American Way
March 1, 1998

A Beer Run of A Different Flavor


A Beer Run Of A Different Flavor

AMERICAN WAY, March 1, 1998: 86-90
Magazine of the American Airlines
By Harley Jebens.

Most runners jog along wooded trails or in circles around a track. But not these runners. The maneuver through sewers, swamps, and crowded department stores, along busy downtown streets, even through the halls of the Library of Congress and other august establishments.

Most runners wear things like shorts and T-shirts and running shoes. You know, running gear. But not this bunch. They're more apt to don evening wear, pink tutus, or lingerie, even strip down to nothing ere they go on the merry jogs. And running shoes are as much beverage container as they are athletic footwear.

Most runners are inclined to finish their workout with some stretching exercises, a nice cold shower, and a few gulps of Gatorade. This group, however, is more likely to finish their trot with a round of dirty limericks and ribald songs. And any drinking that goes on is more than likely to be of the alcoholic variety. Namely beer.

But lest you get the idea that this is some random pack of rowdy revelers...well, okay, it is a pack of rowdy revelers. But, by gum, these are rowdy running revelers with a tradition.

It's a tradition for which we have A.S. "G" Gispert to thank. Ol' G was a British expatriate living in Kuala Lampur in the late 1930s, and he and his fellow expiates often hung their hats at the Selangor Club, which they, affectionately or not, referred to as the Hash House. It was there that Gispert got the idea of modifying the old British children's game of hare and hounds, in which one or more "hares" set a trail, marking it with shreds of paper, and the "hounds" attempt to follow it.

In an effort to work off the previous night's bingeing, or perhaps to ready themselves for the night's bingeing to come, Gispert and his buddies soon took to setting trails through a local park. They also took to calling themselves the Hash House Harriers.

They must have had a good idea, or a least an appealing one, for this activity for "drinkers with a running problem" caught on. First in Singapore, then Australia, and to the point today where there are about 1,300 hash chapters in more than 150 countries.

Some chapters are more competitive than others, and some, believe it or not, are family-oriented, but things still adhere fairly closely to the "rules" established in Kuala Lampur back in 1938. The hares lay a trail, marking it with chalk, flour, or paper, and dropping special clues along the way in order to confuse and waylay the fastest runners (FRBs, or front-running bastards, in hash parlance) and therefore keep the whole group together. When the FRBs lose the trail, either encountering a symbol that means they've been led down a false path or one that signifies that the trail has come to a halt, the hounds must pick it up again. The runners scatter and periodically one of them will shout, "Are you?" (As in, "Are yo on the trail?") The others reply, "Checking" if they're still looking, and "On, on" if they've found the trail. At the cry of "On, on"" the runners are off again, hot on the scent of a beer stop.

That's because there's typically a beer stop or two before trail's end. At the culmination of the run comes even more beer guzzling, when the group's Grand master or Religious Advisor bestows "down downs" (i.e., acknowledgements), accompanied by more drinking for the newcomers ("new boots") who distinguish themselves with a particularly embarrassing or memorable act or those who violate what could loosely be called hasher etiquette. And woe be the hashers foolish enough to wear new shoes, for their Nikes and New Balances soon become de facto beer mugs.

then there is the ceremonial bestowing of nicknames, typically another duty of the Religious Advisor. A thirty-two-year-old systems consultant was given the name Cold and Clammy after he "fell asleep" outside on a night when the temperature fell to two degrees. One unfortunate runner whose socks wouldn't stay up received the handle Saggy Pair. Sparkle Plenty was named after a character in the "Dick Tracy" comic strip because of her bleached-blond hair. And then there's the handle given to John Wayne Bobbitt, who runs in the Las Vegas hash: A Stitch in Time Saved Mine, or Stitch for short.

"Some people may think that running and drinking are diametrically opposed activities, but I think the two complement each other, says a fellow who earned the moniker Rongjon after he was busted coming out of women's restroom ("I wanted to see if there were curtains on the windows," he explains.

"You have to have a sense of humor to enjoy hashing," says veteran hasher Smut Mutt. "If you can't take a joke, you won't like it. Oh, and if you're offended by vulgar language and songs, or random nudity, it isn't for you either." The "sport" does attract a wide variety of people, however, among them engineers, judges, teachers, lawyers, mechanics, and secretaries, ranging in age from twenty to seventy.

"We're a very diverse, nonjudgmental group," says Sparkle Plenty, a thirty-two-year-old tax auditor who has run with hash chapters in Texas and California. "Anyone is accepted and anything goes. It's a way to leave work behind and let your hair down, so to speak."

Of course, the manner in which the hashers let their hair down often attracts attention, sometimes of the unwelcome variety. such as the time when a couple of hashers, members of the reserves and thus sporting short haircuts, were laying down flour to mark a trail and the next day a local newspaper mistakenly reported that skinheads were perpetrating hate crime in the area. Then there was the day when a group of hashers spewed onto the street from out of a manhole and they were promptly ticketed by the police for not having a permit to run through the storm sewers.

These are the kinds of tales hashers love to regale each other with. It's another unofficial hashing tradition, dating back to at least the early 1950s when a group of Kuala Lampur hashers on a late-night run scared up a trio of bandits. The hashers received a reward when the police nabbed the somewhat bewildered felons, and they haven't stopped talking about their heroic endeavor since.

As hash storytellers go, though, Rongjon's among the best. An eccentric character who's rumored to be the real-life inspiration for Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli character in the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," he has hashed all over the world and can recount amusing anecdotes at the drop of a hat. Like the time on Mount Maunganui in New Zealand when the beer was delivered slung from a helicopter. Or the time he got married on a hash in Brazil. "Turns out my new bride's sister and I were better suited for each other," Rongjon admits. "Later that night as my wife was driving us home, her sister and I were playing tonsil tag in the back seat. Next morning, the wife split. Haven't seen her or her sister since." Which doesn't make for a happy honeymoon, but does make for one hell of a story to tell at the next gathering of Hash House Harriers.

GETTING THE RUNAROUND

For information on a hash chapter near you, or for a hashing calendar of events (including InterHash '98, when chapters from around the world will gather in Kuala Lampur to celebrate hashing's sixtiety anniversary October 2-4), log on to < http://www.half-mind.com/ >.

Harley Jebens is a freelance writer living in Dallas.

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