What Really Goes on Behind the Scenes of the Hash House Harriers, one of New Orleans’ Prime Running and Social Groups
Stephen, who is better known by many as “Swamp Bitch,” has a hobby that some people might find strange. Every week he joins his friends in an ever-changing outdoor location, which is revealed only days in advance. They all drink a lot of beer, then they run (or walk) along a trail of baking flour, laid out on the ground for them to follow-- like breadcrumbs for Hansel and Gretel. This trail of cryptic flour symbols has been strategically pre-devised-- with various twists and turns to make it both more challenging and more interesting-- by someone called a “hare”. Then they drink more beer.
Stephen is a “hasher”, and is a member of the “mismanagement” (essentially, the executive board) of the New Orleans Hash House Harriers. He has been hashing for over twenty years now, mainly because he enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow hashers. Says Swamp Bitch, “The hash has done so much for me. It started out as just a fun thing to do, to take my mind off all my troubles. I was much younger when I started the hash, yet many of those people that I met at my very first hash are here today more than 21 years later. You meet the best people, and have a magnificent time together. Everybody takes care of each other. The hash actually becomes a family to you.”
In every family, it seems, you are likely to find at least one crazy uncle, a nurturing aunt or two, and possibly a slutty sister. You might even have a cross-dressing cousin. But everyone loves and appreciates each other and enjoys each other’s company (mostly), and you all have your own special family traditions and ways of doing things.
The hash “family” is no exception.
The Hash House Harriers-- whose motto is “A New Orleans Drinking Club with a Running Problem”-- is one of three hash groups in New Orleans. Hashers are an eclectic group of individuals from many walks (or runs) of life, who come together to exercise, drink, and hang out, and not necessarily in that order. One night a week they host a run, called a hash, and another night they go out for drinks at a local bar. So they are part running group, part social club, and all drinking organization.
Everyone hashes for a slightly different reason. Hashers are people of diverse ages, professions, and backgrounds. Boner Lisa, another hasher, adds, “I think the great thing about the hash is that you can have a 21-year-old with a 70-year-old, and someone who’s unemployed with someone who makes a lot of money…everybody’s equal in the hash.” There are many hashers who are professionals—lawyers, doctors, engineers, retired military-- and they enjoy hashing as a chance to break away from the constraints of their work lives. To let loose, be silly, have a little fun. Have a little beer. Some hashers are also elite runners, marathoners, triathletes-- who thrive on the running. Others would rather walk for the whole hash route…with beer in hand.
No matter what motivates a hasher to be a hasher, there is something for everybody. Take “Anchor Spanker”, for instance. He is a self-professed dork. He likes to hang out with other dorks… a few of whom just happen to be fellow hashers. “I love those guys to death, but you’re talking about goth-dancing, D&D-playing, computer-repairing kind of folks. These are straight-up dorks. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just weird to have a group that sort of caters to that, and the hash really does.” Since almost any city of reasonable size around the globe has a hash house, and many cities have several, Anchor Spanker travels the world meeting up with other hashing groups everywhere he goes. Says Mr. Spanker, “This year I’m doing twelve things around the country with other hashes. It’s just nice to go places and meet people that you already have something in common with.”
If there’s one thing they all seem to have in common, it’s beer. Beer is the glue that holds them together. There is a beer truck-- a pick-up with a keg in the back (though cans in a giant cooler work in a pinch), and the beer truck follows the hashers along their trail. The hash always kicks off with a “pre-lube”, where the hashers meet and drink up before they run (or walk). Then there are “beer checks” along the way—pit stops for beer so you can drink halfway through the route (main objective: no one is to be deprived of beer for any extended duration). And of course, at the end of the trail, everyone meets back at the start for beer and further merriment.
This is the time for the “Circle”, which is the core of the weekly hash. Like a crucial council meeting. The head honcho hasher, known as the RA, stands in the center of a ring of people, with a pitcher of beer, and conducts the proceedings. First, new recruits are introduced and welcomed to the group through a ceremonious hazing. The virgin hashers (aka “new boots”) must tell a joke, sing a song, or show a body part (their choice of these three options), and all must announce who invited them to the hash by proclaiming “So-and-so made me cum today”. Then weekly announcements are made, more songs are sung, and people are called out (and made to drink) for doing something against proper hash etiquette-- like pointing with their finger instead of their elbow, missing too many hashes in a row, or “using technology on trail” (no headphones, folks).
And there’s beer.
Once Circle winds down, it’s time to eat. The card table is propped up, the hot pots and sterno and styrofoam bowls come out, and all the hashers partake in a fine al fresco dinner provided by the “food hare”. The grub can be anything from BBQ rib dinners and elaborate hot dishes to peanut and butter and jelly on flour tortillas. And many bags of chips and cheesy poofs.
The New Orleans chapter of the Hash House Harriers has been in existence since 1988, but hashing itself goes back as far as 1938. It began in Kuala Lumpur, with the following objectives:
- To promote physical fitness among its members
- To get rid of weekend hangovers
- To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
- To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
Some things never change.
Overall, the hash is filled with unusual rituals, risqué nicknames and sexual innuendos. The hashers use titles like beer hare, hare raiser, and haberdashery. They have names like Twinkle Twat, Peter Teaser, and Penis Colada. They speak a sort of hasher dialect which includes such phrases as “on on” and “down down”, and sing naughty songs wrought with bad words and graphic descriptions. Hashers are as full of dirty humor as they are of beer.
It’s kind of like a (not so) grown-up version of a frat party.
Essentially, when it comes to the hash, the weirder the behavior, the better. As a hasher myself, I have been mooned almost weekly, been asked to look beneath a fellow hasher’s kilt, made “flour” angels in a pile of the hash trail flour, and bathed in a public fountain. When it is a hasher’s birthday, it is common practice to put them in the middle of the Circle and dump the various ingredients of a birthday cake on their heads—raw eggs, flour, chocolate sauce, whipped cream…
All hashers eventually receive a hash name which will become their new persona. The name is selected for them by the other hashers, based on some noteworthy thing they may have said or done, and spun into something overtly sexual. The naming ceremony is elaborate and significant and involves thoroughly drenching hair, body parts and clothing in beer. My own naming occurred during the Krewe of Bacchus doggie parade last Mardi Gras, and, accordingly, my hash name (“Kat Knot”) was initially intended to be associated with a dog’s penis (though in the end they went with a cat penis reference instead). Every name has its own interesting story. On Da Rag, for instance, likes to point out that the “Da” in his name, rather than The, came about because he was named in Chalmette. Seems appropriate. Beyond their weekly hash and its carefree silliness, hashers are also very involved in the community. They volunteer to help out at other running events and races, and their social activities and hashes often revolve around festivals and other major happenings around the city. They hold picnics, pool parties, and crawfish boils. And of course, their biggest claim to fame: every year the Hash House Harriers host the Red Dress Run, where everyone wears red, drinks beer, and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities.
These are good people with good hearts who like to relax and live it up a little in their spare time. The hash is their way of doing that. It is their outlet. Says Banana Slit, “Hashing is freedom. You can simply be who you are, and you’re not only accepted for it, but encouraged.” Sir Yacks-a-Lot agrees. “These are the most non-judgmental people I know.”
The hash usually costs $6 per person, per hash, though sometimes more for special event hashes. Included in that bargain price, you get a little bit of beer-gut-hindering exercise, plenty of camaraderie, and free-flowing fun and beer. You might even help raise some money for a good cause.
Run strong. Drink strong. Hash strong.