The Hash House Harriers Paint the Town Red at the 2015 Red Dress Run
Mona, who is better known by many as “Boner Lisa,” has a hobby that some people might find strange. Every week she joins her friends in an ever-changing 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, Hansel and Gretel-style. This trail of cryptic flour symbols has been laid out on the ground for them to attempt to follow (with various twists and turns to make it both more challenging and more interesting) by someone called a “hare”. Then they drink more beer.
Mona is a “hasher”, and is a member of the “mismanagement” (essentially, the executive board) of the New Orleans Hash House Harriers. She has been hashing for the past 15 years, mainly because she enjoys the camaraderie of her fellow hashers. Said Boner Lisa, “It’s comfortable. I mean, we’ve all gotten to know each other over the years, and we do hash stuff. But we also do friend stuff separate from that. You make really good friends. There’s always somebody doing something, so you don’t feel so alone in the city if you’re not from here. It really is a family.”
This Saturday, August 8, Boner Lisa’s “family” is having a reunion. A colossal family reunion where approximately 600 hashers will gather in the French Quarter from all over the globe for the 21st annual Red Dress Run here in New Orleans. They will be joined at least 4,000 non-Hashers, and all together will make up the largest Red Dress Run in the world. Every year, thousands of men and women gather in New Orleans the second Saturday of August with the distinct goal of donning red dresses (“The tackier the better. The skimpier the better”), drinking a lot of beer, consuming a little BBQ in Armstrong Park, walking or running along a two-mile course through the Quarter, and partying it up with nearly 5,000 of their closest friends. But there’s so much more to it than that.
Despite its somewhat bawdy and raucous appearance (sweaty, red dress-clad folks showing a lot of skin and downing even more beer), the annual Red Dress Run is actually for a good cause. The event is put on by the New Orleans Hash House Harriers, whose motto is “A drinking club with a running problem.” The hashers—who offer their time on a purely volunteer basis—have been working hard since April to prepare for this affair. The main objective of the event is to raise money for local charities. The hashers raised nearly $202,000 in 2014 for around 70 different charities, and at least $500,000 in the past three years combined. Over the course of the nine years that the Hash House Harriers have been donating, they have given an all-time total of over a million philanthropic bucks to more than 180 New Orleans charities. If in the meantime everyone over indulges a little and has fun a lot, so much the better. No one is complaining.
Hash House photographer and president Curt McClain, who goes by “Snatch Shot,” remarked, “It’s a good day for people. It fits with what New Orleans is about: costuming and partying and acting crazy.” Joe Burns, whose hasher name is “Ice Balls,” likes to call the Red Dress Run “a touch of Mardi Gras in August, except that everybody’s got the same color on.” He has been hashing ever since the New Orleans branch of the Hash House Harriers came into existence back in 1988, and now acts as their treasurer.
Hashers are a group of individuals 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. Yet exactly which of these activities takes precedence depends on who you talk to and which hashing group they are part of (there are three different hash chapters in New Orleans). Everyone does it for a slightly different reason. Hashers are people of diverse ages, professions, and backgrounds. Boner Lisa said, “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 and engineers, and they admit to enjoying hashing as a chance to break away from the constraints of their work lives. To let loose, be silly, have a little fun, and have a little beer. Some are also elite runners, marathoners and 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 might 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 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. No one can take themselves too seriously while running with beer. And the hash definitely doesn’t lend itself to being too serious. It is filled with unusual rituals, risqué nicknames and sexual innuendos. The Hashers have titles like beer hare, hare raiser, and haberdashery. And names like Kneez 2 Pleez and Peter Teaser. They sing naughty songs and speak a sort of Hasher dialect which includes such phrases as “on on” and “down down”. All in good fun.
Red Dress Runs are not unique to New Orleans, but are in fact an international phenomenon. The very first one ever took place in the late 80’s in San Diego. Legend has it that a woman running late for a hash didn’t have time to change into more appropriate running attire, and decided to be a sport and run anyway—wearing a red dress and heels. The San Diego Hashers were so impressed, they chose to honor her thereafter by making it an annual tradition to run in red duds. At the suggestion of the original Lady in Red, they resolved to do it in the name of charity.
Yet it’s not only the charities that benefit from the Red Dress Run, nor even the participants who prosper from a day of relaxation and merriment. In New Orleans, the event also helps out the city as a whole. We all know that our fine town, which thrives on tourism, is a little bit barren this time of year as potential visitors seek cooler climates. And yet the Red Dress Run brings ‘em running. One hasher, known by her fellows as “Gooey Blow”, said, “We help the city a lot. In a very low time. Everybody wanted to change [the date] because it’s so terribly hot here in August. But this is when the city has a slow time. And we’ve helped them, with hotels, and restaurants. Everybody in the city, especially in the French Quarter area, loves the fact that we’re bringing business in a time when it’s dead.”
Slip into your cutest red get-up, and come out Saturday for a benevolent and fun-filled day. Everyone who registers for the event will receive a Red Dress “prize package” including:
- Access to Armstrong Park, which is open only to those who pay the registration fee
- A post-run lunch of Corky’s BBQ
- As much beer as you dare to drink, thanks to Abita, Redd's Apple Ale, and Crescent Crown (in past years Red Dress-ers have gone through more than 300 kegs!)
- All-day music courtesy of Dash Rip Rock, The Breton Sound and Jimmy Triay, along with local DJ Marion Perret
- For those who signed up early enough, some sort of a take-home souvenir (last year they gave out fanny pack coolers).
Not to mention, you get to get all dolled up in red. So even if only for the day, you too can live like a hasher, and, as in the words of Ice Balls: “Run strong. Drink strong. Hash strong.”
For more information on the Red Dress Run, you can refer to the website at http://nolareddress.com/