Contra Costa Times
April 27, 1997

White Collars Run, Drink & Make Merry

White Collars Run, Drink & Make Merry

Contra Costa Times
April 27, 1997
By John Boudreau, Times Staff Writer

It's Thursday night in San Francisco's Marina District, and the yuppies are stirring, walking their froufrou Fifi dogs, waltzing in and out of tres quaint restaurants, posing in the moonlight. Suddenly, from around a corner, comes the thudding of a many-legged runner, an octopus in Nikes.

Startled, they stare at “Pinprick” and “Phone Sex” as well as the rest of the sweaty pack swarming down the sidewalk, spearing in some alien monosyllabic language.

“Are you?” a sprinter in the back hollers.

“On, on!” another up front sings out.

Flashlights in hand, the thudders thread among amazed pedestrians. “Oh, my,” a stylish woman gasps. A coat-and-tie sidesteps for cover. The wild-eyed and whooping stompers spot strange white markings on the ground - then veer into an alley.

No, there hasn't been an escape from a psychiatric hospital.

It's a “hash,” something of a sporting event.

By day the hashers are staid accountants, lawyers, doctors. Responsible citizens. But all this seriousness takes a toll. They have a secret, silly streak. So they join this wacky club to be around other people who are, well . . .

“Deranged? I was hoping they'd be deranged,” says Johnny Moronic, aka John Sipple, normally a mild-mannered banker. He is the evening's “hare,” who laid the five-mile “concrete trail.” The hare - running the route earlier in the day or just ahead of the herd - usually marks the trail with chalk or flour. Afterwards comes the “down, down” - a hedonistic ritual of drinking, singing “hymns,” such as “Sexual Life of the Camel” and “Jonestown,” and other antics you'd never tell your mother about.

Based on an old game

The eccentric sport was created in 1938 by bored English soldiers living in what is now Malaysia. It's based on the 18th-century British child's game of hares and hounds.

Tired of playing cricket, and hoping to work off hangovers and lose weight, the men ran around a Kuala Lumpur park. They took turns setting trails with false leads. Then they retired to refresh themselves with beer. The men - with names like “Torch” Bennett and “Horse” Thompson, who actually looked like one - referred to their living quarters as the Hash House, and the group became known as the Hash House Harriers.

Albert Stephen Ignatius “G” Gispert, who died in combat in 1942 during the Japanese invasion of Singapore, is the father of the hash. His unorthodox and whimsical outlook on life set the profane tone from the start.

The sport spread through diplomatic and military ranks, and finally to offbeat civilians. Today, it is more popular than ever. At last count, there are about 1,500 hash clubs worldwide - on every continent except Antarctica - but that number is probably low, says Ian Cumming, 66, a retired British executive for an international office machine company who now lives in New York.

In 1962, he formed the world's second continuously running hash club in Singapore. Cumming estimates that half of today's hash clubs - or, as the British say, kennels - are descendants of his Singapore group.

By the late `60s, hash clubs were popping up in Australia. They hit the United States during the early `70s, first in Washington, D.C. As military personnel returned from foreign postings they frequently established their own hashes. Cumming figures there are now about 250 in the United States, from San Diego to New York. New ones are popping up monthly. Hashing is growing in popularity mostly through word of mouth. Perhaps a quarter-million people hash around the world, he says.

“It's rather like a disease,” says Cumming, who ran with the original hash before taking it to Singapore. “It becomes more important than any other activity, more important than going to church, or getting tickets to a ball game.”

“We are probably the world's greatest trespassers,” he says. “It's pointless to ask anyone permission to run across their back yards. By not asking, we are protecting them. If they said, `Yes,' they'd become liable. If they said, `No,' we'd run anyway. People are always hashing where they shouldn't.”

And then there's the matter of their strange nicknames. Hashers honor each other with outrageous monikers. usually after a momentous act, such as passing out in a gutter or, in the case of Laura “Pay Per View,” Garza, a 32-year-old member of the White House Hash, getting caught in compromising positions. She and “Rear Buccaneer” were getting undressed in an RV for a nude run when, well, one thing led to another.

What's in their names

“We got kind of detoured,” she admits. “We didn't realize the blinds were open.”

One San Francisco hasher was given a name reflecting her personality: “Me, Me Me.”

John Wayne Bobbitt runs with the Las Vegas Hash. His hash name: “A Stitch in Time Saved Mine,” or just “Stitch” for short.

