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The Art of Ditch Diving

The cheerful outdoor winter sports of skiing, skating, and sledding get a lot of attention around the North, but there's another winter activity that nobody seems to appreciate for the skill that goes into it -- Ditch Diving. We all become practitioners of this art at one time or another, but none of us seems to hold proper appreciation of what we're doing. Perhaps, because its aesthetics have never been fully outlined. Allow me.

To dive you need a road, a ditch, some snow on the ground, and any licensed highway vehicle or its equivalent. Nothing else is required, but a good freezing rain will expedite things.

The art of the dive is in the elegance with which you perform three distinct actions. The first one, of course, is that you and your car leave the roadway. Not so fast there, hotdog -- remember, this is an art. The manner and theme of your dive are the most important elements of the maneuver.

For instance, the "I wasn't looking and drove into the ditch" dive will go nowhere with the critics. The "He wasn't looking and drove me into the ditch" dive is slightly better, but lacks character. The "It sucked me into the ditch" dive shows some imagination, and the "We spun around three times, hit the ditch going backwards and thought we were all going to die" dive will earn drama points.

The "I didn't even realize I'd parked in a ditch until I came back from my pit stop" dive will earn you exactly zero points from the judges. (Flickr Photo by Clover_1)Okay, so now you've left the road. Your second challenge is to place the vehicle. Any dumbbell can put a car in a ditch, but it takes an artist to put one there with style. The overall success of your installation is gauged by how much the traffic slows down to gawk at it.

Nosed-in within ten degrees of level won't even turn a head. Burrowed into a snow bank with one door buried shut is better, and if you're actually caught in the act of climbing out a window, you're really going somewhere - even though you're not.

While lacking that all-important "wow" factor, this vehicle's solid burrow indicates that a respectable effort to gallantly dive has been put forth. (Photo by Kamo/Getty Images)Letting your car sit overnight so the snowplows can bury it is a good way of gaining points with the morning commuter traffic. Any wheel left visibly off the ground is worth fifty points each, with a hundred-point bonus for all four. Caution: Only master-class ditch divers should endeavor to achieve this bonus positioning.

Getting the right idea here with a good angle and a wheel or two off the ground (add 50 points). The only thing missing from this would be First Class Dive is a line of rubber-neckers.All right, there you are, nicely featured alongside your favorite roadway. The third part of your mission is to ask for assistance. Simply phoning a tow truck will prove you a piker and not an artist at all. Hit the showers, friend. The grace and creativity you display getting back on the road must at least equal that employed while leaving it.

Let's say you were forced into the ditch and are neatly enshrined with one rear wheel off the ground and the hood buried in the berm. Wait until any truck bigger than your bathroom happens along and start walking in that direction with a pronounced limp. Look angry but not defeated, as if you'd walk all night to find the guy who ran you off the road. Look the driver in the eye like it would have been him had he been there sooner. This is a risky move, but it's been proven effective. If the truck has personalized license plates and lights mounted all over it, you're in good shape. Those guys love to show how hard their trucks can pull on things.

I prefer, however, to rely on the softer side of human nature. Addle-brained people hold a special place in our hearts, and I like to play on these protective instincts. If my car is buried beyond hope, I'll display my tongue in the corner of my mouth and begin frantically digging at the snowdrift with my hands until someone stops to talk me out of it. If my hands get cold and still nobody's stopped, I'll crawl head-first into the hole I've dug and flail my legs around like I was thrown clear of the wreck. This works every time and has won me many a ditch-diving exhibition over the years.

Which would win more ditch diving competitions: Tom Bodett's bare hand shovels & flailing legs, or a sweet smile from a nice young lady? (Flickr Photo by TheJustifiedSinner)I certainly hope I've enlarged your appreciation of this undervalued creative medium. I warn against exercising this art to excess, but when the opportunity arises, remember: Hit it hard, sink it deep, get it out, and please, dive carefully.

Nose buried? Check. Wheels aloft? Yup. Laws of Gravity laughed at? Indeed. Traffic jams galore? You betcha. This is what happens with a maestro behind the wheel. (Video frame by Tim Jean)
A version of this essay first appeared in the book Small Comforts published by Addison-Wesley 1987.

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