. The paperwork needs my signature and I need my family’s adoring attention. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that last weekend also happened to be that of the fair. This annual event — which I’m told has occurred on the same weekend since I was born — is a big draw for the people of Hollister. That, the opening of a new gas station or the wedding of a recent high school graduate who’s one month shy of her third trimester — these are the things that the people of Hollister flock to. If you, dear reader, have ever seen an episode of “The Simpsons” in which the entire town flocks to some meeting point to witness a doings a-transpirin’, then you understand the devastating lows to which the Hollister social scene reduces.

Still, not wanting to miss out on the olfactory combination of beer, cotton candy and deep-fried god-knows-what, I went. Call me a snob all night long, I still love the fair. There’s too many good memories there for the entire population of Hollister to spoil it for me. Besides, I had the bright idea to go and snap some pictures of carnies. (And yes — I did do this, and yes — I have an idea, and yes — you faithfuls will see it soon.) So I went. And all in all, it was okay. I didn’t have to speak with anybody I didn’t want to. In fact, the only people who even recognized me were the various members of the Ryan family — having caught Meg at the brewery that morning, I managed to see four out of five, meaning I’ll have to be vigilant over the Thanksgiving weekend if I want to collect a full set.

A little before seven, I bump into my parents, who have apparently arrived at the fair to “see [my] brother’s thing.” Okay — I like my brother and I’m already there. No reason why I shouldn’t get to go and see his thing, whatever that might mean.

So we enter the grandstands — I’m giving serious thought to suggesting they pencil in some quotation marks around the “grand,” by the way — and sit down and I’m looking at the very arena I’ve seen countless horse shows in. It’s full of trucks.

“What are we watching, anyway?” I ask.

“It’s a truck pull,” my parents’ hive-mind answers.

And I realize that though I’m familiar with the term, I’ve never actually seen a truck pull and I have no idea what one entails. So I ask and they tell me to watch the first contestant go and then I’d understand.

So I wait. And then I watch. But I didn’t understand.

Here’s how I would explain a truck pull, if pressed to do so. So there’s this truck, but the owner has gone to some effort to soup it up and make it more powerful than it would be otherwise. And he goes out onto the track and some people attach a trailer to it. But not a normal trailer — more of an industrial trailer, like one that you’d use for hauling something heavy. Only there’s nothing on it. Instead, there’s a guy on the back and he’s operating these levers that control how much resistance the trailer will give the vehicle that’s towing it. Then the driver of the truck — the towing truck, though not the tow truck specifically, since that might make you picture the wrong thing — revs up the engine and pulls the trailer as far as he can.

At this point, the tremendous strain placed on the engine sends this fantastically horrible mechanical screech-wail in all directions. If you’re at Bolado Park, home of the San Benito County Fair since God sneezed and created the county back at the dawn of time, you’re sitting on bleachers covered by a roof that looks to be some sort of metal, possibly tin. The echo that bounces between the concrete base and the metal roof actually increases the volume of this deathly noise — I would estimate eightfold, if not ninefold — until your ears produce the supremely unpleasant feeling I described earlier in this post.

Then everybody cheers.

Don’t ask me why everybody cheers. I don’t understand why. The truck does exactly what it’s supposed to do. You hitch it to a trailer and it tows the trailer. And this elicits applause? Would these same enthusiastic spectators applaud the successful towing of a U-Haul trailer to their sedan? Do they applaud a Pink Pearl eraser’s successful rubbing away of an errant pencil mark?

These are answers I cannot provide.

In short, the spectacle of the tractor pull was completely lost on me. I sat there, utterly perplexed and bored — and oh yes, my ears were bleeding — and watched truck after truck do exactly what they were supposed to be doing. And then sat there as everybody cheered. (To be technical, I wouldn’t be able to say they were cheering. At this point, my ears went all Helen Keller, so for all I know everybody was standing up and shaking their hands and mouthing silent obscenity.) I suppose truck pulls are something like opera, in a sense. I don’t understand opera, thought I can appreciate that other people get something out of it. Someone told me that opera is something you just have to watch, and then one day you’re watching it and you just suddenly get it — the spectacle and the sound and the total involvement of the audience in what is happening before them.

So yeah — opera and truck pulls.

After about forty-five minutes of this nonsense, I decided that it would be in my best interest to escape. Careful to leave my camera with my parents — so as to create the illusion that I would return — I excused myself, ran to though the darkened ag sheds to the noise of startled, squealing pigs and finally arrived at my car. There, I turned on the heater, rolled up the windows, put down the sun visors even though it was dark out, plugged in my cell phone, spun the iPod wheel until I arrived at the new New Pornographers and drove home, imagining that the hand of God would lift my car up into the night sky and, with the care of the most benevolent of the benevolent deities, toss me onto a fluffy night cloud that would take me gently to Santa Barbara as I napped, Little Nemo-like, and dreamed of the cotton candy that I never actually got to buy.

In order to better explain the methods of the truck pull, I have enclosed the following pictures.

This, apparently is my brother's truck. My mom manages to capture the large trailer being attached to the back. In front of the truck, you can see roughly one-fourth of the total track.

Whoosh! The truck is technically moving at about twenty miles an hour. What would initially appear to be a speed blur is actually my camera's inability to capture moving objects at a distance in low light. But just think: whoosh!

Conversely, some people chose less traditional vehicles. Here, you can see what would appear to be a tractor, painted in Cal Poly colors and given an extra chromosome.

Tresure your ear hairs, friends.


  1. Truck pulls? I didn't realize you were a hick.

    We have a chili cook-off and craft show where I live, and in the county's only city, there is an annual rodeo and carnival. I've never been to a truck pull. Now that you have described this, I don't have to. So thanks for that.

  2. is the county fair already in town? feels like another universe.