Metro Santa Cruz
June 6, 1996

My Cup Runneth Over


My Cup Runneth Over

From the June 6-12, 1996 issue of
Metro Santa Cruz


By Robert Scheer
Acid Hash Back:Two hashers chug along the flour-strewn trail of a South Bay hash. Participants pursue their crazed sport in every corner of the planet, including Antarctica.

The whole beer-soaked truth about life in the "hash" lane

By Amy Adams

On a drizzly Sunday afternoon last month in the hills off Highway 17, I found myself covered in mud, thoroughly wet, busily following little blobs of flour back to my car. Twenty or so similarly bedraggled people--going by names like Divining Rod and Nasty Ditch--accompanied me on this muddy adventure.

Divining Rod--a tall, dimpled Welsh man--briefly led the pack. The back of his sweatshirt read "Will Run 4 Beer."

"Hey, Divining Rod, you on?" asked a fellow hasher. "On," for this crowd, means "do you see a flour blob."

"Better than that, I see 'beer near,' " called Divining Rod, pointing to the ground. Sure enough, slightly blurred flour letters spelled out the words "Beer Near." The prospect of tepid beer lifted our spirits and warmed our hearts, encouraging us to pick up the pace.

Around the next muddy corner was the blue beer truck. In the middle of a run, miles from the cars, all the sweaty erstwhile health-conscious runners popped tops of slightly chilled beers. That's what you do in a drinking club with a running problem.


One Hundred Percent Beefcake Hash:Beer-swilling Monterey Bay hashers don their party best for a bash following the Teddy Ford Clinic Hash in Palm Springs last year.

It's not just a local phenomenon. This group is following a more than 50-year-old international tradition of "hashing." Not really a sport and more than just a hobby, hashes are run on every continent, even Antarctica.

Hashers come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. They range in running skill from race winners to non-runners, but they all share the same desire--to have a good time. And a good time they have every other Sunday at locations from Santa Cruz to Monterey. Four other hashes also run in the Greater Bay Area: two in San Francisco, one in Silicon Valley, and one in the East Bay. They run on trails, along roads and straight through buildings following the age-old rules of hashing--the first one being that there are no rules.

Today's run had a small turnout of about 15 runners. We huddled around the beer truck finishing off the last of our sustenance before heading off into the drizzle. Wet Job and Swallow, working as "beer check hostesses," stayed warm and dry in the car while we contemplated the rest of our soggy run.

We had run about two miles to find ourselves a mile from where we parked, and we were at the base of a very big, very muddy hill. It was no great surprise when our guiding flour blobs pointed us into the wooded hills. Our Monterey Bay hash and the East Bay hash both run a fair amount of trails, but San Francisco and Silicon Valley hashers are geographically limited to roads.

While each hash is a little different, there are a few constants. One or two "hares"--the leaders of the run--start out ahead of the pack, laying a trail of flour as they go. Today's hare was Swallow's husband, dBased. When the trail changes direction the hare lays a "check point"--a circle with an "X" in it. Many trails emanate from this check, but only one of them is "true." False trails have two flour blobs and then three short, parallel dashes. If a "hound"--one of the people chasing the hare--sees a third blob, then the group is on trail and that runner yells, "On, on, on, on, on!" to alert the other hashers.

Runs cover anywhere from three to seven miles, depending on the motivation of a hash, with most being around four miles.

At the conclusion of a run, hashers drink more beer and celebrate the misdeeds and misadventures from the hash. Any hasher accused of just about anything is serenaded with an off-color song, then "down downs" a beer. For a down down, recipients drink a beer until it is either gone or poured over their heads.

Your Day Job Doesn't Matter

Sound like some fraternity shenanigans? Actually, most hashers are over 30 and gainfully employed. Some are even respected by their peers. Each hash has its own character and composition. My mother's hash in Ithaca, N.Y., is almost entirely Cornell graduate students, while the one in Monterey is largely professionals. Silicon Valley hosts computer types, and the San Francisco hash has recently been taken over by the medical profession.

But your day job doesn't matter to the hash. We have a bevy of nurses, an engineer, a chimney sweep, an optometrist and everything in between. A new hasher can go months without learning a fellow hasher's real name or occupation. Whether or not you are fun to be around is far more critical than your job.

What lures people to this unusual activity? As we slipped and slided up a never-ending muddy hill, Butt Balls--a slender, athletic engineer at a local computer company--told me how he came to hashing.

"Anal got me into it," he said. Little Anal Annie is his wife. She had hashed in Taiwan, then searched for a local hash when she returned to Santa Cruz. "She had them over one day, but I thought I was way above that sort of behavior. I mowed the lawn the whole time they were over." Eventually, he met a few of the hashers and has been a regular ever since. "I felt pretty stupid when I admitted to Anal I had fun," he said.