“You can ask for a new name,” says Bert Greenspan, 50, aka “Tongueless.” “But you wouldn't be very smart. You'll get a worse one.”

Attorneys, engineers, diplomats, computer systems designers, nurses, carpenters, judges, three-star generals - they all hash. it's rumored that even KGB agents have joined in. They range in age from the 20s to 70s. Sometimes they streak by in lingerie, pajamas, red dresses - or no clothes at all. (With careers, reputations and marriages at stake, some insist on being identified only by hash names.)

“I like the anonymity. It's like a twisted 12-step group,” says Tracy Allen, a nursing supervisor from Sebastopol who recently ran with the East Bay Mount Diablo Hash, otherwise known as Devil Hash. She has yet to receive a hash name.

Runs vary from three to eight miles. Hashers race down the trail, calling out “Are you?” which means “Are you on the trail?” and “on, on!” - roughly translated as “Continue this way.” Then comes the “down, down,” when “discipline” is dished out.

Misdemeanors range from wearing new shoes to uttering phrases deemed inane by the “religious adviser,” such as, “This is just like aerobics!” Devil Hash member Frank “Tuna Taco” Romero, 40, was once chastised for finishing first at a Long Beach hash. His punishment: guzzling beer out of the business end of a rubber chicken. The “down, down” is usually followed by the “on, on, on,” at a bar or restaurant.

Hashes are usually led by a “mismanagement” team and receive “moral” direction from a religious adviser, responsible for various rituals. San Francisco's Gypsies in the Palace Hash, though, has a “king” instead of a religious adviser. “King Rongjon,” famous among hashers the world over, waves a sword as he administers “down, downs.” In real life he's an engineer. It's really sophomoric. There's no other way to explain it,” says Sandra “Spanky” Gumpert, who runs with the Devil Hash. “For the most part, people are homeowners. We're not renegade yahoos. Really.”

Hashing is an antidote to the pressures of life. Serious discussions - religion, politics and, especially, careers - are verboten. Taking yourself seriously is a heinous crime.

“You don't have to drink. You don't have to run. But if you don't have a sense of humor, you're toast,” says “R.C. Mounter,” a Stanford immunologist. “You've got to be able to laugh at yourself because everybody else is going to. I've seen shy people with dry wits fit in with the guffawing fools.”

Widespread trend

No hash is the same. In Asia, hashers stumble through jungles, rivers, over waterfalls. In London, they reenact infamous murders every Friday the 13th. Hashers have taken on Moscow and the Great Wall of China. “There are hashes where it's inappropriate to swear,” “R.C. Mounter” says. “That's unhashlike.” Devil hashers discourage prerun stretching. Too competitive, they say.

“You might have to go over a cliff, get wet. I've been stung by bees, had mud up to my neck. I think that was one of my better days in my hashing life,” says Air Force fighter pilot Lt. Col. Paul Woodford, religious adviser of the Las Vegas Hash. In hash circles he's known as “Flying Booger.” His web site, Flying Booger's Half-Mind Catalog, is among the best and most read of the 120 such hash sites on the Internet.

“Bottom Sucker,” also known as Sandi Bohner, owner of Pleasanton's Decadent Desserts Cafe, was forced to run with her betrothed, Bill “Flounder” Webster, on their wedding day - handcuffed and wearing pink tutus.

“You can do anything you want and be safe because people will take care of you,” says “Tongueless” Greenspan.

“If someone takes their clothes off and stands in the fountain of the Palace of the Legion of Honor, it's not a problem,” he says. “It can be a real growth experience.”

Members plan vacations around other hash clubs while traveling on business. A three- or four-day Interhash occurs every other year. The next one is Oct. 2, 1998, in Kuala Lumpur, expected to draw thousands.

It's not all drunken debauchery. Many don't drink to excess. It's simply a chance to act naughty once a week. Actually, they're really nice people. But when they're together . . .

Hashers get misty-eyed as they recall historic runs. They've thudded through the N Judah Muni line tunnel in San Francisco. Record times were set.

'Little' scandals

Gypsies have followed trails onto BART trains and donned tuxedos and evening dresses for a swank hotel bar run, dashing from the Fairmont to the Mark Hopkins to the Hyatt. Then there's the annual post-Bay to Breakers pink tutu run through San Francisco's Financial District.

The rest of the world doesn't always understand.

