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D.C.’s hashers pound the pavement. Then they pound a few beers.
It’s a drizzly Thursday night in March, and I’m running up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol. My toga is falling off. Three pints of beer slosh around in my stomach. My socks are soaking wet. I might puke. But I’m not alone. A horde of toga-clad runners scampers alongside me.
My 30 or so running companions are members of the Everyday Is Wednesday Hash House Harriers, a self-described “drinking group with a running problem.” Every Thursday night, this D.C. group meets to
drink, run, and be merryin short, to hash. Tonight’s theme is the Ides of March. Thus, we wear togas as we scamper along.
There are approximately 1,500 chapters of the Hash House Harriers scattered around the world, from Bangkok to Belgium and many points in between. Compared with legendary drinking towns such as Dublin, Newcastle, and New Orleans, Washington, D.C., can appear downright stodgy, yet the button-down District has become a haven for hashing on the East Coast, with 10 active chapters in the region.
“Drinking heavily is sort of looked down upon here, so we’ve always been somewhat underground,” says Don Kresal, a software consultant and the webmaster for a local hashing Web site (www.dchashing.org). Still, Kresal adds, “there is no city in the U.S. that has more hashes than the D.C. area.”
Hashing originated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938, when a Brit named Alberto Stepheno Gispert founded the first Hash House Harriers chapter. Taking its cue from a childhood game known as Hares and Hounds, the hash is part hide-and-seek and part cross-country run, with echoes of the British institution of hunting. A few fast runners (the “hares”) set a course by laying a trail as they go. The rest of the pack (the “hounds”) try to catch them.
It’s not exactly a riveting way for District professionals to spend a Thursday night, until you throw in the hashers’ bawdy lingo and the vast amount of beer consumed before, during, and after each run.
Bill Panton founded the Washington, D.C., Hash House Harriers, the District’s very first hash, way back in 1972. It survives to this day. At the age of 73, Panton is still passionate about hashing. Now that he’s retired from the World Bank, Panton spends much of his time studying the genealogy of hashing groups. “Most of the hashes,” he observes, “were started by military servicemen stationed abroad. They’d show up in a new region and say, ‘There’s not much to do here. Let’s start a hash.’”
Panton ran in his first hash in Kuala Lumpur in 1968 with Gispert’s original group, now referred to as the “Mother Hash.” Panton estimates that, over the past three decades, he has hashed nearly 3,000 times with more than 200 different chapters in countries on every continent except Antarctica.
Other hashers, like Frank Johnson, a White House Hash House Harriers regular and longtime U.S. State Department employee, found the drinking and running game at diplomatic postings. “The hash is all about doing a little bit of madness outside your job,” says Johnson. “When you’re stationed overseas, you’re encased in an embassy community. But when you start doing the hash, you meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. And you see places you wouldn’t see.”
Rich Hatzfeld, a marketing manager for a Fortune 100 company, also discovered the joy of hashing overseas. “I started hashing when I was in Singapore,” he notes. “The grass was waist-high, and there were cobras.” D.C. hashes omit the snakes, Hatzfeld says, but he still enjoys the recreation. “The thing I love about hashing in D.C.,” he continues, “is that it’s one of the few extracurricular activities here that’s not political.”
My first hash involves only a short run, but the drinking bout afterward is a marathon.
The location and length of the Everyday Is Wednesday hash vary each week. The course is usually 3 to 5 miles long, depending on the whim of the hares who lay it out, with X’s marked in flour, duct tape, chalk, or toilet paper. The hash begins each week with a meeting at a predetermined Metro stop. Tonight’s meeting point is Eastern Market, and when I arrive, I am promptly directed to Remingtons, a bar at 639 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.
Inside, a crowd of toga-wearing men and womenmostly white and in their 20s and early 30sis chatting and drinking. The atmosphere is friendly, and people don’t hesitate to introduce themselves. After a bit of imbibing, everybody forms a circle. With two other first-time hashers, I’m called into the center and introduced to the group.