Nasty Ditch, an immunology postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, was a more willing convert. "I did a local [Charleston] run and noticed the same group of people were repeatedly returning to the beer truck. I spoke to one of them, then he said he had to introduce me to the hashers, since I liked drinking and running. I was hooked. I can't remember why I missed the hash that first Sunday, but I haven't missed a week since."

Nasty Ditch refers to races as "r's" when she talks because the word "race" is off limits at a hash, and is punishable with beer. Reward and punishment are very similar.

Our current rules are nearly identical to those of the early hashers. Hashing originated with a handful of British expatriates stationed in Malaysia during the 1930s. These drunken souls missed their native England, and they missed hunting. With few opportunities to hunt in Malaysia, they created their own hunt using each other as the "hares." The rest of the pack played the role of both hunters and beagles, carrying bugles and horns just like the real thing.

One proto-hasher would set out ahead of the pack, leaving a trail of paper bits or flour in his wake for the "hounds" to follow. In the attempt to confuse his friends and prevent capture, the hare left a convoluted path of false and real trails winding through the rubber trees and backwoods. After the run, hashers retired to their favorite pub--called the "hash house" because of the monotonously poor food. Since hunters are traditionally called harriers, this pack of inebriated runners dubbed themselves the hash house harriers.

Barring several years of illegal running, a few run-ins with the law, and one or two minor skirmishes with the natives in Kuala Lumpur, hashing has been on the rise ever since.

Bombs and Blobs

As I waited at a check for the front runners to find the true trail, Anal Annie told me about some hash-related adventures from before I joined this hash. "One hare was arrested at an A's game." she said. Police picked him up for littering and not carrying ID. The rest of the pack had no idea where the trail disappeared to. Another time, a citizen called the bomb squad about a mysterious blob of flour in the street. When the pack came along, the whole block was closed off and bomb experts were analyzing the flour.

"On one!" yelled Wiener from behind some bushes. This means he has seen one flour mark. Wiener, wearing yellow running shorts emblazoned with the words "ON ON" across the back, got his name at a road race in Mexico. He was announced the "winner," which, in a Mexican accent, sounded like "wiener."

Divining Rod slogged through the mud beside me. A radiation safety officer at the Stanford Synchrotron during the week, he jumped into hashing a year ago. Now he's a regular. "I had heard about the hash in Switzerland," he said, "but didn't run one until I got here. They were a fun bunch of people without any preconceived ideas of who you are or could be. They don't care where you come from, just whether or not you can laugh at yourself and have fun. We have everything from CEOs to lowly writers."

RC Mounter, a marine biologist at Hopkins Marine Station, ran along behind Divining Rod and me. When I first met RC, he had just stepped off a plane from South Carolina. His wife, Nasty Ditch, moved here several months ahead of him and had already found them a hash.

Although we had never hashed in the same state, it turned out that RC and I knew a few hashers in common from big hash weekends. Throughout the year different hashes will sponsor a weekend event, with three days of hashing, dancing and moral turpitude guaranteed.

One famous weekend takes place during the Santa Cruz "Wharf to Wharf" run ("Wharf to Barf" for hashers), in which hashers carry a 40-foot condom throughout the race. "Two years in a row we did it in 69 minutes," Anal Annie says. "We had to jog in place just before the finish line for a few minutes to get that."

As RC Mounter and I talked, he jumped in every mud puddle he came across, dowsing me in cold, slimy ooze. We were near the end, and the hash had gotten spread out, straggling along in groups of two or three. Others had shortcutted back to the cars when they either lost the trail or got too wet to continue.

After two hours of running through mud, puddles, brambles and wet leaves--known collectively as "shiggy"--our hash ended where it started, back by the cars. Hashers took off wet clothes and changed into warmer layers before the final ceremony.

"Gather 'round for a prayer," called Mr. Mooshmullah to the crowd. "It's time for religion." Beer in hand, hashers sang a prayer never heard in church--religious ceremonies vary only slightly from hash to hash. A "religious adviser," or RA, recounts tales of embarrassment and misadventure from the trail. Then the hash sings one of many off-color songs and chants "down, down, down, down" while the culprit does his or her down down. While traditionally done with beer, most hashes will allow a down down of water or soda. Non-drinking hashers may also pour their beer on the RA, other hashers or themselves.

"I always pour mine down my shorts," Anal Annie said.

At these ceremonies, recent newcomers also get their names. They usually have to hash a few times before they do something to inspire a naming, at which time a "naming committee" assembles. This consists of any hasher with a good idea. They meet briefly, take a vote, then doom a new hasher with his or her name. These are flexible and often change a few times before the perfect one comes along.

 

When the down downs were completed, names given and stomachs beginning to rumble, we packed up our muddy belongings and headed back to our usual lives, shedding hash names and hashing personae until the next weekend of hashing begins.

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