In 1989, Monterey firefighters, wearing protective masks, closed several downtown blocks for an hour and a half before realizing the suspicious piles of white powder were flour left over from a run. Several years ago, Dallas residents phoned police about two men they believed were scrawling Satanic symbols on the ground - circles and crosses, hash checkpoint marks.

Hashers once slipped into Rossmoor through a hole in a fence, distressing the Walnut Creek retirement community. “The guards were pretty upset with us,” says retired Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory plasma physicist “Ultraman,” otherwise known as Bill Newcomb, 69.

In 1993, the hare of a pajama run raced through the Presidio, dropping flour as he went. Military police became alarmed. Before long, soldiers, with guns drawn, had him splayed out on the ground. After that his hash name was “5150,” the penal code for a dangerous person with a mental disorder.

“That was a good evening,” “Tongueless” fondly remembers. “We had martinis.”

Every now and then a hasher is, sadly, culled from the herd. Death and serious injuries, while rare, do occur.

A hasher in Taiwan once fell over a waterfall and went to the eternal “on, on, on.” Others have drowned crossing rivers or dropped dead of heart attacks.

In 1991, a hasher in Ashland, Ore., suffered heart failure.

A doctor and other medical professionals - who happened to be running in the hash - revived him with CPR. He later underwent bypass surgery.

He returned to hashing with a neat name: “Second Coming.”

The 'Hash' Dash - Confessions of a Hashing Debutante

By John Bodreau

Times Staff Writer

I was forced to deliver the evening's "sermon," a reading from "The Lonely Librarian," to a heckling crowd (She was anything but lonely).

I got lost twice on the five-mile run, a zigzagging "trail" stretching from the Marina to Pacific Heights and back to Crissy Field.

I was "down, downed," ordered to gulp "hot adult cider" as 25 or so hashers, standing in a circle, sang "Zuma, zuma, zuma, drink it down you Zulu warrior!"

And for this abuse I'm a better man.

"You're not a virgin anymore!" said "Sharon II," giving me a high-five.

I joined members of the Hash House Harriers Gypsies in the Palace, a group of offbeat runners who like to drink - or, if you prefer, drinkers with a running problem. They are something akin to renegade Rotarians. This hash chapter meets Thursday nights at different San Francisco locations.

On this cold and breezy night, it was an "average" hash. No nudity. No cross-dressing. No one passed out.

A hash is not the place to take your boss. It is, though, a cheap date. For a few bucks you can run with people with racy names. You can sip - or gulp - beer and participate in bawdy wordplay worthy of Falstaff.

"I'm 'Scrumbag.' Pleased to meet you," said a lanky attorney shortly after 6 p.m.

I was handed the "sacred missal," "The Lonely Librarian," by "Tiffany Diamond." I was told to pick any page - provided it was "worth reading." My first choice was rejected. "Nothing interesting happens by page 7," "Tongueless" explained tartly.

Unfortunately, page 27 was quite acceptable. "She whimpered and moaned and snuffled and mewled," I read to a chorus of groans and catcalls (I couldn't stop worrying that there must be an edict in my company's employee handbook prohibiting something like this).

I was reprimanded: Readers aren't allowed to skip any words.

With a nod from the "hare," the runner who set the trial, we pounded down Marina Boulevard. The pack sliced across busy streets, through tony neighborhoods, ascended grueling Webster Street. Twice I lost the trail. But hashers aren't hard to find. Just listen for the universal hash holler, "On, on!"

"This is where all us yuppies get to be bad for a night," explained "Pinprick," huffing up one of those lumpy hills that only feel like they are halfway to the stars.

After five or so miles, the group sprinted, jogged and staggered back to Crissy Field. The obligatory "down, down" party followed - we guzzled beer, soda or water as the group chanted, "down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down!"

By 9:30 p.m., most were drifting back to their normal lives. A few, though, headed to the "on, on, on" at Frankie's Bohemian Cafe for more beer.

There were tall tales of waking up - naked - in someone else's room, and comments like, "I was relatively sober at the time."

Then came sharing of hash lore. Evangelist Billy Graham, they swore, was a hasher before he began preaching. President Clinton once hashed by accident, they claimed, while jogging in Arkansas. Secret Service agents supposedly became agitated when the leader of the Free World converged with hooting hashers.

So it went until midnight.

"Tongueless" stole my notepad.

And "Sparkle Plenty" sat on it.


1997, Contra Costa Times

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