A Beer Run Of
A Different Flavor
AMERICAN WAY, March 1, 1998:
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.