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Love on the Run 

How a combination footrace and frat party became one of the best places in the city to hook up

Wednesday, Aug 11 2004

Page 3 of 5

Ten minutes after we begin, the pack is hopelessly scattered in the China Camp picnic area, and a burly female park ranger is pulling runners aside for interrogation.

Twenty minutes later I'm alone on a dusty trail overlooking the bay, the beer has gone straight to my legs, which feel like giant lead hams, and I'm on the verge of an asthmatic seizure.

After an hour, I finally limp back to the starting point. Because of severe dehydration, I'm not sweating anymore, but my shirt is ringed with dried, crusty traces of salt. My lips are sun-chapped. I encounter Caton, leaning against the side of his car, his arm and shirt covered in blood. Apparently he was jogging with a baby stroller filled with beers and got sliced when one of the bottles fell out. He informs me that the quicker runners have already finished off the supply of water.

This is the worst run of my life.

But I soon find out that running is hardly the point of the hash. When all the disagreeable exercise is out of the way, the hashers regroup at the starting point and circle around a fresh keg to dole out penalties (called "Down Downs") for such egregious crimes as finishing first, getting lost, and setting a difficult trail. These penalties (always in the form of a liquid) are chugged while the group sings skewed nursery rhyme melodies with names like "Sexual Life of the Camel" and "God Bless My Underpants." During these ceremonies, newcomers are anointed with their hash names, crude monikers by which they will be known forevermore in international hashing society. Some of them make sense -- a librarian becomes Do Me Decimal; a lawyer, Hung Juror -- but others, like Cum Guzzling Cockaholic, have less brainy origins. My career in journalism evokes suggestions of This Just In and Pooparazzi, but the winner comes from using my first name as an acronym: Nasty Ass Testicle Eater. ("You can go by Nass Ass for short," one hasher consoles.)

After the ceremonies, a faction of the group continues to party at the "On On On," usually a nearby bar or hasher's house. That's where many of the enterprising participants -- fueled by liquor, libido, and leftover endorphins -- enjoy a different kind of thrill of the chase.

At a recent hash, a lovely female hare opened the evening by announcing that she was "very single." By the end of the night she was in the back corner of the On On On, her lips and nylon-sheathed limbs entangled in a game of pre-coital Twister with a male hasher who had picked up on the invitation.

There are two hashes in San Francisco -- the Monday night San Francisco Hash House Harriers and Thursday's Gypsies in the Palace Hash -- and the former is the one to attend if you're looking for love. Though the rules that govern both groups are essentially the same, the character of the events is a world apart.

The S.F. Hash has a bigger turnout of people who tend toward serious athletics and a healthy pickup scene. The Gypsies, on the other hand, are an older, male-dominated troupe who prides themselves on being more "hard-core." Gypsies put a greater emphasis on the ritual debauchery, hard drinking, and foulmouthed antics of the sport's heritage; their runs often start with a reading from the "Sacred Missal" (a steamy bit of pulp called The Lonely Librarian) and end around a ceremonial bucket, which brims with a disorienting brew of hard liquors.

"They are a running group with a drinking problem," is how one Gypsy describes the San Francisco Hash House Harriers, with notable revulsion. "We are a drinking club with a running problem. We are real hashers."

And while this might be true, the "real hashers" tend to scare away the ladies.

"Every hash has a different personality," Robert Philkill says, explaining the differences between the Thursday and Monday night events. "Some hashes are more lewd and lascivious, like the Gypsies'. They're a little bit more on the edge. Well, you don't get as many women going to that hash because it's a little more ... edgy. Our hash is a little more mainstream. They call us 'Wine and Cheese.'"

"Mondays can be the perfect place to hook up," Mike Caton offers, citing the gender balance and younger demographic of the S.F. Hash events. Caton first heard about hashing from a girlfriend in 1997, and has been hooked ever since. In many ways he represents the typical Bay Area hasher: forwardly single, cerebral, unfailingly sarcastic, and in a high-skill, high-stress job. When he's not testing drugs for his Berkeley firm or volunteering his time with at-risk kids (with whom he fronts a pro-homework death metal band), he spends his time standing around a keg in running gear.

"One of the things that is definitely true is that in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. we don't have much social interaction that doesn't have a goal to it," Caton explains. "Aside from getting together with that one friend to have dinner or whatever, most of the time when you call someone you're either trying to fuck 'em, do some kind of business networking, or they're incidental, casual acquaintances. When you come here [to a hash], it's consequence-free -- you come here, act like an idiot and use a stupid name, and just enjoy each other's company."

I next find myself in Caton's enjoyable company on a cloudy Thursday evening at a Gypsies hash. He has gladly agreed to skip the run to explain the group's curious mating rituals.

About The Author

Nate Cavalieri


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