Blood, Sweat & Beers
Technically, Six Tits a Week had organized the event, but it was No Shit – not to be confused with Oh Shit –who'd put the course together, drawing colored chalk lines up and down the streets of Bernal Heights and the Mission, dropping handfuls of white flour here and there as trail markers so we'd know where we were going, which, in spite of No Shit's efforts and Six Tits' moral support, we rarely did, because we had been drinking. That is what you do as a member of the Hash House Harriers.
And so thank goodness Ras-pukin' was there to blaze a trail back to our starting point: Tongueless' hatchback, where the keg of Lagunitas was waiting. If not for Ras-pukin's focused efforts, your somewhat out-of-shape correspondent, "Just Garrett" (more on that in a second), might never have found his way back, might never have wolfed down Fritos and slurped a cider-colored, coconut-flavored, highly alcoholic concoction ladled from something affectionately called “The Sacred Bucket” while standing on a sidewalk across from Holly Park next to a Swedish man dressed in a flowing orange cape with a felt foot sewn onto it – who when he says the word "actually" sounds like he's saying "sexually," a joke that never gets old in a group whose members have names like Phone Sex, Red Hot Vagina, and Twinkle Dick.
Actually, wait a second. I suppose I should back up.
I have been making New Year's resolutions since New Year's, including: drink less, exercise more. Though seemingly complementary, they've proven to be at odds with one another. If I exercise, I feel the desire to reward myself with beer. If I drink beer, I feel the need to work it off with exercise. There's got to be a better way!
The Hash House Harriers provides one, and not just a way, but an international society, complete with chapters, T-shirts, code words, and even its own magazine. On Thursday our cohorts ranged in age from 20 to 60; some had driven their Mercedes to the run while others looked like they'd been wearing the same shirt for a week straight. Hashing itself is close to 100 years old, its origins dating back to 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, where a gaggle of British expats started a Monday running club as a way to burn off weekend hangovers. Today there are literally hundreds of HHH chapters all around the world, including two in San Francisco, one in the East Bay, and countless others throughout the greater Bay Area. SF's Gypsies run on Thursday evenings, whereas SF HHH gather on Mondays.
Newbies are welcome and encouraged to try hashing, so my girlfriend Danielle and I just showed up – there's no appointment necessary, no calling ahead. The runs are free of charge your first time, but since I'd run before I handed over six bucks to Tongueless' better half to help pay for the booze and snacks, which comprise the Viking feast that awaits you upon completion of the event. That is, assuming you complete the event.
And so Danielle and I arrive at the meet-up, Holly Park, promptly at 6:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday, where Six Tits a Week greets us merrily. Hash names are bestowed once a newbie has been established with the group, typically after 5–10 runs. Until then, you're known as "Just [Your Name]." Just Danielle and I introduce ourselves to Do Her Well, Tongueless, and others, and as the group prepares to run No Shit's course, Just Danielle, as its virgin runner, is given an important task: blessing our run with a reading from "the bible," – a frayed, yellowed, very pornographic Harlequin romance novel. He thrust his throbbing man-object into her quivering love-bush, etc. And we're off.
On the surface, hashing couldn't be simpler: For any given gathering, a predetermined "hare" devises a course. The starting point can be anywhere in San Francisco, which is one of the beauties of hashing. On foot and liquored up, you'll see and appreciate more of this town than you ever thought possible. As mentioned, today's hash is through Bernal, a neighborhood I'm plenty familiar with from trips to Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, El Rio, and Bernal Heights Park itself. But running through its labyrinthine streets is a whole other experience: gorgeously quaint cottages, each with their own unique cityscape view, and little hidden stairways connecting them all, and tiny pocket parks dotted here and there.
Per the rules of hashing, Just Danielle and I bumble our way along the evening's trail, which has been marked with chalk-drawn arrows laid down by No Shit, the hare. Along the way we encounter "checks," or forks in the road, where it is necessary to scout ahead in multiple directions in search of three consecutive plops of flour, which indicate the next leg of the trail. In keeping with tradition, No Shit has created a series of false trails and ridiculous detours that require team and detective work to decode. Once our group finds its way, we yell "On, on, on!" to indicate to our fellow runners to follow us (the phrase is something of a calling card). This might all be considerably more unnerving were we not put at ease by a few beers at the start, and encouraged by the promise of even more at the finish.
After trudging up and down the narrow lanes of Bernal, we're spit out at Precita Park, a stretch of green that rivals Duboce Park as a dog run and picnic spot. We then continue – "On, on, on!" – through the Mission, along 26th and 27th Streets, up through Noe Valley and along Church, and finally back to Holly Park, where we started. At this point the 20-person pack is pretty spread out, and that's something worth noting about hashing: It's far from competitive. You can run or walk, fast or slow. In fact, because the lead runners spend a lot of their time solving the puzzle of the course and communicating back down the procession – "On, on, on!" – the walkers are never too far behind. By the time we convene around the Fritos and Lagunitas, we are all fatigued according to our individual ability. It's very egalitarian that way.
Like any drinking club or sovereign nation, Hash House Harriers is a quilt woven from various ridiculous traditions. The Sacred Bucket filled with mysterious booze juice is one of them. Another is the Red Dress Run, a global tradition organized regionally wherein, for example, the greater Bay Area HHH chapters convene to perform one great big hash in Red Dresses. Further traditions include the On-On-On: the bar set upon by still-standing hashers once The Sacred Bucket has been dispensed with (in our case this was the Wild Side West, in Bernal), as well as something called Down Downs.
We are acquainted with Down Downs after many pulls from the Sacred Bucket: The night's hashers array themselves in a circle and begin singing a series of songs that conclude with the lyrics "Down, down, down, down," which are instructions to the object of the song to down one's drink. After a few veteran hashers receive their Down Downs for various accomplishments, Just Danielle gets one for being a hasher newbie and I receive one as well for not having run a hash in years. In a club like this, there ends up being a lot of reasons to have a drink.
The down-downs spelled the end of the night for us. We'd run approximately four miles up and down the hills of Bernal, had ingested no small amount of beer and booze, and had befriended a bathroom wall's worth of very nice people, which I'm pretty sure is the point of hashing at the end of the day: the celebration of essential human values like sex, alcoholism, and hard labor, all performed with a smile on your face and a killer view of the city you're running in. It's truly a one-of-a-kind experience. No shit.
Um, go run a freakin' hash. Visit the Hash House Harriers website (http://www.sfh3.com/) for everything you need to know about this, uh, sport, including when and where the next hash will be. Bring a few bucks and some warm clothes to change into after the run. Whatever you do, don't wear brand new shoes.