Son of a Ditch!

  Jerome Shea       January 24, 2009      Weekend Wonk

That’s “Ditch,” not—well, you know—despite any personal failings we might have. But when we scream, ”SON OF A DITCH!” when racing across a finish line, we are sometimes misheard.

This wonk is long overdue. Harvey has been nagging me about it since forever.

Ok, who is Harvey and who or what are the Sons of Ditches? Harvey Buchalter and I are the co-founders of this esteemed running club, so-called. Why Sons of Ditches? Because that is where we usually run, on the horse trails or levees in the bosque along the Rio Grande—his piece of it in southwest Albuquerque or my piece in northwest Albuquerque—or along the miles and miles of irrigation ditches that our city is blessed with.

Harvey Buchalter and I go back together almost a quarter century. I met him through his wife, whom I hired for a writing program that I was directing. I think Harvey had been running for a couple of more years than I had. This was early 1986 and Harvey’s distinction was that he had actually run a marathon; he would chaperone me in my first marathon that fall. It was a match made if not in heaven at least in the bosque, and we have been together ever since. Harvey had a Jewish upbringing and I an Irish Catholic one, so we bonded instantly, celebrating our perpetual guilt and striving. And we were both husbands and fathers. More about that later. Together we have probably worn out more than a dozen pairs of running shoes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A proper son of a ditch (or “ditchie,” familiarly) must have a running name, a nom de course. Harvey is “Anamal”; I am “Chickenlegs.” No, Harvey is not orthographically challenged. It came about this way. Early on, we were thumping up a running track that goes underneath a freeway. A girder overhead had been “tagged” by two lads determined to make their mark in the world and to spread terror into the bargain. Unfortunately, they were no advertisement for our school system, because one had signed himself “Anamal” and the other “Nightstocker.” It seemed a sign—literally a sign from on high. Harvey had found his name, which he bears to this day. He urged me to take Nightstocker—he who terrorizes the grocery store?—and I was sorely tempted, but I already was Chickenlegs, a name bestowed on me by a teenage girl in my neighborhood who seemed to be always sitting on her porch through one long summer, She would salute me—“Hey, Chickenlegs!”—every time I passed by her house, and I finally decided to accept the name as a badge of honor.

“Fishface,” “Doppler Max,” “Laces,” “Nino”—the names come flooding back. That they have moved away (and Lord only knows where the original Anamal and Nightstocker and the nameless teenaged girl are now) is a testament to our longevity, though we still keep in touch. Fishface, our ultra-runner (hundred mile races!) lives in North Carolina, Laces is a pediatrician in Florida, and Nino and Doppler are both English professors back East. The membership is a fluid thing. Nino and Doppler, you will have guessed, were grad students of mine, and grad students eventually get their PhDs and move on. We have had as many as a half-dozen ditchies, and sometimes it has been just Harvey and I. Currently it is an old farts’ group, men in their sixties or close to it. And I mustn’t leave out Harve’s dog, Rosie, who is about eighty in dog years. She has been running with us since she was a pup. She used to be joined by Nino’s border collies and Fishfaces’s pit bulls.

Over the years we have had a newsletter that Harvey wrote and issued sporadically. At some point early on we had t-shirts made up. For a couple of years we had an annual banquet with all the wonderful claptrap that goes with it. Our initiatives wax and wane just like the membership rolls.

Most of our races were local but there have been road trips. We used to run a 15k race in Tucson every spring, but they changed the course so we switched our allegiance to a 20k down in El Paso that we are running still. I would add San Diego to the list, but at that point Harvey had sworn off marathons. We are compulsive namers, marking our territory like the dogs we are (Harvey’s other soubriquet is “the Harve-dogg”): Grandma’s Trail, Granddad’s Extension, Paseo del Nino, Laces Landing, and the list, as they say, goes on.

We used to run a half-dozen races a year. Now we do the Transmountain in El Paso and Harve does the Duke City Half here in the fall (and tries to coax me into it). But we still run together most Sunday mornings. We helped raise each other’s kids. When I would get to grousing about some perceived disappointment in my progeny, Harve would jump in and remind me how lucky I was, all said and done, and that everything would work out. Then I would do the same for him. We survived our kids and they survived us.

Yes, we’re running still, from his house or mine, every Sunday morning. They are easy runs, five or six miles and sometimes walking: we are not so young as we once were. But run we do, trading outrageous puns and refashioning the world to our liking.

Son of a Ditch!

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