People come from around the country for the Hash House Harriers' annual run/walk through New Orleans' downtown.
Mona, known to her friends as “Boner Lisa,” has a hobby that some might find strange. Every week she joins her friends to run or walk along a trail of baking flour laid out on the ground ahead of time by someone called a “hare.” Mona is a “hasher”—a member of the New Orleans Hash House Harriers—who has been hashing for the past 14 years, mainly because she enjoys the camaraderie of her fellow hashers. “It’s comfortable,” she says. “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. It really is a family.”
This Saturday, Boner Lisa’s “family” is having a reunion. Nearly 3,000 hashers will gather in the French Quarter from all over the globe, for New Orleans’ 20th annual Red Dress Run. They will be joined by likely at least 4,000 non-hashers for the largest Red Dress Run in the world. The yearly event brings thousands of men and women to New Orleans the second Saturday of August to don red dresses (“The tackier the better; the skimpier the better”), drink a lot of beer, consume a little barbecue in Armstrong Park, listen to music by Flow Tribe, Five Finger Discount, and the Browncoat Brass Band, and walk or run the two-mile course through the Quarter.
Despite its bawdy and raucous appearance, the Red Dress Run is for a good cause. The New Orleans Hash House Harriers—whose motto is “A drinking club with a running problem”—raised nearly $200,000 in 2013 for more than 60 local charities, and more than $500,000 in the past three years combined. Organizers anticipate that proceeds from this year’s Red Dress Run will push that total to more than a million philanthropic bucks donated to more than 120 New Orleans charities.
“It’s a good day for people,” says photographer Curt McClain, who goes by “Snatch Shot.” “It fits with what New Orleans is about: costuming and partying and acting crazy.” Joe Burns, whose hasher name is “Ice Balls,” calls 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. He now acts as their treasurer.
Hashers come together to exercise, drink, and hang out, not necessarily in that order. One night a week they run, and another night they go for drinks at a local bar. Everyone participates for a slightly different reason. According to Boner Lisa, “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 lawyers, doctors, and engineers, and they admit to enjoying hashing as a chance to break away from the constraints of their work lives. Others are elite runners, marathoners, and triathletes who thrive on the running. Some prefer to walk for the whole hash route.
No matter what motivates a hasher to hash, there is something for everybody. “Anchor Spanker”, for instance, is a self-professed dork who likes to hang out with other dorks, a few of whom are fellow hashers. “I love those guys to death, but you’re talking about goth-dancing, D&D- playing, computer-repairing kind of folks,” Spanker says. “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 most reasonably-sized cities have a hash house, Anchor Spanker travels the world meeting up with other hashing groups everywhere he goes. “This year I’m doing 12 things around the country with other hashes. It’s 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. The hash definitely isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. It is filled with unusual rituals, risqué nicknames and sexual innuendo. Hashers sing naughty songs and speak in a slang that includes such phrases as “on on” and “down down.”
Red Dress Runs are not unique to New Orleans. The very first one took place in the late ‘80s 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 ran instead in a red dress and heels. From then on the San Diego chapter made it a tradition. Now it’s an international thing, and it brings visitors to New Orleans during slow times.
“We help the city a lot,” says a hasher known as “Gooey Blow.” “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. 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.”
For more information on the Red Dress Run, visit NolaRedDressRun.com.