Nicknames in the hashing community have to be earned, so until I prove my hashing merits to the group, I will remain Just Felix. In the meantime, everybody warms up by singing a racy song: “Put your right leg over my shoulder, put your left leg over my shoulder….”
From the outset, our run is chaotic. A few individuals lead the group in the wrong direction. We turn back. Cars honk. Runners shout. Spirits are high.
“Show me the flour!” someone calls out. Soon, we’re zigzagging through residential streets on Capitol Hill, cutting through alleys and dodging puzzled pedestrians.
Ten of us running together lose the rest of the group. Someone suggests we return to the bar. Then we spot a tree along Independence Avenue marked with flour. A few minutes later, we’re rewarded for our perspicacity. We see a hare, waving his arms and guiding us to our midway destinationa keg stop in an alley off of First Street NW.
Three kegs are piled in the back of a pickup truck, and cups full of green beer (in honor of St. Patrick’s Day) are lined up on a table. Everybody drinks, and a couple of veterans lead the group in a song.
Each D.C. hash has a distinctive character, though the ribaldry and drinking are consistent hallmarks. Some hashes run in the city. Some run in the woods. The Everyday Is Wednesday hash draws mostly young singles, and other hashes, such as the Mount Vernon Hash House Harriers and the Washington D.C. Hash House Harriers, draw older or married runners. There is, however, significant crossover among the local groups, with members from all hashes participating in theme events such as the monthly D.C. Full Moon Hash and the annual Red Dress Hash. D.C.’s Red Dress Hash has grown into the largest event of its kind in the world. Last year, 867 men and women donned red dresses to take part in the event.
When our hash group reaches an alley off 8th Street SE, the FRBs (“front-running bastards,” as speedy hounds are sometimes dubbed) are already there, eating snacks and drinking green beer. Once everyone has arrived, another circle is formed. I join the two other virgin hashers in the center. This time, we chug beers as the rest of the hash sings the word “down” to the tune of the theme song from The Flintstones. Anything we don’t drink, we are told, gets poured on our heads.
I finish my beer, and I am booted out of the circle. Now it’s time to select the winner of the toga contest. There are two finalists. We are told to vote for our favorite by yelling. Newcomer Matt Prudente, who’s sporting a mini-toga (made out of a pillowcase) over a pair of blue Speedos, wins by a couple of decibels. A consensus also emerges: It’s time to give Just Matt a nickname.
Suggestions are shouted out: “Ranger Dick.” “Sack Full of Sheet.” “Pillowface.” “Speedo-ometer.” “Oedipus.” At last, the moniker “Eatapus” wins approval. Prudente kneels in the circle’s center and is splashed in beer and covered in flour.
Hashing clubs bear a strong resemblance to fraternities, but they tend to thrive on inclusion rather than exclusion. “Once you’re in the hash, you have instant family,” says Steve Wells, a marketing specialist from Los Angeles, who’s in D.C. for five days and has found tonight’s hash. He proudly shows off his hashing tattooa set of footprints running around his calf.
Back at Remingtons, the hash post-party is in full swing. It goes on past midnight.
“Everybody’s really themselves here,” says a high school teacher from Northern Virginia, who prefers that her students don’t discover her hashing side. “Usually you go to a bar and everybody puts on an image. But here, there’s nothing to hide. You’re sweaty and dirty when you’re done with the run. I don’t mind that I haven’t showered. Nobody really cares. People can just be themselves.”
Marissa Melton, a fellow “media slut” (a hasher term for journalists), warns me that stories about hashing can be a slippery slope for unwary scribes.
“I did a story on hashing back in 1997,” she says. “And now I’m totally caught up in it.” At the time, Melton was writing for U.S. News & World Report, in a job that earned her the hashing moniker “U.S. Boobs and Oral Reports.”
“Keep this up,” advises Melton, “and they’ll start calling you ‘Shitty Paper.’” CP