August 22, 1998

The Beer Runners

The Beer Runners
Oh, the places they'll go!

The Times-Picayune
August 22, 1998
By Christopher Rose

Six days a week, it is appropriate to accord the 150 members of the Hash House Harriers running club the perfunctory courtesies and respect worthy of others like them - workaday accountants, lawyers, welders, therapists, secretaries, office managers, whatever.

However, on Monday nights, the veneer of respectability is dashed as these people - hashers, they call themselves - descend into their weekly ritual of pranksterism. They become a menace to society, a danger to democracy, a threat to pets, small children, golfers, shopping center security guards and railroad engineers. They become post-adolescent fraternity doofuses, spitball artists and class clowns with their silly songs and disruptive traditions, public vulgarities and secret nicknames.

But, despite their proclivities toward cross-dressing and the alarming frequency with which they contract poison ivy, they sure are a fun-loving bunch.

The New Orleans Hash House Harriers are the local branch of an international running organization that prioritizes pranksterism and partying over any real hint of fitness and competition.

They call themselves the "drinking club with a running problem" and this does not seem inaccurate by any means.

Unless the weekly run calls for costumes in keeping with occasional themed events (the annual bondage run, for instance, or this week's red dress run) the Hash house Harriers often resemble any other social running club, except there's more beer.

Once the weekly race begins, however, everything is different. An advance team of runners (called hares) lays a trail of white flour for other runners (hounds - get it?) to follow. Depending on the whims of the hares, the run may follow a conventional roadside route or, more likely, will detour through public squares, parking ramps and dense woods - hence, the poison ivy - with many false trails along the way.

(Once, when the trail led through the columned sidewalk corridor of the River Market shopping center on Tchoupitoulas street, security guards surrounded the bunch and made them sweep up their flour. "It was the most embarrassing moment in the history of the New Orleans club," says veteran hasher Chip Marz. "I've never heard of hashers anywhere cleaning up their own flour.")

Anything goes. The run moves from one end of the area to the other, from the West Bank to Harahan to eastern New Orleans to downtown. Trails are marked from one beer stop to the next and the runners usually call it a day after four or five miles or so. Then they sing songs, welcome guests, initiate new members, all of which involve – you guessed it - drinking beer.

It's a grand old tradition borne of a handful of bored Englishmen stranded in a colonial outpost 60 years ago, and one embraced with characteristic New Orleans aplomb.

"We like to be seen, to cause a ruckus," says New Orleans hasher Peter Caddoo, the club's current Grand Master and a beermaker for Dixie brewery. "We like to run through hotel lobbies and through shopping centers. We sometimes run on private property but you shouldn't print that. Oh, go ahead and print it; we're never there very long anyway. We try to stay off golf courses because that would be disrupting a sporting event."

(Within two hours of this statement, the Hash House Harriers pattered in general disarray between the 5th green and 11th fairway of Audubon Golf Course, disrupting all manner of genteel sporting life, but how could Caddoo have anticipated this; After all, he was a hound, not a hare.)

"I think most people here would tell you they run the hash as a means of shedding stress," says Marz, who joined the New Orleans group only weeks after it formed back in 1988 and has run weekly ever since. "There's a lot of running groups that drink beer but there's not a lot of running groups that go the places we go - places where runners don't usually go.

"A lot of people will come out and try this out for a night and decide it's not their cup of tea and that's OK. But me, I first hashed in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1973, and it was love at first sight - running through rice fields, yelling and laughing. It's a good way to thumb your nose at society."

Marz was a facilities manager for Freeport-MacMoran at the time he first joined the Jakarta HHH. The original club was founded not for from there.

The Hash House Harriers were first formed by a group of British expatriates stationed in what is now called Malaysia. It was modeled after a fox-and-hounds-style chase, with the hounds in this case chasing the hares and their trails of paper.

The name comes from the hash house where the original club members congregated.

There have been dozens of international and local mutations over the years, but the call-and-response ("On! On!" and other cheers) and general methodology have remained intact: A wide communication network open to anybody foolish enough to join with lots of dirty songs, pornographic nicknames and, yep. Beer.

There are more than 1,300 hashes (clubs) listed worldwide in at least 147 countries.

Hashers who travel from one town to another usually can find a local group and if there isn't one, they often start one. The New Orleans chapter was started by the Houston club in October 1988, after it realized its southern sister city was without hashers.

And one thing leads to another.

There are about 150 active members in the New Orleans club, all ages, all walks of life. The club serves a purpose far beyond its original mission, it seems.

"I got into it as an alternative to the bar scene," says local Grand Mistress Linda Crozier, a chemical sales representative. "You can meet a lot of interesting people out here."

Indeed. She met her husband in the group and then, after a real wedding, was host of a hash wedding in Audubon Park for which all the guests cross-dressed.

"I had been in a number of other social running clubs and I had heard about how offensive these people were," says another local hasher, a 42-year-old women who asked that her real name no be used because she is a school teacher and fears what her supervisors might make of her hasher membership.

"And, in fact, they are offensive," she continues. "Very unprofessional, but it's a wonderful opportunity to let your hair down, to laugh and sing and tell dirty jokes. It is idiotic but fun."

She pauses.

"Although the poison ivy is a drawback."

Ryun Mouton first hashed in Okinawa, Japan, when he was in the Marines.

"It was a great way to meet Japanese people and to see parts of Okinawa that I likely would never have seen," Mouton said.

His hashing experiences there included rappelling down a mountainside and crawling through a tiny opening underneath a highway.

Mouton is a huge fan of hashing, making road trips monthly to other cities and other states for interhashes and other global events.

He's done dozens of hashes in many places in many styles and, as an authority on such matters, is able to distinguish the New Orleans Hash House Harriers from most other groups around the world. "More beer," he says.

Reproduced by Ryun "Probing Sex Knave" Mouton, NOH3

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